Floyd County: Times Past

I am writing for my book (A Floyd County Almanac) about the geography and early settlement of this part of Floyd County. I’m finding it hard not to get lost following the trail of fragmentary histories that give little mention of the county in the story of western migration  that chiefly followed today’s interstate 81 or Highway 11. The reason is that this high plateau to the South of the great Valley was difficult to reach by foot or on horseback, much less in a horse-drawn wagon.

I have been looking for but about given up on finding the history of the development of the road extending from Shawsville into Floyd County. My guess is that travel and settlement were possible but to the county line, beyond which point the gorge created by Goose Creek would have prohibited all the most determined traveler. It is in this northeast tip of the county that we live.

If anybody has access to records that might give some details or dates on the construction of Allegheny Springs Road beyond the county line into Floyd County, please get in touch.

Meanwhile here is a 1985 travel log I found in the Mountain Laurel Journal that carries visitors into Floyd County and down Goosecreek, past the old Willis store. The wonderful painting of the store that you see here is by our neighbor, who lives just a few hundred yards beyond where the road disappears in the image. I will ask his forgiveness for posting this image until I can get his retroactive permission.

34.3 (0.2) On our left at this point is Rogers Store [Terry’s fork store ff] . We will turn left, just past the store, onto state road 660. For the next several miles, we will follow 660, which is extremely narrow and twisting. We debated following this course (even though we drive it and think nothing of it) with our BACKROADS tour, because of this, but finally decided on its use, but only after warning our readers of its ruggedness. For those brave souls who decide to follow this route, the reward will be a look into the mountain’s past that is rapidly disappearing. Not too many years ago all mountain roads were like this or worse, and the sights along the way were much like they are here today. Those less hardy or adventuresome can continue on state road 610 for approximately 2.9 miles and intercept our tour at mile 40.6. The Texaco station will be on our left coming from this direction and a right turn onto state road 654 will put you back on track with the tour.

37.2 (2.9) State road 659 turns left here, but we continue straight ahead on state road 660. The picturesque old farm house on our left belongs to Roscoe Willis.

37.3 (0.1) The small building on our right here is Roscoe Willis’s Store. Mr. Willis has been operating the store since 1923 and he also operated the old Vest Mill which once stood nearby. He is 82 years old and, by all means, stop and say hello. There aren’t many stores like Roscoe Willis’s left anymore and I seriously doubt that there’s ever been anyone else quite like Mr. Willis. He is a genuine old mountain gentleman who it will be your pleasure to meet. The countertops are worn smooth by time and the atmosphere is still circa 1920.

37.4 (0.1) Here we cross a low water bridge over Goose Creek.

37.6 (0.2) The little white church on our right here was once Saint Pauls Methodist church (some old maps have it labeled as Zion Church-ff). It is no longer in use, but Mr. Willis recalls seeing it full to overflowing when he was a boy. [Image below is Zion Church, circa 2003, from the creek. The road runs between the creek and the church.]

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I remember Mr. Willis! Have I picture of my 1 yr old brother sitting on the wooded counter with him. We lived in the old white washed house down the dirt road . Roscoes dogs name was Jimmy Carter.

  2. Roscoe was my Great-Grandfather. Amazing man. His dog was indeed named Jimmy Carter, after he passed we moved into the farmhouse when I was young and Jimmy became our dog.