The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Nelson County, Virginia - Home of the Waltons - Backroads Tour

By Debbie K. Marshall
The Mountain Laurel © 1985

Issue: November, 1985

Former home of the Shenandoah Longrifles Museum.Former home of the Shenandoah Longrifles Museum.This month our BACKROADS tour will take you through Nelson County, Virginia. If you enjoy the mountains, you are going to love Nelson County, an area rich in mountain scenery. It is a beautiful, rolling land with cascading streams, picturesque farms, beautiful apple orchards and lots and lots of mountains. Some proud area residents like to think of it as "God's Country" and it is a joy to behold. We'll be going through part of the George Washington National Forest, Crabtree Falls, the highest falls east of the Mississippi, and much more. Nelson County has a lot to offer. It is well worth the trip and we hope you enjoy it.

From beginning to end, our tour will cover a total of 80.3 miles and will require no less than three hours for the drive alone. Allow at least an extra 2 hours if you plan to hike the Crabtree Falls trail.

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.

An arched wooden bridge spanning the Tye River on the Crabtree Falls Trail.An arched wooden bridge spanning the Tye River on the Crabtree Falls Trail.00.0 (0.0) We'll begin our tour at Tye River Gap, which is at Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 27. Turn right to State Route 56 if you're traveling north, and left if you're traveling south on the Parkway.

00.1 (0.1) At this stop sign, turn left on State Route 56 (Crabtree Falls Hwy), going east toward Montebello. We are now entering Nelson County. SR 56 is a narrow, winding state highway.

03.0 (2.9) We are now entering the small community of Montebello, Virginia. To your right is Montebello Camping & Fishing Resort, which offers mountain trout fishing. To your left is the Montebello Post Office and General Store, which has been here "in excess of 100 years." Both the resort and store are owned by Wilson and Madeline Grant. Mr. Grant is a very nice gentleman who is proud of this area and enjoys talking about it. The land Mr. Grant now owns has been in his family for generations - 153 years, to be exact. Mr. Grant's great-great-grandfather, Captain Richard Seaman, bought 1400 acres in the surrounding area in 1832. During the next 15 to 20 years, approximately 400 acres was sold. From then on, the land was passed down to Captain Seaman's sons. One named Jonah (Mr. Grant's great-grandfather), in turn passed the land to his sons: Richard II, Elmer, Modie, Willie, and a daughter, Rose. Mr. Grant's grandfather, Richard Seaman II, bought one of his brother's shares and one share was passed down from his father. In 1956, Mr. Grant bought the general store and post office along with 462 acres of land from his mother, Mrs. Flora Grant, a daughter of Richard Seaman II.

In the big, open field directly across from the store there once stood a packing shed. Slaves raised tobacco, which was taken to Lynchburg to market. Slaves also made brick for "the mansion home." The brick was made on this very property, and at one time the mansion stood directly behind the Montebello Post Office and General Store. Mr. Grant told me there used to be a mill on the property, also. He has the old gristmill grinding stone from it in his general store. For more information concerning the camping and fishing resort, Mr. Grant can be contacted by writing: Montebello Camping & Fishing Resort, Rt. 1, Box 3, Montebello, VA 24464, or call 703-377-2650.

03.1 (0.1) Here to our right is the Shenandoah Longrifles Museum. Unfortunately the museum is now closed and the property is not open to the public, but a close look at the log cabin and covered wagon can be seen from the road. Notice the unusual way the chimney on the cabin is constructed.

04.8 (1.7) In this winding curve, look closely to the left and you will see a very pretty view of a little stream cascading over the rocks. The South Fork Tye River parallels the road for the next few miles.

06.5 (1.7) We have now reached Crabtree Falls, a George Washington National Forest Recreation site. The parking lot to our right is near the beginning of the trail. This is one of the highlights of our tour, and a part of it that I enjoyed the most. The day we did this BACKROADS, it was a beautiful October day, perfect for hiking and my partner and I just couldn't resist the two mile climb to the top of the upper falls. I must say it was certainly worth seeing. However, I do not recommend hiking the entire trail unless you are in good physical condition and please wear comfortable clothing, especially shoes. The trail is well marked and perfectly safe, if warning signs are obeyed. Hikers should stay on the trail and not climb the rocks around the observation points. The cliffs and paths near the stream are steep and the rocks are deceptively slippery. In the past few years, several hikers have been killed because they chose to ignore the warning signs and ventured too close to the waterfalls.

The Crabtree Falls Trail features a series of five major cascades and a number of smaller ones that fall a total distance of 1,200 feet. The area offers a degree of isolation and freedom, in a forest stream setting, to both day hikers and backpackers. After crossing an arched wooden bridge spanning the Tye River, the trail wanders through the mountainside capturing scenic views of the Crabtree Falls. The trail provides views of the falls from overlooks constructed to accent the beauty of the valley. The first overlook is just 700 feet from the lower parking lot, making it an excellent stopover for travelers. The more adventuresome hiker may continue to other overlooks, to Crabtree Meadows where the trail ends, or to the Appalachian Trail, just 0.5 miles beyond Crabtree Meadows. The peak season for viewing the falls is from winter through spring; when the water is high. The trail is still popular through the remainder of the year even though the water flow is lower.

07.0 (0.5) Here to our right is Crabtree Falls Campground, a quiet, unspoiled family campground. The owners pride themselves in saying their campgrounds are "rustic but not rundown," and "natural, yet not neglected." The wooded sites are set by the rushing, boulder strewn Tye River. While there you have the opportunity to swim in the clear waters, fish for native trout or canoe nearby. Or you may want to relax by the fire in an old-fashioned country store, hike trails through the George Washington National Forest, or spend a cool, quiet evening around your campfire before retiring in one of their unique camping cabins. The campground is open April through October and reservations are suggested. More information can be obtained by writing to Crabtree Falls Campground, Star Route 3, Box 88, Tyro, VA 22976, or call 703-377-2066.

08.4 (1.4) Here we cross the North Fork of the Tye River.

09.9 (1.5) We are now crossing the Tye River.

10.3 (0.4) The beautiful, rock church to our left is Harmony Presbyterian Church. It was built in 1917. I talked with Mr. Wilson Lawhorne, an area resident and long-time member of the church, and he remembers the church being built mostly by "free labor," with residents volunteering their time to help in whatever way was needed. His father was one of those volunteers and Mr. Lawhorne can remember when his Dad rolled the stone to build the church in a wheelbarrow up a 3-foot scaffold. He says in that time period that was the only way they had of getting it done. The rock building adjacent to the church is used for Sunday School classes but at one time it served as the church parsonage.

12.4 (2.1) We continue to drive through the community of Tyro, Virginia. The little country store to your left is Bradley's Post Office and General Store, owned and operated by Byron E. and Louise H. Bradley. They believe the building has been there for at least 50 years.

13.0 (0.6) This white building to our right is Captain Billy's Mountain Crafts. They offer a wide selection of good quality mountain crafts, made mostly by local craftspeople. I understand that they are open during the spring through fall, on weekends only. For more information write to: Captain Billy's Mountain Crafts, Inc., Box 22-A, Nelson County, Tyro, VA 22976.

15.6 (2.6) We are now entering a community known as Massie's Mill, named after the Massie family who at one time owned a great deal of land in the surrounding area. Major Thomas M. Massie (1747-1884), was commander of the 6th Virginia regiment of infantry and later an aide to Gov. Thomas Nelson at the siege of Yorktown. He was also one of the first magistrates of Nelson County when it was formed in 1807. "Level Greene," the home of Major Massie is located not far from here.

15.8 (0.2) To our right is Massie's Mill, an old plow mill which has been here for well over 100 years. The mill has been out of operation since sometime in the early 1940's. The building next to that is Oliver's Thrift Shop, and not more than three feet away is the old Massie's Mill Bank, built in 1921. Area residents believe the bank has been closed for about 35 years.

17.8 (2.0) At this stop sign, turn right on SR 56 east (Patrick Henry Hwy) going toward Piney River.

20.3 (2.5) At this point turn left on SR 56 east (Tye Brook Hwy).

20.5 (0.2) At this stop sign, continue on SR 56 east (Tye Brook Hwy).

22.2 (1.7) Here we once again cross the Tye River.

24.4 (2.2) This large, rustic building to the left looks like it may have been an old tobacco barn. It has a sign on it reading "Four Brothers."

25.2 (0.8) At this stop sign, turn left onto 4-lane highway US 29 (Thomas Nelson Hwy), toward SR 56 east.

28.3 (3.1) Here we will turn left on SR 651 (Stevens Cove Rd).

29.4 (1.1) Here to our left is a beautiful view of rustic farm buildings set in an open, grassy meadow.

30.0 (0.6) At this point SR 718 intersects with SR 651. Bear to the right on SR 718 (Mountain Cove Rd). Do not turn onto 651.

30.9 (0.9) To our left is a beautiful, large apple orchard.

31.6 (0.7) At this stop sign, turn left. We are now back on US Highway 29 (Thomas Nelson Hwy).

37.3 (5.7) At this point, turn left on Route 6 west (River Rd). We are now in an area known as Woods Mill in Nelson County.

37.4 (0.1) The rock building to our left is Walton's Mountain Country Store, owned and operated by Roger and Joyce Wood. They offer "something for everyone." Antiques, crafts, and gifts are among the many different items they have on display. On occasion, the Woods' have the pleasure of introducing some of the Walton family made famous by the TV series "The Waltons" to their customers. The family's real name is Hamner and "John Boy" is Earl Hamner, Jr. Mrs. Hamner and Jim Hamner still live in Schuyler, Virginia, not too far from their store. Marion Hawkes, who would be Mary Ellen on the TV show has brought some of her crafts to the store along with Mrs. Hamner's recipe for Apple Sauce Cake and Whiskey Frosting. Walton's Mountain Country Store is open 7 days a week, Monday-Saturday from 10 am-6 pm and Sunday hours are from 1 pm to 6 pm. Also, the store offers a special treat - a tour through Walton's Mountain Country. The tour consists of touring Schuyler, Virginia, seeing the home of "John Boy", the Baptist Church, the Rockfish River Dam, Jim Bob's home, and a visit to Ike's store. For more information, phone 804-263-4566.

37.5 (0.1) Here we cross the Rockfish River.

39.3 (1.8) At this point, turn left on SR 634 (Adial Rd). It is a rather narrow, winding road, so please drive carefully. This is the community of Adial.

40.4 (1.1) On our right is Adial Baptist Church.

41.6 (1.2) This beautiful two-story  home on the right is Fieldhouse Lodge.

43.7 (2.1) At this stop sign turn left on Hwy 151 south (Rockfish Valley Hwy). We are now traveling through Nellie's Ford. For the next several miles, we're going to see a lot of very pretty country farms and fields. It's definitely mountain scenery at its best, so relax and enjoy.

45.3 (1.6) We are now entering the community of Wintergreen. Wintergreen Christian Church is to our right.

52.8 (7.5) At this point we are now traveling through the community of Bryant, Virginia.

54.5 (1.7) This unusual yet absolutely beautiful structure on our right is Jonesboro Baptist Church. Here we will turn right on SR 666 (Jonesboro Rd).

54.8 (0.3) At this point turn right on SR 681 (Pigeon Hill Rd). This road is not paved.

55.4 (0.6) Continue left on SR 681 (Pigeon Hill Rd).

57.1 (1.7) At this point turn right on SR 680 (Cub Creek Rd).

58.5 (1.4) Here the pavement ends and SR 680 is gravel. We are now entering Lesesne State Forest.

60.5 (2.0) We are now leaving Lesesne State Forest.

62.1 (1.6) At this point, continue on SR 680 (Cub Creek Rd), which is once again paved. There is a very pretty apple orchard to our left.

63.0 (0.9) At this stop sign, turn left on SR 664 (Beech Grove Rd). Once again we'll see some very pretty farm country surrounded by mountains.

66.0 (3.0) Wintergreen Village is to our right. We will not turn here, but I'll give you some information about it. Wintergreen is an outstanding mountaintop resort located high in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Not only do they offer golf, tennis, hiking and fishing, but also a variety of accommodations: a house with a spectacular view of the Blue Ridge; a cabin tucked away in the woods, or a luxurious golf course condominium. They are all privately owned by people who've made their Blue Ridge vacations a permanent part of their lives. For information on daily, weekly, or monthly rates, call 804-325-2200.

67.1 (1.1) We are now at Reed's Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway. At the stop sign, turn left heading south on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Important: The Blue Ridge Parkway is sometimes closed from Reed's Gap to Tye River Gap during Winter months. We suggest this Backroad for Spring, Summer or Autumn only.

80.3 (13.2) We are now back to our point of beginning at Tye River Gap, Milepost 27 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

This has certainly been a most enjoyable BACKROADS tour for us, and if you enjoy it half as much as we did, you're going to have a good time.