Q: How did Mill Mountain get its name?
-- Joann Lynch, Roanoke
A: Paul Chapman, park supervisor of Roanoke's Mill Mountain, not only answered this one, but he also turned up an intriguing bit of presidential trivia connected to Mill Mountain's mill.
Citing a timeline in the Mill Mountain Master Plan, Chapman explained that in the 1740s a man named Mark Evans opened a grist mill at the bottom of the mountain. The water coming from Crystal Spring was enough to power the mill.
In 1790, William McClanahan bought the mill, which is why it is commonly called the Evans McClanahan Mill today.
If the mill were still standing, it might well have a sign boasting "George Washington Slept Here."
According to Chapman's information, Washington stayed at the mill in 1756 while on business related to the French and Indian War.
While I had Chapman on the phone, I told him that a reader may have solved the mystery of the stone stairs. It's odd enough to have stairs on the side of a mountain, but these attract interest because the first step is about eight feet in the air.
Anne Blackwell, a Mill Mountain resident, wrote in to tell me that the stairs once led to the Rockledge Inn.
Chapman said this made sense.
The Inn was built in 1891. At the time it was served by a carriage road and the story goes that the road was so bad it was quicker to just walk up.
The road was widened in 1924. Chapman guesses the stairs were probably cut off to make room for the wider road, leaving them in the strange state they're in now.
Q: In reference to your recent column about eminent domain for church use, the Second Amendment makes no reference to separation of church and state. Why do journalists, attorneys and the judiciary continue to use this phrase? Our Founding Fathers made their intent very clear. Please ask your readers to read the Bill of Rights for its proper wording.
-- Myron Kitts, Bristol
A: Why do journalists and lawyers get blamed for everything?
Sorry, if you don't like the phrase, you'll have to take it up with those clear-intentioned Founding Fathers, not with me.
Thomas Jefferson used the phrase in a letter in 1802, according to "The Columbia World of Quotations."
But it was a theme of great importance to him long before then. Here's the opening to his 1786 "Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom:"
"Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness ..."
As you can see, Jefferson's demand for religious freedom is itself a religious document, with one reference to God as "the Holy author of our religion."
So clearly, Jefferson wasn't trying to drive out religion. He was, instead, seeking to protect it from the "impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others ..."
These concerns were so strongly held by Jefferson and the Founding Fathers who actually drafted the Constitution (Jefferson was overseas at the time of the Constitutional Convention) and Bill of Rights that freedom of worship is the very first freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment (not the Second Amendment, which defends the right to keep and bear arms).
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ..."
For more of Jefferson's statute and other documents essential to our liberties, you may wish to visit the State Department's "Basic Readings in U.S. Democracy."
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