Appalachian Trail Histories

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On August 6, 1951, Northbound (NOBO) thru hiker Gene Espy met Southbound (SOBO) thru hiker Chester Dziengielewski at the Smith Gap Shelter in Pennsylvania. This grainy photograph is the first ever image of a meeting between a successful northbound and successful southbound AT thru hiker. It is also the only known photograph on the trail of Dziengielewski, the third person to thru hike the AT.

Collection: Hikers
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The old route of the Appalachian Trail in Southwestern Virginia offered hikers only one overnight shelter where they could stay. Instead, the Guide to the Paths of the Blue Ridge recommended places where hikers could either set up camp in abandonded farms, behind stores, in church yards, or where they could obtain overnight accommodations from local residents. In Floyd County, the Guide said, "Excellent accommodations obtainable at Mrs. Sue Hall's." Susan Harris Hall was much more than someone who would take in hikers. "Ma Sue," as she was known locally, was a force of nature in the community, providing what today would be called social services, especially to women nearby, encouraging visitors to read in her parlor, and generally promoting the well-being of the Floyd community.

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In 1951, four hikers traversed all or almost all of the Appalachian Trail from end to end in one season. Three of those hikers, Gene Espy, Chester Dziengielewski, and Martin Papendick, hiked the entire trail, making them the second, third, and fourth thru hikers after Earl Shaffer in 1948. Bill Hall completed all but 300 miles of the trail, skipping the route between Roanoke and Damascus to save time and money. Pictured here, from left to right, are Dziengielewski, AT founder Benton MacKaye, Bill Hall and Gene Espy. The photograph was taken in October 1952, at a dinner hosted by the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club to honor the three hikers who attended. Papendick was thru hiking the Pacific Crest Trail at the time.

Collection: Hikers
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From 1931-1952, the Appalachian Trail passed over Poor Mountain, just south of Glenvar, Virginia. Southbound hikers descending from Catawba Mountain near Mason's Cove crossed the Roanoke River in Glenvar, then hiked up and over Poor Mountain on a very steep road. When they reached the summit of the mountain, they descended into the Bent Mountain community near Bent Mountain Falls. The 1940 edition of the Guide to the Paths of the Blue Ridge says: "Pass through Hemlock Dell (summer colony) at 3 m. Ascend steeply up crest of mountain on dirt road with fine views." That road today is only passable by cars from April - November and is never plowed of snow.

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The Kelley School along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Floyd, Virginia, operated as a school from 1876-1939, after which it became a country store known as Ware's Store. The Appalachian Trail arrived in the area in 1930 and passed directly in front of the School's front door. The Blue Ridge Parkway runs within 100 yards of the school/store building, which is now within the bounds of the National Park.

Ware's Store was a typical country store that sold both dry goods and food and was an useful resupply stop for hikers along the trail.

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Hiking along roads was a common experience for hikers on the early versions of the Appalachian Trail, with as much as 40 percent of the original route of the trail being along roads when the trail was first declared completed in 1937. The use of roads, either those in use or those that had fallen out of use and were fading back into the forests, was especially common on the section of the Appalachian Trail between Glenvar, Virginia (near Roanoke) and Dixon's Ferry on the New River. This photograph shows a typical section of one of those roads in southern Floyd County, between the Haycocks and Tuggle's Gap, and offers a good sense for what hikers experienced as they walked through Southwestern Virginia.

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The now abandoned Thompson's Store sits in a sharp bend in the road near the summit of Pumpkin Stem Knob ("Extraordinary view; should not be missed"). As the images indicate, the store is now completely overgrown and has been used as a place to dump unused construction materials. When the Appalachian Trail passed by the store on county route 619, it was the second place south of Poor Mountain where southbound hikers could re-provision right on the trail.

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A view of the town of Fries, Virginia, in March 1911. The photographer Lewis Wickes Hine visited Fries that year to document the working conditions in the Washington Mill, visible in the left margin of the photograph. The flat bottomed river boat in the foreground is a typical example of the kind of boat used along the New River, including at Dixon's Ferry where Appalachian Trail hikers crossed the river on their way north or south until 1952.

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Hikers on the Appalachian Trail headed northbound reached the New River at Byllesby Dam, one of several hydroelectric dams built by the Appalachian Power Company in the early 20th century. Byllesby Dam was completed in 1912, and continues in operation today. From the dam, hikers turned south (upstream) along the river, roughly following the railroad line that ended at the town of Fries, site of another of the Appalachian Power Company dams. Just before reaching Fries, hikers turned aside to Dixon's Ferry, where they took a flat bottomed ferry boat across the river and then headed up the ridge toward the town of Galax.

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A description of the Myron Avery's first inspection trip of the Appalachian Trail in Floyd County in January 1932. This story from the Floyd News describes Avery's trip with Shirley and Earnest Cole that began on New Year's Day 1932.

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A news item in the Floyd News (Floyd, VA) about a planned hike by local Boy Scouts on the Appalachian Trail in Floyd County.

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John Barnard with a memorial he made to the local Native Americans who lived in the Dan River gorge. According to his grandson, Barnard cast the concrete in sand and then added artifacts he had found in the gorge over the years.

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