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Surry: Wilkes, Auto Slide, railroad, grants

June 17, 2021


Auto Slide Gap

It’s fun to find the long lost name of an unnamed creek or stream.  As I continue plotting deeds and land grants in northeastern Wilkes County, I’ve ventured into the western-most parts of Surry County.  In 1778 when Wilkes was formed, the upper portions of Mitchell River and Fisher River were part of Wilkes.  In 1792, this area was given back to Surry so that the county line between Wilkes and Surry was the dividing ridge between the Big Elkin and Mitchell River.


On the county line at the extreme northeast corner of Wilkes, but on the Surry side, there is a 1944 deed from E. F. McNeer to J. A. J. Royal for 30 acres (Surry DB 149, p644).  The old E&A Railroad ran through this property on its way up to Roaring Gap.  The property also ran “to a stake in Auto Slide Gap”. 


Surry DB 149, p644 mentions Auto Slide Gap


That caught my attention.  I thought maybe this was a point on the mountainside where old cars had been pushed over.  Or, maybe this is where a car slid off the road on a dark and stormy night!



Going back a hundred years, I found a land grant for property located at the same place.  In 1844, file #3434 is a Surry County grant to Jenmiah Douglas adjoining the Wilkes County line and her other property.


Surry Grant, File #3434 in 1847


The property line runs to “the Wilkes line on the top of water slide ridge”.  It’s hard to read, but “water slide” was my best guess.  Somehow over the years, the precise name of the ridge and gap had been forgotten or mispronounced.  But there’s more!


Going back even further, I found an adjoining land grant that was surveyed in 1814.  Surry file #2677 is a grant to Joseph Thompson, and it was located on the east side of the Douglas grant, with the southwest corner adjoining Wilkes County.


Surry Land Entry for Grant File #2677 in 1814


The 1814 land entry says the 100-acre property is located on “Otter Slide branch, waters of Mitchell river”.  This is the original name.  Otter Slide Branch runs east from Otter Slide Gap on Otter Slide Ridge.  The name clearly had nothing to do with automobiles, but it makes you wonder how it did get its name.  I’ve never seen an otter in the mountains.


Land Grants along Otter Slide Branch


Otter Slide Gap is on the east side of Hwy 21.  As you start up the mountain toward Roaring Gap, the first curve is to the left.  As you begin that turn, look up to the right (unless you’re the one driving!) to the top of the ridge, and that’s Otter Slide Gap.  The old E&A Railroad bed is on the east side of Otter Slide Ridge.


This is a link to the satellite view of Otter Slide Gap.


This is a link to the map view of Otter Slide Branch.  Google Maps doesn’t show the branch extending as far north and west as it does on my map, but its headwaters are near the gap on the mountain ridge.


The marker is on Otter Slide Branch on the east side of Hwy 21 near Thurmond


The 1814 land entry and subsequent 1815 grant were issued to Joseph Thompson who became the first official land owner with his purchase.  However, it’s interesting that the entry page says this is the place where Lewis Boswell formerly lived, and that it’s the land that Robert Brooks purchased from John Payne.  So there were three previous “owners” before Thompson bought the land from the state.  There’s probably an interesting story that explains that, but I’m not familiar with those other names.  That’s a project for another time.


This is a good example showing how land records have a story to tell.  While genealogy is often about finding names and dates, looking a little deeper at other records can sometimes reveal more about our ancestors and the area where they lived.  It took me several years to realize this, but it’s helped me to realize that my ancestors were more than just names filled in on a family tree.  They were real people who lived their own lives and who each have their own stories to tell.