Here at Blue Ridge NC Guide, we frequently talk about, daydream about, make plans around, and visit the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway. Being located close to the center of the Parkway, it’s easy to get on the Parkway and head north or south and have a wonderful adventure. One day last month, we got on the Parkway, drove north, and had a wonderful afternoon at Mabry Mill.
There are quite a few things to see between Blowing Rock and the Mill. 19 miles up from the Blowing Rock exit is Cascades Falls, and a few miles past that is the Northwest Trading Post at MP 258.6. Not far beyond that is the Sheets Cabin, a primitive structure tucked down the hill on the west side of the road. Blink and you’ll miss it so keep an eye out for it.
Keep on going, there’s more to see! Doughton Park is about 18 miles further north, and the park contains such sights as the Brinegar Cabin, Wildcat Rocks, an overlook where you can see Pilot Mountain, and many hiking trails.
A mile south of the NC/VA border is Cumberland Knob, the site where construction began on the Parkway in 1932. Just three miles over the border is the Blue Ridge Music Center, the Parkway’s newest attraction, showcasing the history of classic Appalachian mountain music. Don’t miss a pit stop here as there is often live music. Puckett Cabin is another site of a primitive cabin, the home of “Aunt” Orlena Puckett, an area midwife who delivered dozens of healthy babies, and just on past her homesite is Groundhog Mountain, an old wooden fire watch tower and an example of all three types of fences used on the Parkway in its construction.
Suddenly, at MP 176.1, you’ll come around a curve to see a picturesque classic waterwheel driven mill, immediately taking you back to a simpler time.
The mill was built by Ed & Lizzie Mabry in the very early 1900’s in another area. The NPS moved it to its current location in the 1950’s when the Parkway was being constructed in that region of Virginia. The mill is currently on its third water wheel. During that time, the millstones commonly used during that time were made of granite from the Mt. Airy area, but Ed Mabry was bound and determined to get a new kind of millstone, made of a quartz composite, from the Blacksburg area, because the composite held up better and could create a finer meal. Also, fun fact: the term “showing your mettle” originated back in the day of gristmills, when men called Millwrights would travel from mill to mill. They were easily identified because backs of their hands were always black and blue, and they were bruised so badly because to do their job, the wrights would take a small iron hammer and chip the grooves in the stone a little deeper after they’d worn down, and the shards of rock and quartz would fly into their hands, developing terrible bruises.
Besides the actual mill itself, there are displays showcasing the way of life during this time. A sign outlines how to make lye soap, there are a few old carts, the Mabry’s home reconstructed on the new site, and there is a blacksmith shop. When we visited last month, Ranger Miller was very friendly and kind enough to answer all of our many questions. The Mill wasn’t very crowded, so we were able to get pictures to our heart’s content.
The Mill is also beautiful during spring. I had the good fortune to visit during late May last year, and the rhododendrons were in perfect full bloom.
The area around the Mill is beautiful as well. In the later evening, the light was bathing the site in beautiful golden light.
Besides all that there is to see at the Mill, there is a delicious restaurant open seasonally. The restaurant is in operation from May to October, and the food is delicious. Buses are welcome, but it’s small so I suspect that most times, there is a wait. There are only a few tables, and it’s nothing fancy, and the waitresses are sweet Southern ladies whose mission it is to make sure you have plenty to eat. My companion had a bacon cheeseburger with ranch for dipping, and the burger was very juicy and tasty. I ordered sweet potato pancakes with bacon & eggs, and they were delicious. We browsed the gift shop and then continued to enjoy the beauty of this classic mill.
It is easy to see why this is touted as the Most Photographed Place on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway!
Where Is It: Milepost 176.1 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, near Meadows of Dan, VA. It’s about 120 miles north of Boone via the Parkway. The restaurant is open May-Oct but you can walk around the grounds year-round.
Suitable For: All ages. Children can enjoy learning about the frontier lifestyle, and adults will appreciate it as well. Handicapped guests can easily navigate the grounds as the path to the mill and through the displays is paved. The restaurant is very affordable- our bill with tip was $18. Remember that the Parkway is not plowed in snow, so if there is inclement weather and you want a photo of a snowy Mill, you will have to travel at your own risk.
All text and photos copyright 2012 Cassandra Hartley, Blue Ridge NC Guide. No portion of this article is to be copied, saved, or otherwise distributed without express written consent. Sharing is encouraged using the designated social media sharing buttons at the bottom of this article. Photos for this post provided by our sister site Photos by Cassandra Lea. Author received no compensation, monetary or otherwise, in exchange for this article.