The year was 1753. A small band of Moravian pilgrims were wending their way down tortuous roads from their homes in Pennsylvania to scout out land for a settlement in the Wachovia Tract. Near the end of their journey, they sighted the rain-swollen Dan River.
When they were finally able to ford the rushing river, they reached a point where a large stream — or what merited the title of small river — flowed into the Dan. In the journals they meticulously kept of their journey south, the 12 Moravian men called this secondary body of water, “Down Forck Creek.”
Today, we know it as “Town Fork Creek” — a winding ribbon of water that begins up near the Sauratown Mountains in Stokes County, sweeps into Forsyth before reentering Stokes to make its way to the Dan. Travelers to Walnut Cove from the south cannot avoid Town Fork; it is an unofficial town boundary.
Long ago, the settlement south of Town Fork was called Stokesburg and was separate from Walnut Cove, which began at the bridge over Town Fork. Eventually Stokesburg merged into Walnut Cove.
But long before that, there was a community called the Town Fork Settlement, located just west of the current bridge in Walnut Cove, toward Germanton. The early pioneers who lived there faced numerous attacks from the Cherokee in the mid-1750s during the French-Indian War. During one of the Native American raids, two Town Fork men were killed as they simply went out to feed the stock.
More than once, the settlers hurried to the fort at Bethabara built by those Moravian brethren who had crossed the “Down Forck Creek” in 1753 and had befriended the occupants of the already established Town Fork Settlement.
Today, the old paths of the long-ago settlement are gone. Descendants of the Town Fork settlers either moved away or helped found the towns of Walnut Cove or Germanton. Yet still, the Town Fork flows secretly through the shadowy forested land, with no roads crossing it all the way from Highway 311 in Walnut Cove to where it is next sighted under the bridge on Highway 8 in Germanton.
There are no public access points for the Town Fork Creek. Even where it flows prominently through Walnut Cove, you will rarely, if ever, see any one down at the creek.
As I am a Walnut Cove native, the Town Fork has always been a part of my life, but strangely enough, I can’t recall much about it except for how it floods easily — in rainy seasons creeping through nearby swampy fields and up to houses built in the flood plain. I don’t believe I have ever dipped as much as a toe in it.
My father-in-law recalls swimming in it behind the bus garage near Germanton when he was a kid. There was an area where sand was taken out for whatever purpose, leaving a hole deep enough to swim in. My daddy remembers going to that same spot with his family to fish for suckers when he was just a kid.
A fishing website says that Town Fork is a good place to catch both largemouth and smallmouth bass, as well as bluegill. But I don’t remember ever seeing a fisherman casting a line in there.
When we traveled out West, my hubster and I visited many small towns that had such a stream running through. Often the stream was a focal point of town with picnic tables or recreational areas. Seeing such sights made me wonder why Town Fork is virtually ignored in our town.
I was informed by some of the older folks who have since passed on that it wasn’t always such. One lady told me that there was once a boardwalk to the creek and that some enterprising folks even bottled water from springs near the creek to sell for health purposes. In fact, the rather sharp curve between the Cove Grill and the Olympic Restaurant is known by some as “Mineral Springs Curve.”
A U.S. Geological Survey done in the early part of the last century notes that there could be coal fields running near the Town Fork in Walnut Cove — amongst beds of shale from the Triassic Era millions of years ago. Some locals recall that there was a movement to mine coal in the Town Fork area long ago.
Before I write a column like this, I often put out feelers on Facebook to get public input. Funny thing is, when I asked for information on Town Fork Creek, there was little response. For some reason, this stream seems rather inconsequential to most people.
I would welcome emails about this subject for use in a future column. I want to know how you have used the Town Fork, what you have heard about its past, how you think it could be a valuable resource for the future.
And by the way, I have wondered if perhaps its original name really was “Down Fork Creek,” just the way the Moravians wrote it on old maps and documents — as in “the creek that is down from the fork of the Dan River.” Perhaps their German accents obscured what they were saying, and people mistakenly thought they meant “Town” when they said “Down.” Since there was no real town present when the creek was first referred to, I am puzzled as to how “Town Fork” would’ve been an appropriate name. Any thoughts?
Oh, the stories this old creek could tell! Tales of Saura Indian settlements nearby, sagas of warlike Cherokee on its banks, accounts of early settlers using its waters as a vital source of life. But the languid waters of the Town Fork flow silently on, their secrets lost in the passage of time…
Leslie Bray Brewer can be emailed at email@example.com. Her blog is at http://timesofrefreshingontheoldpaths.wordpress.com.