A Virginia Odyssey & Memories of a Broken Heart

 

A day of exploring rural Virginia sounded too good to pass up. And I’d never been to any of the destinations before, save for the last, where, many years ago, Yr Fthfl Srvnt’s 15-year-old heart was broken for the first time. Her name was Marty Miller, and I remember her to this day. But that’s a story for the end of this trip, not the beginning.

My route was recommended by one of the readers of RoadRunner Magazine, and it proved to be first rate. It meandered for about 130 miles between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains, with one beautiful vista after another, and a King’s Ransom in abandoned farms, houses, and churches (if that’s not a fatally mixed metaphor).

The trip began in Woodstock, VA, and the early morning mist was still visible in the foothills of the Blue Ridge.

Just for Cathy and Kim at work, this report features three, count ’em, three attractive old Baptist churches. The first of these is the Crossroads Baptist Bible Church, a few miles from the sprawling Bryce Resort.

Further along Mountain Road, there were beautiful views of the valley just about everywhere. And a preview of Fall colors was evident on occasion.

Have you ever thought that your Bimmer (or Beemer) might have an Evil Heart? One look at the five glowing, beady, red eyes in this picture made me wonder… No, it must be just a figment of my overactive imagination. Certainly this Bimmer likes nothing more than to go chasing around the countryside in pursuit of scenic and historic fun.

Many of the farms along the route were small, family-operated, and still surviving.

Many others, however, were not so fortunate:

The valley was criss-crossed by streams, creeks, and rivers, with most showing signs of an unusually hot and dry summer. Despite its thin appearance, this is the North Fork of the mighty Shenandoah River, at Cootes Store, VA.

There isn’t much left of Cootes Store. And most of what’s left seems to be piled onto this porch.

The town used to be a thriving small village, as shown in the old photos below. The church, which can also be seen on the left in the first photo, is described in this essay from 1921 by 11-year-old Charlotte Neff: “The Baptist church is situated in the midst of the little village of Cootes Store. It is a large frame building having seating room for five hundred or more persons. The building is painted white and trimmed in green, which makes it very beautiful. It was built in the summer of 1908.” A fascinating source of information on the town is available at Cootes website in the form of other stories by the schoolchildren. (The historical photos are courtesy of this website.)

Today, however, there is no sign whatsoever of this church in Cootes Store. But more than a mile south of Cootes Store, I found this abandoned church. It is a dead ringer for the Baptist Church in Cootes Store, but this is the former Turleytown Baptist Church. I initially thought it must have been moved from Cootes Store, but Reliable Internet Research indicates that both churches existed at the same time. I can only conclude that two, essentially identical Baptist churches were built, only a mile apart. (Is this common, Cathy or Kim??)

The tiny town of Singers Glen was the first of the prime destinations on my route. It was founded in 1809 by Joseph Funk, a grandson of the first Mennonite bishop in the U.S. A music teacher, Joseph and his sons founded the first music publishing house in the country in 1846. Among his various books, he published A Compilation of Genuine Church Music, later known as Harmonia Sacra. This hymnal is still in current use by Mennonite congregations. The town was a scenic delight, with a number of beautiful old houses such as this one, many of which were built by Joseph’s sons and other descendants:

This was the “T. Funk and Sons” store, built in 1895.

Singers Glen used three different schoolhouses over the years, before giving up in 1973 and shuttling students off to another town nearby. This was number two, as it appeared in its prime.

The schoolhouse still stands, but it’s receiving an unsympathetic makeover after having sat vacant for many years. The outside appears to be nearly finished, but inside it still has dirt floors, crumbling plaster walls, and other needs. I guess it will make an exclusive dwelling when it’s finished, even with only 4 rooms—but I would have voted for keeping it original and turning it into a museum.

Singers Glen has more churches than businesses. This one (naturally) is the 1888 Singers Glen Baptist Church, with an elaborate pulpit built by John Funk.

Glen Farm sits on the outskirts of town and hosts an annual music festival. It dates back to 1797 and was built on property bought from Joseph Funk’s father-in-law. It was later owned by Jonathan and Mary Funk and is a working farm to this day. (I tell you, them Funks wuz everywhere!) The barn in the distance replaced the original log barn in 1887.

I encountered yet another striking old church on my way to Bridgewater, VA. It’s still used as an all-denomination community church and all-purpose photo opportunity.

Bridgewater College was my second destination of the day—and had been my second choice of colleges to attend. It was the first coeducational college in Virginia (1880) and appears to be thriving.

Destination number three was the Natural Chimneys Regional Park. These towering rock formations were what remained as the ocean receded from this part of Virginia and eons of erosion followed. There are seven of these formations, which rise as high as 120 feet.

The rock formations are riddled with natural tunnels, created by water flows long before the towers themselves were formed. If you’re inclined to explore, be sure to bring a flashlight. (DAMHIK.)

The reddish layer of stone in the middle of the chimneys was formed by molten lava forcing its way between the layers of limestone—from a volcano 10 miles away!

How this chimney manages to remain standing, despite the massive tunnel right through its base, is a mystery to me.

And this not-so-natural chimney also remains standing, all that’s left of a house near the rock formations.

A few houses and other buildings remain in the nearby, once-thriving town of Mount Solon, which was done in by the Depression. This used to be the Mount Solon bank, but it’s been vacant for many years. If you look carefully, you’ll see that the bricks at the rear of the building are different from their surrounding neighbors. The original bricks had to be replaced after crooks blasted a hole in the bank wall in an effort to get to the safe!

Across the street, the stately Lincoln Manor House has fared much better, having benefited from a complete renovation a few years ago.

As I wended my way back from Mount Solon to the aptly named Scenic Highway, I just had to stop for this picture of the Z4 on (yet another) rickety bridge. It nicely sums up what the day was all about: beautiful scenery, splendid weather, exploration, and a most enjoyable means of putting it all together. And yes, while walking from the car to take the picture, one of the boards pivoted downward beneath my foot and threatened to toss me overboard. Fortunately, the other end of the board pivoted up under the Z4, which kept my end from going any lower. I decided that my loyal BMW most definitely had a Heart of Gold (despite its glowing red eyes).

The tiny creek visible under the weeping willow tree actually continues right up to my vantage point for this picture and beyond—but it’s hidden by the lush bushes. This was another spot where I needed a comfortable folding chair, a large glass of ice tea, and an extra hour just to sit and relish the view.

Now as you all know, I’m prone to the occasional slight exaggeration. In this instance, however, I’m not kidding: In this picture, my long-suffering Z4 is parked on an Official Virginia Road, specifically, Pauly’s Mill Road, which is southwest of West Augusta. It had a street sign and everything. Everything, it seemed, except a recognizable road.

If you look carefully on the other side of the stream, you can see where Pauly’s Mill Road continues. The crossing wouldn’t have been too bad on a motorcycle or in a Jeep—and, in a pinch, I’m sure the Z4 could have made it—but there was no evidence that any vehicles had been this way in a long time. I chose to cross by hopping from one narrow, pointy rock stratum to the next.

All told, it was a beautiful little spot, even if it was an official Virginia road.

More beautiful spots? Well, how about this very old but still active farm?

Or this abandoned church (which had apparently become someone’s home, and is now someone’s abandoned home)?

A little later, I stopped to, uh, commune with nature. When I returned to the car, I noticed yet another abandoned home lurking in the background. You really couldn’t stop anywhere along this route without finding something of interest.

The Woodland Union Church dates to 1875 and has been beautifully preserved.

As the day grew late, I finally closed in on prime destination number four. A long, continuously twisting narrow mountain road delivered me to Douthat State Park—for the first time in rough 45 years. The lake was instantly recognizable, and I was able to locate where my parents and I had camped for a week.

The state park brought back many memories of that vacation, including the hours I spent canoeing from one end of the lake to the other.

The crescent-shaped beach was unchanged, right down to the lifeguard chair and diving float—the same float where I met the aforementioned Marty Miller, who was also 15. And beautiful, of course, and lively, and she jumped at the chance to go canoeing with me. Naturally I was instantly smitten, and we happily paddled all over the lake.

In fact we dared each other to paddle right up to the edge of the dam. I don’t recall it being quite this scenic back then, but perhaps I only had eyes for her.

Fortunately, a canoe drawing 3 inches of water can’t easily go over a dam that’s passing only one-eighth inch of water, so we didn’t find out what was downstream of the lake. On my 2010 trip, however, I found out that it’s really quite pretty there as well.

Well, Marty and I returned to the beach, swam, talked, had a great time, and made arrangements to meet and go to the park dance together that evening. At the appointed hour, I paddled across the lake from our campsite to the beach and waited for Marty to arrive. And waited, and waited… Even at 15 I was fairly patient, and, after a full hour, Marty arrived—by rowboat, with two older, very handsome blond teenage guys with million-dollar smiles, who escorted her to the dance.

Sigh…

She had an impressive story about her little brother falling off a horse, being taken to the emergency room, making her late, and so forth. Regardless, there were no more canoe trips, swims, or dances with Marty that week, although I often saw her in the company of the handsome blonds. While I don’t specifically remember this, I probably did my best-ever job of furious, pouting, monosyllabic, teenage angst, which is probably what led to my parents renting out my room the following week. No, wait—I did exaggerate that last part a bit. Regardless, my overly sensitive, overly dramatic, overly teenage heart was broken for the first time.

All these memories came flooding back to me as I walked around the lake, but before long they faded away while I enjoyed the scenery. Wherever she is, I wish Marty the best, and I can imagine her spending time with her two blond husbands, caring for her flock of blond children (including Eddie the drug dealer and Freddy the village idiot), idly watching daytime TV, eating pork rinds, and yearning for the tall, adventurous, devilishly good-looking canoer, lost from her innocent teen years…

Okay, I’ll stop now! The trip was a lot of fun, the memories at Douthat State Park were fun, and telling this goofy teenage story has been fun (for me, anyway 🙂 ). The most fun of all, however, was clearly being had by this water-loving dog, who enjoyed nothing more than swimming in circles in the large pool at the bottom of the Douthat Dam spillway.

May we all keep swimming and enjoying!

Rick F.

PS: Once again, this route came from the archives of RoadRunner Magazine. The article, map, and GPS file are available free from the magazine.

Rick

Written by Rick

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