New history from author and educator Deedie Kagey

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Vinton–Educator and historian Deedie Kagey has a new book out entitled “From Bonsack to Blue Ridge: A Historical Perspective of Roanoke County and Botetourt County Communities in Transition.”

This is her third book. The first was also about the Bonsack area: “Community at the Crossroads: A Study of the Village of Bonsack of the Roanoke Valley,” published in 1983. It grew out of her Master’s thesis at Hollins on the Bonsack community.

That book led the Roanoke County Sesquicentennial Committee to ask her to write “When Past is Prologue: A History of Roanoke County,” to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the county. It was begun in 1986 and published in early 1989. That one turned out to be extremely popular (the printing sold out) and is found in homes and libraries across the region. It is known as the “go to” source for Roanoke County history.

Deedie Kagey has written a new book on local history, "From Bonsack to Blue Ridge: A Historical Perspective of Roanoke County and Botetourt County Communities in Transition."
Deedie Kagey has written a new book on local history, “From Bonsack to Blue Ridge: A Historical Perspective of Roanoke County and Botetourt County Communities in Transition.”

Her new book began as an effort to record and preserve the oral histories of residents representing the families of southern Botetourt County, in particular those living in the Coyner Springs, Webster, Blue Ridge, and Laymantown communities and evolved into the book. Interviews were completed in collaboration with the Bonsack/Blue Ridge Ruritan Club.

Kagey says that her method for writing the histories begins with countless hours of “voluminous” research usually starting out in local courthouses and libraries. This newest book saw Kagey practically take up residence in the Botetourt County courthouse to complete the “tedious and meticulous” work required to attempt to gather the facts about times long past—for a book that ended up being 644 pages.

“It was a labor of love and sacrifice,” said Kagey.

The volume is available in the reference section of all Botetourt and Roanoke County libraries including the Vinton Branch Library and the Roanoke City Library Virginia Room with a few copies available for check-out in some locations.

Kagey says that in fact the history was much longer with close to 230 pages of interviews and other information left out to make the book less cumbersome. Those sections are available in “Reminiscences” binders in Botetourt libraries, the Roanoke City Library Virginia Room, and in the church libraries at Bonsack Baptist and Bonsack Methodist Churches.

The initial interviews spanned the years from 2011-2015 and involved speaking with 35 individuals from many of the founding and prominent families in the Bonsack area. The conversations were subsequently transcribed from video to disk to print—a very time-consuming task.  Work on the book was encompassed by the illnesses and deaths of her mother and husband and completed in January 2016.

The book encapsulates the history of the region and the southern Botetourt County communities from 1650 but focuses in-depth from the Colonial period forward. Kagey shares the “vibrant history of pioneers and their descendants who cared for and tilled the land for many generations providing grains, fruits, vegetables, and meat to the entire Roanoke Valley for nearly three centuries.”

The book is organized around themes of “settlement, families, schools, churches, businesses (past and present), Blue Ridge and Coyner Springs resorts, significant architecture, major roads, the mining of iron ore, stagecoach travel, occupations of residents, farming (including truck farming), and transportation and the railroad.” Included are “interviews with longstanding residents and appendices featuring a variety of census/primary source information, maps/graphics, newspaper snippets, and letters.”

One resident interviewed for the book was Margaret Fluke, now 98 years old, who has lived all of her life in the Blue Ridge community which was originally named “Fluke” for settler Peter Flook who arrived in the area in the 1790’s. He purchased 350 acres of land and opened a tavern called Mountain House. The tavern housed those traveling by horseback or stagecoach on the major east-west route nearby which had started off as a Native American trail. Railroad tracks were eventually laid adjacent to the tavern and led to an influx of German settlers eager to farm the rich soil.

Margaret Fluke, who was born in 1918 in Botetourt County shares her memories in Kagey's new book.
Margaret Fluke, who was born in 1918 in Botetourt County shares her memories in Kagey’s new book.

Fluke remembers living in a rough-hewn log house which her father tore down around 1928 to build the home she lives in today. The family lived in the woodshed and granary while he built their new home. He also operated a tomato cannery, as did several other families in the area.

She recalled that her father and his neighbors grew wheat which they took to Vinton to be ground into flour.  She said that the family sold milk, butter, eggs, and fruit to the Blue Ridge Springs Hotel resort, which originally had no electricity and used Japanese lanterns for lighting.

Many do not realize that Botetourt County was the location of several mineral springs leading to the development of resorts and hotels for a “magical panacea and medicinal advantage that the sulphur springs had to offer.”  The histories of the Blue Ridge Springs Resort (which produced the acclaimed Blue Ridge “Dyspepsia” water for indigestion), the Coyner Springs Resort, and the Sweet Springs Resort are described extensively in Kagey’s book.

There is also the story of Stoners Store (now Bonsack) where a grist mill and distillery were located in the 1840’s. Rumor has it that one resident ran a still out of his barn. When revenuers came by, barrels of “hooch” were hidden in the nearby creeks.

There are stories of the Bonsack family who established the Bonsack Woolen Mill in 1822 on Glade Creek which operated for a century. Other founding families detailed in the book with genealogical information include the Cooks, Stoners, Spickards, Kesslers, Laymans, Fosters, Lucks, Murrays, and Jameses. There is even mention of the Gishes and Thrashers, significant in the history of Vinton.

Kagey used many primary sources in her research for the book, including Fincastle Herald archives.
Kagey used many primary sources in her research for the book, including Fincastle Herald archives.

A main emphasis by Kagey is on the “communities in transition” segment of the book’s title—what she describes as the “subdivision explosion” in the Blue Ridge, Coyner Springs, and Laymantown areas in which farmland was transformed into subdivision bedroom communities to Roanoke City. She believes emphatically that land use goals need to be established to “guide the community to a ‘balanced land use system’ which will strike a balance between residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural land uses to make the historic Bonsack area a sustainable community.

Kagey is not originally from the Bonsack area. She was born in Miami, came to Virginia in 1970, and moved to her adopted community in Bonsack in 1975, having lived in the Montgomery Village section of Vinton for a time. Her home in Bonsack was built in 1836, “two years older than the county itself.”

Kagey taught Virginia history in local elementary schools, mostly to fourth and fifth graders, before becoming principal at Bonsack Elementary.

She has a degree from the University of Florida, her M.A.L.S. from Hollins, a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study, and an Ed. D. from Virginia Tech. She retired from the Roanoke County school system after 41 years of service. She is an active member of Thrasher Memorial United Methodist Church in Vinton.

A book launch is scheduled for August 23 at 6 p.m. at the Virginia Room. Plans are in the works for a book signing at the Fincastle Library. She will also be appearing at the Vinton Library on October 27.

Her book is currently available for purchase from Kagey by calling her at 977-3316 or emailing her at bonadm@aol.com. Copies are also on sale at the Botetourt County Museum behind the courthouse in Fincastle.