Stringtown's Summerfield Cemetery
The Summerfield cemetery is one of very few physical landscapes remaining of the oil boom town Stringtown, located in Roane County, West Virginia. The first grave dug in the cemetery was Nancy J. Summerfield in 1886 who was born in 1831. Surrounding the area are other remnants from a disappearing past that is kept alive only by the memory of those left behind. Unfortunately, most of these remains are on private property, thus leaving the cemetery as the only legally accessible option for people, and family, seeking the past.
Backstory and Context
Despite being officially known as the Summerfield cemetery, the cemetery is also known to be called the Dye Family cemetery which is kept up by said family. The cemetery itself holds roughly 90 graves, several of them unmarked with rocks as grave markers. However, the dates of death range from 1886 to 1978, which provides a century of variance and consistency in rural graveyard practices. Along with the changes in burial practices the century represented suggests that this area had a quick rise and downfall in population, which according to locals was a result of “urbanization and the changes brought on by World War II.”
The town in which this cemetery resides no longer exists but is kept alive by local custom as the area is commonly referred to, and known, by the people of Roane county by its past name, Stringtown. Originally called Shamblin’s Mill for a flour mill next to the swing bridge that crossed over the Pocatalico River, the name changed because of the way the “houses were strung along the Pocatalico and its little tributaries during the oil boom.” A switch that speaks to the changing geography that was a result of the oil boom in the early twentieth-century. The first well was drilled in 1908 by Ohio Fuel on the Seabolt family land and another came in early 1909 on the Lamb property owned by John Morgan Dye and his wife, Florinda Farnsworth Smith. A gasoline plant came in 1920, however, by the Roaring Twenties the height of the oil and gas activity had passed.
The Summerfield cemetery acts as the resting place not only for the people resting there, but also as the final resting place for a lost generation. This cemetery is a physical manifestation of the cyclical process of mourning of past generations, the vestiges of those times that still surround us, and the reminder that we have to move forward. Ross Dye, born in Stringtown in 1925, had a similar sentiment in 1964 when he said:
When I was a boy, I often yearned for the days of the Indian Wars, the virgin forests which covered the land, and the newness of the country of which I heard. I listened to the old people talk and shared their dreams of the past. I felt a desire to stay on the land of my forefathers, and I also began to think of the world beyond our hills and valleys. Perhaps it was the same call which brought my forebears to our little valley. Perhaps it was the realization that I was born in the twilight of an era insofar as our little corner of the world was concerned. Or maybe it was a desire to chart my own course in the changing world. But whatever the reason, I knew that life as I had inherited it was a chapter out of the past. So whatever moved me, I knew by the time I was fifteen that I had to move on with the times.
Today when you look around you you’ll not find the wooden sidewalks, cottages, or general stores, but you will travel on the same dirt road on Rocky Branch that the people of the past wandered. If you look closely you can find the upping stone that marks where the people gathered for church, the remains of the gasoline plant, or the foundations of buildings taken over by foliage. The cemetery you wander opens up a window to a disappearing past that is being curated by the abandoned towns of West Virginia. To come to the Summerfield cemetery is to become part of the past and to listen to the silence of our forebears, on the road beneath the cemetery you will be able to see them walking on the wooden sidewalk and coming out of their cottages.To view an interactive timeline of this history go to: https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline3/latest/embed/index.html?source=1N4UiPlR2BAufUGP5f7LOCFtQyPV...
Dye, Ross W. “Stringtown, West Virginia: A Brief History of a Pre-World War II Rural Community.” Chickensintheroad (blog). http://chickensintheroad.com/stringtown-west-Virginia-a-brief-history-of-a-pre-world-war-ii-rural-co....
Ross W. Dye, interview by Morgan L. McMinn (granddaughter), “Interview with Ross Dye, Grandson of John Morgan Dye,” Chickcensintheroad, 2008, http://chickensintheroad.com/living/interview-with-ross-dye-grandson-of-john-morgan-dye/.
Roane County Historical Society. http://wvroane.org/.