9/28/2013 8:00 AM
By Jane W. Graham Va. Correspondent
PRICE’S FORK, Va. — The love of family and its history was a seed that germinated, grew and finally blossomed into an event on Sept. 13-14 when the Price's Fork German Heritage Weekend took place in Montgomery County, Va. An estimated 150 people, mostly relatives, traveled — some long distances — to see the orignial homestead, located on the James McDonald farm near Blacksburg, Va., during the event.
The planning of the German Heritage Weekend evolved from a discussion about the significance of the 275th anniversary of the Preisch ancestors arriving in Philadelphia on Sept. 5, 1738, according to Michelle Berg, a spokesperson for the Price Family Historical Society.
"It was awesome that after that many years, that we have not forgotten them," Susanne Price Jones of Blacksburg, Va., said. "It doesn't feel like that long ago."
Jones expressed a great deal of empathy for the early settlers who arrived here from Germany due to religious persecution in their homeland.
The fact that the settlers had heard the King of England was giving land grants was another factor in their coming, she said.
She said the settlers endured the hardships of leaving loved ones and the country they loved to come to the New World.
The recent weekend celebration began on a bright Friday morning when early attendees gathered at St. Michael's Lutheran Church in Price’s Fork, Va., for a trip to the McDonald farm where the first Prices established a settlement in southwest Virginia. It was known as the New River German Settlement.
"This is a very sacred spot," said Jimmie Price, the society's historian, about the McDonald farm. He led a moment of silence in honor of the late James McDonald who, with his wife, Martha, and sons, Bill and Jim, in the early 1990s restored and renovated the historic homestead buildings on the farm, most of them built of logs. James McDonald served as a Cooperative Extension agent in Tazewell County, Va.
The family name is remembered here hourly because of the various geographical sites that go by the name, "Price's Fork," or use simply, "Price," in the name. There is the village of Price's Fork, Price's Fork Elementary School, Price’s Mountain and Price's Fork Road, an artery into Blacksburg and Virginia Tech.
Shorter's farm is a few miles from Price’s Fork, downstream on Tom's Creek from the historic McDonald farm in the Long Shop community
Bill McDonald and his mother, Martha McDonald, led a tour of the historic homestead and pointed out the restoration work that had been done, much with original wood and stone from other early buildings that were beyond repair. The pair shared history and answered questions for over two hours.
The McDonald farm, settled eight generations ago by this Scotch-Irish family, was also originally used by the Price settlers as a sort of staging area. Family members could live there while searching for properties on which they could eventually establish farms; some ended up settling further along Tom's Creek, which runs through the property.
The original community seems to have been self-sufficient with a grist mill, tannery and the production of black powder as well as food and fiber from the surrounding farms.
The McDonalds explained that the early Price cabin was built where their home, part of it log, now stands.
Later, the Prices built a fort around a spring so they would have clean water in the case of an attack by the natives or natural weather problems. The stone-and-log springhouse stands behind the old log kitchen and the house.
The homestead was also the site where the first members of three Protestant denominations worshipped, a part of history important to the current local community. The denominations — German Reformed (also known as German Presbyterian), Lutheran and Methodist — worshipped on rotating Sundays in a small cabin on what is now the McDonald farm, Martha and Bill McDonald said.
The farm was also the site of the first Methodist Camp meeting conducted by a Rev. Greenhill from North Carolina. Bill McDonald, a seed stock producer of beef cattle, said the farm is still called Greenhill Farm by some who believe the name comes from the grass on its green hills where his cattle graze. He said few know it honors a long-ago evangelist.
Four men attended the event by the name of Jim Price. Jones reported that the one known as “California Jim” had traveled last fall to the German village of Offenbach an der Queich, Rhineland Pfalz, to seek out more information about the Price ancestors in Europe. He presented his findings to the group at this event’s Saturday morning session.
Jim and his sister, Annelle Price Baum, had visited Price’s Fork several times before — Annelle once, and Jim three times in the previous eight years.
Jim said one of the highlights of the event for him was getting to meet their Price cousins from all over the U.S. including New York, Florida, Oregon and the Carolinas. He spent time with a long-lost cousin named Anne Price Yates who, in compiling a book about the family, “An Increase in Prices,” had first led he and other southern California Price family members 10 years ago to “becoming enlightened to our rich German heritage and our connection to Price’s Fork, Va.”
Jim Price also brought back pebbles and soil from Germany to be used in a special ceremony during the event. These were incorporated into the soil on the grave of the original settler, Johan Michel Preisch (who became John Michael Price, 1719-1802).
The headstones of both John Michael Price and his wife, Margaret Killian Price, are marked with Daughter's of the American Revolution ensignias, he said.
Charles P. "Chuck" Shorter, a prominent farmer in the area, is one of the Price family members still making his mark in agriculture and the community.
"My mother's maiden name was Price," said Shorter, who attended the Saturday events.
"Her father was my teacher in farming 101," he said. "He had a 300-acre farm in Pembroke (in neighboring Giles County, Va.) and I spent many summers with him and my grandmother. They had beef cattle and sheep."
Saturday morning’s presentation about the family history and genealogy research proved helpful to Shorter.
"I have enjoyed learning about my heritage," he said. "I used to ask my grandfather if we were kin to the Prices in Price’s Fork. He said we were not. (But) I have since learned that both my grandmother and grandfather were descendants of the Price’s Fork Prices."