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Crowder lauded as ‘Ghost of the River’

South Boston NewsSouth Boston News
Top,the South Hill Public Works team, builders of the Max Crowder monument at Whittles Mill, pose with their handiwork. (Lisa Clary photo)
SoVaNow.com / November 20, 2013


On Saturday, the Town of South Hill dedicated its newest park at Whittles Mill in honor of Max Bagley Crowder, the man who chronicled the history and significance of the Meherrin River landmark and the families who lived nearby.

“Five years ago we stood on this [highway] bridge [over the Meherrin River near the mill], and my father said, ‘One day there’s going to be a park here,’” recalled daughter Catherine Townsend in remarks Saturday as she thanked the town for honoring her father. She recounted his vision that her father harbored for the park-to-be — down to the uniform that would be worn by the park ranger (a Smokey the Bear hat, brown shirt and pants, high boots and a .45 strapped to his side) and the jeep he would drive while patrolling the park.

Crowder’s fascination with Whittles Mill began many years ago when he would visit the site to collect sand. Townsend said her earliest childhood memory is of coming to the mill — which many in town referred to as her father’s backyard — to gather material for a sandbox her father built.

Later he set out to learn more about the history of the mill, and the ghosts of the men and women who once lived by the Meherrin. Townsend said the mill’s story is truly a history of the United States in miniature.

It begins even prior to the first colonists who arrived in the area, who cut down trees and laid them across boulders in the river to fashion the first dam in the 1750s, and continues with William Daves, an assistant to General George Washington and the Marquise de Lafayette during the Revolutionary War.

The first Whittle, Fortescue Whittle, came to the property after marrying Daves’ only daughter, descended from the Princess Pocahontas and her father Powhatan. Their children suffered the full tragedy of the Civil War, said Townsend. One son, the last of the Whittles to return to the area, was a commander at Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. His regiment made the furthest assault on federal lines at Gettysburg before being nearly wiped out. He is buried in the family cemetery up the hill from the dam.

Townsend recalled her father telling her that after “immersing himself into the lives of these remarkable people, he could no longer come to the [Mill] without seeing it through different eyes” — those of the “ghosts of the river,” as he called the Whittles and their predecessors.

Now, Townsend said her father has taken his rightful place, joining the Whittles and Daves and all who came before as a “ghost of the river.” The naming of the Max B. Crowder Memorial Park is a fitting tribute to the man who loved the mill so much that he preserved it and its history for generations to come.

And for that, Townsend said, her family is “hugely grateful.”

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