During the year 2001, were making our way around Virginia, each
issue visiting a small town and meeting some of the folks who make up the heart of
electric co-op country. On this years ninth stop, well be...
Down Home in Catawba by Anita Firebaugh
Nearly 100 years ago, the restorative wonders of Catawba were apparent
to state officials seeking a healing place for folks with
“consumption.” They found Roanoke Red Sulphur Springs tucked between
the mountain ranges. The resort touted mineral waters and offered relief
of hay fever, dyspepsia, and female troubles. Developed in 1857, the spa
was for people in need of fresh air and sunshine, then the only cure for
tuberculosis. The Catawba Sanitorium took in its first TB patients in
1909. The facility converted to a state mental hospital in 1972.
Healing Powers Abide
Catawba still offers the healing powers of serenity to those who stop
to enjoy breathtaking views of rolling green hills and tree-covered
mountains. The farms of yesteryear remain, slightly smaller and more
modern, but keeping to the routine of cattle and crops.
With the Appalachian Trail topping the mountains and the Transamerica
Bicycle Route traversing Rts. 785 and 779, the area is a haven for nature
lovers. Catawba is seven miles from Interstate 81, but the mountains hide
June Keffer Sarver, who for 54 years owned the former Catawba
Mercantile, remembers that years ago her husband, Minor Keffer, spied a
highway worker walking Rt. 311. “It got our curiosity up, he looked so
perplexed,” Sarver says. “Finally Minor went down and got him. The man
looked up and down Rt. 311 and scratched his head. ‘They say it’s here
but I can’t find it!’ he said. He was looking for Catawba!”
After that, a sign on Rt. 311 indicated the community’s location.
Marie Saul, who has owned the Catawba Valley General Store for seven
years, takes pride in her service to both her neighbors and the nature
lovers who pass through.
When Minor Keffer passed away, June Keffer Sarver sold out to Marie
Saul, who renamed the grocery the Catawba Valley General Store. Saul meets
more than 400 hikers each year. Folks from as far away as Germany and
Australia have bought supplies from her.
The local folks are “sort of like family,” Saul says as she makes a
sandwich for a customer. “When people come in, they need to know who can
do this or that, and have you heard about so-and-so. This is sort of a
The store once housed the post office, and there’s an area where the
dry cleaning used to hang. The grocery is cooled with a ceiling fan, and
the wooden floors and clapboard decor speak of times forgotten.
“Everybody wants to live in Catawba,” Saul says. “It’s a
beautiful area. At least two times a week people come in asking about
buying, renting, living here. You’re close in, about 15 minutes from
Salem, but it’s a different world when you cross that mountain. You’re
leaving all that asphalt and heat behind.”
The Homeplace Restaurant
North of the Catawba Valley General Store is The Homeplace. The
family-style restaurant with the best food on the Appalachian Trail is
open Thursday-Sunday. The Homeplace has a special down-home charm that
makes going to Catawba a savory all-afternoon outing. The scrumptious food
— fried chicken, country ham, home-cooked vegetables and desserts — is
as healing to the palette as the views are to the eyes.
Harold Wingate established The Homeplace in 1982. The good food and
Wingate’s friendliness made the restaurant a local favorite. Several
expansions later, the old farmhouse has space for 200 guests in the dining
room where Wingate feeds about 2,500 people weekly.
The Homeplace Restaurant, established in 1982 by Harold Wingate, put
Catawba on the map.
The Homeplace is part of the history of Catawba and now a big part of
its present. When the Catawba Sanitorium opened, the Morgan family who
owned the house “served meals and rented rooms to local school teachers and patients’ families,” Wingate says. The house, known as “The
Summit,” had nine bedrooms prior to the business renovation. Wingate
declined to use the former name for the house, calling it “too
pretentious for me.”
The restaurant stays busy, and long waits are common. “We think this
place really put Catawba on the map,” Wingate says proudly.
Two miles from The Homeplace, up Rt. 785, CrossTrails Bed and Breakfast
lies adjacent to the Appalachian Trail and on the bike route. Innkeepers
Bill and Katherine Cochran give weary guests respite and offer enchanting
conversation about Catawba. Cochran, a former outdoors writer for The
Roanoke Times, says,“The area is so great it should be shared.”
The Cochrans opened their business six years ago. “The area draws
geographically from all compass points,” Cochran says. “The average
resident probably doesn’t realize we have all these visitors.” Hikers
from the northern United States especially are crazy about the Blue Ridge
Mountains, he adds.
Visitors are also welcome on Rt. 311 at the Down Home Bed and
Breakfast. Avid backpackers Dave and Lucy Downs fell in love with the
valley and opened their B&B two years ago.
A Hiker’s Haven
The views in Catawba are breathtaking. Hikers and bikers come from all
over the world just to see the valley.
The area has phenomenal hiking. McAfee’s Knob, named after one of the
area’s early settlers, and Dragon’s Tooth, which has unusual rock
formations, offer splendid views from mountain overlooks.
“I’m always amazed at how dark it is at night,” Lucy Downs says.
“How quiet.” She loves seeing the deer. The wildlife “is pretty
Catawba is thought to be the oldest settled area of Roanoke County. A
cabin-fort was built in 1722, and property owners are listed as early as
1740. No one knows how the name originated, but Indian artifacts are found
all over the valley.
“Legend has it Catawba Indians camped along Catawba Creek,” Wingate
says. The freshwater stream heads on Rt. 785 near the Great Eastern
Divide. “So it’s reasonable to me that’s where the name has come
The congregation of Catawba Valley Baptist Church was established 142
The area also is the site of the first known Baptist church in the
greater Roanoke Valley. The church reportedly began in 1780 somewhere
along the creek.
Catawba Hospital is the area’s major employer, with 350 full-time
employees and 110 patients. The only remaining structure from the Roanoke
Red Sulphur Springs is a gazebo. A few structures from the early days of
the Catawba Sanitorium, built in the early 1900s, can be seen from the
road. The main hospital facility was built in 1954.
Jack L. Wood, acting director and CEO of Catawba Hospital, welcomes
anyone interested in the historic nature of the state-owned facility.
Down Home Bed and Breakfast (top) on Rt. 311 offers respite to weary
travelers in an area void of commercialism. Catawba Hospital
(center) is the area’s major employer. The Catawba Community Center
(bottom) serves as a meeting place for civic
“We have people who continue to come back here, who were children of
residents who were here when this was a TB facility,” Wood says.
Security escorts visitors around to see the buildings. The Brauer Chapel
was one of the first buildings constructed after the state took over the
The hospital was “a premiere facility in the early 1900s,” Wood
says. “We had the first X-ray machine in the Roanoke valley.” The
hospital was particularly up-to-date for that period, with a full
operating room and a complete laboratory.
The staff is a unique blend of “generational employees,” Wood says.
Mothers, daughters, husbands and wives all work at the facility. “It
really is a large family. There is a sense of community here that you do
not get other places.” Some of the employees have been with the hospital
more than 40 years.
Occasionally, history books extend the Catawba valley all the way to
Fincastle. Some residents, like Sarver and Wingate, claim Catawba takes in
parts of four counties, encompassing pieces of Botetourt, Craig, Roanoke,
and Montgomery. To outsiders, it’s just a crossroads with a store, a
hospital, and a fine restaurant.
“It’s the Whole Valley”
“I’ve always felt at home in Catawba,” Sarver says. The
80-year-old former store owner sums up the community. “It’s the whole
valley. It isn’t just right in this little area,” she says, pointing
toward the store and the post office. Even near the Montgomery County
line, “they still have a feeling of Catawba.”
Lodging can be found at
CrossTrails Bed & Breakfast, 1-800-841-8078
or (540) 384-8078 or at Down Home Bed and Breakfast, 540-384-6865.
Reservations are highly recommended. Hotel lodging is available via
Rt. 311 across Catawba Mountain in Salem or down Rt. 779 into Daleville.
CrossTrails Bed & Breakfast, built in 1994, is one of the closest
B&Bs on the entire Appalachian Trail. This B&B has won awards for
its service and the graciousness of hosts Bill and Katherine Cochran.
The Homeplace Restaurant is a must for food. They are open Thursday and
Friday, 4-8 p.m., Saturday, 3:30-8 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Reservations are not required unless you have a large group. If you miss
this, you can get a sandwich at the Catawba Valley General Store.
Backpackers will want to explore not only the
Appalachian Trail (AT)
but various other hikes, too.
You can reach the AT at Dragon’s Tooth
Trail, located about three
miles from Catawba on north Rt. 311. The trek to the rock formations is
2.6 miles and considered a moderate to difficult hike.
The hike to McAfee’s Knob, reached from the top of Catawba Mountain
and marked by a parking lot and signs, is a moderate jaunt of about 3.5
miles. The views are among the most scenic along the AT. You can follow
the AT approximately 20 miles and see the Catawba valley and the
Carvin’s Cove Reservoir. The hike takes you to Daleville and U.S.
Turn at Catawba onto Virginia Rt. 779 and follow it into Botetourt
County to reach the Andy Layne Memorial Trail. This 26-mile loop offers
access to Tinker Cliffs and Scorched Earth Gap. The trail serves as a
connector between the North Mountain Trail and the AT.
The Roanoke Appalachian Trail Club has additional information and can
be reached by mail at P.O. Box 12282, Roanoke, VA 24024. The George
Washington and Jefferson National Forest New Castle Ranger’s District
Office, (540) 864-5195, also has hiking information.
Bikers can travel part of the Transamerica Bicycle Route along
and 779. A good afternoon bike ride begins at the Catawba Post Office
(parking is posted, however). From Catawba, follow Rt. 779, passing the
fork at Rt. 600 (Moses Family Road) to the Roanoke Cement Co. Turn around
and follow Rt. 600 back to Rt. 779 and the point of beginning. Aside from
Catawba Valley General Store, there is no place to get a drink, so take
plenty of fluids. For additional biking information, contact Blue
Ridge Bicycle Club at www.blueridgebicycleclub.com.
Other activities within 30 minutes of Catawba include the
Civil War Battlefield and interpretive hike/bike trail, Hanging Rock Golf
Course, (540) 389-7275, the City of Salem’s great antique shops, trout
fishing in Craig County, and picnicking at Carvin’s Cove. Contact the
Roanoke Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau at (540) 342-6025, (800)
635-5535 or www.visitroanokeva.com for additional information on the area.