Buice column: Up the river: Exploring the key crossing of centuries past

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 21, 2019

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Most everyone in this area knows about Shallowford Road, one of the main thoroughfares in Lewisville and the western part of Forsyth County.

But what about the Shallow Ford of the Yadkin River? Well, probably not.

However, the crossing holds historical significance as a link in the Great Wagon Road and the site of the Battle of Shallow Ford, which is perhaps overlooked by historians but was an important victory for the Patriots forces in 1780 — considered one of the turning points of the American Revolution.

The Shallow Ford also served as a crossing by Gen. Charles Cornwallis and the British Army in 1781 and later the site of the Civil War skirmish, Stoneman’s Raid, in 1865 where Gen. George Stoneman’s Union troops crossed the Yadkin at the Shallow Ford.

I was part of a group of explorers a couple of Saturdays ago where we walked in the footsteps of the pioneers as part of the Shallow Ford Walk, which was co-sponsored by the Lewisville Historical Society and the Yadkin County Historical Society.

We viewed the crossing from both sides of the river and imagined what it must have been like through the 18th and 19th centuries when it was a key transportation link as heavier wagons, stagecoaches and artillery could safely cross the Yadkin River there.

As the name implies, it is a shallow section of the river with a natural level rock formation that has been described as “a paved roadway beneath the surface of the water.” With all the rain we’ve had this year, it wasn’t a good idea to try to cross on this particular cold, damp day, but one of the leaders of the group suggested we come back in August to find out if the water levels might be a bit lower. We’ll see about that.

Besides the ford itself, we located markers placed on both sides of the river in 2013 by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) in 1913 designating the start of the Daniel Boone Trail.

We also viewed the site where the Patriots and Loyalists clashed in the Battle of Shallow Ford on Oct. 14, 1780. One of the markers placed by DAR on Mulberry Fields Road was on the route (along with the John Kelly Tavern building, which still stands but is in a state of disrepair) to the battle site. There, we saw where Capt. Henry Francis of the Whigs was buried — with his tombstone marking the spot.

After passing the grave and following the trail deeper in the woods, one of the forest rangers on the walk pointed to a towering yellow popular tree that is 130 feet in height and 18 feet in circumference.

Considered the second largest known tree in Yadkin County (I’d like to see the biggest), he said it is approximately 250- to 350-plus years old. And, of course, it still stands and serves as a witness today of the historic battle.

As we were eating lunch in the Battle Branch Café in the heart of Huntsville, just up the hill from the river, I couldn’t help but think what has transpired in this once vibrant area since some 100 years ago when more advanced forms of river transportation came along and bridges were built — including the West Bend-Huntsville bridge in 1920.

The ford itself remains, but the need to use it is now long gone. Sadly, most people know little or nothing about the Shallow Ford or its place in history.

Oh sure, there is a historical marker at the river that states: Shallow Ford: Colonial route across Yadkin River. Scene of Tory defeat by Whigs. 1780. Crossing used in 1781 by army of Lord Cornwallis 600 yds. S.

That’s it. But we know there’s much more to the story.

A couple of members of the Bethabara Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) have initiated an effort to preserve a large tract of land in Forsyth County that borders the Shallow Ford.

The hope is that the significant history here can be preserved and promoted by public access as it’s a great location for walking paths, camping, fishing, boating, etc. and is close to Lewisville, Huntsville and Daniel Boone’s homestead.

It sure sounds like a great idea, and if it comes to fruition, everyone will know how to get there — just get on Shallowford Road in Lewisville and head toward the Shallow Ford of Yadkin River.