Backroads: The Paving of Campbell’s Mountain Road

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Campbell’s Mountain Road near the top

This past May, paving began on one of the last gravel roads in the Love area. There is still a section at the top before the project is complete, but it saddens me to see “progress” coming to another old mountain roadway.   

Thought to be constructed in the 1930s by men from the Civilian Conservation Corps camp in upper Sherando, Campbell’s Mountain Road, or Route 814, is steep, but the gradient was well-planned with a winding pattern down the mountain.

Campbell’s Mountain Road, about a car-and-a-half wide with no guard rails, is a cut-through from milepost 16 on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Love Gap to Route 56 in Tyro. Many people wouldn’t think of driving it. 

For four years my husband Billy was the pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Tyro, which included at least three round trips a week on the bumpy, dusty road full of teeth chattering “washboards.” I travel it regularly, visiting the mountain people of Nelson. I love the breathtaking views but always keep a watchful eye on the blind curves for others driving too fast. It’s not bad if you are on the “mountain side” of the road, but there’s not much wiggle room on the lower side!

George “BB” Hockaday, resident of lower Campbell’s Mt.

My mother, visiting from Florida, always made me smile with her comment “Don’t you know anyone that lives on a flat, hard-surfaced road?” 

The road cuts a half-hour off driving time from Love to Lynchburg and GPS unknowingly sends many 18-wheelers down the “shortcut.” Very soon the truckers realize this is a big mistake, but with nowhere to turn they continue to creep along not knowing that the upcoming curves are too tight to accommodate the length of the trailer.  The last semi, carrying a full load of paint products, actually tumbled down the mountain. A hazmat team cleaned up the mess and several large wreckers were called to winch out the remains of the truck and trailer. If by some miracle they do make it to the switchback (a hairpin curve where you meet yourself coming and going), that’s as far as they get.

The five-mile stretch from Love to Tyro is occupied by only 13 permanent residents; three located at the top and 10 clustered at the bottom. 

Near the top of the mountain a huge rock outcropping known as Balcony Rocks (pronounced Bal-Coney by the locals) overlooks the Tyro-Massies Mill area. It was the site of many end-of-the-year picnics from the one-room schoolhouses located near Love in the late 1800 to early 1900s. Another landmark is the “Gum Tree,” where bear hunters congregate during hunting season. The once lush old tree is nearly gone now, its trunk hollow with just a puff of leaves at the top. But I’m sure that long after it has fallen, the site will continue to be called the Gum Tree.  

The hairpin switchback

Many people who lived along the North Fork of the Tye River and later migrated to the Stuarts Draft area still want to be buried in the White Rock Cemetery near the vicinity where they were born. A funeral procession choosing to go that way has to snake its way down Campbell’s Mountain with men standing at the top and bottom with walkie-talkies, halting traffic both ways until everyone reaches the bottom.  

There are several mountain springs that tumble down the rocks, making their way to Campbell’s Creek and ultimately to the Tye River at the junction of Routes 814 and 56. After a good rain, the cascade is abundant and I’ve stopped plenty of times for a dipper of the cold, clear water.

I’m sure some of the people living along the old road will appreciate the new tar and gravel surface which will alleviate dust, but come winter when a layer of ice coats the road, traction for the tires will be virtually non-existent. We have yet to see how that works out!

And so, yet another of the less-traveled mountain roads goes the way of Reed’s Gap and Cub Creek, bringing less dust… but more traffic. 

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