Tag Archives: Phil Harris

Relic Recall: Aircraft Warning Service

4 Nov
What is it: Aircraft Warning Service armband, lapel pin, and identification, from World War II. Donated to the Goochland County Historical Society in 1991.

In today’s world, we take for granted an Air Traffic Control System that monitors all aspects of the thousands of flights that are in the air above us at any given time. What most of us do not realize is that, prior to World War II, there was little in place to handle this. Radar was a new technology and its use was almost non-existent. Pilots were on their own to get from one place to another and no one was there to monitor where the planes were or where they were going. An air attack along the coasts from the sea, similar to Pearl Harbor, would have never been detected.

The Army Air Corps, recognizing the need for an air defense system, established the Ground Observer Corps in the months leading up to the start of the war. They used airmen to man a limited number of observation posts in critical areas. Pearl Harbor changed all of that. It became necessary to greatly expand the air defense system but, at the same time, all able bodied airmen were needed in job more important than sitting in an observation post.

The Aircraft Warning Service (AWS) was created using an all civilian volunteer force to man over 14,000 observation posts were right here in Goochland County.

One such volunteer was Dorothy Rebecca Henley. The Henley family farm, located next to Luck Stone in Manakin was one of the observation posts. Dorothy Henley, a life-long Goochland resident, was born in 1903 and died in 2002 at the age of 99. She was 38 when se became a volunteer in the AWS. Volunteers had to go through extensive training to be able to identify any and all aircraft, both domestic and foreign. Along with Dorothy Henley’s AWS identification items, the donated items also include the training booklet, a set of aircraft identification flash cards, and a special dial device that could quickly identify any aircraft.

Margaret Walker was Dorothy Henley’s niece. She still lives in Manakin and, like her aunt, was also a volunteer in the AWS as a teen. She remembers going to her grandparent’s farm to man her scheduled post duties. The bluff behind the house overlooked the James River valley and provided a perfect spot to watch a large area of the sky. While it would seem that, in 1941, one would not see many planes in the skies over Goochland, Mrs. Walker says that was not the case. The Army Air Corps base was located at Byrd Field and training flights would fly up the river and use the islands located in the James in Goochland as targets for simulated bombing runs and attack missions. Upon spotting a plane, the observer would have to log information noting the time, identifying the type of plane, the direction it was seen, and the direction it was traveling. This was then called in by code to a special phone number in Richmond and then in turn was sent to a logistics center down in Hampton Roads, all manned by civilian volunteers. The information, usually coming from multiple observations, was triangulated and kept updated on a large map in the center. This process kept the observers on their toes and provided a built-in testing of each observer’s accuracy and effectiveness. Awards were given for those who received the highest ratings.

With the advent of radar installations along the coasts and the turn of the war to being more offensive instead of defensive, the volunteer system was deemed unnecessary and deactivated in May 1944.

Relic Recall is contributed by Phil Harris of the Goochland County Historical Society.

Relic Recall: Uncovering the forgotten stories behind our stuff

10 May

gold dustWhat is it: Gold dust and gold nuggets from Goochland gold mines.

Backstory:

Most people today do not realize that Goochland County has a long history in gold mining. When the early colonists came to Jamestown, one of their intended missions was to find gold. After early failures to locate anything near Jamestown, Christopher Newport led an expedition, in November 1608, up the James River about “four days above the falls”. They actually found samples of gold in gravels near the Indian village of “Rassawek” at the confluence of the Rivanna and James Rivers. Due to conflicts with the Monacan tribes, they never returned to the area, and soon the “gold” in Virginia became the golden leaf of tobacco and mining for actual gold was forgotten.

In 1829, gold was again discovered in western Goochland. A very distinct gold belt passes through Goochland along the current day Shannon Hill Road, from Shannon Hill in the north to Columbia in the south, near where Newport found gold in 1608. From 1830 to the start of The Civil War, nearly fifty gold mines were put into operation along this gold belt. The largest of these mines were known by such names as Bowles, Tellurium, Busby, Fisher, Moss, and Payne, with most of these names representing the people that owned the land where they were located.

A label attached to the gold samples in the picture provided information that the samples had been donated to GCHS in 1968 by Mr. & Mrs. Harrison Tilman of Crozier. Research into family history revealed that Mrs. Tilman was Edna Withers Kent, who had been born in Kent’s Store just across the county line in Fluvanna in 1896. Her father was George Henry Kent, the longtime owner, druggist and postmaster of Kent’s Store explaining why the samples were displayed in antique glass medicine bottles. Mrs. Tilman’s first husband had been Stuart C. Cottrell of Goochland, whose mother was Harriett Alexanna Bowles, a member of the Bowles family that owned and operated the Bowles and Tellurium gold mines in the 1800s.

The Tellurium mine was the largest of the Goochland gold mines, opened in 1834 by Judge D.W.K Bowles and G.W. Fisher. Bowles introduced, in 1836, a stamp mill which pounded the ore rather than grind it. This mill may have been the first of its kind in the country. The mill was expanded in 1848 but fire destroyed it in 1857 and it never reopened, although minor attempts were made up until 1910. For the most part, however, the Civil War marked the end of the gold mining era in Goochland.

Our relic of the past serves to remind us that in western Goochland, much like Christopher Newport 400 years ago, we can still say, “Thar’s gold in them thar hills”.

Relic Recall is contributed by Phil Harris of the Goochland County Historical Society.