By Bob Heafner © 1984-2012
Issue: July 1984
Our BACKROADS tour this month offers a variety of sights and pleasures that would be hard to duplicate anywhere; from rolling farm lands to steep rocky bluffs; from a clear mountain lake to the oldest river in America. Not to mention the focus of our tour, the tiny mountain community of Newbern, Virginia, where frontiersmen and settlers passed through on their way to build a nation.
Come along for a journey back in time to a place where dreamers once walked through a wilderness in search of home, and the legacy they left to each of us is called the United States of America.
This is a BACKROADS tour that you will not want to miss. It requires a minimum of (3) three hours (four (4) if from Meadows of Dan) and travels a distance of 60.9 miles from the intersection of US Highway 58 and 221 in Hillsville, Virginia. This intersection is 20.7 miles west of Meadows of Dan, Virginia (milepost 177.7 on the Blue Ridge Parkway) and within the city limits of Hillsville, Virginia.
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.
If you take the tour on Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday don’t bring a picnic. There’s a special place to dine in Newbern where Andrew Jackson and General Winfield Scott are said to have once been patrons. Be sure to bring your camera because the scenery is spectacular.
00.0 (0.0) Beginning at the intersection of US Highways 58 and 221 in Hillsville, Virginia we go north on US 221 toward Roanoke and Floyd, Virginia.
01.4 (1.4) Here we turn left onto Route 100 toward Dublin and Sylvatus.
13.9 (12.5) This is the New River. It is said to be the oldest river in America and is without doubt, one of the most beautiful in the world.
19.6 (5.7) Turn right at this point onto the entrance ramp leading to Interstate 81, north bound lane.
27.9 (8.3) Take Exit 98 toward Newbern and Dublin, Virginia.
28.3 (0.4) At this stop sign we turn right onto Old Route 100 (Cleburne Blvd.) toward Newbern.
28.6 (0.3) Turn left onto state road 784 (Hance Road).
28.8 (0.2) From this stop sign, we turn left onto state road 611 (Newbern Road). This was once US Route 11 and before that, it was the Wilderness Road. At first this was an Indian trail that Daniel Boone and thirty others blazed in 1775 to open the westward lands of Kentucky to settlers. Few paths saw more Indian fighting or heavier use. For the twenty years prior to 1796, it was only a path which a wagon couldn’t traverse. Yet over 75,000 pioneers traveled it on horseback or on foot. In 1796, the Wilderness Road was widened to accommodate wagons and by 1840 over 300,000 pioneers had migrated west over the Wilderness Road. It was here that Adam Hance subdivided 29 lots fronting the Wilderness Road in March of 1810 and thus created the town of Newbern. According to a brochure prepared by the folks at the Wilderness Road Regional Museum, Mr. Hance, “required each purchaser of a lot to build a hewed log house at least one and a half stories high with a shingle roof, brick or stone chimney, seems filled with lime mortar, two glass windows with 12 lights each. These were the minimum requirements set forth.”
In 1839, Newbern was designated as the first county seat of Pulaski County and remained so until 1893 when the courthouse burned and the county seat was moved. The old jail is still standing behind the site of the original courthouse.
29.2 (0.4) The large white house on our right here was originally two homes. One built by Henry Hance, son of Adam Hance, in 1810 and one built by Adam Hance in 1816. The two houses were connected in 1851 and remained in the Hance/Alexander families until the late 1970’s. It was purchased by the New River Historical Society on April 16, 1980 and is now the Wilderness Road Regional Museum. The counties of Floyd, Giles, Montgomery and Pulaski as well as the city of Radford have rooms where artifacts and memorabilia of each individual area are on display. This is an exceptional effort by a lot of people, working as unsalaried volunteers, to preserve a part of our past and it provides a thoroughly enjoyable experience for visitors to this area.
The town of Newbern was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 and restoration of many of its buildings is now underway. Newbern is basically one road (The Wilderness Road) with building on either side, for a distance less than one mile long. It is a perfect place to park your car and stroll. Beautiful flowers, old homes and history make this a place worth visiting. As one walks the length of the Wilderness Road through Newbern, there is an awesome feeling of time and of the countless pioneers that walked this very road. You can imagine the adventuresome likes of Daniel Boone and the rough and tumble frontiersmen who ventured into the wilderness in search of the knowledge of “what lies over the next ridge.” Newbern is a place where the senses are bombarded by the days of long ago. It is with a minimum of imagination that one can see the Indians and the buckskin clad frontiersmen walking with their long rifles cradled in their arms and wagon after wagon load of people who were determined to carve a home out of a wilderness.
The Newbern Historic District offers a doll shop in the old Mercantile Store (circa 1875) and the Haney Hotel which was built in the early 1800’s is now the Valley Pike Inn. The Inn was restored by Richard and Woody Mady and now offers family style meals Thrusday through Saturday 4:30-9:00p.m. and on Sunday from 11:30 a.m. til 6:00 p.m. The atmosphere is superb and offers a fitting way to end a visit to old Newbern.
After our stroll through Newbern, we will turn around and head back the way we came, on state road 611, however, we will not turn back onto 784 but continue on 611.
29.9 (0.7) Turn left at this stop sign onto state road 76. [Old Route 100.]
33.2 (3.3) Turn left onto state road 672.
36.2 (3.0) Claytor Lake is on our left.
36.4 (0.2) We are crossing the Claytor Lake Bridge.
36.9 (0.5) Turn right at this stop sign onto state road 693.
41.3 (4.4) The New River is on our right. The next several miles are exceptionally beautiful as the road and river wind through the communities of Hiwassee and Allisonia, Virginia.
44.4 (3.1) Watch for an old swinging bridge crossing the river to our right.
46.0 (1.6) This is the first of several one lane bridges we will cross which span Big Reed Island Creek.
52.0 (6.0) Turn left at this stop sign onto Route 100.
59.4 (7.4) Turn right onto US 221 at this stop sign.
60.9 (1.5) We are back to our point of beginning at the intersection of US Highways 58 and 221 in Hillsville, Virginia.
This area is rich in history and we would recommend the purchase of a "Pulaski County, Va. Historical Sites" map from the Wilderness Road Regional Museum, in Newbern. The museum brochure is also interestingly informative and is available free upon request.
This is an exceptional area and one that I'm sure you will enjoy. Have fun!