A sense of place

Turk McCleskey decodes the landscape of Timber Ridge for Elizabeth Steitz, Frank Diez and Hamlet Fort

Ever heard of Rapps Mill? Been to Vesuvius, or Rockbridge Baths? Villages like these are hidden in plain view not far beyondLexington, and their stories are being discovered and explored by three W&L sophomores and one freshman in the spring-term journalism class, “A Sense of Place.”   

Jamie Davis, ’14, and Elizabeth Steitz, ’14, are creating a multi-media package of photos, audio and feature stories around the 90-year-old W&L graduate, Jim Parsons, who is descended from the Rapp who started the sawmill. Parsons remembers the 1932 fire that burned it down – admitting he and his father accidentally started the fire by burning brush.

 Frank Diez, ’14, has been spending time digging into the histories around the once-popular watering spot of Rockbridge Baths. Hamlet Fort, ’15, who once apprenticed with a National Geographic photographer in Europe, has become a regular drop-in customer at Gertie’s Country Store in the Blue Ridge village of Vesuvius.

 “A Sense of Place,” Prof. Doug Cumming’s spring-term course, slows down the reporting process to make journalism students appreciate the most neglected of the five Ws – the “where.” Excellent examples of this kind of journalism come from readings of Calvin Trillin and John McPhee, and WPA-era documentaries. The course has also brought in visiting journalists who get excited over stories of place: photojournalist Jared Soares, WMRA-FM’s Martha Woodroof, Roanoke Times feature writer Beth Macy, and photographer Bruce Young, ’82.

Wherever you go in this rustic valley, you’re standing on packed history, as VMI History Professor Turk McCleskey pointed out, giving the students a tour of one of the oldest churchyard cemeteries in the county, at Timber Ridge.


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