May, 2015 – As our RV travels along the Blue Ridge Parkway took us north from North Carolina over the border into Virginia, we stopped at the Mabry Mill. This beautiful old mill was built by one Edwin Mabry who used it to grind corn and saw lumber for his neighbors in the early 1900’s.
We arrived in in the third week of May, just as the rhododendrons began blooming. There is something about an old wooden building like this with flowers and a paddle wheel outside that just begs to be photographed. Especially when water is splashing off the paddle wheel!
We found out that this mill is one of the most photographed buildings on the whole Blue Ridge Parkway! So, we we had to add ours to the mix…
Inside the mill, an old fellow showed us how a very long lever arm is used to start and stop the flow of water over the paddle wheel. This effectively turns on and off the power that the wheel generates. It also explained why, when we were outside taking pics, the paddle wheel would periodically turn and dump some water and then stop spinning and sit still for a while. The guy inside was showing people how it turned on and off!
Edwin Mabry used the power from the mill to do all kinds of things that electricity would do today
Visiting places like this always makes me marvel at how easy so many things are today. What a huge effort it was to grow grains, harvest them, separate out the seeds to be ground, take a bag of them to your neighbor’s mill to get it ground, and then go home and bake some bread. I would cherish every slice of that loaf!
As we drove on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we found that much like the Smoky Mountains a little further south, the views out across the mountains and valleys form layers that fade into the distance. “Smoky” and “Blue” are very apt names!
Just a bit south of the Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway, we visited the Blue Ridge Music Center. This fantastic little museum is maintained by the National Park Service, and it explains the history of bluegrass and mountain music. We discovered that bluegrass is an amalgam of all the musical traditions from the people that were living in these mountains over a century ago.
I had never known this, but the banjo is an instrument that was brought over from Africa! The lyrics, patter and general style of bluegrass music can be traced to traditional Irish folk songs. And the purely vocal harmonizing has its roots in German liturgical music. All of these different kinds of musical traditions blended together here in the Appalachian mountains, and over a period of time, bluegrass music emerged.
The best part of the Blue Ridge Music Center is that it’s not just a museum. It’s a place for enjoying music! Every afternoon from noon until 4 pm, musicians perform for free in the breezeway which is a big open room right next to the museum. It has a large barn door that can be left open to make the room airy and breezy or can be closed. It’s very informal. Folding chairs are set up in front of the performers, and people come and go, enjoying the music all afternoon.
We saw Scott Freeman & Willard Gayheart while we were there, and we were floored by their wonderful playing. For those who want more music, the Blue Ridge Music Center hosts a complete outdoor summer concert series that takes place on a stage in front of a big lawn.
Just 40 miles away in the town of Floyd, we found that there is all kinds of blue grass and old time music going on for free, or close to free, in the Floyd Country Store (blog post here) — and what a great time we had there!
We traveled on the Blue Ridge Parkway itself a little, but we did most of our driving on the roads that criss-cross the parkway and run parallel to it. This is an extraordinarily hilly area, and we found ourselves constantly driving either up a steep grade or down one, which made us very happy we had done the disc brake conversion upgrade on our trailer a few months ago in Texas.
It seemed to be a daily occurrence that Mark suddenly blurted out, “I love these new brakes!”
As we approached Hillsville, Virginia, on Memorial Day Weekend, we found ourselves not only in the hills but caught up in some really crazy traffic as the whole town put an enormous yard sale as part of their Memorial Day Flee Market!
But as we ventured north, taking in some of the highlights of the Blue Ridge Parkway, whenever we got away from the cities and towns, the countryside became wonderfully rural, and we passed one beautiful farm after another.
We even passed an old RV parked next some very tidy rows of vegetables.
This is a pretty part of the country!
If you take your RV to the Blue Ridge Parkway, you’ll find mills, music, farms and much much more!
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More info from this part of the Blue Ridge Parkway:
- Mabry Mill – History of the mill
- Blue Ridge Music Center – NPS web page for the music center
- Blue Ridge Music Center – The free Midday Mountain Music schedule
- Where are Mabry Mill and the Blue Ridge Music Center? – Google Maps
- Shenandoah National Park, Virginia – Climbs & Falls! 06/20/15
- Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia) – Waterfalls & Rhododendrons 06/18/15
- New River Trail State Park – Galax, VA – Pizza, Beer and Biking! 06/12/15
- Waterfalls of the Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina) 06/10/15
- Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina) – Wildflowers Everywhere! 06/07/15
- Smoky Mountain Adventures – Elk, Indians and Waterfalls 05/31/15
- Floyd Country Store Bluegrass Music Jam – So Much Fun! 05/28/15
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park – A First Glimpse 05/25/15
- A Jewel of a Waterfall – Great Smoky Mountains National Park 05/12/15