Cumberland Creek is the name of the fictional town in my first novel, SCRAPBOOK OF SECRETS, which will be out in February 2012. Cumberland Creek is in the Shenandoah Valley, which is where I live, but it has its own mountains and river—completely out of my imagination, which is how I like it. Coming up with a history for the town was so much fun. I thought I’d give you a little snippet of it here—from Beatrice’s point of view. (Beatrice is one the of the main characters. She’s the 80-year-old mother of Vera, one of the scrapbookers, and a quantum physicist.
Cumberland Creek, at first called Miller’s Gap, was settled in 1755 by a group of Pennsylvania farmers of German descent. Pennsylvania was too expensive and crowded. Land in this part of Virginia was still plentiful and cheap, then. Sometimes, Beatrice liked to imagine what Cumberland Creek would have looked like to the settlers—no buildings, no fences, no real roads, just paths leading horses and wagons around the mountains. She’d read that at one point in Virginia’s history the trees were so large and dense that squirrels could travel from the mountains to the ocean without touching down on the ground.
Imagine the mountains and forests pristine. So dense that the sun barely peeked through. So clean that you could inhale deeply and not get one whiff of another human.
She grimaced. Now there were settlers of a different kind. They were coming in droves and getting rid of trees to build their houses on top of one another. They were Tiffanys and Taylors and Reeds. There were no Johann Muellers, Peter Baughmans, or Mary Jenkins, people of substance. The people who settled here, sturdy stock, who fought off harsh winters, survived droughts, and raised families. Of the three founders of Cumberland, of course, Beatrice liked to tell the story of Mary Jenkins. Damn she wish she could go back and time and chat with her.
When Mary arrived in present-day Cumberland Creek, she was with her husband and three children and expecting her fourth. After a year of settling—house built, land staked, first crops planted, her husband died, leaving Mary and her children vulnerable in this small community.
They settled the furthest out—close to the mountain—and so Mary didn’t have much comfort of community as she raised her children, tended her crops, took care of her home and land. There were a lot of stories—legends—about her. One claimed that she shot down a Native American that she found lurking around her property. Another claimed that she later fell in love with an Native American, had more children by him, even though they never married. Beatrice liked both stories—though, as with a lot of personal history, nobody could prove a thing.
One thing for sure is that the hills were full of Jenkins. At one point in time, the Jenkins family owned most of one mountain and the hollows around it. One of Mary’s younger sons, Samuel, married a Scots-Irish girl, who was part of the next wave of settlers in the area. Bridget O’Reilly Jenkins populated the mountain with fifteen children. Hence, the names Jenkin’s Mountain and Jenkin’s Hollow.