Appalachian Trail Histories

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Hikers on the old route of the Appalachian Trail crossed the Dan River at the bottom of the Dan River Gorge, either just after descending the Pinnacles (if hiking northbound) or just before ascending the Pinnacles (if hiking southbound). This photograph from 1932 shows the river crossing as it was in the original version the trail. The creation of two dams in the Gorge required the trail's overseers to relocate the river crossing to avoid the inundation created by the dams.

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The Townes Diversion Dam is one of two hydroelectric dams built in the Dan River Gorge in the late 1930s by the Danville Power Authority to generate power for the city of Danville. These two dams forced the old route of the Appalachian Trail to move to avoid the lakes created for the project, however, the trail continued to traverse the Gorge and the Pinnacles of Dan until it was relocated west in 1952.

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The Dan River Gorge, also known as the Kibler Valley, as seen from the summit of the Pinnacles of Dan in Southwestern Virginia.

This black and white lantern slide is part of a set of promotional slides used by the Appalachian Trail Conference to promote hiking the trail beginning in the late 1930s. ATC members could borrow the slides for public presentations. This particular image was from a photograph taken by ATC Chairman Myron Avery in the early 1930s during one of his many tours of the trail in Southwestern Virginia.

The Pinnacles were regularly described by AT hikers as the single most difficult part of the hike, except perhaps the climb of Mount Katahdin in Maine. Today the Dan River Gorge (where the Pinnacles are located) is closed to hikers. The Gorge itself is now largely filled in by two lakes created in the late 1930s by the Danville Power Authority when they dammed the Dan River.

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This black and white lantern slide of the Pinnacles of Dan in Southwestern Virginia is part of a set of promotional slides used by the Appalachian Trail Conference to promote hiking the trail beginning in the late 1930s. ATC members could borrow the slides for public presentations. This particular image was from a photograph taken by ATC Chairman Myron Avery in the early 1930s during one of his many tours of the trail in Southwestern Virginia.

The Pinnacles were regularly described by AT hikers as the single most difficult part of the hike, except perhaps the climb of Mount Katahdin in Maine. Today the Dan River Gorge (where the Pinnacles are located) is closed to hikers.

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A group of hikers on the Pinnacles of Dan in 1908, led by John Barnard (in hat on far left). Barnard later became the overseer of the Appalachian Trail in Patrick County, VA, and was described as the "King of the Pinnacles" in a story about the trail that appeared in National Geographic Magazine in the 1940s. 

The Pinnacles were regularly described by AT hikers as the single most difficult part of the hike, except perhaps the climb of Mount Katahdin in Maine. Today the Dan River Gorge (where the Pinnacles are located) is closed to hikers.

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The Sidna Allen house just outside of Fancy Gap, VA, is locally famous as the home of Sidna Allen, a member of the Allen family who were notorious for their role in the "courthouse massacre" in the county seat of Hillsville in 1912. Following his conviction for his role in the shootout, Allen lost the house to the state and it was eventually sold to the Webb family. When the Appalachian Trail arrived in Carroll County, Erna Webb was listed in the trail guides as being willing to take in hikers for the night. It is currently under renovation with the goal of turning it into a house museum.

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Constructed in 1929 by the U.S. Forest Service, this 40' steel tower with 14'x14' wooden cab was eventually transferred to Virginia Forestry for safekeeping, but it was vandalized in the late 1980s, the state returned it, and the Forest Service removed it.
The 1934 trail guide says:

"Ascend steeply on truck road which crosses old dirt road, former Trail route, in several places. Road affords splendid views. Where road reaches crest just west of firetower, at 6.85 miles, turn sharp left, descending on Forest Service trail."

This description of the trail's route in Southwest Virginia is very typical, in that the route alternates between trail and roads, and emphasizes locations where hikers can have "splendid views."

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Southwest Virginia’s long-established Lutheran community began to expand its missionary activity in the region in the 1920s. A principal accomplishment was the Konnarock Training School, begun in 1924 by the Woman’s Missionary Society of the United Lutheran Church in America. The school served simultaneously as a private boarding school and a public day school with a special focus on the cultural, spiritual, and social development of girls from underprivileged mountain families.

The old route of the Appalachian Trail passed just north of the school complex. Hikers on the trail who wished to divert south to Mt. Rogers and Whitetop Mountain took a side trail that joined the road through Konnarock, passing directly by the school.

The Lutherans’ Board of American Missions considered its work done in 1958 and closed the school. The complex is now owned by the U. S. D. A. Forest Service.

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The text of a scouting report laying out a potential route for the Appalachian Trail in Southwestern Virginia between Roanoke, Virginia and Roaring Gap, North Carolina. This report was sent to the Appalachian Trail Conference headquarters by Donald Campbell of Mount Airy, NC, and Shirley L. Cole, the county agent in Floyd, VA. It became the basis for the route of the trail between the Peaks of Otter north or Roanoke and the New River just west of Galax, VA.

Appalachian Trail Data (1930)

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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