The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Bearwallow Gap - Backroads Tour

By Bob Heafner © 1985-2012

Issue: June 1985

This month our BACKROADS tour will begin and end at the junction of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Virginia Route 43 at Bearwallow Gap (Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 91.0). We will travel a total distance of 32.6 miles and will need to allot approximately 2 hours for the entire trip.

This tour offers spectacular scenery, rolling farmlands’ and beautiful old colonial homes all along the way. It is an area rich in history and natural beauty, so be sure to bring along your camera and a picnic lunch for a two hour drive and memories that will last a lifetime.

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 turn right at Bearwallow Gap onto the exit ramp leading to Virginia Route 43. Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 91, will be on our left at this point.

00.1 (0.1) At the exit ramp stop sign, route 43 north turns left, but we will turn right onto state road 695 south towards Montvale, Virginia.

02.6 (2.5) The Rainbow Orchards are on our right here and the Parkway can be seen on the far distant ridge.

08.0 (5.4) Here we will turn left onto state road 741 which is not paved.

09.0 (1.0) At this stop sign state road 812 turns right, but we will turn left and continue to follow state road 741.

09.5 (0.5) Here we pass through a tunnel-like railroad overpass.

09.6 (0.1) At this stop sign we are at the intersection of state road 741 and highway 460 & 221 (four lanes). We will cross the west bound lanes and turn left onto 460 east and 221 north.

15.0 (5.4) At this point, a large store will be on our left (Thaxton Store) and we will turn left off of 460 & 221 onto state road 861 toward Thaxton, Virginia.

15.4 (0.4) Here we will turn left onto state road 684 and pass beneath another railroad overpass.

18.5 (3.1) At this intersection, an old rock barn will be directly ahead and we will turn right onto state road 680.

18.6 (0.1) Turn left at this point onto state road 682.

19.4 (0.8) The tall mountains to our left are the Peaks of Otter.

21.9 (2.5) The beautiful old colonial brick home to our left is "Fancy Farm." It was built around 1780 by Scottish merchant, Andrew Donald. Court records indicate that Mr. Donald owned 937 acres here at that time. The word fancy had a different meaning in those days than it does today and was used as we would use the word dream. It is said that Mr. Donald had seen a similar house in Scotland and when he built "Fancy Farm" it was his "fancy" or dream. Upon Mr. Donald's death, his family returned to Scotland, but his son, Benjamin Donald, returned and built "Otterburn," another beautiful estate about four miles from here.

Isaac Otey was the next owner of "Fancy Farm" and court records indicate the property consisted of 1034 acres during his ownership period. Mr. Otey was the grandfather of James Hervey Otey, an Episcopalian Bishop who cofounded the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. Founded in 1857, as a man's college, the University is now coeducational, but Otey Hall still stands on the campus as a tribute to Bishop Otey who it is said loved "Fancy Farm" so much that he once hugged and kissed every tree upon his arrival home.

"Fancy Farm" next belonged to Robert Kelso, whose family owned it for 88 years. It was during their ownership in the spring and summer of 1864 that General David Hunter of the Union Army commandeered the home for his headquarters and over 16,000 Union troops bivouacked on the farm.

In 1921, the property was purchased by an English Baronet, Sir George Reresby Sitwell, who was the father of Dame Edith Sitwell, Sacheverell Sitwell and George Reresby Sitwell, who were three of England's most noted writers of the 1920's and 1930's. During the Sitwell ownership period, "Fancy Farm" was occupied by Sir George's nephew, Captain Herbert Cecil Fitzroy Sitwell, who lived here until his death in the early 1960's. He is remembered locally as, "an entertaining old military man".

Mr. and Mrs. Eric Fessel bought the property in 1967 and began restoration of the beautiful old home. In 1970, the work was completed and the Fessels moved in. "Fancy Farm" is now on the National, as well as, the Virginia Register of Historic Places.

22.1 (0.2) At this stop sign, North Side Supply, which is a country store, is on our left and we will turn left onto Virginia route 43. The old brick building attached to the rear of the store was once the Kelso Mill. It was owned and operated by the Kelso family which owned "Fancy Farm." As we pass the mill, we are afforded another view of "Fancy Farm", on our left.

26.8 (4.7) We have now entered the boundary of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the 4150 acre Peaks of Otter recreation area. The entrance to the free picnic sites is on our right. The Peaks of Otter area offers miles of hiking trails, a beautiful lodge for overnight guests, a restaurant, Blue Ridge Parkway visitor center and camping facilities.

27.3 (0.5) The entrance to the campground is on our left.

27.6 (0.3) At this stop sign, we are at mile post 86 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Directly ahead is the Visitor Information Center and to our right, we can see the Peaks of Otter Lodge and its beautiful lake. We will turn left here onto the Blue Ridge Parkway heading south.

32.6 (5.0) We are now back to our point of beginning at the junction of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Virginia Route 43 at Bearwallow Gap and Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 91.

This is such a beautiful area with so much to see and do that you may wish to allot additional time. We hope you have enjoyed beautiful Bedford County, Virginia as much as we have.