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Halifax County Historical Society
Number 39, Spring 2017
Tragedies at Collins Ferry Farm
by Peggy Crews
The stately brick home that stands along the Staunton River in the northern part of Halifax County is not only known for its magnificent rooms, original mantels with intricate designs and elegant color combinations and spacious hallways so large a ball could be held in each of them, but also for the myriad of tragedies that occurred in and around it.
James Collins was the first in the family to own the Collins Ferry property when he received a patent in 1761, and subsequently constructed a mill on the banks of the Staunton River. The location he chose for the mill was doomed from the start because at this point in the river treacherous currents eddied around several islands in the river. The road approaching the mill, which everyone used to take their tobacco to Lynchburg inclined in a downward direction making it hard for wagon drivers to slow down or stop due to the heavy loads they were transporting. Soon the problems would begin.
In 1881 Josh Ridgeway and his family moved into the house to run the mill and operate the ferry. Nelson Black, an employee of Ridgeway, was killed as he was heading down the hill toward the ferry and his wagon overturned causing the logs he was hauling to move forward crushing him to death. Not long after this, a visitor to the mill fell from the top floor of the mill fortunate that his only injury was a broken leg—but trouble continued to plague Ridgeway during his ownership of Collins Ferry. From the time Ridgeway moved to Collins Ferry, he had been in a constant dispute over a road with Les Thacker, a resident of the area. The dispute had escalated over the four years Ridgeway operated the mill and one day the two men met in a store in Stovall. Thacker pulled a gun and shot and killed Ridgeway. Mrs. Ridgeway and her children stayed in the house and continued to manage the mill, but it was only a month after her husband’s death that tragedy struck again. This well-known catastrophe involved Charlie Beale and Tom Abbott who along with Paul Adams, the ferryman, drowned in the Staunton River when the three team wagon they were driving laden with tobacco capsized as the river’s current caught them and crashed them against a massive rock. Mrs. Ridgway stayed one more year before moving away and relinquishing the mill and house to Jim Mullins. Things did not stop here.
Mullins and his family moved into the grand brick house and he began the task of managing the mill. Once again tragedy marred Collins Ferry farm. Somehow a loaded pistol was left in the reach of Mullins’s two small sons and before they could be discovered, the children decided to experiment with the gun and one of them was shot and quickly died. A short time later Mullins was hunting near his home and accidentally shot himself in the arm. While his wound would not be fatal today, it proved to be for Mullins. He died because he could not receive the proper medical attention and drugs he needed to survive.
Eventually E. R. Monroe acquired the Collins Ferry property and made the wise decision to relocate the ferry east of Melrose where the river was much smoother and crossing would not be difficult. The old mill at Collins Ferry was demolished and the materials were used for tenant houses. The imposing and dignified brick house still stands, one of the most impressive in the county.
Note: Today this property is part of the Collins Ferry Plantation, LLC and is in the Collins Ferry Historic District, which is listed in the Virginia Landmarks Register and in listed in the National Register of Historic Places.