The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Roscoe Willis' Store - Backroads Tour

By Bob Heafner © 1985-2012

Issue: May 1985

backroad 3 fp sRoscoe Willis's Store at mile 37.3. Click on photo to see larger image.This month our BACKROADS tour will begin and end at the junction of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Route 8 at Tuggles Gap, Virginia (Parkway Milepost 165.2). We will travel a total of 61.7 miles and will need to allot between two and three hours for the entire drive.

Rolling meadows and sparkling trout streams, along with panoramic views are just a few of the highlights of this month's tour. A leisurely afternoon, a camera and a picnic lunch to be enjoyed along the way will combine to make this drive a perfect way to enjoy the Blue Ridge 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.

00.0 (0.0) Traveling north on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we will begin counting our mileage at the Blue Ridge Parkway overpass crossing Virginia Route 8. This junction is located between Parkway Mile Posts 165 and 166.

00.1 (0.1) Turn left off of the Parkway (if you're heading north) onto the exit ramp leading to Route 8.

00.2 (0.1) At this stop sign, we will turn right onto Route 8, toward Floyd, Virginia.

Little River near Sowers Mill.Little River near Sowers Mill.06.1 (5.9) This traffic light marks the intersection of Route 8 and US 221, in the small town of Floyd, Virginia. Floyd, with a population of approximately 450, is the county seat of Floyd County. Folks who like a small town atmosphere where window shopping and smiling faces are abundant will love this charming community. Floyd County is home to slightly over 12,000 folks, spread over a land area of 383 square miles. That averages out to over 20 square acres apiece for every man, woman and child in the county and ought to give you some idea about how folks around here feel about elbow room not to mention the opportunity for each of us to enjoy nature's beauty at its unspoiled finest here in Floyd County. From this stop light, we will continue straight through the intersection on Route 8.

08.1 (2.0) On our right is the Dodd Creek Mill. It has been in operation since the early part of this century. It is still in operation today and along with flour and cornmeal, it grinds livestock feed for local farmers. Owner, Jim Link, is in the process of creating an old country store in one end of the Mill and offering guided tours for folks who wish to see the workings of an authentic old mountain mill. It is most interesting and provides an insight into the innovative spirit of mountain people.

08.4 (0.3) At this point, we are crossing a bridge over the West Fork of Little River.

The ruins of the old Sowers Mill at mile 20.3.The ruins of the old Sowers Mill at mile (8.0) Here we cross another bridge over Little River and enter Montgomery County. Regular readers of The Mountain Laurel will recall an article entitled, "A Bridge Passes" by John Nizalowski, which appeared in the January, 1985 issue. In the article, Mr. Nizalowski lamented the loss of the old Route 8 bridge which this new, more modern bridge replaced.

17.2 (0.8) At this point, we make a sharp right turn, off of Route 8, onto state road 602.

17.6 (0.4) There is a beautiful view of Little River on our right.

18.6 (1.0) Here we turn right onto state road 617, crossing another bridge and entering back into Floyd County.

18.7 (0.1) Just after crossing the bridge, we will turn left onto state road 663.

20.3 (1.6) We are now at the end of state road 663 and on our left is the old Sowers Mill. Not much is left of the old mill now, but once it was a thriving mountain business. From here we will turn around and backtrack to state road 617.

21.9 (1.6) At this stop sign, we turn right onto state road 617.

22.0 (0.1) At this stop sign, we turn right, continuing to follow state road 617 across a small steel bridge.

22.6 (0.6) This high ridge area is known as Laurel Ridge and the views are beautiful.

23.6 (1.0) A typical old mountain store building is on our left here.

24.1 (0.5) State road 616 turns right here, but we go straight, continuing on state road 617.

24.2 (0.1) State road 617 bears to the left here, but we will go to the right on state road 677 and re-enter Floyd County. The views through this area are fantastic!

25.5 (1.3) There are exceptional views to our right here.

26.0 (0.5) At this stop sign, we will turn left onto state road 615 and re-enter Montgomery County.

28.4 (2.4) At this stop sign, we are across the road from the Pilot, Virginia Post Office. Here we will turn right onto state road 612.

31.1 (2.7) Here we re-enter Floyd County.

33.3 (2.2) State road 612 turns right here, but we go straight on state road 660.

34.1 (0.8) At this intersection there is an old Texaco station on our left and state road 610 turns left beside it. State road 660 ends here and we will bear to our right on state road 610.

34.3 (0.2) On our left at this point is Rogers Store. We will turn left, just past the store, onto state road 660. For the next several miles, we will follow 660, which is extremely narrow and twisting. We debated following this course (even though we drive it and think nothing of it) with our BACKROADS tour, because of this, but finally decided on its use, but only after warning our readers of its ruggedness. For those brave souls who decide to follow this route, the reward will be a look into the mountain's past that is rapidly disappearing. Not too many years ago all mountain roads were like this or worse, and the sights along the way were much like they are here today. Those less hardy or adventuresome can continue on state road 610 for approximately 2.9 miles and intercept our tour at mile 40.6. The Texaco station will be on our left coming from this direction and a right turn onto state road 654 will put you back on track with the tour.

37.2 (2.9) State road 659 turns left here, but we continue straight ahead on state road 660. The picturesque old farm house on our left belongs to Roscoe Willis.

37.3 (0.1) The small building on our right here is Roscoe Willis's Store.  Mr. Willis has been operating the store since 1923 and he also operated the old Vest Mill which once stood nearby. He is 82 years old and, by all means, stop and say hello. There aren't many stores like Roscoe Willis's left anymore and I seriously doubt that there's ever been anyone else quite like Mr. Willis. He is a genuine old mountain gentleman who it will be your pleasure to meet. The countertops are worn smooth by time and the atmosphere is still circa 1920.

37.4 (0.1) Here we cross a low water bridge over Goose Creek.

37.6 (0.2) The little white church on our right here was once Saint Pauls Methodist church. It is no longer in use, but Mr. Willis recalls seeing it full to overflowing when he was a boy.

38.1 (0.5) At this stop sign, we will turn right onto state road 653.

40.4 (2.3) At this stop sign, we will turn right onto state road 610. Notice the beautiful old white home on our right here. It is owned by Mr. Clyde Angle who owns the store across the street. Notice the small building on our left just beyond the store. It was once the Locust Grove Voting Precinct House.

40.6 (0.2) At this point, a Texaco Station is on our right and we will turn left, across from it, onto state road 654. (If you choose the alternate route rather than following state road 660 at mile 34.3 on this tour, you will approach this intersection from the opposite direction.)

41.9 (1.3) Here the road number changes from 654 to 665. We will continue to follow the paved road which is now 665.

42.6 (0.7) Here the road number changes from 665 to 661. We will continue to follow the paved road which is now 661.

44.0 (1.4) At this stop sign, we are at the junction of state road 661 and US 221. We will go straight ahead continuing on state road 661, after stopping.

44.7 (0.7) State road 661 turns right, but we will proceed straight ahead on state road 639.

45.6 (0.9) At this stop sign, we will turn right continuing to follow state road 639.

47.0 (1.4) Paynes Creek Primitive Baptist Church (established 1804) is on our right. Just beyond the church, at the stop sign we will turn right onto the Blue Ridge Parkway.

51.1 (4.1) To our left is the Smart View Picnic Area which is operated by the National Park Service.

58.8 (7.7) Rakes Mill Pond is on our right. This is a great spot to stretch your legs and enjoy a beautiful old mill pond.

61.7 (2.9) We are now back to our point of beginning at the Blue Ridge Parkway overpass over Virginia Route 8.

We hope you have enjoyed this month's tour as much as we have.