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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Near Fries in Grayson County, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
 

Fries

 
 
Fries Marker image. Click for full size.
By J. J. Prats, May 26, 2013
1. Fries Marker
Inscription. Fries is named for Colonel Francis H. Fries of North Carolina, founder of the Washington Mills Company. By 1900, Fries and his associates had determined that the New River could power a textile mill. The town was incorporated in 1902, and by the following year a dam, a textile mill, and 300 houses had been built. The town of Fries is also known for its early influence on country music. Henry Whitter, a local employee at the textile mill, traveled to New York City in Dec. 1923 and recorded the “Wreck on the Southern Old 97” and “Lonesome Road Blues.” Inspired by Whitter, local musicians Kelly Harrell and Ernest Stoneman also recorded songs.
 
Erected 2000 by Department of Historic Resources. (Marker Number UE-2.)
 
Location. 36° 42.812′ N, 80° 59.32′ W. Marker is near Fries, Virginia, in Grayson County. Marker is on Scenic Road (Virginia Route 94) north of Walnut Lane (Route 860), on the right when traveling north. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Fries VA 24330, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 6 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. A different marker also named Fries (approx. 0.4 miles away); “New River Train” Song
Fries Marker image. Click for full size.
By J. J. Prats, May 26, 2013
2. Fries Marker
(approx. 0.4 miles away); First Court of Grayson County (approx. 3.5 miles away); First County Seat (approx. 4.4 miles away); The Railroad: Lifeline to the World (approx. 4.7 miles away); Galax (approx. 4.8 miles away); Galax: Home of Traditional Mountain Music (approx. 4.9 miles away); a different marker also named Galax (approx. 5.3 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Fries.
 
More about this marker. This marker replaced a marker with this same title and number that was located at the other end of town at the Carroll County line that read “Center of early recorded country music. On March 1, 1923, in New York City, Henry Whitter of Fries, Virginia, recorded two songs ‘The Wreck of the Old 97’ and ‘Lonesome Road Blues.’ These were among the first successful country recordings by a country artist. His recordings inspired many other local artists to record including E. V. ‘Pop’ Stoneman and Kelly Harrell. All three men were employees of the Fries Textile Plant.”
 
Regarding Fries. The hillside town and
Henry Whitter (1892–1941) image. Click for full size.
Courtesy the Internet Archive
3. Henry Whitter (1892–1941)
the New River can be seen in the distance from this pull-off.
 
Also see . . .
1. Henry Whitter: Wreck of the Old 97 (1923). MP3 file on the Internet Archive. (Submitted on June 4, 2013.) 

2. Vernon Dalhart: Wreck of the Old ’97 (1924). YouTube audio of Victor Recording 19427.

Well they gave him his orders at Monroe Virginia
Sayin’ Steve you're way behind time.
This is not 38, it's old 97
You must put her into Spencer on time.

Then he turned around and said to his black greasy fireman
Shovel on a little more coal.
And when we cross that White Oak Mountain
Watch old 97 roll.

But it’s a mighty rough road from Lynchburg to Danville
And from Lima it’s on a three mile grade.
It was on that grade that he lost his air brakes,
See what a jump he made.

He was goin’ down the grade makin’ 90 miles an hour
When his whistle broke into a scream.
He was found in the wreck with his hand on the throttle
A-scalded to death by the steam.

Then the telegram come to Washington station
and this is how it read.
Oh that brave engineer that run old 97
He’s a layin’ in old Danville dead.

So now all you ladies you better take a warnin’
from this time on and learn.
Never speak harsh words to your true lovin’ husband
He may leave you and never return.

(Submitted on June 4, 2013.)
Fries, Virginia image. Click for full size.
By J. J. Prats, May 26, 2013
4. Fries, Virginia
View is from the marker pull-off. Sign reads “Where the Trail Begins. Fries. Come for a visit ... stay for a lifetime.”
 

3. Henry Whitter: Lonesome Road Blues (1924). MP3 file on the Internet Archive. (Submitted on June 4, 2013.) 

4. Wikipedia Entry for Henry Whitter. “Whitter learned to play the guitar from an early age, and later on, the fiddle, banjo, harmonica and piano. His love of music made him dream of a career as an artist and he spent much time listening to cylinder recordings of Uncle Josh. He found work in a cotton mill called Fries Washington Mill, but through the years 1923-1926 he frequently took time off to record. He claimed that his first session was in March 1923 in New York City for Okeh Records, which would have made him the first truly country singer to record, a few months before Fiddlin’ John Carson. However, this claim is not supported by the Okeh files. What is certain is that Whitter did record for Okeh from December 1923 to 1926.

“In his first session, he recorded nine songs, including ‘Wreck On the Southern Old 97’ coupled with ‘Lonesome Road Blues.’ The recording was released in January 1924 and was quite successful. The light opera singer and country musician Vernon Dalhart heard ‘Wreck On the Southern Old 97’ and decided to record it. (That particular recording coupled with ‘The Prisoner’s Song,’ went on to become the first million-selling record in country music in 1924.) Other songs in Whitter’s repertoire would become
View of the Washington Mills, Fries Va.... image. Click for full size.
By Lewis Wickes Hine, May 1910
5. View of the Washington Mills, Fries Va....
...Housing conditions are fairly good, but housekeeping not very good. Working very good. Good light, fresh air. (Image courtesy Library of Congress)
standards, such as ‘The New River Train’ and ‘Put My Little Shoes Away.’ He was the first to record the harmonica tunes ‘Lost John’ and ‘Fox Chase.‘ He also recorded cover versions of hits by other performer’s such as Uncle Dave Macon’s ‘Keep My Skillet Good And Greasy’ and Kelly Harrell’s ‘I Wish I Was Single Again.’ Although a limited musician, he supplied what record-buyers wanted and sold very well. However, by 1926 there were more skilled musicians in the market, which may explain why Okeh ceased to record Whitter.” (Submitted on June 4, 2013.) 
 
Categories. Arts, Letters, MusicIndustry & Commerce
 
The Washington Mills Dam 103 Years Later image. Click for full size.
By J. J. Prats, May 26, 2013
6. The Washington Mills Dam 103 Years Later
The 1902 Washington Inn in Fries, Virginia image. Click for full size.
By J. J. Prats, May 26, 2013
7. The 1902 Washington Inn in Fries, Virginia
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on June 4, 2013, by J. J. Prats of Springfield, Virginia. This page has been viewed 493 times since then and 39 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on June 4, 2013, by J. J. Prats of Springfield, Virginia.   3. submitted on June 4, 2013.   4. submitted on June 4, 2013, by J. J. Prats of Springfield, Virginia.   5. submitted on June 5, 2013.   6, 7. submitted on June 6, 2013, by J. J. Prats of Springfield, Virginia.
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