Mabry Mill: (Not Your) Run of the Mill Excursion
It's one of the most recognizable and photographed places along the Blue Ridge Parkway. At Milepost 176.1 near Meadows of Dan, Va., stands Mabry Mill, where the National Park Service has preserved a water-powered gristmill built in 1905 by Ed Mabry. With the kids in tow, we visited the mill on a recent Sunday afternoon, and we enjoyed learning about life as a Blue Ridge mountaineer.
Ed Mabry was born in about 1867 in Patrick County, Va. It was with his second wife, Lizzie DeHart, whom he married in 1891, that he bought the land for the mill. The couple operated the mill for about 30 years. Ed died in 1936, and Lizzie continued to run the mill until their land was acquired for the Blue Ridge Parkway project in 1938. Lizzie died in 1941, and the couple did not have any children.
In addition to the mill, Mabry's blacksmith shop has also been preserved. According to the ranger giving us the tour, the shop was built in about 1910. Our kids listened intently as the ranger explained how as a blacksmith, Mabry was vital to the community, because it was here he worked on horseshoes, wagon wheels and farming tools. In 1910, Mabry added a sawmill, which was also powered by the water wheel, to make furniture and framing lumber.
On the grounds also stands Matthews Cabin, which was donated to the National Park Service in 1956. The cabin was restored and moved to its present location. It was the log cabin home of Samuel and Elizabeth Matthews of Galax, Va., and was built in 1869. The two-story cabin was built with hand-hewn oak logs with sawed lumber for the rafters, ceiling and doors.
The highlight of our tour was, of course, learning about the mill, where people in the community would come to have their corn ground into cornmeal. The mill operated six days a week and as payment for the milling, Mabry received 1/8 of the grain produced or 12.5 cents per bushel. (An average customer order would have been about one bushel.)
In addition to the gristmill building, our tour took us along a loop trail, dotted with many structures and exhibits, showcasing Appalachian culture. Visitors can see actual mill stones, used to grind mill; a lumber drying rack; log cart, used to transport heavy logs to the sawmill; a moonshine still; wagons; farming tools and much more. My kids loved the checkerboard game, which used sliced pieces of dried corn cobs for the game pieces.
Mountain craft demonstrations are common at Mabry Mill, and we watched blacksmithing, basket-weaving and quilting. We also spent a half-hour listening to live bluegrass music and watching flatfooters, who will perform every Sunday in October from 2 to 6 p.m. Unfortunately, our kids' didn't have a long attention span or appreciation for the old-time bluegrass music, so we didn't listen and watch as long as I would have liked.
We took a picnic lunch that we enjoyed on the Parkway, but Mabry Mill also has a restaurant, which is well-known for its traditional Southern cuisine such as country ham and blackberry preserves. Adjacent to the restaurant is a gift/craft store, which is stocked with regional handmade crafts.
Additional nearby Parkway attractions include Rocky Knob at Milepost 169 with visitors' center, gift shop, cabins, campground, hiking and fishing; and Chateau Morrisette Winery, located between mileposts 171 and 172.
IF YOU GO
266 Mabry Mill Road
Blue Ridge Parkway Mile Post 176.1
Meadows of Dan, VA 24120