Blue Ridge Parkway: Mabry Mill


If there’s one place you must stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and just one place in which you simply must take a picture, it’s Mabry Mill.  Edwin Mabry built his iconic mill in 1910, and the National Park Service restored it in 1945, making it the parkway’s most photographed attraction.

There’s much more at this stop, than just the old mill.  Walk around the back side of the mill (where you get a view of the wooden sluice that provides water to the wheel.

You can get an up-close look at the water wheel and the mill’s gears…

… when you step inside.  The energy provided by the water wheel not only ground corn, it also powered a blacksmith shop and a sawmill.  A system of belts transferred the power to where it was needed.

Plus, the workshop had a great view!

Ed Mabry also built a home near his mill — a two story frame house.  In the 1930’s, parkway designers decided the historic home didn’t fit in with the look of the parkway, so they tore it down, then brought in a log cabin from nearby.

Behind the mill, there’s an entire village of turn-of-the-20th-century Appalachian buildings.  There’s also a good chance you’ll find craftsmen demonstrating some of the do-it-yourself skills that made mountain living possible, like weaving…

… and spinning.

Unfortunately, I arrived just a few days or weeks too late to capture the perfect picture at the mill, of rhododendron blooming.  My visit was in mid-June, so you might want to aim for late-May (or just stop by the gift shop for a postcard).

There is a gift shop, restaurant, and rest area at Mabry Mill.

Between Mabry Mill & Roanoke

There are plenty of roadside stops to add interest to the drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway, between Mabry Mill and Roanoke Mountain.  I tried to stop at as many as I could, but there’s no harm in skipping some of them.

Rock Castle Gorge

Rock Castle Gorge offers a nice view of low, lumpy mountains, stretching out to the horizon.  The gorge receives its name for the 6-sided quartz crystals that can be found here.

Buffalo Mountain

The next stop on the drive north gives you a view of Buffalo Mountain.  It’s the hump you can see in the distance, in the picture above.

“The Buffalo” was a prominent local landmark for early settlers.  Parents would tell their children they could go anywhere during the day, so long as they could see the mountain, which towers to 3,972 feet — a thousand feet above the surrounding landscape.  The privately-owned mountain was mined for lead for five decades.

At the same stop, looking the other direction, more mountains are in view.

This area is called “The Saddle”, an area that was settled before the Revolutionary War.  The remains of old cabins can still be found in the forest, but they are slowly disappearing as nature reclaims the land.

Rakes Mill Pond

The dam that forms Rakes Mill Pond was built in the early 19th century, to hold back the water to power the mill.  I didn’t see any sign that the mill itself still exists, but the pond and dam remain.

Jarman Rakes had an ingenious marketing plan to help sell the grist from his mill.  He would allow his customers to fish in the pond for trout while they waited for their order to be filled.

Trail Family Cabin at the Smart View Trail

Continuing up the road, my next stop was to check out the Trail family’s cabin, which stands alongside the Smart View Trail (a 2.6 mile loop).  The cabin is a good example of a “rough” structure, one that offered very little luxury…

… or for that matter, very little protection from the wind, either.  This one was likely built in the 1890’s, and looks a lot like many of the other cabins built in the area by early settlers.

Another roadside stop, another mountain.  Eventually they all start to look alike, and even though at the time I thought I’d certainly remember this particular mountain, I don’t.  So if you recognize it, drop me a line.

Lost Mountain

There’s a reason Lost Mountain doesn’t look very tall — you’re looking almost straight across at it.  Lost Mountain stands at 2,160 feet, while this overlook is about 40 feet higher.

Masons Knob

The road drops down a bit when you reach the overlook for Masons Knob.  The mountain is 3,200 feet in elevation, while this part of the parkway is only around 1,430 feet.  The view isn’t especially breathtaking, though, so just keep driving.  The next big attraction, Roanoke Mountain, is getting close!

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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