If you are sitting at a desk in Dallas looking up photos of the Blue Ridge Parkway, there’s a good chance that the majority of the photos that you are seeing are from the North Carolina stretch. I don’t know if they just do a better job of Internet marketing or what the deal is there but there is one site along Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway that is touted as the most photographed. That is Mabry Mill. It’s about an hour from Henry County, maybe a little less, just north of where the Parkway passes Meadows of Dan. Part of the National Parks System, Mabry Mill is a perfect blend of natural beauty, history, and local fare. The Mabry Mill Restaurant is lauded for its sweet potato, blueberry, and apple pancakes made from buckwheat and corn meal ground at the mill. Continue reading “Most Photographed Mabry Mill”
Every year about this time, there is a Peach Festival in Stuart on a Friday evening followed by a Folk Fair in Meadows of Dan on Saturday. We have still not made it to the Peach Festival in Stuart yet. The first year, I didn’t realize that it was on Friday night. The second year, I figured it out too late. This year, it rained.
Somehow I have no trouble making it to the Folk Fair in Meadows of Dan. Maybe because I just love Meadows of Dan. I mean I really love Meadows of Dan. It sits at the entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway and is just the cutest little community.
We go up to the Poor Farmers Market here quite a bit and I love following them on Facebook. The owner posts a lot of pictures from Meadows of Dan as well as historical tidbits and news of business for the area. This is where we discovered white sweet potatoes which are, possibly, the perfect food. They taste like regular sweet potatoes but have the look and consistency of regular white potatoes. Who know that a vegetable could be so interesting?
The store is full of souvenirs – autographed books by local authors, t-shirts, cast iron cookware, holiday ideas, jams and jellies, and every little odd assortment of things that you can imagine. There is a deli counter and ice cream in the back and a covered sitting spot to eat. Today, they had the most colorful metal yard art shaped like roses, bird houses, and huge roosters. You just never know what you’ll find at Poor Farmers Market besides white sweet potatoes (and peaches).
Jim Lord played live music out on the stage at the back of the parking lot and a few vendors were scattered about. The bulk of the vendor tents were set up down the road by the Community Center but this is where I wanted to be.
Just across the street from Poor Farmers Market is The Meadows Mercantile. It’s a long building that looks vaguely western. You can enter on either end of the building which is divided into four rooms and filled to the brim with souvenirs and everything Christmas. They have a fantastic selection of t-shirts right now. We bought three and I’ve already admitted that I am going to have to go back to get the one that says “The Mountains Are Calling And I Must Go”.
Two of the rooms are souvenir-type things and then the next two rooms are all Christmas. Ornaments. Trees. Nativities. You name it. Mother got her very first Virginia Christmas ornament – of a black bear. (She keeps wanting to put out food scraps for “critters” but we have chickens and just about all “critters” eat chickens. I told her that is not outside the realm of possibility that she could attract a black bear by doing this. So far, that seems to have worked.)
The Meadows of Dan community lost a significant landmark last year. The Meadows of Dan Baptist Church burned to the ground on March 5, 2015. Poor Farmers Market has photos of the fire on their Facebook page. It was so sad. Such an incredible loss for the community. Proceeds from the peach cobbler sale will go to rebuild.
They’ve had a new addition to the community in the Toy Time Folk Toy & Science Museum. The museum has a TripAdvisor badge on their door and they are already up to #8 of 11 things to do in Meadows of Dan. They’ll have stiff competition for the top spot with Mabry Mill, Nancy’s Candy Company, and Primland but I think that they are going to be very popular.
The building used to be a gun and knife store, hence the bars that make it look like an old jail inside. Before that, it was a general store. Now, toys and puzzles line the walls and invite people to play with them to see how they work. I was able to operate the dreidel, putting me on a technical skill level with, I think, a five year old, but we needed help with a lot of the displays. One of the employees helped us operate several of the toys, including a chair that would raise you up by compressing air in a vacuum tube next to it. At least, I think that was how it worked. Compared to other science museums I’ve seen like this, it’s really engaging and there is a lot to see and do. Kids will absolutely love it and adults are going to enjoy themselves too.
After the Folk Toy and Science Museum, we decided to drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway and investigate an old country store I had read about in “This Old Store”, the Mayberry Trading Post.
It’s a very readable, short book. Apart from the history of the store, it gives the history of the area and spends some time on several notable personalities that lived here. The community of Mayberry has dwindled to just a few souls but the country store is still there and open for business. Interesting note in the book (page 89), Andy Griffith’s mother had relatives here when he was a boy and he had come to Mayberry to visit them back in the day. “Information such as this”, the book says, “makes a pretty strong circumstantial case for this place here being the source of the name of the television Mayberry, if not a documentable one.”
I’ve since read that many places compete for being the source of the name of the idylized small town of Tinsel Town fame. Whether it is or not is probably moot at this point. Whether it is the town, or not, I mean. It is indisputably a remnant of the past that many of us have romanticized in a nostalgic fervor so that it is like Brigadoon, a small village protected from the ravages of change by an enchantment that hides it away from the world for a hundred years each night as the villagers sleep.
I read once that the reason that vintage Victorian clothes are so important is that there were only so many made (by nature of definition). Once they are gone, and they can’t last forever, that’s it. You can’t make more genuine articles. Old country stores like this are the same, I think. If you are of the same mind, I think that you would really like stopping by. And buy a shirt or a hoodie, or a jar of jam … just to keep the lights on.
It was a rainy day but we managed to grab some shots at Lover’s Leap on the way up. We actually went to Fred Clifton Park, right next to the outlook, which I believe has better views.
This is one of the views from Fred Clifton Park. It’s pretty much the same view as from Lover’s Leap but with more room to stand. The local legend is that a white settler and an native American maiden, shunned by both sides for their love, leapt from here into the valley below. It’s a popular story for a lot of places, so I have my doubts. It is a breathtaking view though. The camera couldn’t capture it but there are farms and vineyards down in that valley. It’s truly gorgeous.
I’ll close with this shot of Mother taking in the view. I think that she is really liking it here.
One of the perks to living in the Martinsville-Henry County area is that we are less than an hour away from the Blue Ridge Parkway. We take Highway 58 from Martinsville west through the communities of Patrick Springs, Stuart, and Meadows of Dan to get to the Parkway. It doesn’t take long before the Blue Ridge looms up on the horizon and it is always a beautiful trip just getting to the Parkway itself. So far, we have only explored the section of the Parkway that runs north to Roanoke, passing by the community Floyd, which was voted one of the South’s best small towns by Southern Living in 2016.
We always make a stop in Meadows of Dan first. Meadows of Dan is a small but extremely beautiful town whose business district sits right at the on ramp to the Parkway. There are several restaurants here and a few little shops. Nancy’s Candy Company can reunite even the most cynical adult with their inner child. They have lots of freshly made fudge and truffles and just about anything that can be dipped in chocolate has been. Poor Farmers’ Market is a must-stop and there is nothing that you could need on the road that they don’t have. There is a sandwich shop and ice cream counter in the back. There are three large rooms filled with jellies and jams and cast iron cookware. Books by local authors, t-shirts, hats, and hoodies are piled up on display cases. Even the gliders and settees out on the porch are for sale. There is fresh produce out front and the small room as you enter is a traditional convenience store with fried pies and soda pops.
We recently discovered a restaurant just east of Meadows of Dan called The Crooked Road Cafe. This stretch of 58 is also part of what is known as “The Crooked Road”, a stretch along which you’ll consistently find authentic bluegrass music. The cafe is known for its pizza and gyros but also features live music, shares the site with a historic grist mill that you can tour for free, and has an adorable back patio that sits alongside the headwaters of the Dan River. It’s hard to believe that the river here, which looks like little more than a creek, will become a large river by the time it gets to Danville. The cabin in the background is a vacation rental called “A Blue Ridge Haven”.
There are two main stops along the Parkway between Meadows of Dan and Roanoke. The first is Mabry Mill, a national park featuring a historic grist mill still in operation, a historic Appalachian cabin, a restaurant, a gift shop, wooded trails, and live music on Sunday afternoons. According to the NPS website, Mabry Mill is one of the most photographed sites on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The mill, as well as all of the Parkway here, is dotted with rhododendron, which bloom large purple flowers around April or May.
The speed limit along the Parkway is 45 miles an hour and drops down to 25 when you get close to event venues like Mabry Mill or Floyd Fest, an annual music concert held in July that last several days and draws some big names. The Parkway is well-patrolled and the speed limit is strictly enforced.
All along the Parkway, there are turn offs for viewing the valleys that run alongside the Mountains. The first after Mabry Mill is the Rocky Knob Recreational area, which is more than just your average outlook, having hiking trails and campgrounds.
Most of the outlooks are little more than a parking lot with a tremendous view and a placard explaining what you are seeing. Even in winter, though, these stops can be worthwhile because you can see so much more without all of the foliage and contemplate what life must have been like here before the American Revolution. The Parkway often closes for inclement weather during the winter though.
After Mabry Mill and Rocky Knob, you’ll run into the town of Floyd. We’ve learned over time that you shouldn’t just stop in at random stores. You should allow yourself several hours and try to get into each one. What happened to us is we would check out a different store each time and were sorry to have not known about it before. For instance, you absolutely must visit the Floyd Country Store. We didn’t go in there until our second trip up. The Floyd Country Store is like the centerpiece of Floyd and has food and live music as well as the sundries you’d expect. If you haven’t been there, you haven’t been to Floyd. It was a couple more trips before we figured out that The Republic of Floyd is a craft beer store. We are now enormous fans.
The Hotel Floyd is a boutique hotel just off of the downtown scene, separated by an old cemetery that’s worth a look as well. Each room is decorated themed on a different business in the area so each room is entirely unique. The ones we stayed in were gorgeous. It doesn’t look like there’s a bad room in the inn.
Word to the wise, there are at least two businesses that you have to look for because they are slightly off the beaten track. One is a bakery called The Grateful Bread that is easy to miss because it’s down the hill behind Dogtown Roadhouse (a popular restaurant on the main drag). It’s not big but the baked goods are fresh and tasty and the proprietor, when we went, was super friendly. The other business is an antiques store called Finders Keepers. When you get to the intersection in the middle of town (by the hardware store), turn east. It’s just a little bit down the road.
Honestly, you can spend a whole day in Floyd. And that’s not even mentioning Chateau Morrisette Winery. Floyd is often our only destination on the Parkway. We go up there for a few hours and we are home by dark.