There were two celebrations of the history and people of Durbin last weekend. One, of course, was the annual Durbin Days Heritage Festival. As for the second – after five long years of research, interviews, collecting materials and fund sourcing, the Upper Pocahontas Community Cooperative unveiled and dedicated the Durbin Walking Tour signs which have been installed throughout the town.
The dedication was held at the location of four of the 12 signs, where the railroad track begins just south of the Durbin Depot.
As each sign was uncovered, UPCC member and Durbin historian Jason Bauserman described the signs and significance of the information they share.
The signs tell the story of a town in which John Slaven settled in 1811, the growth of the timber industry, the arrival of the train and the industry that followed, as well as the lives led by Durbinites – through the good times and the bad.
Referring to the sign titled “Settlings the Narrows,” Bauserman introduced visitors to Slaven.
“This is our first pioneer, John Slaven, who fought in the Revolutionary War,” he said. “[He] was given fifteen hundred acres that went up the whole west fork area and it ended up down here around Frank. Adam Arbogast went up the east fork with fifteen hundred acres.”
Bauserman explained that the where the signs are located in Durbin was referred to as the Narrows – the valley between the two mountain ridges.
At the sign “144 Steps to School!,” Bauserman pointed out where the Durbin School was and how the 144 steps are all that’s left at the former school’s location. Included on the school sign is a school photo of Dabney Kisner, who went on to be a war hero in World War II.
The next two signs are about the railroad and how Durbin became “More than a Water Stop,” and how “Trains Changed Everything.”
Bauserman explained that as the trains entered Durbin, the people came down from their mountaintop homes and began to settle in the town, which became a boomtown in the early 1900s.
“I feel like when the trains came, everybody started coming off the mountaintops and they moved right along the train route,” he said. “There was a big migration down into the valley.
“It provided a whole lot more jobs, particularly for women,” he continued. “If we had twelve hotels and eleven restaurants in 1916, there would have been a lot more cooking, a lot more bed cleaning, linens, and that type of thing – and also being store clerks. It gave people a lot of jobs through this area.”
Included on the train sign is a photo of Reading 2102 locomotive, which was engineered by James Edward Hall, Jr., the grandfather of Ed Keller, now of Franklin.
Keller has donated several family artifacts to the Durbin Library, including his grandfather’s pocket watch, a photo of which is also included on the sign.
Other signs include:
“A Valuable Connection” and “That’s a Lot of Sole!” located at the Widney Park Rail Trailhead in Durbin; “Scenes Along Main Street” and “Wilmoth & Kerr Store” located near the overlook benches by the Depot; “One ‘Damned Good Jail’” located in the alley behind New Life in Christ Fellowship; “All the Normal Vices” located on Highland Avenue and Goldenrod Drive; and “A Changing Industry” and “Ambush at Hanging Rock” located on Highway 250/92/28 at the Iron Bridge.
Pamphlets with a map and information about the project are available at the four signs on the Depot grounds.