By April Martin
The Warrior’s Path, the Old Buffalo Trace, Indian Trail, the Great Wagon Road, the Wilderness Road, The Great Road, Ingles Ferry Road, Southwestern Turnpike, Peppers Ferry, Lee Highway, or Interstate 81 these are just a few of the names of the road system that follows the Great Valley of Virginia. This system of connected roads and trails has brought travelers through our area on foot, on horseback, in wagons, stagecoaches, and motorized vehicles of all shape and sizes since the first human followed their prey along the path of least resistance, the connected valleys chain of between the ancient mountains of Virginia. Along the way towns sprang up, first of Tutelo, Saponi, later of Monacans, Cherokee, and Yuchi. Then with colonization, Spanish, French, and English people made their trek west. The English were really the Scots-Irish, the Welsh, the Swiss, German, mostly free but some as indentured peoples along with free and enslaved West Africans. With this influx of cultures and challenges to resources, the frontier area, backcountry, western waters, or Overmountain regions became the contested grounds. Clashes occurred and international conflict soon touched the vast valley of Virginia. History happened along the Great Wagon Road and the tide of history kept flowing with events, personalities, and sadly more conflict and war. There is a big story and a very important story and it takes parts of many different voices and locations to tell this every evolving tale, but a good starting point is always the museums and historic sites that can reflect for a moment the many many moments that came before. One of those sites to start this journey of understanding and appreciations is the Wilderness Road Regional Museum in the historic village of Newbern. In Newbern, you can still visualize the migratory route of the early settlers and see the planned and progressive new town of the 1810 period as America was becoming a real nation. A market economy at its best and worst can be learned from Newbern. And as the county split and became new counties, the seat of power soon came to Newbern as the bustling village evolved into the county seat of the newly formed Pulaski County in 1839. A couple decades later, a new nation broke from itself and the horrors of civil war stained the village and surrounding hillside with the reality of war. Luckily, the village peacefully reentered the United States humbled by defeat, depleted of many resources, and with a new societal arrangement of labor, the enterprise of transportation once again moved people along the road system. However, the railroad took much away from the former boomtowns along the stagecoach and wagon roads. New communities born on the rail became the chosen communities and new and bigger cities and town grew. Come learn about the vast history of Southwest Virginia. Below is a list of places along the Great Wagon Road corridor that can help you learn more about the rich heritage of our region. This segment of the “tour” starts as you climb into the Alleghany Mountains in Montgomery County and ends at Wytheville.
Along I-81/Rt. 11 Montgomery County
- Historic Village of Lafayette (1848 church still stands)
- Pepper’s Cemetery (near Post Office)
- Meadowbrook Museum in Shawsville
- Fort Vause Highway Marker on the Old Town loop (can stop for pictures at sign)
- Fotheringay Highway Marker, (house is private, respect all property rights please)
Many old stately homes line this section of Rt. 11 as you climb up Christiansburg Mountain following the old original Alleghany Turnpike.
Coming to Christiansburg take Rt. 11 through town.
Montgomery Museum and Lewis Miller Art Gallery is located at 300 Pepper’s Street.
The museum is housed in the old manse and features some of the folk artist Lewis Miller’s sketches along with local artist of today.
Follow west main through the Downtown section to see the following:
- Lewis-McHenry Duel Highway Marker
- Civil War Trails Marker “Town in Turmoil”
- Memorial to soldiers of the county
- Farther west on Main Street are several historic churches and one converted into a museum shop and Great Road Coffee
- Cemeteries of interest in Christiansburg are Sunset Cemetery and Craig Cemetery off Park Street.
Side trip of interest, Cambria to see the Italianate style depot and local antique shops in that small area along the old Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, N&W, and now Norfolk Southern Line.
If you continue through Cambria to North Franklin you can see several buildings of the Christiansburg Institute that remain, the Edgar A. Long Building and Smokehouse Museum are located on Scattergood Drive and tell the impressive story of African American education in the post war years. The story spans from the Freedman’s Bureau to Desegregation.
Blacksburg Side Trip off the main Wagon Road
Smithfield Plantation, built between 1773-1775, Colonel William Preston’s tidewater inspired frame house still stands and served today as museum and rental event center. Located adjacent to the campus of Virginia Tech. Admission is required. A Civil War Trails sign is located on site on the complicate life of William Ballard Preston and his actions in the early war period.
Site of Draper’s Meadow Highway sign is located near the Duckpond on the campus of Virginia Tech. 1755 settlement attacked during the French and Indian War. Mary Draper Ingles and others were taken into captivity. Mary later escapes and walks home inspiring the Long Way Home and Follow the River retellings.
Solitude located at the Duck Pond, antebellum home of Colonel Robert Taylor Preston, original log structure was occupied by John Floyd and Letitia Preston Floyd, (John Floyd was elected governor of Va in 1830). Solitude served in many capacities for the University once it was sold to the school and now houses Appalachian Studies offices along with some rooms for historic interpretation.
The Campus at Virginia Tech has history attached to almost every building. The upper quad along with the Pylons are especially compelling for anyone interested in WWI/WWII History. VT Corp of Cadets Museum and a Geoscience Museum are also located on campus. The April 16th Memorial is located in front of Burriss Hall on the Drillfield.
Also, in Blacksburg visit the Alexander Black Home which houses the Blacksburg Museum and Cultural Center. Located on Draper Street. The museum system also operates the Oddfellow Hall off of Prices Fork which details Blacksburg’s African American History, Civil War to Civil Rights.
Westview Cemetery off Roanoke Street offers a garden style cemetery. It contains soldiers from the Revolutionary War, Civil War, and beyond. An informational Civil War Trails sign is located on site.
- Glencoe Mansion, General Gabriel Wharton post war home, Civil War Trail sign on site
- Mary Draper Ingles Statue and Rail Heritage Viewing Platform
- Bissett Park, Battle of the New River Bridge Civil War Trail site and various historic markers along the nature and recreational walking trail
- Wildwood Park and Connelly’s Run, details natural beauty and Colonial Road Surveyor James Connelly’s layout to the Ingles Ferry Road/Great Road location.
- Ingles Farm and Rebuilt Ingles Cabin, Private property but will sometimes open for groups
- Westveiw Cemetery, memorial marker made from Chimney stones for Mary Draper Ingles. Governor James Hoge Tyler and various soldiers lost in WWI and WWII are buried within this cemetery.
Other cemetery of note in Radford is Central Cemetery near Radford University. The original name of Radford was Lovely Mount, then Central with the coming of the railroad. Many interesting graves included in this graveyard including a member of the Immortal 600 from the Civil War and many families of railroad workers.
Radford Teachers College started in 1910 and is now Radford University, The Campus has numerous historic markers and several art galleries and an 1930s Sharecropping History homestead called Selu located off campus along the Little River to share rural Appalachian history and the transitional period of the 1930s.
A very quick drive through the small town of Snowville will delight travelers as vestiges of the once thriving mid-nineteenth century factory town can still be seen. This area was an industrial and religious center starting in the 1850s. Several architectural examples of the time can be noted as you cross the Little River and drive through the small village. A Masonic hall, theatre, blacksmith shop, homes, and churches still hint at the former industrial community and “Jerusalem of the Southwest”.
Back on I-81 the next stop will be across the New River (One of the oldest River in the world, flows north).
Claytor Lake State Park offers numerous recreational opportunities but also has the Howe House with served as the Park Office and museum. Near the same area is the Christian Chimney honoring the life of Revolutionary War Colonel William Christian, His home Manahaim (biblical “two camps”) was the original site of Dunkards Bottom and later Fort Frederick. All are now located under the lake waters, but chimney stones were brought to land and reassembled to note the sites.
Follow either Wilderness Road or I-81 to Newbern and Wilderness Road Regional Museum introduced above.
Head north back to Rt. 100, you will pass the Historic Newbern Cemetery. Contains many soldiers from Mexican War, Civil War, Coal War, Spanish American, Philippines Insurrection, WWI and WWII, Korean and Vietnam Conflicts.
Dublin is located north of Newbern and has a rich rail heritage and Civil War history. Visit New Dublin Presbyterian Church (congregation started in 1769), the adjacent church cemetery, then visit Cleburne Wayside for Highway marker and Civil War Trails maker on the rearguard action at that site following the Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain. Then you may follow Cleburne Blvd Rt. 100 to the Gap of Cloyd’s Mountain and Highway Marker describing the May 9, 1864 engagement. Battlefield land is all still privately owned, but on the west side of the road as you cross Back Creek heading back to Dublin you can see the still standing Back Creek Farm built 1790, the battle raged on both side of the turnpike in that general location. The battle was a Union victory, largest engagement in Southwest Virginia.
You may choose to follow Rt. 100 (Dublin/Pearisburg Turnpike) into Pearisburg to visit the Andrew Johnston House and Giles Historical Society. Historic Giles Courthouse and appendage buildings are also within walking distance. The village was the site of the 1862 skirmish and burning of the town.
Other Giles County points of interest, Mountain Lake Lodge Resort, Cascades, Capt. George Pearis Cemetery, villages of Newport, Narrows, Ripplemeade, and Glen Lyn. Hiking and outdoor recreation abound in Giles County, from the New River, to Glen Alton, to the Appalachian Trail.
Back on Rt. 11 or I-81
- Town of Pulaski
- Stone Courthouse and Historic Downtown District
- Oakwood Cemetery and Historic Residential District
- Calfee Training School
- Raymond F. Ratcliffe Memorial Transportation Museum featuring the Brockmeyer Train layout and in-depth history of the Town of Pulaski and nearby industries.
- Pulaski Train Station
- Dora Trail and New River State Park
- Historic Calfee Park
- Draper Mountain Overlook
- Historic Village of Draper
Return to I-81/Rt. 11.
- Side trip to Hillsville and Carroll County sites Rt. 100/Rt 52
- Allisonia/Hiwassee/Foster Falls/Shot Tower/Stephen F. Austin Memorial/Fincastle Resolutions Highway Marker
- Hillsville Shoot out, historic courthouse and museum
- Walking Trail
Continue South 81
- Fort Chiswell/Max Meadows
- Old Rt. 11
- Marker for Fort Chiswell
- Off access road
- Fort Chiswell Mansion
- McGavock Cemetery
- Highway Marker for Anchor and Hope Plantation
- Historic District
- Rosedale School/Wytheville Training School
- Main Street
- Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum
- St. John Episcopal Church
- Loghouse Restaurant
- Wythe Museums, Stonehouse, Thomas J. Boyd, Great Lakes to Florida, Trinkle Visitor Center,
- Civil War Trails, Battle of Wytheville and Tolands Raid
- St Johns Lutheran Church and Cemetery, Civil War Trails sign.