Abijah Alley, of Eighteenth Century Scott County, is one of the most difficult individuals to locate information on. Alley left a fantastic legacy that was still discussed in the late Nineteenth Century, even in the pages of the New York Times.
Just like noted outlaw “Doc” Taylor, Abijah was an incredibly complex and fascinating Appalachian individual. He was a world-traveler, artist, architect, carpenter, author, and botanist, just to name a few of his occupations. Sadly, none of his written works or paintings is known to exist today. Alley is often confused with the Civil War figure Abigah Alley (1851-1937), who was probably a descendent.
Alley was born around 1794, in the Long Hollow community of Scott County, Virginia. Legend stated he was one of 10 children born to Thomas J. Alley and Sarah Jane Green Alley. Long Hollow wasn’t the most uplifting community when Alley was born. There was an epidemic of suicide and despondency, all attributed to the terrible living conditions.
He was different, even at a young age. He taught himself to read and write, when he wasn’t helping around the house. He’d started to preach by his adolescence, although he didn’t belong to any particular church. Ultimately, he would come to be known more for his eccentricities than his religious perspectives.
Alley had a modest start in adulthood, with a small tract of land in Long Hollow. Land remained cheap in the area, so he continued to make small property purchases as he could. His little farm eventually grew to include over 1,000 acres.
Alley carried a load of corn to the gristmill one morning, a journey he’d made many times. He was overcome with an urge to meet the President of the United States. He left his wagon with the mill, along with word of where he was going for his loved ones. He rode his horse off into the countryside.
Two months passed before he returned. He carried stories of Washington and of his talks with then President Martin Van Buren, eighth president of the United States. The community was shocked at his sudden journey, and even more so with his success. This was just the start of his unusual life.
The money from his farm allowed Alley the freedom to utilize his creativity. The first order of business after his Washington trip was to recreate King Solomon’s Temple, as mentioned in the Old Testament. He used only timber on his land to build the house. Neighbors were stunned every time they passed because the structure came together so quickly. Alley never used a hammer or any iron tools, the logs were hewn and cut to interlock.
He then hit a creative block and decided to visit Europe, as well as the Holy Land, for inspiration. He departed from home as abruptly as he did with his Washington trip. Months passed, and then years. Most of the community had given up on his return. Three years later, Alley returned as if he’d just left the day before.
He said he’d accomplished all he needed to do. He traveled extensively in Europe and spent a year in Palestine. He’d met heads of state as well as royalty during his trip. He brought back unusual books and strange relics, as well as countless seeds from the plants in Jerusalem.
He nearly covered his lands with a lush grazing plant called, “peavine.” Some species are found in North America, but the variety he planted was believed to be European. He covered the hillsides with exotic vines and olive trees, but most died in the following decades. By the 1890s, even the hardy peavine had disappeared from the land.
He spent another decade writing and painting. He was also an Appalachian Nostradamus, who ventured into prophecy. He predicted the secession of the south, the Civil War, and the result of the war. He also predicted many European changes that eventually happened. He wrote an entire book on his views and theories, but no copies are known to exist today.
Alley was a puzzle to his neighbors, who were content with adequate food and shelter. He painted frescoes on the walls of his temple that recreated scenes from the bible. Only one painted wall remained upright by the 1890s. Alley was most likely trying to recreate the magnificent scenes in European cathedrals.
Sadly, Alley’s business sense suffered as time passed. He eventually lost his once vast wealth and his inspiration. There are rumors that he began to travel out west before his death, and that he died in Arkansas, but those aren’t correct. He died on March 24, 1866, in Scott County, Virginia.
By the turn of the Twentieth Century, men were credited with destroying his temple house. All that remained at that point were a few wall remnants and the home’s foundation. We are left to speculate on his works today. There is a brief mention, in a book titled the History of Methodism in Texas, from 1872, which cites a writer named Abijah Alley. The book’s author, Homer Thrall, mentions a paper authored by Alley. In this work, Alley claimed to have spent several weeks in heaven.