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.
They 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.