The Roanoker - March/April 2020 - 15

NELSON HARRIS is a former mayor of Roanoke and author of a dozen books on
the region's history. He is the minister at Heights Community Church in Roanoke
and a past president of the Historical Society of Western Virginia.

COURTESY OF THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF WESTERN VIRGINIA

green beans. Riley's cannery annually produced 3,000
to 5,000 cases of tomatoes and a couple thousand cases
of green beans. One year the operation canned apples.
Riley hired annually about a dozen teenagers from the
cove who peeled tomatoes and stringed the beans often
under the apple trees near his cannery.
Cove Alum Baptist Church, established in the
1890s, was the center of the community's religious
life. Served by Rev. George Braxton Taylor of Hollins
College and Enon Baptist Church for over 30 years,
the church held a mid-afternoon worship service
the first Sunday of every month and twice a month
during the summer. Baptisms were in Carvins Creek,
and funds to support the church often came from ice
cream suppers and bake sales.
The two-room schoolhouse, sided in white clapboard, accommodated students through the seventh
grade. Like the Baptist church, the schoolhouse
occupied a central place in the life of the cove.
The students would cut a cedar each Christmas,
decorate it, and then perform the school's annual
Christmas play from a make-shift stage. After singing
carols, the students and teachers would exchange gifts,
with each student getting candy and an orange. On
the school grounds were the cove's annual Easter egg
hunt and a costume party for Halloween. The teachers
boarded with local families.
TheRoanoker.com

Among the homes in the cove was
"Kerncliffe," the summer residence of
United States Senator John Kern of
Indiana. Kern's home was his and his
family's retreat from Washington, and
many notable guests visited, including
Vice-president Thomas Marshall and
his wife. Marshall served with President
Woodrow Wilson and on his visit to Kern
in 1914, Kern taught the men's Bible class
at Cove Alum Church.
So enamored was Kern with the beauty
of Carvins Cove that upon his death he was
interred on Kerncliffe's grounds. In 1929,
his body was removed to his home state of
Indiana, and Kerncliffe was later razed for
the reservoir.
Beginning in the late 1920s and through
the early 1940s, the city gradually acquired
the farms, homes, school and church in
preparation for transforming the cove into
a basin for the reservoir. By the time of the
auction in 1944, most of the families that
had lived in the cove for generations had
moved. The various buildings dotting the
cove had been stripped and the materials
used for residences and garages in the city.
The late Mary Louise Riley Harmon,
who had grown up in the cove, recalled in 1986 her
family's moving day.
"December 1942 meant leaving Carvins Cove,
the valley where I was born and spent my childhood
years. Leaving the mountains that surround our valley,
leaving my church...leaving the creek I was baptized
in. I have memories of playing in the creek, wading,
seeing those little sun perch and oftentimes just sitting
and watching the little tadpoles. This meant leaving the
school I attended, leaving the place where I had both
sad and happy memories. But one thing in leaving this
valley - I can still have those memories that I cherish."
Harmon moved with her mother and sister to a
house on Williamson Road.
During the latter part of World War II, German
prisoners of war cleared the cove of trees and whatever
else remained. In the summer of 1945 the gate for the
reservoir dam was closed and 323 days later on May 17,
1946, water went over the dam's spillway. Submerged
forever was the small community of Carvins Cove.
Today, the reservoir at Carvins Cove (the city
took out the apostrophe in 1947) provides 10 million
gallons of water per day to the region and is located in
a 12,600-acre natural preserve with an assortment of
outdoor recreation amenities. Those who kayak, canoe
or look across the lake today probably have no idea of
what once lied beneath. I -NELSON HARRIS

FACING PAGE: Kerncliff was
the summer home of U.S.
Senator John Kern of Indiana.
TOP: Cove Alum Baptist
Church existed for 50 years
before being razed.
BOTTOM: Carvins Cove
School educated children
through the seventh grade.

MARCH/APRIL 2020 15


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The Roanoker - March/April 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Roanoker - March/April 2020

The Roanoker - March/April 2020 - Intro
The Roanoker - March/April 2020 - Cover1
The Roanoker - March/April 2020 - Cover2
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The Roanoker - March/April 2020 - Cover3
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