History of Bluemont - Beginnings

March 11, 2008

- Susan Freis Falknor


Civil war
Railroad days
Modern times

Virginia was one of the earliest of the American colonies to be established – with settlements on the Atlantic seaboard from the early 1600s.  How is it then that Bluemont village did not get started until the early 1800s?

One reason is that much of Northern Virginia--from the Rappahannock to the Potomac--was held in reserve for generations by the Fairfax family.  Loudoun County, with Leesburg as the county seat, was not incorporated until 1757.  A tract of 2941 acres on the eastern and western sides of the Blue Ridge was transferred first to George Carter, then to John Augustine Washington (George Washington’s brother).

Edward Snickers (born about 1735 - died 1790) purchased 624 acres of this tract in 1769.  Snickers operated the Shenandoah Ferry at the Gap and kept a tavern on the river.  First referred to in early legal documents as a “yeoman,” by 1772 Snickers was called a “gentleman.”  At various times Snickers hauled goods and produce for sale, operated a tavern, was a builder and overseer of roads, ran a ferry, and was owner of a merchant mill, a blacksmith shop, a grist mill, and a sawmill.  He made his fortune, however, by buying and selling land.  He married Elizabeth Taliaferro about 1755 and they had four children.

George Washington rode through the Gap, that mainstay of the Bluemont landscape, on trips to survey land in the Shenandoah Valley.  Washington knew Edward Snickers.  At least 7 diary entries mention Snickers and several business letters between them survive.

Set out from Charles West’s [an inn near present-day Aldie] dined at Snickers and got to Mr. Wr [Warner] Washington about 5 o’clock. [August 8, 1769]

Continued my journey and reached Charles West’s ordinary [a price-regulated inn] after baiting [fishing] under the ridge at the blacksmith’s shop [that is, at Snickers Gap]. [August 11, 1769]

--George Washington’s diary, in Edward Snickers Yoeman, p. 31

Washington may have first known Snickers as a wagoner hauling supplies out of Winchester during the French and Indian war (1754–1763).  In 1777 Snickers received a personal letter from General Washington asking him to sign on as Wagonmaster General for the patriot army.  Snickers declined, probably due to ill heath.  In December 1777 there were allegations of fraud on a job provisioning the army, but no legal action took place.  As the war wore on, an Edward Snickers is listed on the roster of wagoners with the 11th Brigade Artillery of Jean de Rochambeau, commander of the French Expeditionary Force in America.  After the war Washington asked Snickers to serve as his land agent in Frederick County.

Divisions in the War of Independence among the peoples of northwest Virginia reflected different streams of immigration – German, Quaker, Irish, and Scots-Irish, generally from north of the Potomac or the Shenandoah Valley-- as well as settlers from the older settlements closer to the Atlantic coast.  Indentured servants were more the norm than slaves – with slavery in Loudoun most prevalent in the south and eastern areas.

In the spring of 1778, Edward Snickers took it on himself to aid the war effort by rounding up several young men from the Quaker settlement now called Lincoln (about 10 miles east of the Gap), bringing them north under armed guard to the Revolutionary Army camp.  “I know some of these men,” Washington reportedly told Snickers on meeting the young Quakers.  “They neither swear nor fight.”  Then he admonished the reluctant recruits to go home and cultivate as much food as possible for the support of the patriot troops. [J.V. Nichols,  Legends of the Loudoun Valley.]

Several colonial and early American roads converge near Bluemont, and for good reason. Snickers Gap — along with Ashby’s Gap (Route 50) to the south and Vestal’s Gap (approximately Route 9) to the north — was a major trade outlet from the fertile Shenandoah Valley to the markets in the East.  Colchester Road, which ran from the Gap to the Little River and thence to Alexandria, was in use since at least the 1730s.  The name survives on a road cutting into Snickersville Turnpike (Route 734) a few miles east of present-day Bluemont.  Snickersville Turnpike’s beginnings lie in 1731, when Warner Toward received a land grant for “a road that leads to Williams Cabbin in the Blew Ridge” to the road from Ashby’s Gap to Alexandria (Jean Herron Smith, From Snickersville to Bluemont, p. 7).

By 1785 the Virginia legislature appointed commissioners to manage the turnpikes in the Western part of the state.  The 1809-10 Virginia General Assembly provided state funds for the 13.7-mile turnpike (now Snickersville Turnpike) from Snickers’ Ferry.  Toll gates were probably set up at Aldie, Mountville, and the Gap.  The Leesburg and Snickers Gap Turnpike (present Route 7) was completed in 1831.

In 1777 Edward Snickers sold his 624 acres on the east side of the Blue Ridge to Richard Wistar of Philadelphia.  In 1769 Richard’s son Dr. Caspar Wistar sold it to William Clayton, who  established a farm on the eastern shoulder of the Blue Ridge just south of the Gap—the site of present-day Bluemont.  It was his son Amos Clayton who built the handsome stone manor house, Clayton Hall, which today still graces the corner of Snickersville Turnpike and Clayton Hall Road.

The Claytons (and the Osburns, another early family) were loyalists in the Revolutionary War.  William Clayton may have been the “Tory Spy” who brought about the September 20, 1777, “Paoli Massacre” of 300 men under Brigadier General Anthony Wayne in Pennsylvania.  Clayton then became a member of John Butler’s Tory Rangers.  Harrison Williams, Legends of Loudoun.]

The Claytons sold off several lots to different families, while the Osburns may have already settled here.  Early families of Bluemont include John Chew (married Margaret Reeder), John Osburn (married Sarah Morris), Nicholas Osburn (married Mary Lumm), Mordecai Throckmorton (married [1] Mildred Washington Throckmorton [2] Sara McCarty Hooe), William Lodge (married Christiana Purcell), Thomas M. Humphrey, Jr. (married Mary Marks), William Bradfield (married Elizabeth Latimer Alder), James Murphy (married Nancy J. Alder), and the Reverend John Marks (married Uriah Ledyard). (See genealogies in From Snickerville to Bluemont.)

In 1813, William Clayton willed four lots to his children.  In 1825 William’s son Amos Clayton donated one-half acre of land for a school, nondenominational church, and village meeting hall--the Snickersville Academy--a log structure that now stands unattended across the turnpike from Clayton Hall.  The first postmaster came on board in 1807.

The village’s incorporation papers in 1824 describe it as:

“…ten acres at the entrance of Snickers Gap, of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the county of Loudoun, property of Amos Clayton, Martha Clayton, William Woodford and others, as soon as the same shall be laid off into lots with convenient streets and alleys.’ The first trustees were James Cochran senior, Craven Osburn, Mordecai Throckmorton, Stephen Janney, Doctor E.B. Brady Amos Clayton, and Timothy Carrington.”

--Harrison Williams, Legends of Loudoun, p. 168

The village, variously called Snickers Gap (incorporated 1824), Snickersville (incorporated 1830, when Perrin Washington, nephew of George Washington was postmaster), and Bluemont (1900) was taking shape.

In the early years of the 19th century the village had grown to an active little business place, with tavern, stores, blacksmith, wheelwright and other shops of artisans, such as at that day were needed to supply the wants of a neighborhood.

--George E. Plaster, M.D., “A History of Bluemont,” 1902