Virginia's Lost AT

The original route of the Appalachian Trail in Southwestern Virginia passed within a mile of the Mabry Mill, pictured here. Located along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Meadows of Dan, Virginia, Edwin Mabry built the mill in 1903. Originally a sawmill, by 1905, the mill had been converted to a gristmill. It was incorporated into the Blue Ridge Parkway in the 1930s, and today is believed to be the most photographed site along the Parkway.

Mabry Mill.jpg

The store, restaurant, and motel at Tuggle Gap, pictured here, built in the early 1940s, sits at the intersection of Highway 8 and the Blue Ridge Parkway. The old route of the Appalachian Trail passed directly by the store until the trail was moved west in 1952 to its current location.

Tuggle Gap.jpg

From 1932-1952, the Appalachian Trail followed an entirely different route between Roanoke and Damascus, Virginia from the one it uses today. The Guide to the Paths of Blue Ridge (1941 edition) details each section of that hike from Route 11 just northwest of Roanoke, down through Floyd, Patrick, Carroll, Grayson, and Washington Counties in great detail. This section of the guide describes the route between Tuggle Gap and US Highway 58, just north of the Dan River Gorge. It includes the popular Rocky Knob Recreation Area along the Blue Ridge Parkway.


The old route of the Appalachian Trail south and west of Roanoke, Virginia, climbed up and over Poor Mountain from the village of Glenvar in the Roanoke River Valley. This road, impassible in winter today, passed through the summer colony of Hemlock Dell, rising rapidly over 3.5 miles until it reached summit of Poor Mountain at 3,960'.

From the summit of Poor Mountain, the trail then passed close to Bent Mountain Falls, the second highest cascade in Virginia. Today, the Falls are part of the Bottom Creek Preserve, owned by the Nature Conservancy.

Poor Mountain Road.jpg

Hikers on the old route of the Appalachian Trail in Southwestern Virginia often used churches, stores, and schools, many of them abandoned, as navigation points during their hike. While the stores and schools are mostly either gone or in significant states of disrepair, many of the churches along the old route continue to hold services, or have been preserved by members of the community or the Blue Ridge Parkway staff.

The County Line Primitive Baptist Church, pictured here, is one such landmark listed in the Guide to the Paths of the Blue Ridge, which said, "Pass County Line Church on left; immediately after, at 25.02 turn sharp left on well-worn road."

County Line Baptist Church.jpg

The old route of the Appalachian Trail passed through what is now known as Smart View Recreation Area along the Blue Ridge Parkway. At the time the trail was created in Floyd County in 1930, the first edition of the Guide to the Paths of the Blue Ridge makes no mention of the park. The cabin pictured here was built by W. J. Trail in the 1880s.

Smart View Park.jpg

Hikers along the Appalachian Trail today can count on some sort of shelter approximately every 8-10 miles along their route. Construction of this chain of shelters began in the 1930s, but was not completed until after the Second World War. The original route of the Appalachian Trail in Southwestern Virginia included only one such shelter -- the Rocky Knob build by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937, pictured here. Except for this shelter, hikers along the original route had to camp either in tents or in the ruins of old barns or farm houses along the way. When Earl Shaffer passed through during his first ever thru hike of the AT in 1948, he wrote:

"I finally stumbled into Rocky Knob by starlight and found the shelter was of stone, open on three sides and with a cold wind howling through. I gathered some snags for fireplace wood and a sackful of leaves to cushion the stone floor. The temperature must have been around freezing."

Rocky Knob Shelter 2019.jpg

This image shows the view of Smith Mountain from the Appalachian Trail near Bent Mountain in Floyd County, Virginia. The 1940 trail guide describes the views from the summit of Smith Mountain as is section of the trail as:<br /><blockquote>Summit (3,368 ft.) affords extensive views of Roanoke and Franklin Counties; Buffalo Mtn. visible to the southwest and Peaks of Otter to the northeast. Cahas Knob is prominent on the Skyline.</blockquote>
Much of the original route of the trail in Floyd County was obliterated by the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway in the mid-1930s, but this segment over Smith Mountain remained a part of the trail route -- as trail -- until the relocation of the entire trail in Southwestern Virginia in 1952.

Smith Mountain.jpg

The view north and east from a point along the old route of the Appalachian Trail approximately two miles south of Sling's Gap.

The man in the photograph is Shirley L. Cole, the County Agent in Floyd County, and the original overseer of the Appalachian Trail in Southwestern Virginia. The photograph is from ATC Chairman Myron Avery's personal scrapbooks and was taken during one of several scouting expeditions he took with Cole in the region between 1930-1932.

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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.