Appalachian Trail Histories

Hikers along the Appalachian Trail today can count on some sort of shelter approximately every 8-10 miles along their route. Construction of this chain of shelters began in the 1930s, but was not completed until after the Second World War. The original route of the Appalachian Trail in Southwestern Virginia included only one such shelter -- the Rocky Knob build by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937, pictured here. Except for this shelter, hikers along the original route had to camp either in tents or in the ruins of old barns or farm houses along the way. When Earl Shaffer passed through during his first ever thru hike of the AT in 1948, he wrote:
"I finally stumbled into Rocky Knob by starlight and found the shelter was of stone, open on three sides and with a cold wind howling through. I gathered some snags for fireplace wood and a sackful of leaves to cushion the stone floor. The temperature must have been around freezing."

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This image shows the view of Smith Mountain from the Appalachian Trail near Bent Mountain in Floyd County, Virginia. The 1940 trail guide describes the views from the summit of Smith Mountain as is section of the trail as:
Summit (3,368 ft.) affords extensive views of Roanoke and Franklin Counties; Buffalo Mtn. visible to the southwest and Peaks of Otter to the northeast. Cahas Knob is prominent on the Skyline.
Much of the original route of the trail in Floyd County was obliterated by the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway in the mid-1930s, but this segment over Smith Mountain remained a part of the trail route -- as trail -- until the relocation of the entire trail in Southwestern Virginia in 1952.

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The view north and east from a point along the old route of the Appalachian Trail approximately two miles south of Sling's Gap.

The man in the photograph is Shirley L. Cole, the County Agent in Floyd County, and the original overseer of the Appalachian Trail in Southwestern Virginia. The photograph is from ATC Chairman Myron Avery's personal scrapbooks and was taken during one of several scouting expeditions he took with Cole in the region between 1930-1932.

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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.


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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The Graysville Store in Copper Hill, Virginia in 2019. This store, now abandoned, was an important stop for hikers on the Appalachian Trail between Bent Mountain and Floyd, Virginia. The store owner provided both rental accommodations for hikers and, if they preferred, allowed them to set up their tents in the yard behind the store.

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