Monday, August 4, 2014

Grayson Highlands - Mountain Paradise

There is no doubt in my mind.  Grayson Highlands is a beautiful place and well worth a visit.  We only spent 2.5 hours there including a picnic lunch.  I would spend twice that so that you could work in a hike in the meadows and ridges.  However, our visit there was wonderful and the first chapter of a 7 hour day spent exploring the area to the south and south west of Marion.

Grayson Highlands State Park was created in 1965 with significant local support.  It consists of 4,822 acres of mountain land within Jefferson National Forest and bordering Mount Rogers National Recreation Area.  The park offers some awesome hiking to nearby Mount Rodgers and Whitetop Mountain, waterfalls and overlooks; access to the Appalachian Trail and the Virginia Highlands Horse Trail; camping, wildlife viewing and picnicking.

On the drive up to the Visitor Center, we stopped at Sugarlands Overlook which offers some fantastic views worth photographing.  The overlook is named for the large number of Sugar Maple trees located there.  The sap of the trees can be boiled down to produce Maple Syrup.

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High Rock on Buck Mountain from Sugarlands Overlook

Sugarlands Overlook

Tucker Road from Sugarlands Overlook

Mountain View from Sugarlands Overlook

We then continued up to the Visitor Center located near the summit of Haw Orchard Mountain at over 5,000 feet.  The center offers interesting exhibits, gift shop, information and rest rooms.  Across from the center is a trail to Massey Gap where several other trails intersect.  We enjoyed a nice picnic lunch, shot some more photos at a nearby overlook and headed back on the road.

Picnic area overlook

Haw Orchard Lane from picnic area overlook 

Haw Orchard Baptist Church & Cemetery from picnic area overlook

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Friday, August 1, 2014

A Good Marion Morning

We spent July 4th exploring Marion in the morning and Hungry Mother State Park in the afternoon.  Marion is only four miles from the park.  It offers several grocery stores, restaurants and gas stations for resupplying campers and tourists.  While Marion is a small town of only 5,968 residents, the town has done an admirable job preserving its history by renovating many of its historic buildings and creating the Marion Historic District.  The historic district is composed of 361 buildings.

One of the buildings included in the National Register of Historic Places is the Norfolk & Western Railway Depot.  The depot was built in 1904 to handle passenger traffic.  Passenger traffic peaked after World War II and started to decline in the 1950's until passenger service at Marion ended in 1971.  The depot, renovated in 1994,  now houses local businesses.

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Restored front of the railway depot.

One of the original baggage carts at the depot c 1904

The Colonial Revival-style original Marion US Post Office building was built in 1935.  Louis A. Simon was the Architect and Neil A. Melick was the supervising engineer.  The old post office is now a Macado's Restaurant.

The building below was built in 1930.  Previously, it was the Donnelly Furniture Company.  It now houses the Blue Ridge Title & Settlement Agency. 

Blue Ridge Title & Settlement Agency c 1930

The Lincoln Theatre was built in 1929 by Charles C. Lincoln, Sr., his son Charles C. Lincoln, Jr. and John D. Lincoln.  When it opened on July 1st, 1,000 people packed the theater to watch a silent movie called "Close Harmony" starring Buddy Rogers and Nancy Carroll.  

Artists who appeared in person at the theater include Roy Rogers (and Trigger), Dale Evans, Lash LaRue, Randolf Scott, Sunset Carson, Hopalong Cassidy, Tom Mix, The Lone Ranger and Gabbey Hayes.  Country music stars Minnie Pearl, Earnest Tubb, Del Wood, Roy Acuff, June Carter Cash, The Stanley Brothers, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, Stringbean, Little Jimmie Dickens, and Grandpa Jones also appeared at the Lincoln.

The Lincoln closed in 1973.  It opened briefly in the 1970's, but closed in 1977 due to poor ticket sales.  The theater was later preserved, then renovated.  It reopened on May 16th, 2004 with a performance by Riders In The Sky.    

The Beaux-Arts-style Smyth County Courthouse was designed by architect Frank P. Milburn and built in 1905 by Stephenson and Getoz of Knoxville at a cost of $50,000.  Originally, the courthouse included an auditorium for public performances and meetings called "Court Square Theater."  It was replaced with office space during remodeling in the 1950's.

In 1903, a statue of a Confederate soldier at parade rest was erected on the lawn of the courthouse.  The Civil War Battle of Marion was fought in 1864 over the industrial facilities, lead works and salt mines in Marion and Saltville.  John C. Breckinridge commanded a Confederate force of 1,200 to 1,500 cavalry and infantry against General George Stoneman's Union forces.  Breckinridge's force successfully defended Marion through the first day of the battle.  Lack of ammunition and casualties caused the Confederates to withdraw the following day.  The Union force then destroyed the Confederate industrial infrastructure, salt mines and lead works at Saltville and Marion.

Confederate Memorial c 1903

Flags flying in front of Smyth County Courthouse on July 4th, 2014

The building below is one of the oldest brick commercial buildings still existing in Marion.  It was built in 1891.

The Classical-Revival style Hotel Lincoln was built in 1927 as the Francis Marion Hotel.  The hotel was built by Charles Clarke Lincoln, Sr. and Dr. William M. Sclater.  The boutique hotel reopened in 2006 after two years of renovation and restoration by the new owners Joe and Susie Ellis.  The hotel is also home to the Black Rooster Restaurant & Lounge.

Veterans memorabilia on display in a store window on Main St.

The Dip Dog Stand on Route 11 was opened by Lester Brown in 1957.  Since then, the restaurant has been popular with devotees of their famous "Dip Dog" corn dogs.  The stand was purchased in 1966 by Grant Hall, Sr.  Grant operated the stand with his family until the stand was purchased by his son and his wife in 1979.  The Hall family continues to operate the stand to the delight of many a happy customer.

The Colonial-Revival style Municipal Building was built with WPA funding in 1936.

Marion Municipal Building - c 1936

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Hungry Mother State Park

Hungry Mother State Park is a jewel in the crown of the first six Virginia State Parks built by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC's) between 1933 and 1941.  The six park Virginia State Park system was dedicated in 1936 by Governor George Peery and State Park Director R. E. Burson at Hungry Mother State Park at an event attended by 5,000 people.  The land was donated by local landowners led by John D. and Mildred Lincoln who alone donated 1,881 acres on Hungry Mother Creek.

The CCC's created a 108 acre lake by building a dam on Hungry Mother Creek.  Hungry Mother offers a beach with bathhouse, boats, fishing pier, campgrounds, cabins, gift shop, visitor center, a six-bedroom family lodge that sleeps 15, hiking and biking trails, and restaurant. 

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Legend has it that when the Native Americans destroyed several settlements on the New River south of the park, Molly Marley and her small child were among the survivors taken to the raiders’ base north of the park. They eventually escaped, wandering through the wilderness eating berries. Molly finally collapsed, and her child wandered down a creek until the child found help. The only words the child could utter were "Hungry Mother." The search party arrived at the foot of the mountain where Molly collapsed to find the child's mother dead. Today that mountain is Molly’s Knob, and the stream is Hungry Mother Creek.
female Mallard and her ducklings

Hungry Mother Lake - South End

Kayaker on Hungry Mother Lake

Lake View from Lake Trail Loop

Canoeing on Hungry Mother Lake

Lake Side Picnic Table

Hungry Mother Beach

Wild Rose along Lake Trail Loop

The Beach Scene

Summer Fun

Hungry Mother Beach from North End

Hemlock Haven is now part of Hungry Mother State Park.  Hemlock Haven previously was a retreat center for Episcopal Diocese of Virginia from 1957 until 1989 when the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation purchased the property.  The facilities are now operated as the Hemlock Haven Conference Center.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Abingdon Afternoon

On Thursday, July 3rd, we headed to Abingdon.  Abingdon is a town in Southwest Virginia with a population of 8,191 in 1910.  The town is the county seat of Washington County and is home to the Barter Theatre, Martha Washington Hotel & Spa, an end point of the Virginia Creeper Trail as well as a well known arts and crafts scene.

We left Hungry Mother State Park at 10:30 am and arrived in Abingdon at 11:20 am.  Our first stop was the Holston Mountain Artisans gallery on Park Street.  Very nice gallery with a variety of arts and crafts by over 100 local artists.  Well worth a visit!  

It was then time for lunch at Figaredo's Bistro at the corner of Main and Court streets.  We both enjoyed the cold Cucumber Soup.  Awesome!  Pam had the Garden Frittata while I had the Sausage Frittata.  Quite nice with a cold beer 8^)  

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After lunch, we took a stroll through the area, cameras in hand.  Several historic properties are nearby.  First, The Tavern Restaurant located on Main Street.  Built in 1779, it is the oldest building in Abingdon.  It served as a stagecoach inn and tavern for travelers.  Their website claims the following visitors: Henry Clay; Louis Philippe, King of France; President Andrew Jackson; and Pierre Charles L'Enfant.  The building also housed the first post office west of the Blue Ridge.

The Tavern Restaurant c 1779

Across Main Street is "The Bank", home of the Exchange Bank of Virginia.  It was built in 1849 to house the bank as well as the cashier and his family.  After the American Civil War, the building was acquired by James Preston and has remained the residence of subsequent generations of his family.  For an interesting history about "The Bank" check out this website for the wedding of Mary Katherine & Ray.

The Bank c 1849

The Washington County Circuit Court building was built in 1868 during Reconstruction to replace the previous courthouse burned during the Civil War.  The courthouse features a large Tiffany stained glass window honoring the men and women who would serve in World War I.

The window was commissioned by the Washington County Board of Supervisors in July, 1918 to honor those from Washington County who have and would be serving in World War I.  By the end of the war, over 70 service men and women from Washington County lost their lives in the war.  The stained glass window is the center window on the second floor in the photo below.

The  beautiful stained glass window is inscribed with the words: “To the men and women of Washington County who answered the call of duty in the way of right and liberty.”

Tiffany stained glass window honoring those who served in World War I

The Barter Theatre was founded by Robert Porterfield in 1933 during the Great Depression.  The price of admission was 35 cents or the equivalent in produce.  Today, over 160,000 visit the theater located near the intersection of Main and Partington Place.  Playwrights at the theater included Noel Coward, Tennessee Williams an Thornton Wilder.

Barter theater was the first theater to be designated a "state theater", the State Theater of Virginia.  Gregory Peck, Patricia Neal, Ernest Borgnine, Hume Cronyn and Ned Beatty started acting there. 

We just had to see a play at the Barter Theatre so we chose a matinee on Thursday called "Welcome Back To Ivy Gap." 

Barter Theatre Main Stage seats 500

I remember staying at the Martha Washington Hotel & Spa in the 1970's.  It was built in 1832 at a cost of under $15,000 as a private residence for General Francis Preston, Sarah Buchanan Preston and their family of nine children.  It is located on Main Street near the Barter Theatre.  In 1858, it became the Martha Washington College for young women.  It operated for 70 years, through the Civil War and the Great Depression.  During the Civil War, students became nurses and the hotel grounds were used as barracks for the Washington Mounted Rifles.  

After the Civil War, the building housed Barter Theatre actors and actresses.  In 1935, it was opened as an inn. Since then, many famous guests stayed there including Eleanor Roosevelt, President Harry Truman, Lady Bird Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Elizabeth Taylor.  In 1984, it was significantly renovated.

Not too far from the Martha Washington Inn is the Fields-Penn House on the corner of Main and Cummings Streets.  The mansion was built by James Fields in 1860 for his family.  Financial problems after the Civil War led to the sale of the house to George Edward Penn from Danville, VA.  Today, the home is open for visitors to explore and appreciate.

As we were walking to the Barter Theatre, we stumbled on this colorful wolf!  What is this wolf doing there?  A search on the net revealed that this wolf and many others are part of a fundraising campaign for Abingdon Main Street.  

One of the colorful Abingdon Main Street Wolves

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Whitetop Mountain

At 5,520 ft high, Whitetop Mountain is Virginia's second highest mountain.  It is located at the juncture of Grayson, Smyth and Washington Counties.  The highest auto road in Virginia, FS89 (Mud Creek Lane) runs from VA SR 600 (Whitetop Road) to the summit of Whitetop.  The Appalachian Trail also crosses the summit of Whitetop Mountain.

On clear days, one can see three states.  From 1932-1939 Whitetop summit was the home of the Whitetop Folk Festival.

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View of Buzzards Rock from the summit of Whitetop Mountain.

View from the summit of Whitetop Mountain

FS 89 (Mudcreek Ln) climbs the mountain from VA SR 600

Old Park Road area from Whitetop Mountain

Whitetop Mountain is a bald, covered with grass and conifers more typical of northern highlands such as spruce and firs.

Smaller of two radio/microwave towers on Whitetop summit

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