By Bob Heafner © 1984-2012
Issue: September, 1984
Our tour this month is comparable only to driving through a museum. The roads winding through Indian Valley in Floyd County, Virginia by trout streams and mountain farms offer scenic beauty and a glimpse of a yesterday when log barns with wood shingled roofs sat just up the road from the water mill. The insights into our past to be gained from this drive could fill volumes. Drive slowly, take your time and savor this part of Americana which exemplifies tranquil mountain beauty at its best.
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.
The total distance we will travel will be 48.1 miles and the tour will require approximately 3 to 4 hours. Be sure to bring your camera!
00.0 (0.0) We will begin at the intersection of US 58 Business and the Blue Ridge Parkway in Meadows of Dan, Virginia, we will head north on the Blue Ridge Parkway toward Roanoke, Virginia.
01.6 (1.6) Mabry Mill is on our right.
03.7 (2.1) Here we turn left onto state road 799 at Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 174.
(2.1) This is the Conner’s Grove Community. There are two small white churches sitting side by side on our right. The first one is Conner’s Grove Primitive Baptist Church, the next one is Harris Chapel Methodist Church. Harris Chapel was named for Jim and Ron Harris who were both carpenters and were instrumental in its construction. The vacant lot just past Harris Chapel was once the site of Harris Chapel School. If you look closely, you can see the old hand pump still standing. The president of Ferrum College in the early part of this century was Dr. B.M. Beckner who was the motivating force behind the construction of both Harris Chapel School and the Mountain View School. These schools were the most modern in this area for the time period. Each had drilled wells and libraries and both were funded by the Methodist Church. To understand the remoteness of these mountains in the first half of this century, consider that these schools were missionary outposts, supported by the Methodist Church for more than a quarter of this century and this was the place where missionaries came to serve. 05.8
07.6 (1.8) Here we cross over Burk’s Fork Creek.
12.5 (4.9) At this stop sign, we will turn left onto US 221, toward Hillsville, Virginia. This community is Willis, Virginia and has always been a center of local commerce as well as a picturesque mountain village. The old store building directly across from US 221 from this stop sign was once Harve Cundiff’s General Store. Today it is Moran’s Food Market and the Willis Post Office is located at the west end.
13.2 (0.7) Turn right onto state road 787 at this point.
18.4 (5.2) Indian Creek Primitive Baptist Church is on our right.
18.8 (0.4) Here we will turn left onto state road 622 just after we pass Isaiah Quesenberry’s Texaco.
19.2 (0.4) The Indian Valley Post Office is on our right.
19.8 (0.6) At this point, there is a beautiful view to our left and Buffalo Mountain with its fire tower can be seen in the distance.
20.8 (1.0) Here we turn left onto state road 624.
24.2 (3.4) Shady Grove Primitive Baptist Church is on our right.
24.3 (0.1) In the forks of this intersection, just past the church, is Kirby Huff’s Store (now closed). The old fashioned gas pump still stands out front. We turn sharp back to our right here onto state road 759.
26.6 (2.3) On our left is Vaughn’s Mill. It looks different here than it did in the early 1900’s. It has been added on to on both sides, but close inspection will reveal the outline of the original building. The water wheel has been replaced by a diesel engine and is no longer in use, but much of the equipment inside has been in operation since the mill was built by Reed and Bryant Phillips around 1900. Four generations of the Phillips family worked in the mill over the years and it was known as the PHILLIPINE MILL until 1934 when Ephraim Vaughn bought it. Mr. Vaughn retired in 1963 when his son, Gene, took over the mills operation. Today Gene’s son, Jeff is following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather as a miller.
The floor boards of the old mill are polished to a luster that only time can achieve and the beams and walls are coated with fine sifted miller’s dust. The smell of the place is that of an era gone by and as you walk up the stairs to the second floor, imagine as you take each step, how many trips up these steps each of the millers have made in over three quarters of a century of use.
From the second floor, the antique, but operative mill machinery shows signs of a time when even machinery was fluted wood and hand crafted. The view from the back windows is of the long unused raceway which carried the water to the wheel and beyond the race is a meadow with Mira Fork Creek winding through it. From the front window, one can see an old home across the road and see and hear Mira fork Creek as it ripples under the mill on the side next to the road. This is an experience you simply must take time to enjoy. Don’t expect a fancy tourist attraction, because it’s not. It is a full time operating roller mill and one of the last of its kind in the mountains. What you can expect to see and experience is a trip “to the mill” like mountain folks have made since the first small mill was built on a mountain stream to grind for a toll for “close by” neighbors.
Today flour is bagged and sold at Vaughn’s Mill under the INDIAN CHEIF brand name. Perhaps it is just me, but the biscuits seem to taste better and strawberry preserves and butter are their perfect compliment. This is though a flavor of an era is captured in the oven and savored like a trip to Grandma’s in days gone by.
The day I was by the mill, Jeff Vaugh and Cephas Dalton (a 15 year employee) were operating the mill. Although I was a stranger, they quickly made me feel at home and allowed me to explore the nooks and crannies of the three story building. Just wait till you see it once, then you won’t be able to wait to go back.
The old Phillips Post Office was once across the road from the mill.
From the mill we will continue on state road 759, the way we were heading.
26.8 (0.2) At this stop sign, there is an old store on our right. We will turn left onto state road 622.
27.7 (0.9) Here we turn left onto state road 760. This is an extremely scenic road with old homeplaces and beautiful views all along the way.
30.5 (2.8) At this stop sign, we turn right onto state road 624.
31.6 (1.1) Turn left at this stop sign onto US 221 toward Floyd and Roanoke, Virginia.
32.9 (1.3) Little Flock Primitive Baptist Church (Established in 1871) is on our left. This church is mentioned in the book “A Man Who Moved A Mountain” by Richard Davis.
39.3 (6.4) A beautiful view of Buffalo Mountain is on our left.
44.6 (5.3) At this stop sign, we turn right onto the Blue Ridge Parkway towards Meadows of Dan.
48.1 (3.5) We are back to our point of beginning at the intersection of US 58 Business and the Blue Ridge Parkway in Meadows of Dan, Virginia.
We hope you enjoyed this BACKROADS tour as much as we have.