Virginia's Lost AT

A group of hikers on the Pinnacles of Dan in 1908, led by John Barnard (in hat on far left). Barnard later became the overseer of the Appalachian Trail in Patrick County, VA, and was described as the "King of the Pinnacles" in a story about the trail that appeared in National Geographic Magazine in the 1940s.  The Pinnacles were regularly described by AT hikers as the single most difficult part of the hike, except perhaps the climb of Mount Katahdin in Maine. 


The Sidna Allen house just outside of Fancy Gap, VA, is locally famous as the home of Sidna Allen, a member of the Allen family who were notorious for their role in the "courthouse massacre" in the county seat of Hillsville in 1912. Following his conviction for his role in the shootout, Allen lost the house to the state and it was eventually sold to the Webb family. When the Appalachian Trail arrived in Carroll County, Erna Webb was listed in the trail guides as being willing to take in hikers for the night. It is currently under renovation with the goal of turning it into a house museum.


Constructed in 1929 by the U.S. Forest Service, this 40' steel tower with 14'x14' wooden cab was eventually transferred to Virginia Forestry for safekeeping, but it was vandalized in the late 1980s, the state returned it, and the Forest Service removed it. The 1934 trail guide says:

"Ascend steeply on truck road which crosses old dirt road, former Trail route, in several places. Road affords splendid views. Where road reaches crest just west of firetower, at 6.85 miles, turn sharp left, descending on Forest Service trail."

This description of the trail's route in Southwest Virginia is very typical, in that the route alternates between trail and roads, and emphasizes locations where hikers can have "splendid views."


Southwest Virginia’s long-established Lutheran community began to expand its missionary activity in the region in the 1920s. A principal accomplishment was the Konnarock Training School, begun in 1924 by the Woman’s Missionary Society of the United Lutheran Church in America. The school served simultaneously as a private boarding school and a public day school with a special focus on the cultural, spiritual, and social development of girls from underprivileged mountain families.

The old route of the Appalachian Trail passed just north of the school complex. Hikers on the trail who wished to divert south to Mt. Rogers and Whitetop Mountain took a side trail that joined the road through Konnarock, passing directly by the school.

The Lutherans’ Board of American Missions considered its work done in 1958 and closed the school. The complex is now owned by the U. S. D. A. Forest Service.


The text of a scouting report laying out a potential route for the Appalachian Trail in Southwestern Virginia between Roanoke, Virginia and Roaring Gap, North Carolina. This report was sent to the Appalachian Trail Conference headquarters by Donald Campbell of Mount Airy, NC, and Shirley L. Cole, the county agent in Floyd, VA. It became the basis for the route of the trail between the Peaks of Otter north or Roanoke and the New River just west of Galax, VA.

Appalachian Trail Data (1930).jpg

The old route of the Appalachian Trail in Southwestern Virginia offered hikers only one overnight shelter where they could stay. Instead, the Guide to the Paths of the Blue Ridge recommended places where hikers could either set up camp in abandoned farms, behind stores, in church yards, or where they could obtain overnight accommodations from local residents. In Floyd County, the Guide said: "Excellent accommodations obtainable at Mrs. Sue Hall's." Susan Harris Hall was much more than someone who would take in hikers. "Ma Sue," as she was known locally, was a force of nature in the community, providing what today would be called social services, especially to women nearby, encouraging visitors to read in her parlor, and generally promoting the well-being of the Floyd community.


From 1931-1952, the Appalachian Trail passed over Poor Mountain, just south of Glenvar, Virginia. Southbound hikers descending from Catawba Mountain near Mason's Cove crossed the Roanoke River in Glenvar, then hiked up and over Poor Mountain on a very steep road. When they reached the summit of the mountain, they descended into the Bent Mountain community near Bent Mountain Falls. The 1940 edition of the Guide to the Paths of the Blue Ridge says: "Pass through Hemlock Dell (summer colony) at 3 m. Ascend steeply up crest of mountain on dirt road with fine views." That road today is only passable by cars from April - November and is never plowed of snow.


The Kelley School along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Floyd, Virginia, operated as a school from 1876-1939, after which it became a country store known as Ware's Store. The Appalachian Trail arrived in the area in 1930 and passed directly in front of the School's front door. The Blue Ridge Parkway runs within 100 yards of the school/store building, which is now within the bounds of the National Park.

Ware's Store was a typical country store that sold both dry goods and food and was an useful resupply stop for hikers along the trail.

Kelley School.jpg

Hiking along roads was a common experience for hikers on the early versions of the Appalachian Trail, with as much as 40 percent of the original route of the trail being along roads when the trail was first declared completed in 1937. The use of roads, either those in use or those that had fallen out of use and were fading back into the forests, was especially common on the section of the Appalachian Trail between Glenvar, Virginia (near Roanoke) and Dixon's Ferry on the New River. This photograph shows a typical section of one of those roads in southern Floyd County, between the Haycocks and Tuggle's Gap, and offers a good sense for what hikers experienced as they walked through Southwestern Virginia.

Old AT Floyd County.jpg

The now abandoned Thompson's Store sits in a sharp bend in the road near the summit of Pumpkin Stem Knob ("Extraordinary view; should not be missed"). As the images indicate, the store is now completely overgrown and has been used as a place to dump unused construction materials. When the Appalachian Trail passed by the store on county route 619, it was the second place south of Poor Mountain where southbound hikers could re-provision right on the trail.