Chocolate cake, yes chocolate cake is the answer to the oft asked question, “Where do y’all find these places?”
We decided about mid summer to meet Jan’s Mom, Dad and Grandmother up at Mabry Mill in Virginia
for lunch. I can’t resist their chocolate cake and jumped at the chance. Mabry Mill is almost exactly half way between us and them on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The drive was nice and lunch was wonderful as usual and afterwards we all mingled in the gift shop. Jan’s dad handed us a book and then he told us that her brother had recommended it to him. The book was titled The Man Who Moved a Mountain by Richard C. Davids.
She is a more proficient reader than I and probably completes forty books a year, I am lucky to get through my National Geographic or Smoky Mountain Association magazines in a month’s time. So after some more lingering we bought the book and bid the family farewell and headed back home, back to work, dogs, and the daily grind.
About a week later Jan told me that she had read the book and thought I should read it, too. She told me about the rock churches and said that this preacher lived up in the mountains and built all of these churches and that we had to go see them! She was very excited.
Scenic Drive Blue Ridge Mountains
I couldn’t put the book down, I read about Robert Childress, and how his very first memory, when he was three years old, was of getting drunk on moonshine. He went from a life of drinking and shooting to putting himself through seminary. He returned to his mountain home with the intention of improving people’s lives. So it was settled, we were going to go see these churches and document them. We decided this would be a DanTraveling episode and we would call it the Mountain Churches of the Blue Ridge. I really liked the name.
We found in our research that the Roanoke Times (Roanoke.com)
had printed a story on the churches back in 2006 and included a tour map. The map looked like a small circle stretching clockwise from the Hillsville Courthouse, to Dinwiddie, Willis, Buffalo Mountain,Slate Mountain, and down the Blue Ridge Parkway to Mayberry and Bluestone. It looked simple enough. It was our plan to see all six churches in a few hours, but we didn’t follow the map. No, we thought we would start at Bluestone and go counterclockwise. The problem with this is all the left turns are now right turns and all the souths are norths. Well that would normally be ok because if you got turned around you could just get out the old trusty Rand McNally and figure out where you are, but in the hills and valleys of Southern Virginia we found out that doesn’t always work.
We entered the Blue Ridge Parkway just above Fancy Gap. It was a beautiful sunny Saturday in August. Our first stop was Bluestone Presbyterian church and it was easy to find because you can see it from the parkway. The second church we visited was a bit more of a challenge. The Mayberry Presbyterian Church is right on the parkway, but hidden from plain sight. So we overshot it and drove back down a small winding road and just when we thought we were not going to find it, then, there it was. Virginia.org reads, MayberryChurch is located adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway at Mile Post 180.1, just south of Meadows of Dan. I recommend you just find mile post 180.1 and stop the car, there is a small road to the right if you’re heading north. Turn there.
Our next stop was supposed to be Slate Mountain just past Mabry Mill. This is where following the map backwards got us into trouble. We were also planning to eat lunch at Mabry Mill and it is really the only option for food in the area without backtracking to Meadows of Dan. The wait for a table was an hour and a half, so we pressed on. Then we drove right by the road that goes to Slate Mountain Presbyterian and instead headed to Buffalo Mountain Presbyterian. The road travels back several miles through some beautiful country sides. We drove about twenty minutes and passed only one car. Then we spotted church road, and we turned and Jan said she didn’t think that was correct. I assured her that the large church we saw up on the hill must be Slate Mountain. I pulled into a generous parking lot and read the sign in front of the church. Buffalo Mountain Presbyterian Church.
I decided to pull out the map and calculate how in the world we were here instead of there.
From Buffalo Mountain we could have made it over to the next location in Willis which was just a few miles from there, but we were bent on getting to all of the churches so we backtracked to find Slate Mountain. It turns out that instead of turning right we turned left because we weren’t going south, but we were traveling north instead. I am confused just writing this. Slate Mountain is similar to Mayberry Presbyterian in that it is very close to the parkway, but hidden a bit. The Virginia.org site doesn’t actually have directions to this location it only reads that it is located at the Blue Ridge Parkway, Mile Post 173Jan grabbed her camera and leaped from the parked car to the most incredible view of Buffalo Mountain and this gorgeous, massive rock church. Then she quickly jumped back in the car shouting the travelers alert. Big Dogs!
Racing up the road were two hound dogs. They were scrawny and barking. Jan started flicking pizza pretzel Combos through the narrow crack of the slightly opened car window. This was the only food we had to tide us over for the foreseeable future. She tossed a couple more Combos out the window and bought our safe passage. We named one dog Skin and the other Bones. They agreed to assist us with our photography as long as Jan had Combos in her pocket. After about a half hour we finished our photography and the dogs finished the Combos. We got in the car and Skin and Bones headed quickly back down the same road they had raced up earlier. Jan missed them almost immediately. I missed the Combos.
Here’s how we got there. Heading North on the Parkway
Turn right on Route 768 or Woodberry Road, (Easy to miss) just past Mabry Mill. On Woodberry after traveling about a mile look up and to the left and you will see it. Turn left on Rock Church Road.
We spent some time at Slate Mountain and decided to head over to our next stop in Willis. The Willis Rock church was the last one Reverend Childress had built and was now a Baptist church. We were desperate to find something to eat there. We took what appeared to be the largest road on the map. It seemed to be only about fifteen miles. It was the longest fifteen miles in Southwest Virginia. We arrived in Willis and decided to find the food first and then the church.
We both darted in the door of the local convenience store and began grabbing snacks. When we reached the counter I had some coffee, a bag of peanuts, and a honey bun. Jan literally had both arms full. She had a couple of fried pies, some chips, a bag of popcorn, chocolate snack cakes, several candy bars, and of course more Combos. The lady working the counter at the Willis convenience store just grinned at our overindulgence. Then we did something that I typically never do. We asked for directions. She told us that many people come through looking for the rock churches and pointed us to the Willis church location and gave us wonderful directions to Dinwiddie as well. Her directions to Dinwiddie consisted of only landmarks, but no street names, much less mileage. Looking back I think that Dinwiddie would have been a tough one to find without her help, but so worth it when we got there. The view was outstanding. From there we drove back to Hillsville to reach interstate 77 and home.
This was absolutely, without a doubt, the most beautiful drive we had taken in recent memory. My favorite view was a tie between Buffalo Mountain and Dinwiddie. The most charming setting was Mayberry, but the others were just as impressive. I read that Rev Bob Childress would ask people to bring rocks from their fields to build a church and the person who brought the prettiest one got to enter the completed building first!
This trip taught us three things. If you find yourself in the neighborhood of Mabry Mill, It is worth your time to see these churches, buy the book, and wait the hour and a half for the chocolate cake.
This story was published on the website THINGS YOU SHOULD DO