Meadows of Dan: Blue Ridge Gateway
by Leslie Shelor
Reprinted from The Blue Ridge Gazette, April, 2006
Meadows of Dan Gateway Sign, image by Leslie Shelor
The small community of Meadows of Dan is located close to the edge of the Blue Ridge Plateau in Virginia, a wide, rugged elevation that extends westward toward Tennessee. This broad high mountainous area was settled in the early 1800s, mostly by German and Scotch-Irish settlers that traveled down from Pennsylvania. Fleeing turmoil, poverty and war in Europe, these hardy adventurers had little money to purchase land in the green hills of Pennsylvania. They trekked south in search of affordable land and spread through the Blue Ridge Mountains, serving as a buffer between the English Virginia settlers and the Native Americans.
The earliest recorded settlers in Meadows of Dan reached the area by 1810. Patrick County was formed from Henry County in 1790, and established farms and communities were already in existence in the lower parts of the county. The Langhorne family, one of the few of English descent in the community, held a land grant that contained much of what is now considered Meadows of Dan, but by the time they reached the area, they found many people already settled. The Langhorne patriarch is credited with giving the area the name “Meadows of Dan”. He settled on the headwaters of the Dan River, and grist mills in the Langhorne name were built along the stream. Another settler, John Shelor, came to the area when he was young, hunting wolves for bounty. His journal, which no longer exists, records that there had been a fire in the area. The new growth, as he described it, had reached the height of the shoulder of a deer. Thus the "meadows".
Roads were few and primitive. At one time many communities existed on the mountain, Mayberry, Tobax, Mountain View, Pike City, Bear Wallow, Bankstown and many more. Travel was difficult and each community provided for the needs of the settlers, with one-room schools, mills, post offices and small stores.
The early settlers were isolated by the rugged terrain and primitive methods of travel. Walking was often as fast as driving a wagon, and trails led from house to house all across the mountain. Outside influences were few until the Civil War, when several local men were called to serve. Stories abound of hardships for the families left behind during the war, and of the struggles of women widowed by the war, left to raise families on their own. The close-kit communities were united by hardship, helping to care for those affected by loss. Records indicate that few people were wealthy by any standards; properties were small, slaves were few, and most farming was subsistence level.
Concord Primitive Baptist Church, Image by L. Shelor
Community, education, family and church life were all important to the early settlers of Meadows of Dan. The Langhorne family donated land to three denominations to encourage the founding of religious congregations. Much of early social life revolved around the church, with all day services, box suppers, shape note singing schools and other activities sponsored by the churches in the community.
World War I marked the beginning of great changes in Meadows of Dan, and ended the isolation of the small mountain community. The chestnut blight that killed thousands of trees in the Blue Ridge Mountains was a heavy blow to the economy, dependant on chestnuts as one of the few sources of cash. During the 1920s the Danville/Wytheville Turnpike was built, replacing the treacherous wagon road that wound down the mountain. The 1930s Depression made little impact on families that were already poor, but the building of the dams on Dan River by the City of Danville, and the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway both created great changes in the culture of the area. Construction workers brought new ideas and a connection to the outside world, marrying local girls and leaving with them, or settling in the area.
Today Meadows of Dan is still a small community. There is little in the way of industrialization in the area; the terrain isn't suited to large development. Small family farms cover the landscape along the Blue Ridge Parkway and the community center is made up of small shops that cater to the tourist trade as well as to the locals. The business leaders in the area have some unique ideas for shopping experiences, with antiques, gift shops, a fudge factory, craft shops, farmers' market and more creating a pleasant destination. Once a year, in August, the town holds a Folk Fair featuring music, local artisans and other festivities. Almost every week a music event is taking place in Meadows of Dan, with bluegrass and old-time performers. The people of the area are friendly, used to the visits of thousands of tourists throughout the season.
The Crooked Road Kiosk, image by Sue Shelor
Meadows of Dan is located on the newly created Crooked Road, a music trail that winds through Southwestern Virginia. The first visitor's kiosk has been placed in Meadows of Dan, dedicated at the end of March, 2006. The panels detail information about the musical traditions of the area and a transmitter offers sample music of the area.
Meadows of Dan is surrounded by beautiful scenery, fascinating wildlife and peaceful settings. The Blue Ridge Parkway winds within sight of the small community, with a convenient exit onto Business 58. It is said that the stone bridge over Business 58 at Meadows of Dan was the first to be completed on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Hiking trails at Rocky Knob, ten miles north of Meadows of Dan, a hunting preserve, golf courses and just driving down country roads are just a few of the many ways to enjoy the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There is even a tree-climbing adventure business in Meadows of Dan.
Mabry Mill, Meadows of Dan, Image by Sue Shelor
One of the most popular attractions on the Blue Ridge Parkway is located only a mile north of Meadows of Dan. Mabry Mill was a working grist mill in the community until the 1920s, and was remodeled by the National Park Service. It now serves as the highlight of an easy Mountain Industries Trail, with live demonstrations of early mountain crafts.
Meadows of Dan also serves as a gateway community to Patrick County. Two of the existing covered bridges in Virginia are located in Patrick County, and the traditions of music and artistry are thriving in the other communities. Stuart serves as county seat, with shopping and unique restaurants, and there are B&Bs in beautiful settings throughout the county. Historical sites include the birthplace of Civil War Major General J. E. B. Stuart and the Reynolds Homestead. The Wood Brothers Racing Team is based in Stuart, Virginia.
The Blue Ridge Mountains are located within driving distance of most of the population of the East Coast. The central location of Meadows of Dan, just an hour's drive south of Roanoke and twenty miles north of the North Carolina border, along with all the interesting and beautiful sights the community offers, make this destination an appealing introduction to the beauty and unique experience that is the Blue Ridge.
View from Lover's Leap Wayside, image by Sue Shelor
Meadows of Dan is located on Business 58 in Patrick County, Virginia, just at the intersection of Business 58 and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
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