Sometimes you plan to go to an area for a specific reason. Other times you just find lots to do once you arrive. Such was the case for our next stop at Goose Point Campground on Philpott Lake just north of Martinsburg, Virginia. This is one of three Corps of Engineers campgrounds on the lake. The beach loop is very popular and you need to make reservations well in advance if your stay will include a weekend. We were up the hill in A loop and our 35′ trailer just made the turns. In fact when it came time to leave and use the dump station we couldn’t navigate the turn downhill and had to wait until we arrived at our next destination. Staying at the beach area would have prevented any problem as it’s just a straight drive to the dump station. There are just some things you can’t know until you’ve stayed at a park. If you need cardiovascular exercise, the walk up the hill from the beach will have the old ticker pumping away!
We found ourselves in Floyd County which has recently come to light in the movie Lawless as the home of the moonshine industry during Prohibition. We also found that this was another section of the Crooked Road running from Galax to Rocky Mount. We met up with RV friends and dropped in at the Rocky Mount Visitors Center to, of course, pick up brochures. We were informed that there were music jam sessions every night of the week within a 30 mile radius. Thursday night was scheduled for the Waidsboro Ruritan Club. This was attended by locals except for us. They had brought food and only asked for us to pay for water or coffee. There were about a dozen musicians and locals dancing the flat step. A woman named Alice came over to talk with us. During the conversation I said I wished someone could teach me to flat step. The next thing I knew she grabbed my hand and said “Come On”. I don’t think I’ve got it quite yet but I sure did have fun trying. While we were talking a woman sat in with the musicians and took over the banjo. “She used to play professionally and can really bang on that thing” Alice informed us. Another area regular came over to talk and told us that the group sometimes had as many as 25 musicians and standing room only crowds. They have had people attend from as far away as England. As we were leaving we stopped to tell the woman banjo player how much we enjoyed her playing. We found out she used to play with a well known group called the Original Orchard Grass Band. If someone had asked me a few months ago if I liked Bluegrass music, I would have said “not really.” Now that I’ve heard it on the Crooked Road, I love it!
The next day was a beautiful warm early Fall day so we kayaked a small portion of Philpott Lake. While loading the boats we started talking to a local couple. They had lived and taught overseas in Asia and the Middle East for several years before retiring to Floyd. They encouraged us to go into Floyd on Friday evening for the area’s premiere bluegrass event. The Floyd Country Store is part store part stage. They have a house band that performs from 7:30 to 9:00 and then they have a local group perform for another hour or so. It costs $5 to come in, sit and listen. But you don’t sit long. Your feet can’t stay still and you find yourself up and dancing. This is where you’ll see the locals really shine. Some of these folks can really dance up a storm. The place does get very crowded and people come and go at will. Outside the store along the street groups form and play a variety of country and bluegrass. Some groups are pick-up jams while others are groups that play together regularly. We spent most of our time listening to a group called Nuthin Common and bought one of their CDs.
We’d like to thank our friends Kathy and Joe for the following pictures and video as we’d forgotten to bring either camera or iPhone.
I’d suggested to Steve that we splurge a bit and go to the Morrissette Winery for their Sunday brunch. I’d heard that the restaurant was very highly rated. My other visits to the winery had been for concerts and I’d gone there from Charlotte. It’s an easy trip up I 77 to the Blue Ridge Parkway. I had no idea how to go from Philpott Lake so we let the GPS guide us… It took us on some dirt roads that the truck had a hard time making! Good thing we didn’t have the trailer. That’s when we decided to always preview the roads before heading out with the RV. We finally got there and had a delicious meal with a million dollar view. The chocolate truffle balls for dessert were to die for.
On the way back home, we followed more country backroads to two covered bridges and one very photogenic barn. Steve took a picture of the Bobwhite Bridge and converted it to a pencil sketch in Nik HDR software.
We’d travelled along I 81 through Virginia many times as we drove to see family in Pennsylvania. As we’d pass signs for the D-Day Memorial and Booker T. Washington Birthplace we’d say “some day we need to stop “. Well, some day had finally arrived. Booker T. Washington was born into slavery on a small tobacco farm, one of 10 slaves. His mother was the cook. Although not allowed to attend school or even learn to read he had an overwhelming desire to learn.He was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. He walked across half the state of Virginia and worked so he could pay to go to newly established school for blacks. With perseverance he attained a college degree and eventually established Tuskegee Institute. Tuskegee was based on his own experience that work and education should go hand in hand. He believed that unless a student had to work for his education he wouldn’t value it. When I hear my teacher friends talk about the lack of interest heir students have in learning and the discipline problems they encounter, I can’t help but think he might just have been right. We wanted to read more about him so we’ve downloaded three of his books to our iPads. The farm is beautifully restored and a reminder that even the most humble beginnings can spawn greatness.
From the Booker T. Washington Birthplace we went to the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA. This location was chosen because a platoon of this town’s young men was one of the first on Omaha Beach on D-Day. Within the first five minutes half of them were killed. By the time the hill was scaled only 5 were still alive out of the original 38. The memorial although called a national memorial received no government funds and is privately run. It gave me the same feeling as when Steve and I went to the Flight 93 Memorial last year, what it really means to give your all for your country. The three themes repeated throughout are Valor, Fidelity and Sacrifice. The central memorial with the bronze statues representing these themes is designed to look like you are landing on the beach and there are air lines under the water that simulate bullets striking the water around you. In fact, there were at least twelve times the number of bullets as are depicted here.Names engraved on the walls are only those who actually died on the first day of the D-Day invasion. The names have no rank to signify that the every life was of equal value. Nor are the names in alphabetical order as new names can be added. The latest one was added in 2011 when an American of Lebanese descent was added. Originally his date of death was listed as 6/9 but later confirmed to be on D-Day. As impressive as the loss is the fact that they expected to loose five times as many men is unimaginable. You can tour on your own but we opted to take a guided tour and we highly recommend it. We learned so much from it. For instance, the famous picture of General Eisenhower talking with pilots just before take-off was originally interpreted as a “pep” talk and later found out he was talking about fly fishing with them. The tour explains a great deal about the generals involved and the map painted on the ceiling of Allied Headquarters. One lady on our tour was visiting from Bulgaria and spoke no English but had a friend there to interpret. There are some things that have universal meaning.
Our last history lesson was a visit to Appomattox Courthouse, the site of the Army of the Confederate States surrender to the Union Army thus ending the Civil War. Steve was very touched by our visit and has written this segment.
For anyone who has done any extensive reading or studying about the American Civil War, the town of Appomattox Court House in south central Virginia has to be a special place.
Thousands upon thousands of Americans in Blue or in Grey were dead or forever maimed. Families were shattered. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia had been decimated. Lee was trying desperately to reach a supply depot to feed the starving troops. Grant and the Army of the Potomac got there first.
Lee sent a message to Grant to ask for a meeting to discuss terms of surrender.
Wilmer McLean had been a resident at the location of the First Battle of Bull Run, or First Manassas if you hale from south of the Mason Dixon line, at the beginning of the war. Following the battle, he moved his family to the small town of Appomattox Court House to get away from the carnage of war. Representatives of Lee and Grant asked to use Mr. McLean’s home for the meeting.
Robert E. Lee arrived dressed in his best uniform, buttons and buckles shining. Ulysses S Grant arrived covered with dirt and mud and wearing a borrowed coat.
They met, discussed trivialities for a few moments, and then got down to business.
The following day, Union troops lined the dirt road leading to the small village to receive their southern brothers
The war was over.
I don’t know how other people react when visiting here, but I had a lump in my throat the entire time. There were tears in my eyes as I walked out of the McLean House and looked down the road where the Confederate soldiers marched to lay down their arms. The United States, a union of states, had existed for 89 years, but on this day, a Nation was born.
When we toured the Visitors Center I learned that the man who wrote the surrender agreement for the generals to sign was an American Indian. General Lee said to him “At least one of us here is an American.” To which this Major replied ” Today general, we are all Americans”. We took a living history tour led by an actor posing as the local physician. He set the time as being the same day but 1865, about 6 months after the surrender. He described the effects of the surrender on this southern community. It was extremely well done.
We also learned that afterwards only one more family lived in the McLean home until 1867 when they went bankrupt. The home deteriorated and was dismantled and sent to Washington to be displayed (at the Smithsonian we presume) but never was reconstructed. So when the National Park Service established Appomattox Courthouse the home was returned and reconstructed on the original site.
For a week that wasn’t planned this turned out to be one of the busiest times we’ve had. Now we head up to the lower Shenandoah Valley.