The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Laurel Foundation - Chestnut Ridge Reunion

By Bob Heafner © 1987

Issue: September, 1987

In our August Issue, we invited you all to come to the Chestnut Ridge Reunion on Sunday, August 16 at Old Jacksonville in Floyd, Virginia. We're happy to say that many of you took us up on that invitation. It turned out to be a beautiful sunshiny day for a get together.

On Saturday the 15th, as we were busy preparing for the reunion, we received a pleasant surprise. The Robert Johnson family from Kernersville, North Carolina stopped by and presented The Laurel Foundation with a clock made from old barn boards. Robert is a superb craftsman who specializes in making clocks from old boards. The one presented to the Foundation is made like an old country store complete with gas pump. The numerals are made from the original old nails that were removed from the boards. His wife "layed" the rock chimney. He said the barn was built around 1850. We really appreciated the gift and the many hours of work it represents and know that many people will enjoy seeing it. It is now proudly displayed on the right wall of the barn hallway as you come in the door. Be sure to look for it.

Musicians and listeners alike started arriving early on Sunday and if you weren't there, you just wouldn't have believed how many warm smiles; handshakes and hugs there were as people greeted each other. The many new faces in the crowd soon became new friends too. Several people who have written stories in The Mountain Laurel were among the crowd such as Ivalien Belcher and Imogene Turman. Others who have had stories written about them were there, such as, musician Irene Harris. Her older sister told about when Irene and her twin sister were born. Irene plays a harmonica hung around her neck while she plays her guitar. She said that when she was a girl she would make her twin sister stand behind her and hold the harmonica until she was looking through a Sears Catalog one day and saw that they had a neck holder for that. A photographer who works for the Roanoke Times was there and took a photograph of Irene that was in the next day's issue.

Music started immediately and what music it was! Many individuals came bringing banjos, guitars, mandolins, autoharps, dulcimers, dobros, fiddles, basses and just about everything else that would make a mountain music sound. Whole bands came from near and far.

There was music on the porches, on the tail gate of trucks, near the woods, and of course on our small stage. One woman said, "You can hear music whichever way you turn." Sounds of sheer joy and a delight to the ear rose up to meet the mountain ridges. Old time flatfoot and clog dancing broke out in response to lively tunes. Members of the famous "Patrick Henry Travelers" dance group were on hand and gave a lively flatfooting exhibition while 15 year old Gena Britt played her banjo. Gena and the "Travelers" recently toured France together. Gena stole hearts at Chestnut Ridge when she was only 10 years old with her phenomenal ability to play a banjo. She is destined to become a major influence and personality in the effort to preserve mountain music.

We were especially glad to see Hoy Haden of Patrick County, Virginia among the dancers. We can remember Hoy from the original Chestnut Ridge. He would be dancing as soon as he got out of his car and dance all the way down the hill to where music was being made. The very young, old and all ages in between joined together in a common love of the music that typifies the spirit of the mountains. The music and smiles truly came from the hearts of those who were there.

Here is list of the groups and members of groups who played:

Country Grass Express, Rockbridge Baths, Virginia; Reva Banks and the Country Folks, Woodlawn, Va.; Gena Britt, Star, North Carolina; the Virginia Carolina Ramblers; Country Sounds, Martinsville and Fieldale, Va., Uncle Mudd's Traveling Medicine Show, Alum Ridge, Va.; Hickory Creek, Monroe, Va.; Jim and Artie Marshall, Hillsville, Va.; Korn Kutters, Floyd, Va.; Hubert Lawson and the Bluegrass Country Boys, Madison, N.C.; The Old Timers, Collinsville, Va.; Betty Waldron, Copper Hill, Va.; Southern States Grass, Floyd, Va.; Richard Bishop and the Va. Buddies, Riner, Va.; the Buffalo Gang, Floyd, Va. and the Craig County Boys, Salem, Va. Add to this the individuals who came from as far away as Raleigh, North Carolina with their musical instruments and joined with other individuals and bands to make music. We would like to list the name of every single musician, but you can see how long the list is of just the band names. Each individual musician's name will be recorded and remembered though. We are having a plaque made for the wall of the barn at Old Jacksonville with every musician's name on it who was there. For some musicians, it will be a tribute to a lifetime of their music. For others, it will be a marker of a point in their life when they were just beginning to share their music with the world.

Thanks to the generosity of WFMY TV Channel 2 in Greensboro, North Carolina, we were able to film what will become The Laurel Foundation's first documentary. Jim Waters was running from place to place trying to catch everything he could on film. He was taping the music and talking to people all day. From the small amount of footage we have previewed so far, it's really good. We have also received written confirmation from the Public Broadcasting Systems that will allow our films to be sent via satellite uplink to over 300 PBS stations all across America. We will also be making copies of the video available to anyone wishing to own a copy. All proceeds from the videos will benefit the efforts of the Foundation.

There is still a lot of work that will have to be done on the property at Old Jacksonville   things such as completing the seating around the stage and finishing construction and remodeling of the existing buildings   but we hope you understand and bear with us as the work progresses over the next few years. The Laurel Foundation has many plans for the future of Old Jacksonville. The primary goal is to provide a place where older mountain residents can come and make everything from music to crafts. We want to provide a place where people can come to share their wealth of mountain knowledge with visitors and younger generations. Imagine a place where old timers can gather to embroidery, whittle, make musical instruments or quilt. A place where they can bring their stories and experiences to share with the world.

Every Sunday afternoon we will be at Old Jacksonville and invite you to stop by. Mountain musicians and their families will always be welcome to come and make music. The atmosphere is like a family gathering at Grandma's on Sunday afternoon. If you're a music listener, you are welcome to come sit in the beautiful oak porch swing made and donated by G.D. DeHart of Martinsville, Virginia. We have two porch swings at present and other chairs lined up along the porches, but feel free to bring your own lawn chairs and picnics if you like.

The Fallen Rocks General Store in the Barn is coming along nicely and Jim and Peggy Link have set up several interesting displays of old medicines, tobaccos, clothing and such. They tell us they have much more to display. They will have cold soda pop and snacks, and probably a pot of pinto beans going for those who come hungry. What they'll have to eat will vary from week to week. Fallen Rocks not only looks like an old general store, it sounds like one. They have an old cash register that still rings when you open the drawer instead of beeping at you like these new electronic ones do.

The Laurel Foundation hopes you will enjoy Old Jacksonville and help us to make it grow and prosper. Our first video is underway and we just can't wait to share it with you. The Laurel Foundation, with help and support, will be able to capture segments of mountain life on video tape and to provide a place where the memories of the mountains will be cherished for many years to come.

If you would like to make a donation in your name, anonymously, or in memory of someone, you can send it to The Laurel Foundation, at Old Jacksonville, Center For Blue Ridge Preservation, Floyd, Virginia, 24091.