The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Shady Valley, Tennessee

By Pamela Chandler © 1990

Issue: April, 1990

A wet autumn wind swept down into the valley. It was a cold blustery day in the mountains of northeast Tennessee. It was the kind of day that mountain people choose to stay at home in front of a warm fireplace and bring out their kerosene heaters from summer storage. It was late October and I was returning to Shady Valley which is nestled between Holston and Iron Mountains near the Tennessee-Virginia line. I first came to this valley four summers ago when I was working as a seasonal surveying for the U.S. Forest Service. I was impressed then, as now, by the wideness of the valley and its isolation. It is completely encircled by a wall of mountains. The valley is eight miles long, running southwest to northwest. Dairy farms dot the valley floor interspersed with apple orchards and tobacco fields.

A road runs through the valley connecting it with Elizabethton, Tennessee to the south and Damascus, Virginia to the north. To reach Shady Valley from Elizabethton, take 91, a two-lane highway which twists and snakes it way up the mountains. Once at the top of the climb, the view of the valley a few hundred feet below is worth the drive. The Appalachian Trail skirts the western rim of Holston Mountain. On the other side of the ridge is South Holston Lake, built by TVA with an elevation of 1700 feet.

The town of Shady Valley is in the center of the valley at the intersection of highways 91 and 421. There are only two general stores at the crossroads. But, they sell everything from groceries, spare tractor parts, assorted hardware to gasoline. This is where farmers and valley folk gather to discuss this year's crops, the weather, and exchange local gossip. As I pulled up to Higdon's Mercantile on this rainy Sunday afternoon, there was only one pickup parked out front. I went inside and was greeted by the storekeeper. I bought a coke and a sack of winesaps [apples]. Outside the store tacked to the bulletin board, were the usual advertisements of community activities. Next Saturday there will be a turkey shoot at the Methodist Church Retreat. A soup bean supper will be held at the Community Center on Friday night. I returned to my car and continued up the valley. My destination was the northwest corner where the roads I helped survey were located. I reached the turnoff leading to where the roads take off at the community of Crandull. Crandull is easy to miss if you fail to notice a red brick house opposite the Crandull Baptist Missionary Church, a white clapboard building with steepled belltower. The turnoff is a gravel road winding past farmhouses before it becomes dirt and abruptly ascends the mountain.

As I passed several farmhouses, I wondered which one belonged to the old bachelor farmer who decided to hold his funeral service before his death. Despite reassurance from his doctor, he was convinced of his imminent demise. The announcement of the time and whereabouts of his funeral were published in the local newspaper. The service took place at his home. It attracted people from all over Carter County as well as some neighboring counties. People crowded into the house to hear the minister read the old man's last rites as he lay down in his coffin. The same coffin was rumored to be where the old man slept every night.

I reached the end of the gravel and parked my car. I began hiking up toward McQueen's Gap. The logging roads were located a few hundred feet below the gap and ran parallel to the ridge. They were named the Upper and Lower Haeberlin, after the creek branches running nearby. As I walked up the mountain, the rain slowed to a steady drizzle. There were a few remaining leaves on some of the scarlet oaks, sugar maples, and yellow poplars. They offered a sharp, colorful contrast to the gray, dreary woods in the background. I reached the lower road and walked to the first turnaround. On a nearby hillside, there was a large clear-cut area with three year's new growth. It had been replanted by natural regeneration which means that adjacent trees as well as wind-blown and animal-borne pollen had seeded the area. In the first years of regeneration the area is dominated by hardy pioneer species such as blackberry, pin cherry, and pine. Then by the process of succession, these species are gradually replaced by cove hardwoods, so valued for their timber in the southern Appalachians. Without fire, blowdown, or clear-cutting, the process would go even further. The cove hardwoods would be succeeded by American beech, sugar maple, and eastern hemlock.

In the distance I heard the rushing waters of the Lower Haeberlin and imagined its banks swollen with rainwater. I felt the chill of late afternoon creep through my parka and decided to return to the car. On the way back I stopped at the general store and drank a cup of hot chocolate by a burning woodstove which stood in the middle of the room.

The rain stopped as I drove up Iron Mountain and out of the valley. I stopped my car and watched the mist rising off the mountain. It gave this remote valley and surrounding mountains an air of enchantment.