Blue Ridge Parkway Highlights (Virginia) – Mills, Music & Farms!

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.

RV and Mabry Mill Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

A motorhome passes the Mabry Mill in Virginia

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!

Mabry Mill Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

The rhododendrons were just coming into bloom

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…

Mabry Mill selfie Blue Ridge Parkway Virginia

A serene setting…

Mabry Mill Virginia Blue Ridge Parkway

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!

Inside Mabry Mill generating power

A long lever arm controls the water flow to the paddle wheel.

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!

Mill saw inside Mabry Mill Virginia on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The old mill saw — powered by the paddle wheel!

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!

Blue Ridge Mountains on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia

Blue RIdge Mountains

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.

Old photo of blacks playing banjo and guitar

The banjo came from Africa!

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.

Live bluegrass music at Blue Ridge Music Center_

Scott Freeman & Willard Gayheart perform bluegrass music for tourists courtesy of the National Park Service. Different musicians play for free for 4 hours every day!!

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!

Republic of Floyd Virginia

Quietly defiant Floyd Virginia hosts free bluegrass concerts. They sometimes spill out onto Main Street, even though it’s a major state thoroughfare!

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!

Traffic and hills in Hillsville Virginia

Crazy traffic and steep hills on Memorial Day in Hillsville Virginia

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.

Farm in southwestern Virginia near Blue Ridge Parkway

We saw lots of farms as we drove around.

Virginia farms

Picturesque farms in the countryside

We even passed an old RV parked next some very tidy rows of vegetables.

RV on a farm in Virginia

A vintage RV with new crops coming up.

This is a pretty part of the country!

10 771 Farm in southern Virginia

Virginia farm near the Blue Ridge Parkway

More lovely Virginia farms…

16 701 Blue RIdge Parkway area farm in Virginia

If you take your RV to the Blue Ridge Parkway, you’ll find mills, music, farms and much much more!

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2 thoughts on “Blue Ridge Parkway Highlights (Virginia) – Mills, Music & Farms!

  1. Very nice post! Loved the pictures of the farms – I have a hankering to see the red barns that I saw when I was growing up in Pennsylvania. I have been in the deep South too long! We are so looking forward to hitting the road fulltime in August 2016 – got the thumbs up from our financial advisor on Saturday that we are on track to make it happen – happy dancing in the streets! Safe travels!

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