From Woodland Indian life and agricultural history to bluegrass and clogging, the Blue Ridge Highlands has a rich cultural history, a history that is told in crafts demonstrations and living history sites around the region. Listen to the stories that made this slice of our great nation.
Big Walker Lookout, Wytheville
Virginia’s oldest privately-owned scenic attraction, Big Walker Lookout’s tower thrusts 100 feet into the sky above its namesake mountain. On April – October weekends, the attached BW Country Store hosts local musicians, who fiddle up free concerts from the porch. Visitors settle into the picnic area with “Tower high” ice cream cones, occasionally breaking into flat-foot dancing on the spot. Adding an educational component to the mix, on summer Saturdays craftspeople demonstrate traditional arts, such as lye soap-making, apple butter cooking, blacksmithing, and wood carving. The store sells soap, jewelry, relishes, and crafts by 30 local artisans. For $5, you can climb to the top of the observation tower, where the wind is always howling.
(276)-633-4016 | www.scenicbeauty-va.com
The Andrew Johnston House
The oldest surviving brick house in Giles County, the Johnston house was built in 1829 by Colonel Andrew Johnston. Built on sturdy log foundations, the 2 and 1/2 story Georgian-style house is constructed of hand-made Flemish bond brick made on the site. The main entrance is marked by an elegant portico of four Greek revival columns, and the five-bay facade still boasts it original yellow-locust window frames. The design of the interior is based on a simple colonial plan with a central hall flanked by a room on either side. On the ground floor a dinning room ell wing is attached at the rear. The original wide-plank yellow pine flooring still exists in the parlor and upstairs bedrooms, and the house possesses numerous pieces of Johnston family furniture. Visit this historical manor, now used as the Giles County Historical Society museum offering genealogical services, group tours and a gift shop.
Mabry Mill, Patrick County
Mabry Mill is a historic water-driven grist mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Willis. Here, water still flows in the millrace and the giant millwheel still turns, stone-grinding cornmeal and buckwheat to sell or use as ingredients for Mabry Mill restaurant’s delicious pancakes. A path strikes out from the parking lot for a tour of the blacksmith shop, one-room cabin, sorghum mill and old time whiskey still. During summer weekends, National Park Service volunteers demonstrate traditional crafts, including the operation of a still. Enjoy watching the blacksmith beat a red-hot iron into shape. Learn about how the settlers made ladder-back chairs. Or stop by the Matthews Cabin for an intriguing look into the tanning and shoemaking crafts. Open May 24 – October 27.
(276) 952-2947 | www.mabrymillrestaurant.com
Natural Tunnel State Park Historic Blockhouse
The blockhouse, high on a bald field at Natural Tunnel State Park, was reconstructed several years ago to illustrate the role the blockhouse played in the 1700s during westward migration. Historical interpreters explain the history of the original blockhouse as a refuge from Indians for migrating settlers. The guides often bake bread in the outside brick oven and explain the purpose of each of the herbs in the kitchen garden. On some occasions they may demonstrate spinning and quilting.
(276) 940-2674 | www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/nat.shtml
Museum of the Middle Appalachians, Saltville
Seemingly hidden among the rolling hills and mountain peaks of Smyth County lies an unexpected experience inside the Museum of the Middle Appalachians. Hailed on Trip Advisor as standing alongside “the Smithsonian Museum of Art in Washington, DC…as one of the top museums in the entire country”, the Museum of the Middle Appalachians offers a living history of Saltville from the Ice Age to the Space Age.
(276) 496-3633| www.museumofthemiddleappalachians.org