Tuesday, November 1, 2011
The Sarver Cabin
It's not everyday that you are struck with wonder about how the impossible actually happened. And yet in my report on the Sarver Cabin... That's exactly what happened.
The Back Story
My good friend and long-time running buddy Mark Young had been telling me for years about an abandoned cabin he stayed near while doing a week-long hike on the Appalachian Trail. It was eerie, he said. Possibly haunted. More intriguing was how anyone could have lived in such a remote location, in inhospitable conditions in the 1800's.
That story stuck with me. I had wanted to do a segment on it, but even today the only way to get there is on foot, and it's a long, difficult hike. Not the kind where we can carry all the camera gear that's typically required. (I guess we aren't as tough as the Sarvers were.)
Technology Helps Out
A few months ago I purchased a Canon EOS 7D SLR camera. It's primarily a still camera used to take photographs. But after reading that some ad agencies were using its video function to shoot full-fledged commercials, and that the video quality was broadcast quality, I saw my chance to report on the cabin.
So Mark and I found a way to access the trail from the Craig County side and up we went. The hike is about 6-8 miles round trip, and the first hour is all uphill.
The turn for the Cabin is well marked as it is near an Appalachian Trail shelter built by the Roanoke Valley club within the past 10 years.
Even though we were expecting it, I had one of those moments of fulfilled anticipation as we turned the last corner and there were the remains Mark had remembered from 10 years ago.
Just as he had, I wondered how anybody could do it. Live up there on that mountain, in the cold winter months, with primitive heating and what I figured was poor land that must have been impossible to till. Why, I thought, would anyone do this?
I started calling historians. Nobody knew anything. I was about to give up and file a report on the "Mystery of Sarver Hollow."
Then I called the Craig County Library, who told me to contact the historical society, which as it turned out, knew where I could actually talk to the great great grandsons of Henry Sarver, the man who built the cabin.
Russell and Sidney Sarver had his Civil war records. They had the death certificate of cabin co-builder and brother-in-law, James Elmore, who died in Pickett's charge at Gettysburg. There were pictures of ancestors, even Sarah Sarver, Henry's wife. They are both buried on the property. There was all kinds of information -- information that answered those questions of how and why.
They were homesteaders. Improve the land for a decade and it's yours. There are springs nearby -- one of the few sources of water on the mountain.
And they cleared the land and farmed it. In 1870 it wasn't the woodsy mountaintop we see now. The brothers described it as "hilly farmland."
The cabin is pretty much gone. Trees have fallen on it, and the chimneys are about all that's recognizable. An out building is still building-shaped, but the roof has caved in. The place has suffered much just in the ten years since Mark had stayed there.
Russell and Sidney say they've been back a few times, but at 61 & 59 respectively, they say the hike is pretty hard on them.
I asked Russell if he would like to see it built back.
"If you go up there, you can almost feel the presence of ‘em," he said. "Especially those of us who are old enough to remember seeing my grandparents there. It’s actually something I think about a lot ... Yes sir I’d love to. But I don’t guess we ever will."
At least now we know a little more. We've reconstructed the story, but there's plenty of room left for wonder.
I would like to thank and commend the folks at the Craig County Historical Society, and especially Jane Johnson and Jay Polen, for their help in researching this story. These folks don't want history to slip away from us, so they research and publish books every year. Because of Jane Johnson, I went from not being able to know anything about this cabin -- to the detailed descriptions of the lives of generations of Sarvers. Jay Polen actually took the time to come to the Sinking Creek store and interview with us. Again -- Thanks.
If you go
Follow Route 42 from the town of Newport. You'll see where the Appalachian Trail crosses the highway a few miles outside town near the community of Huffman. Hike from there. You can get about 3/4 of a mile closer by taking your next right and bearing right at the fork in the road. There is a small parking place next to the trail. Head uphill. Have fun.