You never know how your work to- day may help people in the future. In 1970, local historian Lorenzo L. “Doc” Smith drew a map show- ing the families who had lived in each farm along Bennetts Run at Bergton. He never published his work, but Goldie Turner May included it in her Smith history in 1994. In 2000, that one-page map influenced local historian Shirley Cullers Miller to research all the Bennetts Run families to preserve the community’s history. Her re- sulting work was published in 2003 in a 280-page book, complete with names, photographs, and a brief history of each of the 43 home- places and six homeplaces on top of the Shenandoah Mountain.
She and her husband Matthew “Bud” Miller photographed orig- inal homesteads that were still standing in 2000. They also visited family cemeteries, some of which are now on national forest land, and preserved burial information from tombstones and recollections of family members.
One homestead was the Silas May place, later known as the Lawson “Laws” May place. Silas May 1839- 1927 was a Confederate soldier in Company C, 11th Virginia Cavalry. He was wounded in the thigh in January 1862. Perhaps when he was home recovering, he courted his neighbor Mary C. Souder. They married in September 1862 before he returned to the army. After the war, his parents deeded him 133 acres of land. His daughter Prisclla May lived on the home farm all her life and is buried in the May family cemetery.
Priscilla’s son Lawson “Laws” May and his wife and children were the last family to live on Silas May’s homeplace. A photograph shows Lawson standing beside a rocking chair that he made, featuring paint- ed flowers on the back and arms. This lovely chair and another one like it are now on display at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester. Aided by Shirley’s book, Jeff Evans of Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates identified Lawson as the chairmaker when the Museum bought the piece for its collection.
Lawson May’s wife Iscie Smith May was a certified midwife, help- ing with the birthing of numerous babies. In a rural area with bad roads and few doctors, midwives were essential workers. Shirley devoted a chapter to Zerna Belle Dove 1878-1939, another local midwife. The mother of twelve chil- dren, she was a certified midwife. Zerna kept a list of babies she de- livered, which Shirley included in her book. Zerna delivered at least 65 babies for 44 different families, according to her diary. One of the babies was Shirley Cullers.
From Shirley’s Bennetts Run book, you can learn the origin of some folks’ nicknames. The recent Charles W. Sonifrank place was originally known as the “Tai- lor George” Smith place. Tailor George was born in 1807 and died in 1892. As you might expect, George was a tailor. A somewhat younger George Smith, born in 1822, lived in Bennetts Run, too. A blacksmith by occupation, younger George was known as “Greasy George” Smith because of his dark shiny complexion. “Greasy George” lived at the Simeon Sonifrank place owned most recently by Day Lantz.
Other men in the community were skilled workers and businessmen. Peter Solomon Smith and Silas Sylvester Dove were partners in a distillery and an up-and-down saw mill located on Everett May Sr.’s farm where part of the mill race was still visible in 2002. Corbin W. Snyder 1830-1908 was a farmer, chair maker, and blacksmith. He and his second wife Julia Smith Snyder lived at her homeplace, most recently known as the Elbert R. Dove place.
Shirley’s history records some tragedies. For instance, Henry Adam Smith II 1844-1880 froze to death on top of the mountain during a snow storm on the way home from Peru, WV. Charles F. and Cynthia Ann Nazelrod Ca- plinger, who lived at the Henry Adam Smith place, had seven children who grew to adulthood. Sadly, they had five additional children who died at birth or very young and are buried at the Corbin Snyder cemetery in Bennetts Run. Shirley’s father lost his life in a car accident on the Bennetts Run Road.
Shirley’s Bennetts Run book is a classic. More than a family history, it is a community history with near- ly 300 photographs of former res- idents of a mountain community. We owe a debt of gratitude to Shir- ley, Goldie May, and Doc Smith for doing their part to preserve our history. The book is available by mail from me or in person at Fulks Run Grocery.