By Bob Heafner © 1985-2011
Issue: January 1985
This month's BACKROAD tour will begin and end at Tuggles Gap, Virginia at the intersection of Virginia Route 8 and the Blue Ridge Parkway (milepost 165.2). From this intersection we will travel a total of 24.7 miles and 189 years back to a time to when our nation was forming and the foundation of our independence was being laid. Here, among the rolling hills of Floyd County, Virginia, we will see first hand "the front pages of American History," to quote my friend "Oliver."
BACKROAD 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.
Our tour will require at least one unhurried hour to complete.
00.0 (0.0) We will begin our tour at Tuggles Gap, Virginia at the intersection of Virginia Route 8 and the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 165.2, we will head north on the Blue Ridge Parkway toward Roanoke, Virginia.
01.7 (1.7) As we travel north on the Blue Ridge Parkway, watch the left shoulder of the road for the concrete Milepost markers. After passing Milepost 164, we will turn right onto state road 709 which will curve to the left and parallel the Blue Ridge Parkway.
02.1 (0.4) The turn of the century Thomas Grove Primitive Baptist Church is on our left here.
02.2 (0.1) At this stop sign, we will bear to our right continuing on state road 709.
02.9 (0.7) If we look to our left here we are provided with a beautiful view of the old Rakes Mill Pond and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
03.8 (0.9) The mountain with the fire tower on it to our right is Haycock Mountain.
03.9 (0.1) Turn right at this stop sign onto state road 615.
04.1 (0.2) Here state road 615 turns right, but we will bear left onto state road 635.
05.6 (1.5) At this stop sign, we will turn left onto state road 860.
07.0 (1.4) At this stop sign, we will go straight across the Blue Ridge Parkway and continue on state road 860.
08.9 (1.9) Here we turn right off of state road 860 onto state road 690. The picturesque old mill on our right just after we turn is the old Nolen Mill. In addition to serving the community as a grist mill, a water powered sawmill also provided lumber for area residents. Eighty-five year old Mr. Clarence Bowers recalls this mill as "being here long as I can remember."
09.9 (1.0) On our left here is "Oak Hill Farm." Isn't it beautiful?
As we drive through this area it's easy to see why early settlers chose these beautiful rolling hills and valleys to settle.
10.8 (0.9) Here we turn left onto state road 682.
11.6 (0.8) As we round this curve to the left, a beautiful view of the valley ahead can be seen to our right.
12.0 (0.4) At this stop sign, we will cross US Highway 221 and continue straight ahead on state road 682.
12.5 (0.5) Here on the left is the highlight of our tour; Pine Creek Primitive Baptist Church. Established in 1795 when Pete Howard, a Revolutionary War veteran, was received as a deacon, this is one of the oldest churches in Floyd County, Virginia.
Over the last couple of years, "The Pine Creek Church" has often entered into the conversation as I've researched stories for The Mountain Laurel, but never did I imagine anything comparable to what I found on my first visit.
It was late on the evening of November 30, 1984, when a friend and I wound our way over the BACKROADS we've just crossed to this picturesque little white mountain church. The sun was already below the ridgeline as we parked the car and walked across the church cemetery which covers approximately three acres. Never have I felt more in touch with the history of our nation than I did here in this isolated mountain hollow in Floyd County, Virginia. I have walked the streets of our nation's Capitol, with its massive monuments and T-shirt vendors and the feelings which stirred within me could not compare with those brought on by this little mountain church and its cemetery full of mountain folk.
Here it is said that seven Revolutionary War veterans are buried. One of them, Captain Daniel Shelor, from Maryland, came to the banks of Furnace Stack Creek here in Floyd County and opened an iron mine and smelter in the early 1790's. He mined the ore, refined it and made cooking utensils which he then hauled by wagon to Lynchburg, the closest town, to sell.
It is said that when he hauled his first load of pots and pans into Lynchburg, he could not find buyers and out of sheer frustration, or perhaps good salesmanship, he threw one of his pots against a rock in the unpaved street. To the dismay of those who witnessed his act, the pot didn't break as most of the brittle iron of the day would have normally done. It seems that the ore Captain Shelor was mining contained just enough copper to create an alloy which made his wares more durable than others available.
After seeing Captain Shelor's pot didn't shatter when thrown against a rock, he quickly sold the entire load to the merchants and townspeople of Lynchburg. He then returned to Floyd County where he continued to operate the smelter and mine until once again, the nation he had fought to help create needed volunteers and Captain Shelor, already in his sixties, walked to Norfolk, Virginia to offer his assistance in the War of 1812.
Like the alloy from his mine, one can sense the durability and strength of these early pioneers like Captain Shelor, whose lives led them to this final resting place at Pine Creek Church.
As my friend and I made our way across the cemetery in the wind and fading light of a cold November evening, a feeling of pride in our nation welled up within me. Resting in this cemetery are the farmers who laid down their plows to shoulder the almost impossible task of defeating the mighty British Empire. So determined were they in their quest for independence, that the odds against them made no difference. Their inspiration was freedom and their determination gave each of us today a legacy of courage and hope to preserve.
In today's high-tech world of sensational headlines, it is easy to forget that our nation was founded not only by the famous, but by the independent spirit of men and women such as these that are now forgotten at Pine Creek Church.
Sunday services are no longer held at Pine Creek Church once a month as they were in years gone by. As the old folks passed on, the congregation dwindled to the point of only one member left in this area. Her name was Mattie Jane Moore Martin and as her health deteriorated, she feared for the future upkeep of the cemetery at Pine creek. A meeting was called in her home and a document was prepared which appointed Brammer C. Nichols of Floyd County as caretaker and custodian of the cemetery. At that time there was $1,100.00 in the "Pine Creek Cemetery Fund" on deposit in the Bank of Floyd in Floyd, Virginia. Mrs. Martin passed away January 30, 1969 and since that time, Mr. & Mrs. Nichols, who are now in their 70's have done their very best to honor Mrs. Martin's final wish that the Pine Creek Cemetery be "kept up." For over 14 years they have mowed and raked and hired outside help when it was needed. Over the years donations trickled in, but they never seemed to be quite enough, but somehow, the Nichols managed and did the best they could.
Now, due to age and an absence of funds, the Nichols are worrying constantly over how to fulfill their promise to Mattie Martin.
Mrs. Nichols told me that over the years when funds for the necessary help were not available and it seemed like they were at the end of their rope. Something would happen, almost miraculously, which would enable them to continue. Either a small donation would come in or someone would volunteer their labor and one more year of promise to Mrs. Martin would be fulfilled.
Weeds are now as high as some of the tombstones and as 1985 is being heralded in, the Nichols are once more at the end of their rope and funds. The mounting odds of health, age and no funds are making them worry about the future of Pine Creek Cemetery and their promise to Mattie Martin, more than ever now. I not only volunteered my labor, but promised the Nichols that an appeal would be made to our readers for contributions of labor or cash or both in order to help preserve this historical old cemetery. Mrs. Nichols seemed relieved and said, "Maybe you all will be what happens now," meaning that perhaps our readers could be the miracle that's needed now. I hope so.
[Update 2012 – In 1985 we included information so our readers could contribute to the maintenance of the Pine Creek Cemetery. Since that time Mr. and Mrs. Nichols have both passed away. However, today the Pine Creek Cemetery is well maintained. If Mattie Jane Martin and Brammer and Beulah Nichols could see the cemetery today they would be so proud. The Nichols prayers were answered. See photos and more about Pine Creek Cemetery.]
[This information is no longer valid:
If you would like to make a donation to help preserve this part of our past, please make your check payable to "THE PINE CREEK CEMETERY FUND" and send it to:
Mr. Brammer C. Nichols (Deceased)
Your help would answer prayers.]
Services are still held at Pine Creek Church each 4th of July although the number attending gets smaller each year. If you have never attended an old fashioned Primitive Baptist Meeting, perhaps you would like to mark it on your calendar.
As my friend and I walked down the hill to our car that cold November evening, there were no lights except the moon and patches of white clouds were silhouetted as they raced across the sky. The small white church stood out in the hollow below and the broom straw swayed among the tombstones. That evening I didn't know of the Nichols' struggle to maintain this place (I found out later) and sadness descended over me for all that was being lost here and for all the lives and struggles already forgotten. It's reassuring to know that there are still people today like Mr. and Mrs. Brammer C. Nichols who hold a promise sacred.
(Following this BACKROADS is a partial list of surnames found in the Pine Creek Cemetery.)
As we leave Pine Creek Church we will follow state road 682.
13.2 (0.7) Here we cross a one lane bridge over Pine Creek.
13.6 (0.4) The old building on our right here is the old Spangler Mill.
14.2 (0.6) At this stop sign, we will turn left onto state road 686.
15.3 (1.1) At this stop sign, we will turn left onto state road 615.
17.9 (2.6) At this stop sign, we will turn right onto US Highway 221 and enter the small town of Floyd, Virginia.
18.7 (0.8) At this stop light, we will turn left onto Virginia Route 8 (South).
24.5 (5.8) Here we turn left onto the entrance ramp of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
24.7 (0.2) At this stop sign we are back to the Blue Ridge Parkway and our point of beginning. I hope you have enjoyed this month's tour as much as I have.
The following is a partial list of names found on headstones in the Pine Creek Cemetery. It is by no means complete, as we just jotted these few down as we walked among the rows of graves. The oldest marked grave in this cemetery is said to be that of Mary Ashley (born February 6, 1756, died September 14, 1796). We didn't find it, but perhaps you will...
Lester, Watkins, Wickham, Gillenwalters, Phelegar, Ferguson, Lemon, Clifton, Spoule, Howard, Washburn, Lawrence, West, Hoback, Dickerson, Wells, Paul, Wilkshire, Epperly, Moore, Martin, Davis, Booth, Lancaster, Hall, Webb, Strickler, Grayham, Redmon, Yancey, Thurman, Sumner, Bower, Reed, Beckett, Tourman, Hester, Underwood, Howery, Harvey, Goodson, Shelor, Banks, DeHart, Robertson, Huff, Spangler.
Mrs. Virginia Vest, 1907 Mill Stream Dr., Salem, Virginia 24153, is the granddaughter of Mattie Jane Moore Martin, mentioned in BACKROADS. She has information about the Moore family if any of our readers would like to contact her. Please send a stamped envelope with your request. Her information on the Moore family dates all the way back to their migration from England.