Generations of Memories
Heart of the Blue Ridge
By Bob Heafner © 1983-2011
First Issue: March 1983
This was the first BACKROADS tour, published in the first edition of The Mountain Laurel, March 1983.
[Update – The starting point at the intersection of US 58 Business and State Road 614 is approximately 100 yards east of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Meadows of Dan, Virginia. Travelling from the Blue Ridge Parkway east on US 58 Business we will turn right onto State Road 614, also known as the Squirrel Spur Road.]
The BACKROAD I’d like to tell you about this month is not very long but it definitely represents this area. It is in Patrick County and once it was a major highway, providing the main route from Danville to Wytheville. It was known as the “Danville and Wytheville Turnpike.” There were wagon loads of chestnuts hauled over it and the commerce of the mountain depended on it. A small portion of “the pike” still exists today much like it was in 1920. For a sample of the past where you almost expect to meet a wagon being pulled by a team of oxen, take a drive on the “Pike.”
Begin at Meadows of Dan, Virginia at the intersection of US 58 Business and State Road 614. Turn off “58” and make an almost immediate left turn on State Road 795, also known as the Concord Road. This is “the Pike.” Just stop for a minute and look around you. The little yellow house on the right used to be a store of sorts but then it was only one small room. The white house on the right just past it wasn’t here then. Neither was the large white store building on the left. Directly across from the yellow house is a set of steps. At the head of these steps is the approximate location of the old Meadows of Dan store. The “Oddfellows Hall” was located on the second floor of that store. The store was facing the “Pike” and behind it where US 58 Business is now, was a “chestnut orchard.” It was there that the “Oddfellows” held the annual Fourth of July celebration. It was the event of the year for most mountain families.
As you drive past these buildings, on the left you can see the “Craft House.” It was here then but it was only one story and contained only two rooms. The next house on the left wasn’t here.
As you move on past these buildings, what you will see has changed very little in the past 60 years. There’s woods, meadows, and “the Pike.” About two-tenths of a mile after you pass the little yellow house, there’ll be an apple tree on the right shoulder of the road. Stop just before you get to it and count five fence posts back toward your car from the tree. Please don’t disturb it but there is a ‘possum den at the base of this post. The day I first saw him, there was snow on the ground, along with his muddy little paw prints.
The next house on the right belongs to Mr. and Mrs. Matt Burnette. They have been married for over 50 years and Mr. Matt’s eyes still sparkle when he refers to “my gal.” They have lived in this house since the 1930’s and Mr. Matt has lived all his life within a half mile of here.
Just past Mr. Matt’s, you’ll pass Tuggles Creek. On your right as you cross the creek, there’s a meadow and a small patch of woods. Just behind these trees is the original site of the Concord Primitive Baptist Church. It was replaced by the small white church down the road on the left in 1915 and it’s still in use. Mr. Matt launched his auctioneering career by selling the logs that were cut clearing the site for this church. The date was the third Saturday in March, 1915 and he was 11 years old.
The road winds by several more houses and tree branches arch over it in places. The last house on the left is where Mr. And Mrs. Cruise Howell live. “Mr. Cruise” handcrafts the most beautiful banjos you can imagine. His father, Jeff Howell was well known for his fiddling and singing and his ability to do both at the same time. He was a favorite entertainer at the old Fourth of July celebrations.
Well, this is the end of what remains of the old “Danville and Wytheville Turnpike;” here State Road 795 dead ends into State Road 750, known as the Light Ridge Road. Turn left and US 58 is about 500 yards. Turn right? Why not? It dead ends in less than two miles. It didn’t used to but that is a different story.