Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2018 - 47
THIRD IN A SERIES OF REVISITS AND LOOKBACKS
OF STORIES OVER OUR FIRST 30 YEARS.
by Joe Tennis
Back in 1997, now-contributing editor Joe Tennis took
on his first assignment for Blue Ridge Country. He's
just back with a fresh look at this corner of southwest
Virginia, rediscovering Claytor Lake and Wytheville,
and finding new things like Draper Mercantile and the
recreation area of Foster Falls along the New River Trail.
STORY AND PHOTOS BY JOE TENNIS
Above: The Draper Mountain Overlook in October offers a magnificent view in Pulaski County,
Virginia, along U. S. 11.
Far left :The stone Pulaski County Courthouse
survived a fire in 1989.
Left: The Foster Falls Depot has been restored
for visitors at the New River Trail State Park.
Right: Scenic U.S. 11 connects the communities
of Pulaski and Wythe counties.
On a spring-like Saturday, I drove out to Claytor Lake, near Pulaski, Virginia, once again discovering the cozy qualities of the
Homestead Inn. I anxiously took a stroll down the stone steps
etched into the lush landscape. Then I reached the beach and
breathed in the mountain air of southwest Virginia.
This was like coming home, back where it all began: the
site of my first assignment for Blue Ridge Country, a story
called "Sweet Virginia Breezes." Following the type-written
instructions of editor Kurt Rheinheimer, I had set off with
my fiancée (now wife) to profile Virginia's Pulaski and Wythe
counties for the May/June issue of 1997.
Back on the beat, more than two decades later, I once
again roamed from Peak Creek to Foster Falls, finding a surprising mix of change and familiarity.
Doug Eads, for one, no longer operated the Homestead.
Now, this bed-and-breakfast belonged to Diane Whitehead
and her husband, Tom.
"One of the first things I did, when I bought the house,
was to cut the trees down on the bank," Diane Whitehead
says. "You could see there was water there, but the water
wasn't the feature. We have opened up the whole house to
make the view of the lake the feature."
Spanning nearly 5,000 acres, Claytor Lake is the shiny
jewel in Pulaski County's crown-an oasis boasting a state
park plus plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. "It does
have boat traffic, but it's not insane," says Whitehead, 70. "It
is a lovely lake for fishing."
Guests come to the handsome, brick Homestead Inn to
watch birds, read books, ride the New River Trail and go
shopping at the nearby Draper Mercantile, Whitehead says.
"And it's a wonderful thing to offer the Mercantile to people and be able to tell them about it."
Back in 1997, the Draper Mercantile was not here. Its rambling, white building was standing; it had once housed an
antiques store. But that was far from what you see today-
a shopping and dining destination, which opened in 2011,
just off I-81's Exit 92. Or, just off the New River Trail.
May/June 2018 47