July 2007 – Virginia’s Explore Park was a stop from Milepost 115 of our 469 mile northbound trek up the Blue Ridge Parkway. Mom and I both really enjoyed the wide range of past cultural experiences you can live out here. I always love these kind of historic recreation parks. Being able to actually be immersed in the culture of the day with the help of interpreters in period costumes brings it to life in a way that boring history books in school never could.
August 2017: When I was updating this page, I saw that it had some funding issues not long after our 2007 visit and it was closed until 2013, when it begun to be run by Roanoke County. It’s open now, but the lady I spoke to said the fort had suffered some damage at some point, so I hope they’ll get it all fixed because this was a great part of the tour. I get the impression it’s not as much of an interpretive center as it used to be, so it will be interesting to see how much it’s changed since our first visit, since I still want to return.
Our first stop was the 17th Century Totero Village. These people and their woodland settlement were here in 1671 when English explorers arrived. It was very interesting to see and hear how they lived and thrived long before setting sight on white settlers, thanks to interpreter Barbara Bowser.
In the 17th century, the Totero Indians lived in villages similar to this recreation when English explorers arrived in 1671.
My mom was woo-woo, too: After I downloaded these pictures, I saw the orb above and to the right of my mom’s shoulder. Check out the look of bliss on her face. The next shot taken the next second had a mist before her that I think I would have noticed when I took the picture, but I didn’t. None of the other pictures I had show anything else weird. When I showed it to mom, she said she had been “talking with the spirits.” Woo-woo!
Mom enjoyed her chat with Kimberly Burnette-Dean at the Hofauger Farmstead, an original and authentic structure built in 1837.
We first met her when we entered and saw her knitting beside the fireplace. I really think interpreters like this in period dress, knowledgeable of what life really was like back then adds so much to the overall experience of a historical place like this.
The period furnishings were really well done, too.
She later played the dulcimer for us and it was wonderful! (30 sec. video)
The one room schoolhouse, Kemp’s Ford School, showed school life in the 19th century when children attended school only when they were not needed on the family farm. Here Miss Rachel shows a young boy how teachers got your attention back then, either with a switch or a paddle. My, how times have changed! Besides arithmetic lessons, a timeless July 1850 blackboard message reminded, “You are now becoming what you are going to be.”
There are other outbuildings original to the house as well as a barn and an heirloom garden where veggies and herbs common to the period are grown.
Moving forward to the 18th century, we were greeted by interpreter Eddie Goode at a fort fashioned after one that Ephraim Vause built during that period. Following an Indian attack in 1755, Vause built a fort around his house and cabins, but in 1756 was finally run off by a combined force of Canadians and Indians.
Eddie started as a volunteer in 1994 and we were so impressed that he basically built this entire complex himself with only the help of a couple of volunteer buddies. He began harvesting timber in the winter of 2002 and it went under roof in May 2004. He thoroughly researched Mr. Vause and based the fort on extensive research of the family and their lives in the 1750s.
He said he was inspired by his own interest in local history and wanted to clear up some common misconceptions. Since Virginia was a British colony for 169 years before independence in 1776, he said, “We don’t give enough credit to the settlers; we thought they were far cruder than they were….they weren’t out here rubbing sticks together.”
We also learned here about why documents in the 18th century used what looked like an uncrossed “f” instead of an “s” in some instances and what the rules were for that use – sure looks weird to us now, and I’d always wondered about that.
He even treated us to a flute concert! His enthusiasm and knowledge made this stop particularly interesting.
At the Batteuman’s Shanty, we heard from Dan Crawford about how these flat-bottomed cargo boats traversed the rivers bringing necessities of the day to the residents. Differing blows of the horn signaled what they were delivering so they could be met at the docks.
The paths were quite beautiful and well laid out, but in places a bit steep. What made it possible for mom to see the entire place was a service they offered to the guests then. Once we were through exploring an exhibit, the interpreter would call for a golf cart to transport us to the next one. We both thought this was an exceptional service to their guests. She remarked that far too few places take “us old folks” into consideration and she was very impressed – not only with the park but with the friendly and dedicated people who made it possible for her to see it all. This is our “chauffeur” Ruth Ann Mclaughlin. Thanks for the rides, Ruth Ann!
I’m willing to bet that’s something they can’t fund anymore, either. In any case, I wanted to document our trip as it was and that was one of the coolest things they had available then.
There is ample RV parking and the visitor center itself is large and comfortable with a sitting area where you can relax before, during and after your adventures in the park.
More Info on Virginia’s Explore Park
Employees Say Goodbye to Explore Park (Roanoke Times – 12/2/07) – “So you can understand why the folks at Explore Park are a little sad as they pack up pretty much everything that isn’t nailed down and get ready to abandon — for at least a little while, anyway — a community that’s only 13 years old, but exudes four centuries’ worth of history.”
I’m sure this must have been such a sad time because I could tell these folks were really dedicated to what they were doing.
It’s all about sharing what we know with other RVers, so if you have anything to add about your stay on the Parkway, especially if you have updated info on what this park is like now, I’d love to hear from you in Comments below!