The City of Radford will serve as the centerpiece of a celebration in the New River Valley today and Sunday, July 25 and 26, of Mary Draper Ingles’ historic journey.
Her story has been told repeatedly in books, articles, an outdoor drama, at festivals and at living history reenactments. She was born in Philadelphia in 1732 and eventually married William Ingles. They settled in Drapers Meadows, which is present-day Blacksburg.
The New River Valley residents had little to fear from the Native Americans in the area. They routinely passed by from the Ohio Valley on their way to fight the Catawbas further north. That all changed in July 1755 when a band of Shawnees attacked the Drapers Meadows settlement and killed some of the settlers. Mary and other family members were taken prisoners and carried hundreds of miles into the frontier wilderness.
Mary Ingles escaped her captors and walked through Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, navigating only through memory and by following significant waterways. The obelisk in Westview Cemetery in Radford that commemorates her journey home describes her ordeal. “She was the first white bride married west of the Alleghany Mountains. [After her capture and escape,] she made her way home in winter, alone, some 800 miles through a trackless wilderness, guided only by the streams and subsisting on nuts and roots for 40 days. No greater exhibition of female heroism, courage and endurance is recorded in the annuals of frontier history.”
Some time after Ingles made it back to her home valley, her husband and she moved to the Radford area where they established a homestead and ferry operation. She lived there until her death in 1815.
Visitors will want to tour the Mary Draper Ingles Cultural Heritage Park in Radford, which includes a bronze statue of the frontier heroine. The park overlooks the New River and has been designated as a Virginia Treasure by the Department of Conservation and Recreation.
The Radford Visitor’s Center at Glencoe Museum is adjacent to the park and will feature a Mary Draper Ingles video short and a permanent display about Ingles. Books, commemorative prints by acclaimed artist P. Buckley Moss and other souvenirs will be available in the gift shop, which will be open today, July 25, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Other points in Radford of particular interest to Ingles and her journey include the obelisk in Westview Cemetery, 1500 Fifth St., which is constructed of chimney stones from the original Ingles Farm cabin, and the Return of Mary Draper Ingles mural at the Radford Post Office, 901 W. Main St., Radford.
Other points of historical interest this weekend include the Wilderness Road Regional Museum at 5243 Wilderness Road in Dublin. The museum will have living historians on site Saturday and Sunday, presenting Colonial and Native American history with Monacans from Natural Bridge. They will be outside, but museum representatives are asking that tour times be pre-arranged to follow mask and social distancing recommendations.
Tour times will be on the half hour, Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. A blacksmith workshop has already sold out but may be observed if the smith is at work during the tour.
The museum typically encourages folks to stop by during posted hours, but for this special weekend, pre-arranged times must be scheduled for everyone’s safety. Donations are always appreciated during visits to the museum. To arrange tours, email or text firstname.lastname@example.org or 540-818-3804.
Also of interest to history buffs this weekend are the Andrew Johnson House, open 2-3 p.m. both days at 208 N. Main St. in Pearisburg; Smithfield Plantation, 1000 Smithfield Plantation Road in Blacksburg, open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, July 25, and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Fees apply; and the Floyd County Historical Museum, at 217 N. Locust St. in Floyd, open today, July 25, from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m.
The more adventurous can hike the Mary Draper Ingles Trail in Glen Lyn that traverses seven miles one way right along the New River. This trail has no improved surface, no restrooms and moderate grade changes throughout. Returning to Glen Lyn requires walking back along the same trail. The trail offers great views of Shumate Falls and many wildlife viewing opportunities, including osprey and eagles, which are common in this area.
Speaking of this Ingles observance, Radford tourism director Deborah Cooney said the Mary Draper Ingles Weekend gives an overview of a special frontierswoman, life in the region and the development of the area. “Because of social distancing, Ingles Farm and cabin are not able to open safely this year, but we hope the weekend prompts visitors to delve deeper into the fascinating stories of our early American history,” said Cooney.
Ingles Farm, at 9 Wilderness Road in Radford, is the homestead and ferry option William and Mary established after she made it home. Ingles Ferry allowed travelers to cross the New River.
In 2017 the Virginia General Assembly honored Ingles by designating the last Saturday in July as Mary Draper Ingles Remembrance Day. The distinction has continued to increase interest in the story of Mary’s capture and escape during the French and Indian War.
In October 2019, the Virginia Women’s Monument, Voices from the Garden, was installed on the capitol grounds in Richmond. Mary Draper Ingles is one of the 12 women chosen to be honored.