My name is Stephen Tucker and I am a local, amateur historian. My pastor Lenard Kesle told me a story from years ago when he was 12-years-old and was out hunting. He said he came across a “house” carved out of rock. He said it had a door, a window, and looked like two rooms that had been started.
After hearing my pastor’s story, I decided to research the history and found that a man by the name of Laban Hill (1809 - 1886) started to carve out a house around the mid-1800s. Two conflicting stories as to why he stopped: one said that the chisel broke; while the other said it was too monumental of a task. Either way, the area after this, was known as “Rock Castle.”
Laban’s family is well documented, but the location was not. All references to the location only state that he lived on “Chestnut Orchard Farm,” in Jackson County, West Virginia (Virginia at the time).
I did locate the valley of his farm by speaking with locals who had seen it when they were young. Everyone assured me that the “castle” was probably wiped out by flooding at this point. No one seemed to know exactly where his farm was located though, only the area.
There is a black and white photo of his house, but as much as I have searched the valley through the Rock Castle area, I have never found any evidence that it still exists.
I believe it was at the bottom of Rising Sun Road, as everything lines up with the picture. I came across a story from some of the descendants who talked about walking up a big hill to their uncle’s house, which fits in the topographic region. There we have rock cliffs, evidence of a huge flood, and in a field, perfectly in order Easter flowers, which is always a sure sign that a house was once in that location.
A flood was reported through the area around the turn of the century, possibly the 1937 flood, damaging the castle and probably taking the structure then, as it was situated right on 13 Mile Creek. Rock Castle was then relocated to higher ground at the time.
Much of the valley is inaccessible; though a state road runs somewhat through that valley, much of it is gated off and doesn’t fully follow the creek.
My sons and I waited until spring when the waters would rise, and kayaked down 13 Mile Creek between Tightsqueeze Hollow and the old Rock Castle Church (which Laban Hill helped build). It was said to be situated along the banks somewhere between those areas. Our trip was unsuccessful.
This past winter I decided to take another trip down that way. We used Rising Sun Road because it leads straight to 13 Mile Creek and cuts the valley in two. My sons and I found two things. A stone wall built into a cavern right on the creek, and an inscription of D.B.S 1875 or 1895 on a rock face nearby.
Multiple chisel marks can still be seen all around it, as well as evidence of a huge washout. The initials didn’t make any sense at first; however, after further research, I found that Hill had 12 children.
Hill’s oldest son Enoch, who fought for the Union in nine separate battles of the Civil War, owned the farm. He sold the farm to his sister Alzina Hill, Laban’s daughter, who married John Wesley Sayre Jr. They had four children, one being Daniel Bennett Sayre, whom I believe carved his initials where the castle once stood. He was the only descendant from Laban that stayed in that area and carried those initials.
I suppose there is no way to know for certain, since everyone that had ever seen it couldn’t remember where it stood, or they have now passed away.
There is a legend about a farm that fits the description in the right area; a stone wall in a cave, chisel marks, rock debris, and a dated engraving from his grandson.
I don’t think we can ever get any closer to the legend than we did, to say this is the location for the “Rock Castle” that gave the town its name.
Tucker encourages anyone with local history legends to share, to contact him at 304-532-5407, calls or text messages will be accepted.