From Woodland Indian life and agricultural history to bluegrass and clogging, the Blue Ridge Highlands has a rich cultural history, a history that is told in crafts demonstrations and living history sites around the region. Listen to the stories that made this slice of our great nation.
Virginia’s oldest privately-owned scenic attraction, Big Walker Lookout’s tower thrusts 100 feet into the sky above its namesake mountain. On April – October weekends, the attached BW Country Store hosts local musicians, who fiddle up free concerts from the porch. Visitors settle into the picnic area with “Tower high” ice cream cones, occasionally breaking into flat-foot dancing on the spot. Adding an educational component to the mix, on summer Saturdays craftspeople demonstrate traditional arts, such as lye soap-making, apple butter cooking, blacksmithing, and wood carving. The store sells soap, jewelry, relishes, and crafts by 30 local artisans. For $5, you can climb to the top of the observation tower, where the wind is always howling. 276-633-4016; http://scenicbeauty-va.com
The archeological remains of this 1300 A.D. Indian village was discovered during the construction of Interstate 77, and soon a recreated village and museum began interpreting life from that time — cooking, food harvest, implement making, and more. Interpreters explain how the wigwam village is being rebuilt, based on the latest archeological findings. The May 11 Festival of Trails and August 2-4 Intertribal Powwow are especially good times to visit. Call (276) 688-3438 or see www.indianvillage.org.
Mabry Mill is a historic water-driven grist mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Willis. Here, water still flows in the millrace and the giant millwheel still turns, stone-grinding cornmeal and buckwheat to sell or use as ingredients for Mabry Mill restaurant’s delicious pancakes. A path strikes out from the parking lot for a tour of the blacksmith shop, one-room cabin, sorghum mill and old time whiskey still. During summer weekends, National Park Service volunteers demonstrate traditional crafts, including the operation of a still. Enjoy watching the blacksmith beat a red-hot iron into shape. Learn about how the settlers made ladder-back chairs. Or stop by the Matthews Cabin for an intriguing look into the tanning and shoemaking crafts. Open May 24 – October 27. (276) 952-2947 www.mabrymillrestaurant.com
The blockhouse, high on a bald field at Natural Tunnel State Park, was reconstructed several years ago to illustrate the role the blockhouse played in the 1700s during westward migration. Historical interpreters explain the history of the original blockhouse as a refuge from Indians for migrating settlers. The guides often bake bread in the outside brick oven and explain the purpose of each of the herbs in the kitchen garden. On some occasions they may demonstrate spinning and quilting. (276) 940-2674;www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/nat.shtml
On summer weekends, costumed interpreters at the Blue Ridge Farm Museum work the fields, drive oxen, bake bread in an outdoor oven, and prepare meals over an open-hearth fire. And they invite you to join them in living as the German-American residents did in 1800. Options include the Cornbread Tour, a hands-on foodways tour or the Jack Tales Tour, a combination of old-time farm life, tales, and music. For the Day on the Farm Tour, participants don the museum’s costumes and join the staff in farming, cooking, spinning, blacksmithing, and other activities. The farm’s heirloom vegetables and historic livestock breeds bear testimony to the region’s agricultural heritage. The Farm Museum is open weekends mid-May – early September. Admission price varies by program, tour type, and activities. (540)365-4416; www.blueridgeinstitute.org/farm.htm