Appalachian Trail Histories

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The original route of the Appalachian Trail in Southwestern Virginia passed within a mile of the Mabry Mill, pictured here. Located along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Meadows of Dan, Virginia, the Mills was built by Edwin Mabry in 1903. Originally a sawmill, by 1905, the mill had been converted to a gristmill. It was incorporated into the Blue Ridge Parkway in the 1930s, and today is believed to be the most photographed site along the Parkway.

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The store, restaurant, and motel at Tuggle Gap, pictured here, built in the early 1940s, sits at the intersection of Highway 8 and the Blue Ridge Parkway. The old route of the Appalachian Trail passed directly by the store until the trail was moved west in 1952 to its current location.

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From 1932-1952, the Appalachian Trail followed an entirely different route between Roanoke and Damascus, Virginia from the one it uses today. The Guide to the Paths of Blue Ridge (1941 edition) details each section of that hike from Route 11 just northwest of Roanoke, down through Floyd, Patrick, Carroll, Grayson, and Washington Counties in great detail.

This section of the guide describes the route between Tuggle Gap and US Highway 58, just north of the Dan River Gorge. It includes the popular Rocky Knob Recreation Area along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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On July 5, 1951, Gene Espy passed through Galax, Virginia on his way north from Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia. Espy, from Cordele, Georgia, was the second person to successfully hike the entire Appalachian Trail in one season.

This story, from the Galax Gazette is particularly interesting for the discomfort of the reporter with Espy's beard. In 1951, a bearded man was often suspected of being either a vagabond or a communist. In his book about that 1951 hike, Espy describes several times when he was misunderstood because of that beard.

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In 1951, Chester Dziengielewski, a machinist from Naugatuck, Connecticut, was the first person to successfully hike the entire Appalachian Trail in one season in a southbound direction. On September 20, he stopped in Galax, Virginia on his way through Southwestern Virginia and was interviewed by a reporter from the Galax Gazette.

The story, pictured here, describes his experiences along the trail and his meeting with Gene Espy, who was hiking northbound that same summer. Two other hikers were also attempting a southbound thru hike that summer -- Martin Papendick, a World War II veteran from Michigan, and Bill Hall, a teenager from Ohio. Papendick also passed through Galax a few weeks later, but Hall skipped the section between Roanoke and Damascus because he was running short of funds and time.

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The old route of the Appalachian Trail south and west of Roanoke, Virginia, climbed up and over Poor Mountain from the village of Glenvar in the Roanoke River Valley. This road, impassible in winter today, passed through the summer colony of Hemlock Dell, rising rapidly over 3.5 miles until it reached summit of Poor Mountain at 3,960'.

From the summit of Poor Mountain, the trail then passed close to Bent Mountain Falls, the second highest cascade in Virginia. Today, the Falls are part of the Bottom Creek Preserve, owned by the Nature Conservancy.

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Hikers on the old route of the Appalachian Trail in Southwestern Virginia often used churches, stores, and schools, many of them abandoned, as navigation points during their hike. While the stores and schools are mostly either gone or in significant states of disrepair, many of the churches along the old route continue to hold services, or have been preserved by members of the community or the Blue Ridge Parkway staff.

The County Line Primitive Baptist Church, pictured here, is one such landmark listed in the Guide to the Paths of the Blue Ridge, which said, "Pass County Line Church on left; immediately after, at 25.02 turn sharp left on well-worn road."

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The old route of the Appalachian Trail passed through what is now known as Smart View Recreation Area along the Blue Ridge Parkway. At the time the trail was created in Floyd County in 1930, the first edition of the Guide to the Paths of the Blue Ridge makes no mention of the park. The cabin pictured here was built by W. J. Trail in the 1880s. 

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In 1952, George Miller hiked the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine at the age of 72. His hike was the seventh completed thru hike of the trail and the third that year. He was also the last thru hiker to follow the old route of the trail through Southwestern Virginia, because in 1953 the Appalachian Trail Conference (ATC) completed its relocation of the trail to its current location west of Blacksburg and the route through Floyd, Patrick, Carroll, Grayson, and Washington Counties was abandoned.

In this letter to John Barnard of Meadows of Dan, Miller thanks Barnard for his hospitality and assistance as he passed through Patrick County during the summer of 1952. Barnard was the person in charge of the trail in Patrick County from 1930 until the trail's relocation west.

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The Catawba Sanatorium near Glenvar, Virginia, was one of several tuberculosis sanatoria established by the Commonwealth of Virginia in the first decade of the 20th century. Until the invention of Streptomycin, the only known treatment for tuberculosis was fresh air, sunshine, and a healthy diet. Patients were sent to sanatoria like the Catawba Sanatorium to stay until their symptoms abated.

The old route of the Appalachian Trail passed close to the Sanatorium from 1932-1952, and hikers could access the trail by taking a bus to the grounds of the Sanatorium and then backtracking to the county road that the trail used to get between Mason Cove and Glenvar, Virginia.

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From 1932-1952, the Appalachian Trail followed an entirely different route between Roanoke and Damascus, Virginia from the one it uses today. The Guide to the Paths of Blue Ridge (1941 edition) details each section of that hike from Route 11 just northwest of Roanoke, down through Floyd, Patrick, Carroll, Grayson, and Washington Counties in great detail.

This section of the Guide describes the route of the trail between Mason Cove and Glenvar, the point at which the old Appalachian Trail route deviated substantially from the current route. Several of the landmarks mentioned either no longer exist (Bradshaw Post Office) or are substantially different -- Catawba Sanatorium is now Catawba Hospital -- and the "dirt road passable by automobile" is now county road 622, a paved road.

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From 1932-1952, the Appalachian Trail followed an entirely different route between Roanoke and Damascus, Virginia from the one it uses today. The Guide to the Paths of Blue Ridge (1941 edition) details each section of that hike from Route 11 just northwest of Roanoke, down through Floyd, Patrick, Carroll, Grayson, and Washington Counties in great detail.

This first section of the guide describes the by now well-known route across Tinker and Catawba Mountains, the location of McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs, and the route that the trail took once it reached Highway 311 near Mason Cove.

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