The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Minnie Compton - The Widow That Won't Give Up

By Bob Heafner © 1984

Issue: June, 1984

The year of 1936 was a year of change for the tiny mountain community of Tuggles Gap, Virginia, especially for William Ward Compton. This was the year that he met Minnalee Breeden on Groundhog Day and they were married in June. It was April of that year that he opened the small store on his farm in Tuggle's Gap, with hope and $75.00 worth of stock. It was also the year that Route 8 (between Stuart and Floyd, Virginia) which bordered his farm was being paved for the first time. Between the store and the farm, he and his new bride, "Minnie," had their hands full. Ward worked the fields and Minnie did the canning, gardening, milking, housework and still managed to spend most of her time at the store. It was hard work for both of them but they pulled together and managed.

Along about then, the state of Virginia was busy acquiring the right of way for a new road that would cross their property. A highway that would traverse the crest of the Blue Ridge, the Blue Ridge Parkway. Ward sold a little over two acres to the state, who then deeded it to the National Park Service, for the right of way in February of 1936. In 1938, more of the Compton's land was required and an: additional tract was purchased by the Commonwealth of Virginia. According to the deed dated April 21, 1936, the Compton's were paid, "$225.00 and other valuable consideration." It also states that the Compton's are not to build or maintain, "any private access roads, drives or ways on or over the land bought by the state except two (2) such access roads or ways. One (1) crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway Motor Road at or near STA. 25+35 and one (1) from adjoining lands on the west (right) side to Route C 716 at or near STA. 39+00. Said private roads or drives shall not exceed ten (10) feet in width, and be constructed in accordance with standards and specifications of the," Park Service.

One of the right of ways the Compton's reserved connected separate sections of their farm, which the Parkway had split in to, and one led from their home to their store.

During the early days of Parkway construction when the Park Service's supply of gasoline ran low, Ward and Minnie, who sold gasoline, would loan them sometimes as much as a hundred gallons. When the Park Service supply would arrive, the Compton's would be paid back. They were good mountain neighbors and if someone needed help, they were happy to oblige.

In 1948, Ward and Minnie added a small motel to their modest store and their workloads were doubled overnight. In addition to their regular chores, they now had the responsibility of the motel. Minnie remembers Ward hauling rock from the fields on a two horse wagon and beating them into the driveway between their house and store with a rock hammer. She recalls that he sometimes worked, "til 10 o'clock at night beating rocks into that road."

On the first day of January, 1982, William Ward Compton passed away at the age of 94 years old. One year, five months and seventeen days later on June 17, 1983, two Park Service employees knocked on Minnie's door early in the morning and informed her that the Blue Ridge Parkway crossing (her deeded right of way) leading from her home to her store was being closed at that very moment. Thus began an ordeal for Minnie Compton that has proven to be as frustrating as any she has had to face in her 77 years.

For years the Park Service had wanted to close their driveway as well as all the other private driveways crossing the Blue Ridge Parkway in this area. A time or two Ward went toe to toe with Park Service officials when they tried to bluff their way. As long as Ward was alive, he let the fact be known that his road would not be closed by, or sold to the Park Service. In the late 1950's or early 1960's, Minnie remembers the Park Service offered them $1000.00 and a paved walkway leading from their store to their house in exchange for the right to close their drive. This would have meant almost a half mile walk each way so they refused. The Commonwealth Attorney of Floyd County, Mr. Robert Boswell as well as County Administrator, Henry McDaniel's have both interceded on Mrs. Compton's behalf, but their efforts to have her road reopened have so far been in vain. The office of the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Virginia has also stated that the Park Service had no legal right to close Mrs. Compton's drive.

The Park Service contends that the Compton's right of way was to state road 716, which has been moved to the side of the Blue Ridge Parkway their house is on so they no longer need their Parkway crossing and claimed in fact, that it has been an illegal right of way since 1956. There was no mention in the deed, however, that the Park Service could close their road if the Park Service ever decided the Compton's didn't need it anymore. Mrs. Compton has a copy of a letter sent from Sam P. Weems, Parkway Superintendent to T.C. Melton of the State Department of Highways on March 22, 1956 in which Mr. Weems makes two references to the "Compton private road."

For over 45 years Ward and Minnie Compton ran their little country store, worked hard and paid their taxes. Their roots ran deep into the rocky soil of Tuggle's Gap, yet now with Ward gone, Minnie must face settling her husband's estate and at the same time fight her government for the right to keep what attorneys from the Commonwealth Attorney of Floyd County to the Attorney General of the State of Virginia say is rightfully hers.

At best, it would appear that the Park Service position hinges on a vague technicality and an over zealous bureaucracy simply piled up mounds of dirt on both ends of Mrs. Compton's road so that it cannot be used. One Park Service official gave as the reasons for closing the road that it was a traffic hazard. However, no wreck has ever occurred there. He also said that the road was not being maintained, yet when their bulldozers pushed up mounds of dirt from the road bed there was a full 17 inches of rock which Ward had hauled over the years and beat into the road bed. The year before he died, at 93 years old, he mowed the road shoulders with an old fashioned scythe on two separate occasions.

At this time, Minnie Compton is fighting to get her road opened back up before the property is sold at auction to settle her late husband's estate. Without her Parkway crossing, the value of the property will be seriously hurt, but the time is fast approaching when the property must be sold and the estate settled. If the Park Service can manage to keep the road closed until after the estate sale, then chances are that the road will remain closed. Is this any way for a nation as great as ours to be treating a 77 year old widow who has worked hard all her life, paid her taxes and tried to be a good neighbor to everyone?

Minnie Compton could use your help right now and listed below are the names and addresses of the people who could make a difference in her struggle to salvage her rights, in case you would like to write them a letter, on her behalf. She would appreciate your help.

1. Richard Mulberry
Inspector General Department of the Interior
18th and C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20204

2. President Ronald Regan
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

3. Hon. John W. Warner
U.S. Senator
800 Federal Bldg. 200 Granby Mall
Norfork, Va. 23570

4. Hon. Madison Marye
Virginia State Senator
P.O. Box 37
Shawsville, Va. 24162