Have you ever viewed a painting of a place that just
seemed so familiar that you were certain that you had walked that road
or viewed that sunset?
That familiar feeling happened to us one recent morning.
It was our original plan to walk through Berdine Knotts
Wayne’s home and do another article for our series, “If These Walls
Could Speak,” but plans sometimes change and stories sometimes develop
more than expected.
As we spent the morning together, Berdine’s gentle smile
and sweet memories made us certain that we had lived in the days of her
The legacy of the Knotts family is one for the history
books. Joseph and Mary (Polly) are credited for the first Calhoun County
cabin, which was built in 1840. They had five children Jemima (Lynch),
William, Elizabeth Jane (Chenoweth), Absalom, and Rufus.
This marker stands on the site of the cabin in the county.
Absalom married Prudence Arnold. They had six children:
Mary, Simon, Minnora, Joseph, Louise and Edward. Absalom gave his
children about 1,000 acres each. This land would continue to be passed
down for many generations in the Knotts family.
Besides owning countless acres of land, Absalom was an
attorney, a farmer and a resident in Calhoun when it was organized.
During the Civil War, he served two and one-half years in the
Confederate Army as captain of Co. E, 14th Virginia Cavalry.
Capt. Absolom Knotts in the Confederate Army.
He was involved in battles at Winchester, Gettysburg,
Brandy Station, and in numerous other skirmishes. In August of 1864, he
was taken prisoner and held until the close of the war.
Berdine recalls the story of her great-grandmother,
Prudence, going to visit Absalom in Virginia: “Prudence was a tiny woman
barely five feet tall, but determined to see her husband. She strapped a
gun to her leg on the inside of her dress and rode side saddle alone all
the way into eastern Virginia.”
After her first successful journey, word of Prudence’s
brave ride quickly spread. She was approached and asked to carry letters
through the lines to the other side while she traveled to see Capt.
Absalom. Prudence agreed, and with her firearm strapped to her leg, she
carried documents across Virginia hidden under her dress.
Absalom also served as constable, justice of the peace,
presiding justice of the court, and representative to the Virginia and
West Virginia state legislatures. He was also postmaster at Minnora,
which was named for his daughter. Prudence Chapel is named for his wife.
The Knotts family, left to right, standing, Stella, Hamilton,
Howard and wife Vena; seated, Joseph holding grandson Eucle,
Channing and Dora.
His son, Joseph, married Dora Connolly. They had four
children: Howard, Hamilton, Channing and Stella. Joseph built the
“Mansion House” and helped start the county seat in Minnora.
“Grandfather was a self-made man,” said Berdine. “He
would fast and pray sometimes for weeks at a time. Grandma would carry
his lunch tray to his room to find his breakfast still sitting outside
untouched. We don’t stop and realize how precious those people were.
Grandfather was a special man.”
Joseph and Dora, like Absalom and Prudence, gave each of
their children land.
Howard Knotts, the eldest son, acquired 240 acres. He
and wife Vena Westfall built the “Knotts’ Viewpoint” on the land given
to them. They had eight children: Eucle, Ruby, Opal, Raymond, Victor,
Walter, Berdine and Charles.
Berdine remembers vividly growing up on the West Fork.
The stories of her childhood are exciting and entertaining.
She recalls her little brother Charles riding his
tricycle around and around the house. “It was a gift from Ruby, and he
rode the wheels off of that little tricycle,” laughed Berdine.
She remembers her mother making all of their clothing
and even their soap: “We had an old wood stove in the kitchen that
mother cooked on. I still have the scars on my hands where I fell into
it as I was learning to walk. At that time, medicine wasn’t what it is
today. They put butter on my wounds, and it took all night for mom and
dad to calm me. They said they walked me all night trying to ease and
quiet my hurt.”
Berdine remembers when Rt. 16 was being built. The work
was done by convict labor, and the camp of 200 prisoners was located on
part of her grandfather Joseph’s farm.
The rock was quarried from the nearby hillsides. The
blasting was so close to Berdine’s home that windows were actually
Convicts would sometimes walk up to the farm looking for
“Father would draw water for them, and then they would
be on their way. One night, though, our uncle came up the road and told
dad that a couple of convicts were pushing his Ford Coupe down the lane.
It seemed the convicts were trying to escape in Dad’s two-seater, but
they didn’t get far,” said Berdine.
As youngsters, the Knotts children played hide-and-seek,
ante over, and other games. They made popcorn balls, pulled taffy, and
walked to Minnora School for classes.
When they were high school age, they rode the infamous
“Our bus was the biggest one in the county, but the
coldest too. We would sit on each others’ feet trying to stay warm in
the winter,” said Berdine.
Besides cold feet, she also caught the eye of a young
man in high school. She met her husband of 60 years, Wheeler Wayne, in
They returned to Calhoun from Akron, Ohio, in 1977 to
help care for Berdine’s mother, and now live in “Knotts’ Viewpoint.”
More memories are being made in the home built by Howard
and Vena Knotts. Berdine and her family preserve the heritage of the
Knotts with stories that paint a beautiful picture of unforgotten times.
Their appreciation for their ancestors runs deeper than
even the old time West Fork, and that appreciation is contagious as you
become drawn into the painting of a long legacy.