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Buice column: A history lesson that will live on

When I signed up along with a group of fellow explorers to walk in the footsteps of the pioneers as part of the Shallow Ford Walk a couple of years ago, I never expected that history lesson would eventually lead to putting on my “reporter hat” and digging into the future implications of preserving the property on the Forsyth County side of the Yadkin River.

However, viewing the Shallow Ford from both sides of the muddy banks of the river on a cold, damp day in March 2019 also uncovered information about an initiative to preserve the distant past and how it could be promoted by public access as an ideal spot for walking trails, canoeing, camping, fishing and passive outdoor recreation.

Andy Kelly, a friend and a longtime racquetball buddy, had invited me to do the Shallow Ford Walk that day, and besides learning about things such as the Battle of Shallow Ford and this being a link in the Great Wagon Road, I found out about land in the Shallowford and Williams roads area of Forsyth bordering the river at the Shallow Ford possibly being preserved as a farm or historic site.

As it turned out, Jim and Jean Messick had decided to transfer the 246-acre farm property to the Winston-Salem Foundation via a gift deed many years ago with the intent to preserve it, but some other things had to happen first.

Kelly, who became a Sons of the American Revolution member and attended the Battle of Shallow Ford commemoration in 2017, including a battle site tour, was impressed that the area has so much Revolutionary and Civil War history and was similar to the way it was 250 years ago. So he started to investigate the status of the property and went through the Winston-Salem Foundation and then Merrikay Brown of the Lewisville Historical Society to get in touch with Jean Messick.

That led to other meetings with attorneys, Forsyth County commissioners, state personnel and Winston-Salem Foundation representatives with little forward movement until Kelly met Mike Leonard, a local official for the Conversation Fund of Arlington, Va., at an unrelated gathering.

Kelly later called Leonard and asked if the property out on the Shallow Ford was available, would he be interested in helping with it.

Leonard, who retired as a partner with Womble Bond Dickinson, provided “a very quick yes,” having a history with the property as he waded the Shallow Ford in the 1990s. The Conservation Fund ended up purchasing the property in December 2020 for $2.8 million.

That allowed the opportunity to then establish an endowment to support multiple local and national charities with Jean Messick having input in the process.

House and Senate bills have been introduced this year where funding could be available to cover $1.8 million – where the state would buy the property from the Conservation Fund, with the additional dollars coming from a couple of individuals and state foundations.

I never could envision how any of this might come down on the day of my Shallow Ford walk. I was more focused on hearing about Daniel Boone, the old road and previous battles.

We located a marker placed on that tract by the Daughters of the American Revolution on the Forsyth County side of the river in what was then the Salem to Shallow Ford Road but is now a ravine that includes remnants of the 1700s Great Wagon Road. A similar marker was placed on the Yadkin County side of the river on Mulberry Fields Road, which leads toward where the Battle of Shallow Ford transpired, and includes the following inscription:

“Daniel Boone’s Trail from North Carolina to Kentucky — 1769, Marked by N.C. Daughters of the American Revolution.”

In the historic Revolutionary War Battle in 1780, the outmanned Patriot forces turned back the British Loyalists where some 500 men clashed and 16 died, including Capt. Henry Francis of the Whigs. He was buried on the battlefield, and his tombstone marks the spot.

This area was also the site of the Civil War skirmish, Stoneman’s Raid, in 1865 where Gen. George Stoneman’s Union troops crossed the Yadkin at the Shallow Ford, which, as the name implies, is a shallow section of the river and was a major crossing through the 18th and 19th centuries.

I think I learned more history on this one day than in all my years in school, which also goes way back in time, and Kelly kept me updated on the progress of preserving the property over the last couple of years — including the Conservation Fund finally purchasing the property.

It took lots of conversations and connections, but he and Leonard were most instrumental in giving it the push to help make it happen.

In a historical perspective, how significant is this land and it being preserved for future generations?

I liked the way Andrew Mackie of the Yadkin County Historical Society, who was emcee for the Shallow Ford Walk that day, stated of the importance of the property in those early days, “This was the gateway to the West. We had a period of American history called the ‘The Great Western Expansion.’ And it all happened because they had to cross the river at the Shallow Road to get out West.”

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