The Mountain Laurel
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Wythe County, Virginia - Backroads Tour

The Mountain Laurel © 1985-2012

Issue: September, 1985

This month our BACKROADS tour will be in Wythe County, Virginia, except for the first few miles, which are in Carroll County. We'll pass beautiful old farmhouses, historical landmarks, the New River and other mountain scenery that you don't want to miss. From beginning to end, our tour will cover 50.7 miles and will take a minimum of two to three hours to drive.

Major David Graham Mansion at mile 22.0 on Backroad Tour.Major David Graham Mansion at mile 22.0 on Backroad Tour.If you plan to spend time at the Shot Tower Historical State Park and the Wytheville National Fish Hatchery, I would suggest that you plan on at least 3 hours.

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) Beginning at the intersection of US Highway 221 and Route 100 in Hillsville, Virginia we will go north on Rt. 100 toward Sylvatus, Virginia.

06.6 (6.6) We are now entering the small community of Sylvatus, Virginia.

06.8 (0.2) On the hill to our left is Sylvatus Elementary School.

07.3 (0.5) At this point we will turn left on state road 750.

07.6 (0.3) Here we are still on state road 750, but the pavement ends and the road is now gravel.

08.3 (0.7) This beautiful two-story white farmhouse on the left belongs to Mr. & Mrs. Howard E. Dalton, who have lived here for 49 years. Mrs. Dalton believes the house is somewhere around 200 years old and it was originally a log house when the Daltons bought it, but since that time they've done a lot of remodeling. They've traced the ownership of the home as far back as the John Tipton generation, who owned the home in the early 1800's. Mr. Tipton died on Sept. 16, 1899, and according to Mrs. Dalton, at one time the Tipton's owned all the land from Sylvatus to Patterson.

09.1 (0.8) At this stop sign, turn left and go north on Rt. 100.

10.2 (1.1) Turn left at this point on state road 607. We are now entering the community of Patterson, Virginia.

10.3 (0.1) The large white building on our left was once Patterson Elementary School, which closed in 1960. It is a verifiable fact that the building has been in existence for over 100 years. According to family birth records, the school seems to have begun sometime in the 1870's. Many senior citizens in the area attended the school and even some of their parents. Originally, it was a small two story structure with classes upstairs. The building which stands now was constructed in 1903. It is a large white frame structure that at one time had a school bell. Residents of this area are very proud of this old school, and today, in 1985, it remains a part of their heritage and community. The building is now known as the Patterson Community Center, and is used for such things as yard sales, 4-H meetings, rook tournaments, etc. The store adjacent to the old school is Carpenter's Grocery, owned and operated by Mr. Sam Carpenter for the past 12 years. According to Mr. Carpenter, this building is also well over 100 years old, and at one time it was a company store. Not only was it a general store, but also served as the Patterson Post Office, and Dr. Ed Chitwood practiced medicine there as well. Mr. Carpenter recalled that a man by the name of Chris Smith, who was in his 80's when he died, remembered having his first tooth pulled in this very building when he was 4 years old. From here, we continue our drive through Patterson, which offers some very pretty mountain scenery.

15.1 (4.8) A rock quarry is on our left here.

15.3 (0.2) At this stop sign we will turn right. We are now going north on US Highway 52.

15.9 (0.6) There is a beautiful farmhouse on our left.

16.1 (0.2) Jackson Memorial Elementary School is on our left.

16.5 (0.4) At this point, turn left on state road 624, which leads us to the Shot Tower Historical State Park, one of the highlights of our tour.

Shot Tower Historical State Park at mile 16.8.Shot Tower Historical State Park at mile (0.3) We have now reached the Shot Tower. This facility was typical of others in the country which made small spherical lead shot for the fowling pieces and rifles of frontiersmen and settlers. Smelted lead from the nearby Austinville mines was melted at the top of the tower and poured through a sizing sieve to produce small droplets. Surface tension caused the molten lead to assume a spherical shape which solidified during its 150 ft. fall. The shot was then collected from a water filled kettle at the bottom of the shaft. The "drop process" was patented in England in 1769 by William Watts, a craftsman of Bristol, England. The Tower resembles a fortress in construction - the walls are built of stone which was quarried from a limestone deposit about a mile away. Its walls are 2 feet thick, and the base of the Tower is 20 feet square. It stands 70 feet high.

The Shot Tower was built by Thomas Jackson, an English immigrant, who was born on Nov. 8, 1762. In about 1785 he came to America to become associated with the lead mines in Austinville, Virginia. In 1807, when Jackson built the Tower, he and David Pierce were joint owners of the mines. Mr. Jackson operated the Shot Tower from 1807 until his death in 1824.

The Tower was donated to the Commonwealth of Virginia by the Lead Mines Ruritan Club and opened to the public in 1968. In 1981, it was designated a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

During the summer months, the park is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. If you want to tour the inside of the Tower, there is a small admission fee. Brochures are available concerning the history of the Tower, and an attendant is there to answer any questions you may have. Also, picnicking facilities, a short walking trail and restrooms are available at the park.

16.9 (0.1) As we leave the Shot Tower Historical State Park, you will notice an old cabin here on the left. The cabin was built in 1754 and is owned by Mr. Thomas Jackson, a descendant of the Thomas Jackson who built the Shot Tower. According to Mr. Jackson, he believes Thomas Jackson was a "3 times great uncle" to him. He also told me that the old log home has been in the Jackson family for 5 generations.

17.1 (0.2) At this stop sign, turn left onto US Highway 52 North.

17.3 (0.2) Here we are crossing the New River Bridge with an excellent view of the New River, especially to our right. This is one of the world's oldest and most beautiful rivers. It's fantastic for fishing, boating, and canoeing.

18.3 (1.0) Here to the left is an absolutely beautiful view of the New River.

18.9 (0.6) At this point, turn right on state road 619, also known as the Major Graham road. This road is not paved and is rather rough in places, so you might want to drive slowly.

19.8 (0.9) Here to our right is an old cemetery. I was unable to obtain any information about it the day I did "Backroads." Some of the graves are marked only with a rock, and some of the oldest dates I saw were people who had died in the first decade of the 1900's.

20.2 (0.4) An old weathered farmhouse is here on the left.

20.8 (0.6) At this intersection, bear to the left and continue on road 619.

22.0 (1.2) On a hill to our left you are now able to see the Major David Graham mansion, another highlight of our tour. The Graham  mansion is one of Wythe County's  most majestic landmarks.  The mansion was constructed in 1840 by David Graham, and added onto in 1855, 1870, and 1890. Graham operated mines, furnaces, a forge and a mill in his iron manufacturing endeavors. He is remembered as the first iron master of southwestern Virginia. Graham's son, David Pierce Graham, became the owner of the mansion in 1870. The mansion is named after him. He is known to the residents of Graham's Forge as Major Graham for his service in the Civil War.

The Major David Graham Mansion is a two and a half story wood and brick structure with 16 rooms and rests on 1,369 acres of land. The brick section was built with bricks that were fired on the estate. It is one of the few buildings constructed in the early 1800's that has metal beams. On the front porch of the brick section are 4 pillars made of cast iron. The architecture of the house is typical of a successful southwestern Virginia family during the last two-thirds of the 19th century. I was told that the Grahams owned 20,000 acres in this area during the 1800's.

In 1943, the mansion was purchased by Reid Fulton, a professor of law at Columbia University and book collector without compare. In 1974, Fulton sold the mansion, farm, and library, which consisted of over 70,000 books, to Dr. James Chitwood of Pulaski, who is now the owner. In 1984 the mansion joined the more than 1,100 entries on the Virginia Landmarks Register.

Jim Chitwood, Dr. Chitwood's son, gave me a personal tour of the mansion and grounds and provided much information pertaining to the history of this beautiful old mansion and the Graham family. The mansion is on private property, however, and not open to the public, so please don't go on the property without first getting permission from either Dr. James Chitwood or his son.

22.1 (0.1) Here we will turn left and continue on road 619.

22.2 (0.1) From here you can still see the Graham Mansion, and also an old granary on the property. Jim Chitwood, Jr. and his wife live in the farmhouse adjacent to the mansion.

24.0 (1.8) At this point the gravel road ends and the road is now paved. We are still on 619.

24.7 (0.7) The old building in the field to our left is the old Graham's Forge Mill, and the brick building was an old country store known as the Graham Robinson General Store. The large white farmhouse on the right, almost directly across from the store, is the home of Mrs. Sarah Elizabeth Cook and her daughter, Louise Corvin. I stopped and talked with Mrs. Cook, and to the best of her knowledge, she believes the old mill was built about 1875, and both the store and the mill closed somewhere around 1930. Mrs. Cook says that "at one time, this was really a busy place." She recalls the days when all the local farmers bought and sold their grain at the Graham's Forge Mill and brought chickens, eggs and other goods to the old general store.

She remembered when her mother used to buy bolts of material at the old store to make her school clothes with. "Anything you needed, it could be bought at that store," she says. Louise said her uncle, who is now 76, remembered that the first Coca-Cola he drank came from the store. Mrs. Cook and Louise are both very nice people, so if you have the time to stop and chat for awhile, I'm sure they would enjoy it and so would you.

24.8 (0.1) Here we will turn right and circle the driveway in front of the church. This is Graham's Forge Methodist Church, built in 1875. Mrs. Cook also recalled when she used to come to Sunday School here in a one horse buggy with her 2 sisters and older brother. At the end of the church driveway, turn left, and once again, you'll be on state road 619.

25.5 (0.7) Turn right on state road 629. This is a gravel road.

25.9 (0.4) At this point, 629 is paved.

26.0 (0.1) Here we will turn right and take a tour of the Wytheville National Fish Hatchery. There is no admission fee and visitors are welcome from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The Hatchery is operated by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish, and Wildlife Service. It is one of several federal hatcheries in the trout production program. The function of this station is to annually produce 100,000 pounds of catchable size rainbow trout for stocking in federal and state waters.

26.3 (0.3) As we leave the Fish Hatchery, turn right and continue on 629.

27.2 (0.9) At this intersection, turn right. We are still on 629.

28.4 (1.2) At this stop sign, turn left. We are now on US 52, heading south.

32.6 (4.2) The beautiful white church to our left is Galena Presbyterian Church, founded in 1885.

34.5 (1.9) The Shot Tower is once again to our right, but unless you want to see it a second time, do not turn here. Continue on 52 south.

35.8 (1.3) Here we turn left on state road 607 going back through the community of Patterson.

40.9 (5.1) At this stop sign, turn right. We are now on Rt. 100. going south toward Hillsville, Virginia.

43.6 (2.7) Here we enter Sylvatus.

50.7 (7.1) We are now back to our point of beginning at the intersection of Highway 221 and Rt. 100 in Hillsville, Virginia.

We had a great time along this Backroads Tour and hope that you enjoy the area as much as we did.