The Blue Ridge Parkway, a 460-mile scenic drive, follows the crest of the Appalachian mountains through Virginia and North Carolina. During a recent visit to Roanoke, Virginia, I spent some time on the parkway and in nearby places that expanded my understanding of the history and culture of the area.
Located near milepost 176 along the Blue Ridge Parkway, Mabry mill is still used to grind grain. A short trail goes past the mill, which is open to visitors, to a display of farm equipment and remnants of the original property. A sluiceway brings the water that turns the huge wheel. The mill pond has some resident ducks and the scenic pond, mill and surroundings are thought to be one of the most photographed sites along the parkway.
Chateau Morrisette Winery
If it’s about time for lunch, head toward the Chateau Morrisette Winery, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 171, not far from Mabry Mill. The attractive buildings are surrounded by pretty gardens and vineyards. I was there on a foggy day, which enclosed everything in a muted light. Somehow, the atmosphere of the day complemented the harmony of the buildings and nearby scenery. The winery is open for tours and wine tasting. In the tasting room our group sampled about 10 wines. I prefer red wines so the reds and dessert wines were my favorites. After the tasting, I enjoyed a nice lunch at the restaurant.
About 30 miles northeast of the winery is Ferrum College’s Blue Ridge Institute which records the “folkways” of the local people. In addition to its museum which currently features an exhibit of historic quilt designs, the institute includes a Farm Museum consisting of farm buildings, a garden and a blacksmith shop. Reflecting daily living in 1800, the farm is staffed by costumed guides who describe what rural life was like at that time. The blacksmith, hard at work in his shop, makes implements he would have had to produce back then, while a gardener tends vegetables and pulls weeds in the garden. Squint your eyes to hide modern college buildings and you are transported 200 years back in time to a quieter, slower, simpler way of life.
Booker T. Washington National Monument
A drive of 25 miles to the northeast of Ferrum will bring you to the Booker T. Washington National Monument, the homestead where the famous educator was born. The log cabin (since restored) served both as plantation kitchen and home for Mrs. Washington and her three sons. A guided walk through the monument provided perspective on rural life during the middle of the 19th century, but to get a real feeling for the times and the accomplishments of Washington, read his book “Up from Slavery” before visiting the monument.