Damascus Stories


God looked down upon the mountains and placed His hand there to rest. This small gesture created one of the loveliest valleys in the world--a valley so secluded that it can only be reached by crossing a mountain. This valley is Konnarock, Virginia.

Mr. Luther Hassinger played an important role in the early development of this little community. Mr. Hassinger was born February 23, 1875, at Penn's Creek, Pennsylvania. As soon as he was old enough to work, he became an employee of the Pittsburg Lumber Company. Most of his early years were spent in harvesting and selling lumber. News of the big lumber industry in Tennessee and Virginia reached him, and in 1906 he brought his wife and four sons to Konnarock, Virginia. He built a band mill near White Top Mountain.

This mill had a daily capacity of seventy-five thousand board feet of lumber. Three hundred people were employed. The Pittsburg Lumber Company bought land along Strait Branch and extended the Virginia-Carolina Railway into Konnarock.

With the coming of the people to work in the mill and the train to haul the lumber, Konnarock became a thriving community. A large commissary was built to supply most of the peoples needs. Mr. and Mrs. Maguson built and operated a boarding house. A school serving grades one through eleven was built. Gladys Harriger was agent at the depot. The present site of Dr. Janice Gabel's office was the location of the post office. T. L. Waters, Sr. was the postmaster. The blacksmith shop was operated by George Wyatt. Harvey Sheets was night watchman of the community.

The company built a large boarding house at the site known as "Big Hill". Carrie Blevins and her daughter, Lester, operated this boarding houee. In later years, Lester married Charles Blackburn. She now lives in Green Cove and is a member of our Senior Citizens. There were quite a few company houses built at Big Hill. The company also supplied doctors for its employees and provided housing for their families. Those I remember were: Drs. Barrow, Stonesipher, Schuler, and Boatwright.

Lumber operations continued in Konnarock for twenty-two years. During this time, 375,000,000 board feet of lumber, cut from white pine, hemlock, chestnut, yellow poplar, spruce, and oak trees, were sold through the Lumber Company of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. The mill closed the day before Christmas in 1928.

In 1929, Mr. Hassinger bought the Bristol Builders Supply Company, a retail outlet for building material. He and his family moved to Bristol.

With the closing of the band mill, people began to move away. Quite a few of them became coal miners in West Virginia. Those of us who owned our land stayed here to farm. Our principal crops were corn, oats, wheat, rye, and sugar cane. Molasses-making was a festive time for us. All the families joined together to harvest the cane. We stripped the cane, crushed the stalks in a mill which was powered by a horse walking round and round in a circle, and cooked the juice in a large vat. It was very tricky to know just how long to let the molasses cook. Someone kept the fire going and stirred the mixture until late into the night. Finally we were rewarded for our labor with many jars of delicious molasses which we would enjoy all winter long.

Our needs were few. We were happy and did not need all the modern things that seem so essential to living today. We are still interested in the early ways of living and feel that there is a lot to be learned from those people who first lived in our valley.

The Virginia-Carolina Railway, which had been extended into West Jefferson, North Carolina, was about our only communication link with the outside world. After all the virgin timber had been cut and the band mill had closed down, the train continued to travel to Konnarock. During the 1930's and 1940's, it was known as the "familiar mixed train". There were two passenger cars, a mail car, and freight cars carrying beans, tobacco, cattle, and furniture over some of the most picturesque country in the world.

When the train stopped coming into Konnarock, T. L. Waters traveled to Creek Junction and picked up the mail for our community.

Mr. Waters bought the old depot and converted it into a grocery store, a post office, and living quarters for his family. He and Mrs. Waters operated the store and post office. They had five children. The oldest son, Thomas Lee, Jr., operated the L & S Supermarket in Damascus, Virginia. Another son, Garland, retired from the police force in Washington, D. C., and returned to Konnarock to operate a grocery store known as the "Mountain Store". Mr. and Mrs. Waters bought the Luther Hassinger home. Mr. Waters passed away in 1968, but Mrs. Waters continued to live there.

During the depression years, the men of our community were provided work through a government program called the W. P. A. They were hired to pull gooseberries. There was also a program for the young people called the N. Y. A. The Green Cove Health Center was the training site for the girls. They were taught sewing, cooking, and general homemaking--much the same as the home economic classes taught in our high schools today. The boys cut bushes along the roads and cleared trails through the mountains.

Dr. Hensley was our only doctor at this time. His home and office was at White Top Gap. When there was sickness, someone had to ride horseback to fetch the doctor. He followed them on horseback to where he was needed. But luck was with us, and in 1939, Dr. and Mrs. Heinz C. Meyers and their two children came to Konnarock; they were sent to our community by the Board of American Missions of the United Lutheran Church. The Meyers were refugees from Germany.

Through the efforts of Dr. and Mrs. Meyers, the Women's Missionary Society of the United Lutheran Church was organized. This organization was instrumental in building the Konnarock Training School for Girls. This school's program was equivalent to the curriculum of our modern-day elementary and secondary schools. Upon graduation, the students were ready for college or were well trained to be good homemakers. Because the girls' school had become such a success, a similar school for boys was established. This school was operated in one of the large homes vacated by one of the early lumber employees. Along with their formal education, the boys were taught farming and given manual training. The Mission schools closed during the 1950's.

Dr. and Mrs. Meyers and their family lived on the second floor of the original post office building until their new home was built. Dr. Meyers continued his practice until he retired in 1975. In his later years, he saw only his oldest patients.

A cannery was built, and its operation has been a great help to the people of the community.

Konnarock is the home of a very beautiful and unique Lutheran Chapel. It is said that a stone from every part of the world was used in building this church. The pastor's home is also built of stone.

Very early in 1974, the Reverend John W. Gable brought his wife and son to Konnarock. He is the pastor of the Lutheran Church. His wife, Janice, is a very dedicated doctor. She has a modern and well-equipped clinic on the site of the old post office. Since coming to Konnarock, she has given birth to another son. The Reverend and Doctor Gable are interested in the community and are very active in its affairs.

Just recently we have acquired a dentist. He is Doctor Dave Lebbenkamp. His office is in the second story of the clinic building.

Quite a few people are moving back to our community. In the past four years, twenty-two families have either built a permanent home or moved into a mobile home. Government ownership of much of the land makes the buying of land difficult for people wanting to settle here.

Mount Rogers Governmental Cooperative, a recently formed organization, is putting Konnarock back in the eyes of the nation. It has built recreational areas on two entrances to our community--Bear Tree Gap campsite to the north and Grindstone Recreational Park to the south. Konnarock is a good place to retire, and we are all combining our efforts to make it even better.

After all, if God is for us, who can be against us.

Thelma T. Shumate