By Bob Heafner © 1983-2012
Issue: March, 1983
He stood in Parkway Exxon, looking across Highway 58 and told what Meadows of Dan looked like sixty years ago. For over seventy years he has lived in this community. Listening to him talk is like traveling in a time machine backward to a simpler era. An era when “chestnut orchards” instead of restaurants and service stations covered the tiny mountain community of Meadows of Dan.
As he described Meadows of Dan circa 1920, you almost could see how this area looked then. Highway 58 was not here then, neither was the Blue Ridge Parkway. “The road” was the old “Danville and Wytheville Turnpike” and it’s still here, much like it’s always been, a simple, little, winding mountain road. (See our BACKROADS column on page 12.)
Only one of the buildings on “58” was here then. It is the CRAFT HOUSE now but then it was only a one story mountain home.
The old store with the “Oddfellows Hall” upstairs isn’t here anymore and neither is the “old” Meadows of Dan Baptist Church or the “chestnut orchard.” But hearing him describe it, I can almost see it as he did.
The “Oddfellows Club” was in charge of putting on the annual Fourth of July celebration and each year there would be talk of canceling the event. The youngster that he was then spent many an hour worrying that it would be called off. The Fourth of July was looked forward to each year and families from all over the mountain turned out to celebrate in the chestnut orchard behind Meadows of Dan store. The store faced the “pike” and the area behind it where the chestnut orchard was is where US 58 and most of Meadows of Dan’s businesses are today. The orchard was as clean as a park, with huge, towering chestnut trees covering the entire area. The celebration was the event of the year and no doubt, many a long winter evening was spent discussing the last and looking forward to the next Fourth of July.
Mountain families would come walking or riding in buggies, wagons or on horseback, but no matter the mode of transportation, they came to be with friends, neighbors and kin to celebrate the Fourth. Charlie DeHart ran a store down near where the post office is today and he would be in charge of refreshments. Tass Hylton, one of Mr. DeHart’s employees, would make the lemonade. As soon as it was done, Mr. Hylton would holler out:
“Ice cold lemonade,
Made in the shade,
Stirred with a spade,
Best lemonade that’s ever been made,
Two glasses for a nickel,
Come and get it!”
This was a treat young people today would find hard to understand. A couple of glasses of lemonade and a piece of homemade candy was a real treat in those days, something to save your pennies all year for.
The lemonade would be chilled with ice that Jess Blackard had cut from the mill pond during the winter freeze and stored under sawdust in the mill basement. Mr. Blackard ran the mill that is known as Cockram’s Mill now.
Folks would gather around to listen and “flatfoot” while Jeff Howell and others entertained them with their fiddles and banjos.
Looking back there wasn’t that much to do but folks enjoyed just being together and visiting in the “orchard” on the “Fourth.” They made their own entertainment. Every year a group of Civil War veterans would get together and form a drum and fife corps, keeping with the patriotic spirit of the day.
I could never thank Mr. Matt Burnett enough for letting me listen to his memories. I’ll never see a chestnut orchard because of the blight and Meadows of Dan will never be a little mountain community on a gravel road called “the pike” again. But he saw it and through his memories, so could I. If you ever get a chance to sit and listen to the reminiscing of someone who lived then, take it! With just a little imagination you’ll get a glimpse of the past, a past that wasn’t all roses but wonderful anyway.