THE GHOST TOWN OF MOUNT AIRY

WYTHE COUNTY, VIRGINIA

     When Wythe County, Virginia, was created in 1790, the present day town of Rural Retreat, Virginia, did not exist, but was the farm and orchard lands of Michael Cormany, Sr.    Long before the formation of Rural Retreat, Virginia, (some 40 years give or take) the old town of Mount Airy was formed on the old stage road a bit west of the present town of Rural Retreat.

     Mysteries, myths, speculations, truths, half truths, and inventions flourish among the pages that have been written concerning this old town.   Many locals, especially the older folks, still tell their stories of Old Mount Airy.   Fact is - very little can be accurately written or spoken of the old town because very little information can be found among official records.

     Once the only center of commerce (for lack of a better description) west of Evansham (Wytheville) Virginia, in Wythe County, save for the taverns and ordinaries along the Old Stage Road, the origin of the old town depends greatly with whom you are speaking.   More than one family have claimed their ancestors started the town.   Even the historical road sign at the site of the old town's location does not give credit to the founder of the town, but to a more well known family name, and this family did not even live in Old Mount Airy.

     The old town of Mount Airy (unknown by many today) was located about 2.5 miles west of Rural Retreat, Virginia, on the Old Stage Road, now present day US Highway 11.   Situated in an area locally known as "The Summit" (the dividing point between the waters of Reed Creek and The Middle Fork of The Holston River) the old town was laid out on land granted to Martin Staley.   He and his brother, Abraham, sons of Ulrich Staley, in Pennsylvania, (originally from Bern, Switzerland) were the progenitors of the Staley familes in Wythe County today.

     Martin deeded the western 200 acres of his land to his son Valentine Staley, who in 1812 laid off lots on both sides of the Old Stage Road running through his lands.   Each lot had a five pole frontage with the old Stage Road, and ran 16 poles in length, making each lot approximately one half acre.   The plans included a public square, and at least two cross streets.   Names of the early lot owners can be found among the old deeds in the Wythe County, Virginia, Court House, in Wytheville, Virginia.

     Originally called "Staleytown" , the town was destined for a short life.   From the records, it appears the town was mostly residential in nature.   The center of attention in the town was the old stage stop, which also was the local tavern, and general store.   Valentine Staley died in 1817, leaving an estate heavily in debt.   The old town lived on for a time, but eventually many of the lots would be sold off to settle Valentine's estate.

     The book on Old Mount Airy began to close with the coming of the Iron Horse in the early 1850's.   The days of the stage coach and the six horse freight wagons were numbered.   As the Virginia and Tennessee began laying tracks through western Wythe County, Solomon Buck purchased a large portion of the Cormany lands, and began laying off portions of his newly acquired lands into lots.   The railroad tracks were laid between Crockett and present day Rural Retreat in 1853-1854 with a "Y" being laid between the present main line and the old Sprinkle Hotel.   This "Y" enabled the engine to turn and return towards Crockett as this was the end of the tracks in 1854.   L.D. Hancock, who had acquired some of the Cormany land laid off and sold the depot lot, the same location as the old depot in present day Rural Retreat.   For some time the depot would be called "Mount Airy Depot," the name being changed to Rural Retreat in 1866.   The National Archives, in Washington, DC records indicate that a Post Office for Rural Retreat existed in 1838, but the PO was not in the present day town.    There has been, and still is much debate over where the 1838 PO was located, but no one knows to the best of my knowledge.    The first PO was most likely located in the old Engledove Tavern, a few miles NE of the present day town, or perhaps Staley's Tavern, located at the present day Staley's Crossroads, a bit N of the present day town.   According to many of the old railroad men in the area, the railroad came to present day Rural Retreat, instead of Old Mount Airy because the route was less hilly, and because of the water supply in the area.

     Whatever the reasons - the tracks laid and the depot established was the spark for the town of Rural Retreat, and it began to grow and florish as more lots were sold by Solomon Buck, and others who had obtained the majority (western portions) of the original Cormany grant lands.   Homes, businesses, and warehouses began to appear in the midst of the old Cormany farm lands and orchards.   Meanwhile, back in the old town of Mount Airy, the estate of Valentine Staley was heavely burdened with debt and by 1875, most of the old town lands were sold to settle taxes and the estate of Valentine, and Old Mount Airy faded into oblivion.

     A fairly large tract of land (some 250 acres) east of present day Rural Retreat proper, remained in the ownership of Peter Cormany, a son of Michael.   These lands became the lands of Joal Cormany, Peter's son, who married a sister of Solomon Buck, and would remain in the Cormany family until the early 1900's.    The old Cormany home, the front part being the original log home of Michael Cormany, still stands today in Rural Retreat, Virginia.

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