Milepost 173: Mabry Mill

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The Mabry Mill was our favorite stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was mine because it is a photographer’s dream on a beautiful fall day.

We could drive a little over 100 miles in a day and this was our second day. The Parkway changed after we left the George Washington National Forest. Now private land edged the road in many places and we could leave the Parkway to travel along a road that paralleled it. I was thinking about the joys and challenges of living in the mountains and taking time to wonder about the early settlers in this region.

Ed Mabry had worked in a coal mine of West Virginia and saved his money. Somewhere around 1910, he and his wife Lizzie moved here, the Meadows of Dan in Virginia, to built this mill. There are lots of small streams running through this area and it was interesting to see how the Mabrys diverted this water to turn the wheel that powered his mill.

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parkway200 154-2They¬†must have been industrious because they used this hydro power to run a grist mill, saw mill and a wheelwright’s shop. He had another building for his work as a blacksmith. One of the books I read said that he was remembered as someone who could fix anything that people could break.

After more than 15 years of steady work and good living for the couple, Ed hurt his back and the area went through a few years of low rainfall that made it difficult to run the mill. The mill fell into disrepair and Ed died in 1936. Timing was on our side, because this was the same period of time that the right-of-way was being secured for the Parkway and the mill was acquired and slated for preservation.

I’m glad that this homestead was preserved because it tells a story we need to hear. We want to believe that we have the power to make the good-life-as-we-know-it go on forever. We want to believe that bad things shouldn’t happen to good, hard-working people. We want to believe that we deserve better than injury and bad weather conditions. Even though we believe this, it is not the way life happens. It seems we want to blame others and make sure the powers-that-be fix life when it goes bad. Is this a result of privilege? Has the pendulum of entitlement swung too far? I wonder if Ed was bitter because of what happened, or was he grateful for the good life he had those years he and his wife run their mill.

Which Way?

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I love Cee’s Which Way Challenge because I seem to collect images of roads and paths. I took this at the Mabry mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway; one of the many streams that were diverted to turn the mill wheel. It isn’t a road, but it so clearly shows the path of the stream. It is a bridge, but not one to walk over. This seemed a perfect illustration for thinking about “which way” the water travels and the many ways in which it is vital for our survival.

I hope you will look at your photo files and find one or more illustrations of the multiple ways in which we travel.

Woman of the Mountains

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I was in awe as I read the story of Aunt Orelena Puckett. She was born in 1837, married at 16, and became a midwife after age 50. She lived in this house in the later years of her life – a long life having lived to the age of 102. She helped bring more than 1000 babies into the world, the last one in the year she died, and it is said no baby died due to her fault. Orelena knew great grief, however, because she bore 24 infants herself, with only the oldest living just past 2 years. All the others died in infancy.

parkway200 185-2That is the story written on an information board at milepost 189.9 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It tells so much but so little about the life of this woman. This homestead would have looked so different in 1900 when people were living here.

parkway200 179-2I wonder what her life was like on a daily basis when she was, say, 70 years old – like me. She had to be a tough woman because she, along with her husband, widowed sister-in-law and her children, had to provide for and protect themselves. She also needed to be tender and supportive to bring so many women through labor and delivery. How did she grieve the loss of 24 babies and maintain the “cheerful and witty attitude” that she was remembered as having?

I think I found a new hero on the Blue Ridge Parkway.