One of those marketing e-mails from the state of Virginia recently put us on the road for a little day trip. Our destination was Mabry Mill just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. (Milepost 176.1 if you really need to know.) The promotional enticement also alluded to the restaurant at the mill and its famous variety of pancakes. (More about that in a moment.)
I don’t think we could have picked a better day. Sunny, but cool and light traffic on I-77 North made the entire experience a delightful and memorable trip. There were few signs to guide us and we did depend on Google Maps to lead us through the hill country.
During peak season, Mabry Mill must pack them in, because there is plenty of parking for cars and RVs. Our mid-week excursion allowed us to enjoy the surroundings with only a few other visitors. This was great since we had also brought the dogs along for the adventure.
The mill is just part of an educational encampment that introduces travelers to mountain life and industry. We began our walk on the pathway that explored rural life in Appalachia. Down the path, we saw buildings and farm implements that documented rural existence in the area for over 100 years.
Many settlers in this area brought along the knowledge and skills for making whiskey. Although tax laws, and later Prohibition, made the activity illegal, moonshiners have always operated in the mountains and other parts of the South. (There was a still, but no samples.) Powered by a horse, the Bark Mill allowed the tanner to grind oak and hemlock bark, that mixed with a little water created a Bark Liquor that was used for tanning hides.
In the center of the park is the Matthews Cabin. Not original to the mill area someone moved it to the location in 1956, board by board, to serve as an example of the style of homes earlier mountain folks built and lived in. Made mostly of oak the house has one room on each of its two floors. The home was constructed in such a manner that as the family grew, and funds were available, improvements could be made quickly and easily. Such as installing a large wood stove, dividing rooms for additional sleeping quarters, and even adding on a metal roof. The home was old and the entrance was not possible.
The centerpiece was the Mabry Mill. Edwin B. Mabry had been a jack-of-all-trades; a chair maker, a miner, a coal company blacksmith, and a farmer, before he built this mill about 1910. He and his wife Mintoria, operated the mill until 1936 grinding corn and sawing lumber for the residents of the Meadows of Dan community.
Building and operating the mill posed several challenges for Ed Mabry. For one, the amount of running water required to turn the overshot wheel and power all the equipment for the mill was poor.
To solve the problem, Marby constructed a flume system (wooden troughs) to catch the water from two small streams and direct them into a single flow along a flume called – the race. Interestingly, after the invention of the gas-powered engine, Marby would replace his water-powered wheel with an 8-horsepower engine.
They have nestled the entire Mabry Mill complex under groves of shade trees and on the day of our visit, the cool waters from the streams made for a pleasant visit. After our walk, we were ready for some pancakes, but to our surprise, we discovered that the Mabry Mill Restaurant is only open on a seasonal schedule. Something not disclosed in the e-mail from Virginia. As I write I learned their season began on April 26th, but I don’t know when it ends. So call ahead.
For lunch, we ventured into the Meadows of Dan for a meal at Jane’s Country Cafe. The food was good, and unique local places to shop bank the restaurant on the left and the right.
One little side note before you make the trip. While we had Google Map’s during 90% of our adventure, we lost ALL cell service after lunch. It might have been our carrier, the mountains, or one of those things that only happen to us. Regardless, we were thankful we had stopped at the Virginia Welcome Center and picked up an old-fashioned map before crossing the state line.
Traveler’s Note: While we took our dogs to Mabry Mill, we wanted to make you are aware this is not a dog park. It is an outdoor museum, as such, keep your pets on a leash, and make sure you have poop bags so you can CLEAN UP after your pets. Thank you.