History of Fieldale, Virginia

Fieldale, Virginia is located in Henry County near the 1756 site of Fort Trial, George Washington's most southern outpost offering protection to the hunters and trappers along the frontier. By 1768 that same extended area belonged to a landowner named George Waller whose home was located on land that would make up the eventual town of Fieldale. During the Revolutionary War period Waller trained militia on a drill field near the Smith River. In March of 1781 he marched 16 companies of militia 70 miles south to Hillsborough, NC in support of General Adam Stevens in the Battle of Guilford Court House. He was afterwards promoted and commissioned a colonel of militia. Colonel Waller was with General Washington at the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, after which he returned to his home in Henry County to live out his life as a gentleman planter. He served his county and state until his death on November 18, 1814.

Waller HomeAfter the Civil War, the future Fieldale area was known as the Village of Waller and was a rural area occupied primarily by people of African-American descent. Early black landowners in the area were descendants of slaves owned by Colonel Waller. Some surnames taken by those descendants included Finney, Morris, Stovall, Napper, Baker, Mitchell, and Waller. Another slave descendant, this one from the Hairston line, was Jordan Hairston who owned land near what is now 10th Street in Fieldale. The Smith River tributary called Jordan Creek runs through the center of the original Village of Waller and was named for Jordan Hairston. Hairston's land near 10th street became the site for Mountain Top African Methodist Episcopal Church which, like many early churches, included a school. The founding pastor was Reverend Wash Waller, a former slave who, as a young boy, had been taught to read by Colonel Waller's son. Although the families had spread out to Chestnut Knob, Rock Run and other parts of Henry County they considered Mountain Top Church their home. Later, in the early 1900s, a one room log schoolhouse for grades 1 through 7 was built near Snowbird Mill and was know as Mullins School. Snowbird Mill itself was owned by the Mullins family and operated until 1958 by James Mullins, Jr. Tobacco was the chief source of income for Henry Countians and the Danville and Western Railroad completed its line to Martinsville, the county seat, in 1882 to serve that market. But small tobacco factories were soon absorbed by larger firms and by 1906 hardly a single tobacco factory remained in operation.

Around the turn of the last century industry began to change Henry County and much of the south as well. Just across the border in North Carolina a man named Franklin Mebane developed big plans for a textile company manufacturing terry cloth towels. He built 7 mills on the 600 acres he had purchased in and around the Leaksville, Spray and Draper area - known today as Eden, NC. But in 1910 a business recession forced Mebane to sell his mills to Marshall Field and Company of Chicago, IL.

Marshall Field and Company acquired 3 mills in Draper, 7 in Spray, and 2 in Leaksville. In 1916 they began looking about for an area in which they might expand. They contacted Heck Ford, Martinsville's one man Chamber of Commerce, who led them to the Waller area. The area suited them perfectly. The proposed site Danville and Western Enginelay between 2 rail lines, the Norfolk and Western and the Danville and Western, and beside the Smith River. By 1917 the transaction was complete and Marshall Field owned 1800 acres of land in Henry County on the site of George Waller's plantation.

A construction boom followed as land was cleared and a plant and warehouse covering almost 4 acres was completed; Fieldale became a reality. The first hard surfaced road in Henry County was built during this period to connect Martinsville with Fieldale. Houses were added followed by a hotel, lodge, school, community center and stores. And so Henry County began to industrialize. Many people left the farm to take jobs in the factory. These people knew long hours, hard work and perfection in all their tasks. They brought the work ethic they had learned on the farm to the mill.

In 1953 the mills were incorporated to form Fieldcrest Mills, Inc.Each year the Fieldale Heritage Festival celebrates the lives of these people, many long gone, and the valuable lessons they taught us. Without these people Fieldcrest Mills would have been nothing. Through determination and hard work they built a town and a meaningful life for themselves, their children and grandchildren. They produced goods that became world famous for quality. The sacrifices they made and the wealth they generated built the life we enjoy today.

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