By Lynne Bolton
Historic Fincastle, Inc.
The Elizabeth and Israel Christian Scholarship was created in 1999 and is offered annually by Historic Fincastle, Inc. (HFI) to commemorate the history of Fincastle and encourage and support students from our local community. The mission of HFI is to support the preservation of the historical, physical, and cultural resources of Fincastle, and to promote education about our local history.
In 2022, the Scholarship Committee designed an essay prompt where the applicant needed to interview people who grew up in Fincastle and talk about their experiences. Here are excerpts from the winning essays.
Haleigh Horan, from James River High School, has entered Virginia Tech to study Biochemistry. “Fincastle: A Bustling Town to a Quaint, Historic Town.” As a Fincastle native, I wanted to learn about the town I’ve lived in my entire life. I met two individuals who gave me insight into the town of Fincastle and what it was like growing up. I learned about their time in school, how they kept themselves entertained, and what activities they participated in. Fincastle was founded in 1772 and people like Patsy and Paige have had the opportunity to call this town home. Fincastle is known to be small; however, I learned that Fincastle once expanded to the Mississippi. I also learned that Israel Christian was the individual who gave the land (for the town).
The first individual I met was Patsy Dickerson. She was born and raised in Fincastle, and she attended two schools: Breckinridge, Kindergarten through the seventh grade, and Lord, Botetourt, eighth grade through twelfth. Schools didn’t become integrated until her eighth-grade year. The second individual I met was Paige Ware. Paige has also lived in Fincastle her entire life and she attended Fincastle Elementary, Breckinridge Elementary, Fincastle High and Lord Botetourt High! She told me how the Fincastle Jail had an escapee and when the individual entered the stranger’s home, they offered him food instead of being scared. This is a perfect representation of Fincastle. We have no preferences on your background or where you came from, but once you enter our home, we will welcome you with open arms.
I learned that Fincastle was a very busy town. Settled just off 220, a two-lane road at the time, people from all over Botetourt County would come to Fincastle to do grocery shopping, go to the movies, or grab a bite to eat. When visiting Fincastle, one could find children roller skating, riding their bikes, or playing kick the can. There were five different grocery stores, two restaurants, and two car dealerships. If you were looking for an evening to relax, you could stop by the theater to watch movies, plays, and listen to people tell jokes.
When looking at Fincastle today, there are obvious differences. The five-grocery stores have dwindled down to the Heritage Market and the Dollar General, and there aren’t many restaurants in town as well. All that matters is that we all have a mission to keep Fincastle preserved as the beautiful town that many call home.
Olivia Turner, from Lord Botetourt High School, has also entered Virginia Tech and plans on studying Public Relations. “Mid-20th Century Fincastle: Kick the Can and Family Connections.” I have been referred to as an “old soul” more than once. In 2004, I was born into a social media culture where expensive phones are often the most valued possessions of my peers, and a walk in the woods is unusual.
Interviewing local residents, Mr. Holt, Ms. Hedrick, Mrs. Dickerson, Mr. Campbell, and Mrs. Neighbors has filled me with nostalgia. I was excited to hear about community gatherings, outdoor games, and intergenerational traditions in mid-20th century Fincastle. Family connections run deep in the town of Fincastle, and houses filled with local history have remained in the family for decades. Ms. Hedrick’s family house was home to five generations, Mrs. Dickerson lives in her childhood home, and Mrs. Neighbors’ grandchildren are the “sixth generation to call Fincastle home.”
Today many families are geographically scattered, partly because there are numerous ways to stay connected through technology and convenient transportation. Cell phones and social media have created a false sense of connection that differs significantly from Mr. Holt’s childhood memories of growing up next door to his grandparents or Mr. Campbell’s memories of going to the Fincastle movie theater and riding bikes through town.
Local retold memories of Fincastle describe a community setting that was simpler and more family-focused than most people experience today. Memories of town doctors, local stores, bike riding, sledding, playing games, and connecting with friends are flavors of Fincastle history. The simplicity of mid-20th century Fincastle life is very appealing to me. However, Mrs. Dickerson’s story about the “Greyhound bus [stopping] near the foot of ‘jail hill’ for those who needed to go to Roanoke” makes me realize that transportation was not as convenient as now, and most teenagers did not have cars to drive.
I would like to travel back and experience Fincastle during the 1930’s – 1950’s. “Cutting on the record player” and listening to music with Ms. Hedrick, sledding with Mr. Holt and Mrs. Dickerson’s youth groups, riding bikes around town with Mr. Campbell, swinging on the front porch with Mrs. Neighbors’ grandmother, playing Kick the Can, broomstick ice hocky or attending a square dance in the courthouse square reminds me of scenes from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books I used to read as a child. If local people are willing to share their stories, Fincastle history will live on through future generations.
NOTE: An addition to the Historic Fincastle Festival this year will be a dinner to help support this scholarship program sponsored by HFI. Check www.hisfin.org for more information. Reservations will remain open until September 16.