By Bob Heafner © 1991
Issue: April, 1991
On this month's BACKROADS tour, we had a companion and guide, Art Gates of Wytheville, Virginia, who was born and raised in the section of Patrick County we will be traveling through. He came along to show and introduce us to the points of interest along the way. All of the sections that are set off in quote marks are Art's narrative of the things he remembered about the places we will be passing.
Art moved to Wytheville in 1949 when he started WYVE Radio Station, which is on the corner across from our office, on First Street, in Wytheville, Virginia. He managed the station for 33 years and sold it when he retired. He still has a hand in radio though, with his local commentary show, "Just Plain Talk" every weekday morning at 8:45am. WYVE is at 1280 AM on your dial. [Update: 1999 - We regret to say that Art Gates is no longer living. He was a wonderful man with a great sense of humor. We miss him.]
On this BACKROADS tour, if you travel it in the peak fruit season, there is a large variety of orchards which offer delicious mountain grown fruit. We are including telephone numbers of some of the orchards so you can call ahead to find out what is available. Most of the orchards are small, family run businesses. Also, along the way, we will point out greenhouses where you can stop for a variety of plants. By taking this tour in April, the month we originally took it, you will have the pleasant experience of the perfume of hundreds of thousands of apple blossoms.
This BACKROADS tour will cover a total distance of 47.3 miles and require two unhurried hours to complete. Bring along your camera and leave all your cares behind, as we explore this beautiful region.
BACKROADS tours always make a complete loop back to the point where we started. The underlined numbers at the beginning of each paragraph indicate the total number of miles we've traveled from our point of beginning. The numbers in parenthesis ( ) indicate the distance from the last point of interest that we passed.
0.0 (0.0) We will begin our BACKROADS tour at the entrance ramp to the Blue Ridge Parkway on Highway 52 south, in Fancy Gap, Virginia. This intersection is located at Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 199.5
0.1 (0.1) We are now at the stop sign at the end of the entrance ramp and the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway. From this intersection we will turn north toward Meadows of Dan, Virginia.
1.1 (1.0) Ahead and to our left is a beautiful view of Buffalo Mountain.
5.8 (4.7) Here we will turn right onto State Road 608. We are now in Orchard Gap, Virginia. Immediately after turning, State Road 608 turns right, but we will continue straight, on State Road 691, also known as Orchard Gap Road.
6.2 (0.4) To our left is a breathtaking view. You can see Pilot Mountain in the distance. To the left of Pilot Mountain is Sauratown Mountain. If you look between the two mountains, about three-fourths of the way toward Sauratown Mountain, on a clear day you can see the tall buildings in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In the foreground, there are numerous peach orchards that were cascading their pink blooms downward over the hillsides like a froth of cotton candy the day we took this tour.
(1.9) On our right is the entrance to the Levering Orchard pack house. When fruit is in season, you can come here for a variety of apples, nectarines, peaches and delicious, sweet blackheart and yellow "pie" cherries. The phone number is 540-755-3593. 8.1
8.8 (0.7) At this intersection, we turn sharply to our left on State Road 678.
9.3 (0.5) Here we enter Patrick County and leave Carroll County, Virginia. Immediately after the county line, there is a stop sign. We will turn left onto State Road 677. If you look to the right after turning, you will see a pack house for one of the local orchards.
9.6 (0.3) Look at the old barn to our left. Beside it there is a huge oak tree filled with mistletoe. Trees with this much mistletoe are rare in this area.
9.8 (0.2) We will continue to follow State Road 677 which bears to the right, but the Willow Hill Moravian Church is on State Road 670 that turns to our left.
10.4 (0.6) Far to the left on the hillside, we can see the large white house we passed earlier as we were coming down Orchard Gap Road.
10.9 (0.5) On our left is Marvin "Red" Hiatt's Orchard. Telephone 540-251-5449. They offer peaches and apples for sale in season.
11.3 (0.4) On our right is the M.C. and Jimmy Harold Orchards where you can buy apples, peaches and cherries. Telephone 540-251-5387.
11.5 (0.2) At this intersection, State Road 771 turns left, but we will continue on State Road 677, which bears to the right.
11.6 (0.1) On our left is H.C. Harold's Orchard. Here you can buy peaches, apples, cherries and plums. The phone is 540-251-5445.
12.0 (0.4) Here we cross a bridge over the east fork of Johnson Creek. Just after crossing the bridge, on our right is the Chestnut Grove Missionary Baptist Church.
12.8 (0.8) Here we will turn left on State Road 675. Art says this road goes almost into Mount Airy, near where the old While Sulfur Springs Hotel once stood. "We had an old Caterpillar tractor and a motor grader and men with drag pans and mules to build this road. Most of it was volunteer labor. I think they gave those that had mule teams about 20¢ an hour. This was about 1933, during the depression. There were no paved roads around here back then." Art said that what is now State Road 103 was dirt until you reached the North Carolina line and then it became paved. If you went in the other direction, you got almost to Stuart, Virginia before you saw a paved road.
13.4 (0.6) At this intersection where State Road 767 turns left, there is a large old willow tree at the fork of the intersection. Years ago, Noonkester's Store stood at this site. He furnished provisions for about everybody around here. On the right, the piece of bottom land was a cleared field where the neighborhood boys played baseball. The children in Art's neighborhood had a team and they would walk the nearly two miles over here on Sunday afternoon to play ball with the children from this area. The next Sunday, the ball game would be in their neighborhood. "We'd walk the two miles over here and play until almost dark."
We will not turn but continue straight ahead. "The road that turns left (767) used to be the roughest road in this area. You just didn't dare go in there with a car unless you had to. It came out at what we called the old Pine Grove School at Doe Run where I went to school."
15.0 (1.6) On our right we can see where an old road once went up through the woods. If you look closely you can tell that there is a little hollow here. Many years ago, Art's great-grandfather ran a legal bottle and bond distillery up in these woods, where he made liquor. "I guess it would be hard to find it now, but there was a place where they used to have shale rocks stacked up to make pits to cook mash in to make liquor. My grandfather would ride horseback in the fall, after the liquor was made from the apples and peaches, all the way down to Atlanta selling the whiskey by the keg and barrel. He had a good reputation and would sell all he made every year."
15.1 (0.1) Here we will turn right onto State Road 631.
15.3 (0.2) On our left is a very old cemetery with an iron fence around it. It was the Gates Family Cemetery. "We have the deed at home where he laid off that strip of land 60 by 40 feet in his will to be made a cemetery and the funds to put up that iron fence. I'm coming back in a week or two to clean it out. That spike there is my Uncle Hobart's marker, my daddy's baby brother, who died at 16 with appendicitis. Old John W. Gates, the patriarch of the whole tribe, is buried over there. His tombstone is just about eaten up with age.
15.4 (0.1) Once, many years ago, an old road was on the right, leading down to the still site which we passed earlier. "This used to be a bald ridge when I was a kid and along there was a row of about six old slave cabins. My great-grandfather turned his slaves loose long before the Civil War. Most of them went up there in the mountains and nearly starved to death at the head of the Doe Run. They could get land free up there but they just couldn't scratch out a living from it. Some of them moved over to what we called the Crossroads section. I knew some of them when I was a kid. They'd tell me about my granddaddy and what a good man he was."
15.9 (0.5) The large white house we can see on the hill ahead of us was once Art's grandfather's home, Sambo Gates. If you look back to the right sharp, you can see another old home and that was Sambo's son's home, Bryant Gates.
16.1 (0.2) We are crossing a bridge over the Ararat River. Looking to our left we can see a variety of old farm buildings. The Gates family once had a sawmill in this area. Art's father was a doctor and the man who originally owned the sawmill had been sick for a long time before he died. He owed Art's father a lot of money and deeded the sawmill to him in his will for payment.
"I once attended a barn raising here, where they pulled the logs up skids with ropes," Art remembered. This was a part of the Gates family farm. He once planted this piece of bottom land in onions, backbreaking work according to him, only to have a really wet spring cause every one of them to rot in the ground.
After crossing the bridge over the Ararat River, there is a little pull off on our left. It is close to the river bank and you can see that it has been used for picnicking and fishing and perhaps, a camping spot. Pull into it and stop for just a moment and look across the field to your right. You will be able to see a tin roof through the trees across the meadow. That's an old house where Robert Childress' and his mother and father once lived. The book, "The Man Who Moved A Mountain," chronicles the life of Robert Childress, a mountain preacher. His son, Robert Childress, Jr., is still pastor of several small churches his father founded. It is a remarkable story and one we highly recommend. Copies are available from Mayberry Trading Post on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We will now turn around and go back the way we came.
17.2 (1.1) At this stop sign, we will turn right onto state road 675. This is the intersection where we turned earlier.
(0.3) On our left is an old store building. This was once the Gates Store, run by Art's grandfather, F. M. Gates. (See photo.) It used to have a porch on it and everyone would come and sit on the porch. "I used to wait on Grandpa's customers after school and on Saturday it was right busy and I would go in and help him get the coffee, sugar, salt or soda by the dipperful. They were kept in barrels." 17.5
The white two story home beside the store was his grandfather's home. That's where Art was born. The house was heated with fireplaces. All of the land once was in orchards except for a little garden space.
Across the road on our right, you can see a little well house. That well house used to be on the back porch of another home where Art grew up. "My daddy started practicing medicine in a little two story, one room wide building here, with a doctor's office downstairs and a casket maker upstairs. The old doctor wanted to leave here so when Daddy finished medical school, he moved into Mount Airy and Daddy came here and set up practice. He operated out of Grandpa's house for the first year and a half on horseback."
17.6 (0.1) Here we will turn left on state road 631.
18.1 (0.5) On our right is Lee's Greenery, Bedding Plants both wholesale and retail.
18.3 (0.2) On our left is Bev's Blueberry Patch. There is row after row of blueberry bushes where you can "pick your own' during season. The phone number is 703-251-5912. It will open approximately the middle of July and will continue until mid to late September. The berries are $4.00 a pail which is furnished to pickers (approx 6 pints to the pail). Already picked berries are $6.50 a pail. There are four different varieties of blueberries which get ripe at different times throughout the summer.
18.4 (0.1) We will continue straight ahead, but state road 767 turns left here. About a quarter of a mile down this road is Puckett's Greenhouse, wholesale and retail. Their phone number is 703-251-5286. Directly beyond this intersection is the Doe Run Baptist Church and on our right is a large cemetery.
Just beyond the brick house the other side of the cemetery was where the old Doe Run Public School was located. "In the earlier days, they called it Pine Grove. My grandfather started teaching up here when he was right out of VPI which was called Virginia Agricultural and Mineral at that time. Grandma taught here to. She came from over in Floyd County. This is where they met and they married after teaching here a couple of years. It was a three room school."
"Most of the time we went to school here, but sometimes we would go to the Presbyterian School which was two miles away. If they had decent teachers, Daddy would let us go here. If they didn't have good teachers, we'd go to the Presbyterian School. By the time I got to the seventh grade, we went back to the Presbyterian School and then the county took it over. For four years I went there to high school. This road was so rocky that after a good heavy storm, the water would come gushing down through here like a river."
18.6 (0.2) On our left is Hall's Plants, Open Monday - Friday 8 till 8, Saturday 8 till 5, Closed on Sunday. This is a large greenhouse operation with row after row of greenhouses. There are many peach orchards in this area also.
18.8 (0.2) Looking to our right, up on the mountain, we can see a row of condominiums at Doe Run on Groundhog Mountain.
19.0 (0.2) On our right, after passing a sharp curve to the right, there is a small fenced yard behind a house with two adult and three baby goats in it. We paused beside the road to watch the antics of the baby goats and a man in a pickup truck pulled up beside us. He rolled down his window and told us that he owns the goats and his father takes care of them. He cordially told us to watch them as long as we liked and that people often "come from as far away as Mount Airy to look at 'em." They certainly were cute.
20.2 (1.2) Looking to our left, we can see houses scattered along the ridge of the mountains. The Blue Ridge Parkway runs along that ridge.
22.3 (2.1) At this point, state road 752 turns left, but we will continue to the right on state road 671.
22.6 (0.3) Here we cross a bridge over the Ararat River. To our right is an old foot bridge over the river. Just after crossing the bridge, state road 631 goes left but we will bear to our right on state road 761. Looking back at the river, we can see a place that was once a baptizing hole. Art remembered a baptizing here years ago. While he said that he would rather not use the names of the people involved, there was a man in the community that was rather well known for drinking and card playing. One night he got drunk and got religion and decided to be baptized. He had big, rough looking bib overalls on as the preacher led him out into the creek, and as he was dunked under the water, a deck of cards floated out of his pocket and down the river. Art said everyone present could not help but laugh at the sight. The term washing your sins away came to mind as we heard that story.
23.3 (0.7) At this intersection, we will bear left, continuing to follow state road 671.
24.0 (0.7) At this stop sign, we will turn right on state road 773. On our right we can see Blue Ridge School. In the center of the school building you can see a black tin roof rising above the rest of it. Art once taught school in that part of the building before the brick portion was built.
24.1 (0.1) On our left is the Ararat, Virginia Post Office. On our right, across from the post office and beside the school, is a large brick church. "The Presbyterian Church was built on the land of the original tract that was started by the Quakers." Art remembers the night his daughter was baptized, hearing a noise and looking out the window from their house and seeing a glow in the sky. The family ran up here and found the church on fire. The brick walls were all that remained, but it was finally rebuilt. Ironically, across the road from the church today is the Ararat Volunteer Fire Department.
24.3 (0.2) The little white house to our right , across the road from the First National Bank of Stuart, is a house Art built in 1947 when he came here to teach school. He lived here until 1949, when he moved to Wytheville.
24.5 (0.2) On our right is a beautiful large two story brick home with a rock retaining wall in front. This home was built by Art's father after they moved out of The Hollow. It has 13 rooms, red knotty pine paneling upstairs and down, and Art was in college when his parents moved there.
26.2 (1.7) On our right is Hunter's Chapel Church. This was built on a land grant from the Gates family to the church.
26.4 (0.2) On our right is the small white building that once was the old Hollow Post Office building. This area extending back to the Ararat River where we pointed out the old homesite of the Childress family was the area referred to as "The Hollow." It is still on county maps today. "Where Gates Store was, was the Ararat Post Office, but the government would not permit two post offices to be that close, so when election year came along, if republicans won, Art's Grandfather had it and it would be the Ararat Post Office. If the democrats won, it would be The Hollow Post Office and Billy Bowman would be the postmaster. They were just two miles apart."
28.2 (1.8) On our right is the J.E.B. Stuart birthplace. There is a historical marker here that reads: Stuart's Birthplace. A short distance west is the site of the home of Archibald Stuart, Jr., a statesman of a century ago. There was born, February 6, 1833, his son, James Ewell Brown Stuart, who became Major-General commanding the Calvary of the Army of Northern Virginia and whose fame is a part of the history of that army. Stuart closed his career by falling in the defense of Richmond, May 11, 1864.
28.9 (0.7) Here we cross the state line into North Carolina, leaving Virginia.
30.0 (1.1) On the left is the White Sulphur Springs Chiropractic Health Center. Across the river behind the Center was the old White Sulphur Springs health spa of years gone by where people would come to take "the cure" of the restorative waters.
32.7 (2.7) We are now entering the city limits of Mount Airy, North Carolina, home of Andy Griffith and country singer Donna Fargo.
32.9 (0.2) At this stop light, we will continue to go straight ahead.
33.2 (0.3) We are crossing over railroad tracks.
33.4 (0.2) On our left is the Riverside Park. It has picnic facilities as well as playgrounds, tennis courts and ball fields.
33.7 (0.3) At this stop light, we will turn right on East Pine Street. State road 731 became Riverside Drive when we entered Mount Airy.
33.9 (0.2) We will position ourselves in the right lane to turn right at this stop light, following 52 Business North, which is also North Renfro Street.
34.1 (0.2) On our left is the Mount Airy News. Immediately beyond it is a stop light and we will continue straight ahead for several blocks. Every fall Mount Airy holds an Autumn Leaves festival that provides a lot of enjoyable entertainment. They block off several blocks of the downtown section for food, crafts and music.
34.6 (0.5) We will position ourselves in the left lane, preparing to turn left at the stoplight onto West Lebanon Street, which is also 52 Business North.
35.2 (0.6) Here we cross a bridge over Lovill Creek.
36.3 (1.1) We will position ourselves in the right lane, preparing to merge onto Highway 52 North, which is a four lane divided highway at this point.
38.8 (2.5) The divided highway ends as we cross the state line into Virginia, leaving North Carolina. We are now in the community of Cana, Virginia. There are numerous produce stands, craft shops, antique shops, outlet stores, and restaurants in this area.
43.4 (4.6) Here we start up the mountain and the highway becomes three lanes - two going up the mountain and one coming down.
47.3 (3.9) We have just crossed under the overpass of the Blue Ridge Parkway and we are now back to our point of beginning at the intersection of the Blue Ridge Parkway and US Highway 52 North.
We hope you have enjoyed this BACKROADS tour as much as we have. Our special thanks to Art Gates for his enjoyable narrative and company.