Interestingly, and sometimes controversially, tourism and the attention of traveling visitors are issues treated as things recent for Floyd County and the environs of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwestern Virginia.
But tourism, as an active part of the county, goes back to well before the turn of the current century and can be found in the roots of an old grist mill as the Blue Ridge Parkway was under construction in Virginia and North Carolina.
The National Park Service acquired Mabry Mill after founder and owner of the grist mill, Ed Mabry died in 1935. The popular mill was a fixture in Floyd County since its beginnings in 1905 and the Park Service saw the Mill as a key part of the Parkway. The Mill and surrounding structured were restored in 1942 and it became a premier attraction for the Parkway.
Mabry Mill was featured in ads for Salem cigarettes in magazines and on television and was part of Hollywood films, documentaries and historical articles. It is the most photographed location on the 469 miles of the Parkway and has been a key tourist attraction for the area for more than 50 years.
Buffalo Mountain, which rises to an elevation of 3,971 feet is the tallest peak in Floyd County and one of the largest in Virginia. It is the namesake of the Floyd County High School sports teams, the school’s annual (The Bison) and features a Natural Area Preserve and a half-mile hike up to its peak that features panoramic views of 50 miles on clear days.
The Mountain was part of a large tract of land granted to Revolutionary War General Harry “Lighthorse Harry” Lee for his military service and was later owned by his sons, including Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The family lost the property when it was seized after the Civil War.
In 1992, funds from The Virginia Parks and Natural Areas Bond and the Viriginia Public Authority Bond were used to buy the 1,149 acre mountain and place it under the Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation program.
Back in the 1950s and 60s, a fire tower sat on top of the mountain to keep an eye out for forest blazes and teenagers used the site for parking. Only foot traffic is allowed on the trail up the mountain now. The trail can be reached from a gravel parking lot, which needs repair, on Moles Road (Virginia 727) in Southwestern Floyd County.
Old time mountain music and Bluegrass songs have long been of tradition of Southwestern Virginia and music Many songs have come out of Floyd County, including “The Story of Freeda Bolt,” about a young unmarried woman killed by her lover, Buren Harman. Written by D.M. Shank, the 1930 song was ranked on the Hit Parade nationally and was later recorded again by the Carter Family in 1938.
The internationally-known Friday Night Jamboree began for the public in the 1970s but musicians had spent Friday nights jamming at the country store on South Locust Street for years before.
One of the earliest stars of the National Association of Stock Racing (NASCAR), Curtis Turner, was a Floyd Countian and is now one of the latest inductees into the racing series’ Hall of Fame in Charlotte. Floyd County’s latest contribution to NASCAR is crew chief Darian Grubb, who has handled teams for Jimmie Johnson (which the regular crew chief was suspended), Tony Stewart (when Stewart last one a Sprint Cup Championship) and Virginian Denny Hamlin (on the Joe Gibbs Racing Team).
Yes, Floyd County is a tourist spot and has been for many, many years.
So, why is it now a controversy?