Mysterious Ferguson's Rock feature of historic road in southern West Virginia

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Mysterious Ferguson's Rock feature of historic road in southern West Virginia
Ferguson's Rock was rescued from its original site and moved to Beckley where it is on display on the lawn at Wildwood.

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Questions may always surround a mysterious boulder in southern West Virginia inscribed with the characters "S. Ferguson F. County 1814."

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Long known simply as , the stone of about three feet by four feet has long been the focus of local lore.

This map shows the routes of the old Bluestone Road and the Giles, Fayette, and Kanawha Turnpike.

According to popular legend, a hunter traveling horseback was thrown by his steed at a ford on Piney Creek, where the rock was initially discovered. Fatally injured and accepting his fate, he inscribed his epitaph.

While the tale has captured the imagination of area residents, historian Tom Sopher says some scholars are dubious about the tragic origin story.

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"Why would the hunter, facing death, neglect to write his full name?" Sopher asks. "Why would he spend his last effort chiseling his county of origin? In addition, why did he change the "4" in 1814 to reverse? There are a lot of unanswered questions."

The original site of Ferguson's Rock was along the west bank of Piney Creek near the Beckley I-64 Bridge.

Some historians surmise that the inscription was hewn by a hunter of the Ferguson family, fur trappers of Franklin County, Virginia, and that the unknown Ferguson might have chiseled the characters to pass the time while encamped there.

Aside from the allure of the mystery, Sopher said Ferguson's Rock is vital because it is an artifact of pioneer history that predates Beckley's settlement and speaks to the importance of Beckley as a crossroads.

"Beckley is and was important because it is a natural crossroads," Sopher said. "Roads have always converged here."

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For this reason, members of the society thought it best to relocate the rock from private property, where it remained somewhat obscure, to public property along the route of the former Bluestone Road, the trail Ferguson traveled along.

"We think this is an ideal place for this important historic relic," Sopher said.

The rock was first relocated in 1984 during the expansion of a city waste-treatment facility along the Piney Creek. The late Ray Sutphin, author of the manuscript "Atkinsville, Appalachia," had then provided it a home on his lawn.

In 2018, the Raleigh County Historical Society, in cooperation with the , moved the rock to the grounds of , the historic home of town founder Alfred Beckley.

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With the help of society historian Merle Cole, the rock was acquired in 2017 by the city, stored for several months, and then moved to public property where it could be protected.

Sopher said the rock has been installed on the lawn in front of Wildwood at 121 Laurel Terrace, where visitors can inspect it.  (See the showing the current and original location of the stone.)

"Here, they'll be able to trace the lettering with their fingers," he said. "And the location is near the route of the old Bluestone Road."

In some part, the Bluestone became the "Giles, Fayette, and Kanawha Turnpike," one of several Virginian routes that Alfred Beckley helped establish, along which both Wildwood and Beckleville were established.

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Sopher said historians will continue working to discover more about Ferguson's Rock and hope to develop the site further.


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