The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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

Bay and Hemlock, Virginia Post Offices in Floyd County and Surrounding Area

By John Winfield Spangler © 1990

Issue: March, 1990

Several years ago I bought an old postcard addressed to someone at Hemlock, Virginia. I'd known about the church by that name on Route 653 for years, but never heard of a post office. The church was torn down since.

I showed the card to our mail carrier, Howard Willis, and he said he once delivered a circular to the late Herbert "Hub" Jewell, addressed to "Hemlock, VA." He said he'd never heard of a Hemlock post office, but told me they did have a school. Mrs. Lois Atkinson Henson showed me a picture of a Hemlock school class since then. She has published a book on some of her people near there, called "The Family Jewel."

Sometime after this, I bought an old 1908 postal manual (later stolen in a briefcase at Hapeville, Georgia) and found Hemlock post office listed under Floyd County, Virginia. I had gotten pretty serious about discontinued post offices (DPOs) by now, and confided to Helen Shank Atkinson (Mrs. Macilm) of Christiansburg that I must have "at least" 18 Virginia DPOs. After I hung up, I counted them and was amazed to find that I had 46!

Meanwhile Mrs. Atkinson checked her postcards and found that she actually HAD a Hemlock, VA postmark! She offered to give it to me, but I refused it. Several weeks later I found one of my own in some old postcards at Happy's Flea Market, Roanoke.

After I got the postal records on microfilm from the National Archives, I saw a copy of an application signed by Mrs. Ethel Wickham on 9 Nov 1903, requesting a new post office named "Lick Fork VA." That name was disapproved for some reason, and she got the name, "Hemlock, VA" instead, on 28 Jan 1904.

Lick Fork Creek comes over the notorious Twin Falls, up toward Copper Hill, Virginia, and is the place where many people have fallen and gotten injured or killed. Lick Fork joins Goose Creek near where Ellen lived.

There was an interesting article in The Mountain Laurel on the Perdue family sometime back. It said Bottom Creek ran over Twin Falls, which is incorrect. In the very southeast corner of Montgomery County, Bottom Creek parallels Route 669, before turning down through the "Kettle Holes" and "roughs" also referred to as Bottom Creek Gorge. The land on the east side of Route 669 belonged to my grandparents - Peter E. (Pete) and Elzora Jane (Conner) Craighead.

Although Bottom Creek comes close to the Floyd-Montgomery County line (maybe on it), it does not come closer to Twin Falls than approximately two miles. Still in Montgomery County, Bottom Creek joins Goose Creek at the junction of Route 647 and Route 653, to become the south fork of the Roanoke River.

Some of the older people around the Lick Fork/Goose Creek area refer to the section toward Twin Falls as "Freestate." If I ever heard where this name came from, I have forgotten.

There are also supposed to be nickel and cobalt deposits in that area, from a source that is quoted in Dr. Amos D. Woods, "Floyd County, A History Of Its People And Places." It was edited by Ann Scott Swain, now Mrs. Blonnie Bailey.

A long abandoned stretch of road used to start at Route 669 (Bottom Creek Church), near the Montgomery-Roanoke County line. It came around the west side of Funks (Beckners) Mountain toward the lower end of Bottom Creek Gorge. Then it turned down the creek through what later became Camp Kiwanianna of the Girl Scouts. It hooked up with the lower part of Route 637 just below the camp; the upper part of Route 637 just below the camp. The upper stub near the church is also Route 637, and leads to the property acquired by the Nature Conservancy from the Paul Hollyfield estate; and to the old Funks Mountain School site.

That road was mighty steep (at least one place); and my mother (Edith Craighead Spangler) said that she, my brothers Paul and Bernard, Uncle Dennis Craighead and Aunt Alma Spangler were very nearly killed in the late 1920's on it. The horses and brakes couldn't hold the wagon and they came around the curve at the bottom sideways, with the iron wagon tires throwing rocks and dirt.

The late Clarence Leland Craighead said that road was quite a challenge. He and some friends tried to come UP the mountain once, but the car didn't have enough power to make it. They came home a longer way, and then went back DOWN the mountain to show it that it couldn't buffalo them completely. He said they HAD been drinking a LITTLE!

Another abandoned road in the area is the one that used to go up Sugar Run (Briggs' Mountain). It ran from Route 653 on Goose Creek to Route 865, west of Copper Hill, Virginia. I remember going up and down this road a couple of times around 1940. An uncle took us up to my grandparent's house on Bottom Creek. The road has a posted sign on it now, but it used to save a lot of miles, if you could get over it. It was so rough in places, that my great uncle, Wiley A. Conner (a preacher), knocked the plug out of his oil pan and had his engine "seize up" on him further down the mountain. They started walking and he gave the old car to somebody. Cheaper just to get another.

My grandfather (Pete Craighead) used to haul cross ties and other stuff down that road; many loads with a team of oxen. My mother used to talk about one oxen team named Buck and Bright.

The late L.H. Gardner of Shawsville (who was looking at some of my old postcards at the time), told me that during his younger days, Shawsville shipped as many cross ties and as much tan bark as any station in the area. Much of it came from the section where Montgomery, Floyd and Roanoke Counties met. This was the only cash crops some of the people had.

One day several years ago, I got a call from Mabel Conner Wickham (retired teacher) concerning Hemlock, VA. She suggested I go see "Aunt Ida" (Wickham) (Martin) Cole. She was the sister-in-law of Ethel Wickham, and had been married first to Henry Martin and then to Earnest Cole.

I found Aunt Ida (92 then) and she did tell me some interesting things. Her parents, Christian A. (Chris) and Lina (Ellen Julina Cole) Wickham, had lived on Laurel Creek near Coles Knob southwest of Terrys Fork, Virginia in Floyd County. Her father bought the place on Goose/Lick Fork Creeks, but her mother preferred her friends and neighbors up on Laurel Creek.

Meanwhile, Ida's brother Will (James William) Wickham had married Ethel Martin. Aunt Ida said her father told Will that, "I guess you all might as well have the place. Don't look like your mother's going down there no how!" So Ethel applied for the Hemlock post office.

Tazewell (Taz) Iddings (1873-1948) became postmaster of Hemlock VA on 1 Nov 1906, and moved it one mile south towards Simpsons, Virginia, at the junction of Route 653/660. He submitted a hand drawn map with other post offices, roads and creeks. No doubt about the location.

On a later application, Taz asked to move the post office one mile southwest, to the former site of the Bay, VA post office, also known as Vests Mill. Hemlock VA post office closed for good on 15 May 1914.

The late Clyne Angle (last post master at Simpsons VA, closed 1979), was the first to tell me about the Bay post office. Bonnie (Vest) Willis, wife of Roscoe Willis, is the granddaughter of Charlie Will Vest, last postmaster of Bay. Roscoe and Bonnie are the parents of our former mail carrier, Howard Willis; his sister Jean and brother Houston.

Roscoe Willis ran a store at the Bay-Hemlock or Vests Mill site from about 1950 (I believe he said), until shortly before he passed away. I asked him about Taz Iddings, whom he remembered, but said he didn't remember the post office. I then asked him if he remembered the store down at the intersection.

"I sure do", he said, getting excited. "I'll bet that's where he had it!" and he jumped up and made a couple laps around the inside of his counter. He was nearly 80 at the time, and I didn't have that much energy when I was 15!

I have seen several articles written about Roscoe Willis and his store. I had several nice chats with him, while having a Dr. Pepper and candy bar. He made plenty trips around the store while debating "what the world was coming to." Sometimes he got so excited about the "preachers" and "politicians" that I thought he was going to make a lap on top of the counter that ran three-fourths of the way around his store!

The two questions I've been asked most in that area since I've been chasing these post offices" Do you know Clyne Angle? Do you know Roscoe Willis?

Yes, I did, but I wish I'd known both of them better.

Bay, Virginia Post Office, Floyd County (1900-1905)
Lucy R. Vest, 3-22-1900
Samuel P. Vest, 4-3-1902
(Charlie Will) Charles W. Vest, 1-5-1904
Post Office discontinued, mail to Terrys Fork, 1-14-1905

Hemlock, Virginia Post Office, Floyd County (1904-1914)
Post masters:
Mrs. Ethel Wickham, 1-28-1904
Tazewell T. Iddings, 11-1-1906
Post Office discontinued, mail to Otey, 5-15-1914