Old Rag Mountain

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One of the more popular hikes in Virginia is the hike to Old Rag Summit. The panaramic view from the 3268 ft summit ecompasses 360 degrees of beautiful mountain scenery to those who put forth the effort to reach it. Here are the views from a previous trip.

Earl Shaffer described Old Rag in his famous book, Walking With Spring, which details his first (and the overall very first) through hike of the A.T. in 1948...

"Eastward from Skyland is Old Rag Mountain, separated from the main ridge by a deep and narrow gorge. It is the most spectacular peak in the Central Appalachians, resembling on a smaller scale the Goat Rocks of the Cascades in Washington state. Old Rag is reached by a side trail down White Oak Canyon, passing scenic waterfalls before crossing the Old Rag Valley [Weakley Hollow] and traversing the shattered rimrock. This Mecca of hikers attracts many thousands of people every year, just as Katahdin does. The first of the 'Byrd's Nest' shelters, financed and designed by former Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr., is on Old Rag."

But, there is more to this area than just the great views from the summit. Long before this area was incorporated into the Shenandoah National Park, the hollows that lay within the shadow Old Rag Mountain were home to many families who lived off the land and sweat of their brow.

The pictures included herein are from a hike I took on February 10, 2009 while searching for the remnants of human history of days gone by. There were many families residing in the Old Rag community. The Old Rag community had a post office, two churches, a store, a school, and many cabins. Some houses were even made of frame construction. This is quite different than their neighbors to the north and west. Nearby Corbin Hollow, while having a school, did not have a post office. It is unclear whether they had a church or store.

I was using a book that focuses on most of the homesites that are still visible in this area. The author, Leonard F. Wheat, wrote of an "Old Road" that is still visible and formed the major artery through this community. Nearly all of the sites mentioned in Wheat's book requires extensive bushwacking (leaving the modern park trails), climbing over fallen trees, crawling under others, carefully crossing creeks, and detouring around thick areas of, well, thickets of all types.

Initially, after leaving the park-maintained Weakley Hollow Road, I was having a hard time locating, then following the Old Road, while, at the same time, bushwacking through the thick woods. After nearly 30 minutes, I came upon a hill and climbed it in order to get a better vantage point of the surrounding area. I knew I couldn't be too far from what was called the "Old Road".

While approaching the top of the hill, I noticed an indention in the ground, with high banks. This was it! This was the Old Road.

Following it up the hillside, I first noticed a rather large piece of pottery leaning against a tree.

Nearby I also noticed many bricks on the ground. I knew this was some type of homesite or shed. I also noticed a pile of rocks nearby which could've been remnants of a cabin's chimney. This could be one of the homesites detailed in Wheat's book, but, I couldn't be sure, not knowing exactly where I was standing in relation to my maps. I marked it on my GPS so I could bring the info back to my computer and pinpoint the area on my software for future evaluation.

As I was following the Old Road, which is now little more than a curvey, rutted gulley, I still wasn't sure exactly what part I was on. These areas I was searching for just were not on a detailed topographical map. I didn't have GPS coordinates. Seeing where I was on my GPS mattered little since the old homesites were not well chartered on any detailed map. My main goal for the day was to make GPS coordinates along the Old Road so that I would have a base to start from--to plot areas on a map to see exactly where I was standing in relation to the few maps I had of the area, and where I found many interesting sites in the woods.

After trying to follow the Old Road some more, frequently catching glimpses of the old trace while marking the coordinates on the GPS, I approached what looked like a fork in the old trail. Not sure which to take, (reminds me of Robert Frost's- The Road Not Taken) I took the trail less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. Sorry for the poetic connection, I couldn't resist, but, I did take the trail to the right, slightly up hill. I don't believe I did what Yogi Berra once said about forks in the road, "If you arrive at a fork in the road, take it!" As I approached the slight summit...

I came accross something that was propped up against a tree.

I approached it and noticed it was the top of a wood stove. It is interesting to know that the mountain folk knew that a fireplace was very inefficient. A wood stove would put more heat into the house, and less up the chimney. I remember reading in the book, The 18 Cabins of Old Rag-A Field Guide for Bushwackers, which I used as a basis of of my hike, where author Leonard Wheat mentions a piece of wood stove at a cabin site. I also remember reading about a washtub in the bottom of what used to be a cellar, under a cabin. I saw that washtub just as described. I stopped, dropped my backpack, walking stick and sat on a rock while digging out my book. Sure enough, I was at what Wheat called Barbed Wire Cabin. So named because of some rolls of barbed wire nearby. When the families were ordered to leave, they were ordered to leave all fence posts, supplies, everything. They were to leave with nothing but their personal belongings. I wanted to find those rolls of barbed wire I read about. I scoured the old homesite for many minutes, then, a pile of rocks caught my attention. Looking closely at them, WOW!, there are several rolls of barbed wire! Well, for at least 75 years, partly due to this being well off the main trail, those rolls of barbed wire still stood right where they were left by the previous inhabitants--frozen in time.

Leonard F. Wheat's book, which I used as a general guide. It is very usefull describing safety precautions when bushwacking. I followed his advice in doing this hike in the winter for better visibility without all the foliage and to not have to worry about snakes, poison ivy, etc... Bushwacking is very dangerous during the warmer months.

The washtub described in Wheat's book Rolls of barbed wire, sitting in the same spot for 75 years

I was now feeling lucky to have found my first documented cabin site

With the chance discovery, going on Robert Frost's advice by taking the Road Not Taken, I was able to look at Wheat's primitive map and know exactly where I was. I could now follow his directions, more or less, to help guide me to other homesites, all the while marking them on my GPS.

How's this for a road to follow?

Or this? I found myself walking on the old road very little. There were too many trees laying over, too many briars and other thickets, and many other obstacles. Bushwacking isn't fun. From seeing all the trees down, I have to think there was a terrible ice storm within the past winter or so. If there is a wildfire soon, it will burn for a long time.

Following the Old Road first west, then north, around a ridge, then west, then southwest, I walked up on a hill to find the next cabin site, named Puddlepond Cabin by Leonard Wheat. Again, not much left of the cabin. The CCC boys burned most existing cabins as ordered during the founding of the National Park to eliminate the cost of upkeep of these cabins and return the mountains to their original appearance. Also, whatever wooden sides were left, were burned during a wildfire in 2000.

This is another shot of the PUddlepond Cabin remains. I believe these rocks were once part of the chimney. Now fallen branches and trees are doing their best to conceal the remains from visibility.

The next site to come accross was one of the two churches that served the community. This particular one, just off the Old Road, was of frame construction, which eliminated an extensive rock foundation seen around the more traditional log cabins. Therefore it was hard to pinpoint exactly which rocks were used to sit under the frame corners of the church building. I know I was in the correct area.

yet another brick found. This time near the church site.

Still following the Old Road, I came accross the Jalopy Cabin. So named by Wheat because just a few feet further is, well...you'll see in a moment.

Another picture of Jalopy Cabin. The outline of the cabin foundation is obvious.

Well, what's this? A jalopy! The remnants of an old abandoned car. It is too far gone to recognize the year/model. The metal is slowly going home to be part of the Earth again, a century after it was first removed from the Earth.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I mean jalopy.

The Old Road still hanging tough after all those years.

Washcut Cabin. The foundation of this old pad is still obvious.

Porchfoot Cabin. Wheat named this Porchfoot because about the only thing left of this cabin is the footings for the porch. Just to the other side of this site is the Weakley Hollow Fire Road, about 10 feet distant--making this an easy site to get to if you know where it is off the main modern road.

Walking back to the trail head, I turn around and what do ya know? It's obvious where the Old Road splits from the newer Weakley Hollow Fire Road.

There was one other stop I wanted to make prior to heading back to the truck. I have read about the Old Rag Cemetery. Moutain folks of the community didn't spend money on engraved stones like we do today. Most times they simply stuck large stones in the ground for headstones. Check it out... Here.

After a productive day, I am leaving the trails quite happy.

I was successful in finding many clues of the past community. Still more exist. I would need to spend more than one day to fully survey the entire area of remains. Still, I was quite satisfied for what I did find in that one day of bushwacking off the main park-sponsored trails.

I have read that Leonard F. Wheat thought long and hard prior to releasing his booklet for all to read, as anyone who enjoys history should for fear of people destroying what is left out there. I, too, am apprehensive of letting this information out which is why I am not publishing the GPS coordinates, because, that would make it too easy to find these places. The temptation is great to remove any of these items, these artifacts, from these historical sites. IT IS FEDERAL LAW TO REMOVE ANYTHING FROM A NATIONAL PARK! Please follow the saying, "Take only pictures, leave only your footprints" so that others may enjoy this.
But, if you don't tell anyone, and you can convince me you love history and hiking and much as I do, email me. I can consider releasing a few coordinates.
I look forward to finding the rest of the sites in this former community. I can't wait to hit the trails again.
This site it dedicated to Leonard F. Wheat. Thank you for sharing your love of history.

© 2009 J. Delbridge.

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Updated February 2009

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