The Roanoker September/October 2017 - 19
The turnpike was to be no less
than 15 and no more than 30 feet
wide with grades not to exceed
three and one-half degrees. By
Top: The rock building that was
1849, sufficient capital had been
formerly the Poage store and
raised for work to commence. The
service station, 1989. Today, the
turnpike served the section for a
building is vacant.
Above: Rierson's Grocery on U.S.
Following the Civil War, the
221 in 1973. Today, the grocery is
Creek area became highly
developed with orchards. The orAbove right: Back Creek
chardists were so successful that
Elementary School on 221 in 1954.
their apples were sent to New
School was re-modeled in 1989
York and Europe. To access these
with a new front façade.
markets by rail, orchardists needed
to get their produce to Roanoke, a two-day trip. Even when a rail depot at
Starkey was built in the 1890s, poor roads hampered travel. Agricultural
commerce was so successful that an electric railway through the region
was proposed in 1904 with the chartering of the North Carolina and
Virginia Electric Railway Company. The company envisioned a line from
Roanoke to Floyd Courthouse. From there, the line would continue south
into North Carolina. Though unrealized, investors in Roanoke and Floyd
capitalized the project, underscoring the need for better transportation
in the section. By the 1910s, the old Bent Mountain Turnpike became a
state highway (Route 205) in an effort to address concerns. The highway,
however, was prone to flooding from Back Creek and meandered inefficiently along former wagon paths.
Finally, in 1932 the state highway department created what is today's
U.S. 221, using convict labor. The portion of 221 in southwest Roanoke
County between Cave Spring and the foot of Bent Mountain was overseen
by a Mr. Higginbotham, who also supervised a temporary convict camp
near present-day Apple Grove Lane. Previous generations of Back Creek
residents recalled Saturday afternoon baseball games at the convict camp
as well as the rock-crushing equipment brought in to produce gravel.
The construction of Route 221 enabled the rise of small businesses.
Marvin "Fats" Reed operated a gas station and convenience store at the
intersection with Martins Creek Road from the 1940s through the 1970s.
Facing page: The Poage family
farm and farmhouse along U.S.
221 in 1939; the farm and house
Just south of Reed's store was another store and gas station run by the
Finnell family, who also opened a swimming pool behind the store in the
late 1940s. Maynard Rierson had a store and gas station along the highway
just north of Back Creek School for forty years (today's Country Way),
and the Poage family built the Poages Mill Service Station using rocks
from Back Creek in the 1930s across from the Poage farm that remained
in their family for decades. These stores, along with schools and churches,
were landmarks of rural life in the mid-20th Century.
U.S. 221/Bent Mountain Road has been the main artery through southwest Roanoke County for nearly a century. Cave Spring Middle School
(formerly Cave Spring High School), Hidden Valley High School, and
Back Creek Elementary School are served by the highway as well as
some of the county's largest subdivisions. Over the past half-century a
highway that was created to serve a mostly agricultural region now has
high-volume traffic. While the road has remained largely unchanged
from its 1932 configuration, the past two decades have prompted
The 1970s and '80s were decades of substantial residential development,
as family farms and large orchard tracts were converted into subdivisions
such as Canterbury Park, Falcon Ridge, Forest Edge, Carriage Hills and
Bridlewood, to name a few. With the opening of Va. 419 in 1970, the
Cave Spring section of U.S. 221 became highly commercialized necessitating the later widening of the highway to four lanes from 419 to its
intersection with Crystal Creek Drive. This four-lane configuration was
extended in 2013 to the Cotton Hill Road intersection, a $20 million
project that included two bridges and the razing of the 150-year-old
Harris home place.
What the future holds for Route 221/Bent Mountain Road is uncertain. Several years ago, Roanoke County purchased the Poage farm. At
the time, county officials indicated the site was needed for a new school.
There is also a list of anticipated improvements to the highway in the
Virginia Department of Transportation's capital plan, but these may take
years to accomplish due to funding constraints. I
SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017 | 19