The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Sandy Ridge Roads

By Esther Kiser © 1991

Issue: October, 1991

Editor's Note... Esther Kiser says, "My great, great, great-grandfather, Karl Kiser, came to America during the French and Indian War. After the war, he received a land grant in Frederick County (later became Page County), Virginia where he built a log house and a prosperous farm. He raised his family there. Most of his family lived out their lives there. Karl (now called Charles) Keyser's second son, Joseph and a few friends traveled into the far southwestern part of Virginia and settled on the Clinch River Valley which is now in Russell County. This settlement was called Kiser Station. Joseph changed the spelling of his name to Kiser and practically all the Kisers in Southwest Virginia are descendants of Joseph Kiser, my great-great-grandfather."

The following story is an except from a book, "Sandy Ridge, Kiser-Powers Kin" which Esther Kiser wrote for her family. She still has about 50 books left if anyone would like to order one. The cost of the 425 page family history book is $17.00 total. Send to: Esther Kiser, PO Box 35, Cleveland, VA 24225.

When the Kiser brothers settled Sandy Ridge [Virginia], there were no roads except animal trails and Indian paths. Some of these trails were widened and cleared. Roads wide enough for a loaded ox or mule to travel were built to the homes of neighbors and to other roads which led to mills and trading places. Roads were still little more than paths and the men of the neighborhood furnished all the labor. The Sandy Ridge road which followed for the most part the present route, was for years a dirt road with sled runner or wagon wheel ruts on each side. The first wagon road was built from Carrie to Hazel. With all the curves, it was probably a five mile stretch. Other roads led to other areas but they all had the same beginnings and all had the same purpose, to get the settlers to Lebanon or Grundy courthouses where they could have their deeds and other important papers recorded, pay their taxes, and settle disputes. The roads were narrow, crooked, steep in places, and always rocky. Sleds were the first vehicles to travel the wider roads. Later the roads were widened some to accommodate wagons.

When Dickenson County was formed, it was divided into road districts. The first roads were planned to reach the new county seat and to the train station at Fremont. Progress on these roads was slow, but any effort by the road supervisors to build roads on Sandy Ridge and down Frying Pan Creek was non-existent.

In 1918 the Virginia Highway System was established. This did not help the residents of Sandy Ridge get better roads. They saw none of their tax money spent on repair or building their roads. For years they continued to travel bridle paths and sled roads.

The children of the Sandy Ridge families didn't care whether any roads were built or not. We weren't going far and we could walk a mile or two with ease. We loved to travel the roads in all seasons and enjoyed many attractions. In spring we picked hands full of blue violets and sweet smelling honeysuckle beside the road. We delighted to find a jack-in-the-pulpit or a white or yellow violet.

In summer we kicked up the dust with our bare feet, gathered ferns and whatever wild flowers were blooming. Most summer paths were shady because of the overhanging trees.

Fall gave more beauty to the roads than any other season and more fun to the kids who traveled them. Now, the canopy of leafy branches was changed to red, gold, yellow, and brown with patches of shadow here and there. As the autumn season progressed, we shuffled through the colored leaves covering the road. Hidden among the leaves were hickory nuts and chestnuts which soon found themselves in our pockets. We gathered wild grapes and persimmons from trees near the road. Ground squirrels scampered out of our way and gray squirrels quarreled at us from the trees.

Winter roads were not as much fun as the other three seasons. Generally they were rutted, muddy or frozen. There were no leaves or dust to kick and no nuts and fruit to eat. But we saw things that we never saw during the other seasons. Cliffs invited us to take a climb. We gathered pine and cedar cones, picked holly, and gathered mistletoe from the feeder tree. The sycamore trees shivering in their nakedness made us feel sad momentarily.

My father and Uncle Babe tried for years to get the county or state to build or improve our roads. They and a few other good neighbors made trips to supervisors and road meetings. No money was ever available, or what money was available was destined to be spent elsewhere. My family had been paying taxes in Dickenson County since the county was established and I know my parents' taxes were paid regularly.

The WPA workers widened and improved a few roads in our neighborhood. It also provided work to several people on Sandy Ridge. Some were happy to have a job and earn some money. Others didn't care much about keeping a steady job and especially at a job digging roads.

One WPA worker stayed home from work one day. The supervisor happened to be near the worker's house. He stopped by to see if the man would like a ride to work or to see if he was sick. The good wife came to the door and answered the inquiry, "My man ain't a-hossin to go to work today and I ain't a-hossin for him to go." The door was closed as the supervisor walked off the porch.

A paved road around Sandy Ridge was built in - 1964 when Clinchfield Coal Company opened up new mines at Duty, Virginia. The road was built to help Clinchfield Coal Company's workers get to work more easily. Trucks hauled coal over the road also. My family was so pleased to get a decent road that they encouraged the neighbors to give the state people the right of way through their lands. Some people donated the right of way; others sold the right of way for pittances. People were afraid to ask what they considered a fair price for fear of not getting a road at all.

Some folks didn't consider the road such a big bargain after all. Yards and gardens were dug so deep. Some were left seven or eight feet above the road. Fields were left with deep-sided elevations from the road bed. The state did build some concrete steps to what was left of the yards and gardens.

Again, the state began asking people to donate the right of way for a road down Frying Pan. Clinchfield Coal Company had opened a new mine at Frying Pan and would haul coal over the road. Again, landowners wanted a road so much they gave or sold cheaply the right of ways for the new road.

People who first settled Sandy Ridge traveled by foot even for long distances. They walked to Lebanon and Grundy and on occasion even longer distances. Sometimes they took an ox or a mule if they went to buy supplies.

My parents and their neighbors had horses. Everybody rode. The young child could sit on a horse by the time he was six and could ride well before he was eight. People rode horses to church, to mill, to the store, to the county seat, and to visit. Riding for pleasure was a pastime for the young people. Some men liked to show off their riding skills and their horses. They enjoyed racing each other. Crowds sometimes gathered if several young people were going to race.

Drummers and salesmen rode horse back to the country stores. Mail carriers rode mules or horses. Visiting preachers, livestock buyers, ginseng and herb buyers, tax collectors, and Justice of the Peace officers all rode horses.

For the first time, though, residents of Sandy Ridge and Frying Pan had a paved road. The roads are nice and the people appreciated having them; but sometimes I wish my parents and relatives could have had the same kinds of roads. But maybe we wouldn't have been as close to each other as we were then.