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A diamond in the rough, Paint Bank is a different
world, a step back in time that most can only imagine or read about in
novels. Hidden away in the Allegheny Mountains between Potts Mountain and
Peters Mountain in Craig County, the tiny town boasts more buffalo than it
does people. Folks there say it is located about three miles beyond the
ends of earth, where the stars shine brighter than anywhere else in the
Paint Bank General Store located on Rt. 311 is the hub of activity
for the town and has been for nearly 100 years.
Yet right in the middle of acres and acres of
National Forest land, this community has far more to offer than meets the
eye. People are coming from all four corners of the U.S. to hunt wild
turkey, white-tailed deer and even bear. Trout fishing is another sport
that draws people to the area. Potts Creek, which runs through the town,
is stocked each year with over a quarter-million rainbow trout from the
local fish hatchery.
Settled around 1700, history has it that the Cherokee
Indians who lived here used red clay from its banks to make their pottery
and war paint. Later, the clay was used by settlers to make paint as well
as bricks, and thus the town’s name, Paint Bank. During the Civil War,
the off-the-beaten-path community became known as the “Union hole,” a
place for deserters and resisters. It was close to this area that Union
General David Hunter fought his most difficult battle, a confrontation
involving two of Craig’s highest mountains, on his trek from Lynchburg,
Va., to Sweet Springs, W.Va.
Depot has a peripheral guest room in the old Red Caboose out
Around the turn of the century, Paint Bank became a
bustling railroad town whose economy was closely tied to iron ore and
manganese mined by the Virginia Iron, Coal & Coke Company. Daily rail
service not only brought in freight, but passengers as well who came to
enjoy the seven mineral-springs resorts located in the county.
There was also a busy grain mill built in 1863, known
as Tingler’s Mill, which is still standing today, although not
operational. The mill, made of hand-stacked locust logs, is unusual in
that the water is overfed instead of underfed, as is the case with most
1863, Tingler's Mill is on the restoration list. It is unusual in
that water feeds from the top of the wheel instead of the bottom
as with most grist mills.
In the early 1930s, when mining operations shut down,
the railroad soon followed suit. Like small towns all across the country,
Paint Bank’s prosperity eventually succumbed to a weak economy, and the
people returned to timber and agriculture once again as a means of
Now, thanks to a couple of philanthropists with a
dream, there is hope the town’s economy will once again flourish, but
this time its prosperity will be the byproduct of tourism instead of
mining. Four historic town structures have either been restored or will be
in the near future, according to Mikell Ellison, who is the general
manager of the restoration project.
to Paint Bank will find cozy quarters at The Depot Lodge, a
charming bed and breakfast housed in the restored train
The old depot is now the Depot Lodge, a charming bed
and breakfast. Porches and decks wrap all the way around the lodge, which
is built on Potts Creek facing the mountains. Here, guests can while away
the hours in rockers enjoying the view. Or if they prefer, they can take a
walking tour or sit awhile in the gazebo down by the creek.
loved the days of the old trains and all the glory that went along with
them, there is an authentic N&W red caboose that has been converted
into a guest room, which stands behind the lodge. Even if you remember
traveling by train and sleeping in one of the old Pullman cars, chances
are you have never slept in a caboose, at least not one as fine as this.
Bank General Store was the hub of the town’s activity nearly 100 years
ago and still is today. With its old, wooden floors and tin ceiling still
intact, the store is a gathering place for the townsfolk and is the only
grocery and mercantile for miles around.
and raised in Paint Bank, Ray Linton, now 77, says things have
changed since he was a boy.
different from when I grew up,” says old-timer Ray Linton, whose father
used to run the Potts Valley Gulf Station back in the 1940s. Linton
frequents the General Store on almost a daily basis. After picking up his
mail from the old post office across the road, he drops by and sits in a
rocker to read his paper and catch up on the town news.
In September 2005, the Swinging Bridge Restaurant and
Mercantile will open, not only adding dining pleasure to the town’s hub,
but adding more space for food items and new merchandise such as
brand-name fishing and hunting gear, nostalgia gifts, kitchen items,
handmade crafts, quilts and much more, without changing the authentic
atmosphere of the old General Store.
With a décor accented by wood, timber and glass, an
authentic hanging bridge taken out by a flood serves as its focal point. A
huge rock fireplace provides a backdrop for the bridge, which is suspended
from second-floor moorings. Intricately hand-carved newel posts adorn the
unusual staircase that will delight and thrill not only hunters and
fishermen, but all who visit the restaurant.
diamond in the rough, Paint Bank is a different world, a step back
in time that most can only imagine or read about in novels.
The menu will feature down-home dishes. “These
dishes are so good that you want to smack your mama because she doesn’t
cook like that anymore,” explained Ellison with a laugh. “We are
making them from recipes we’ve collected from the locals.”
But what will make the restaurant really unique is
the addition of Highlander beef and bison meat, home grown, of course.
Paint Bank’s Hollow Hill Farm is home to about 200 bison and Highlander
beef cattle. The meat, which is shipped all over the country, will also be
used in the restaurant. Homemade pies, cakes, breads, and desserts will
top off the menu.
Nelson, general manager of Paint Bank's restoration project, hangs
the popular T-shirt denoting "END OF THE WORLD 9 miles, PAINT
BANK 12 miles."
For those who like to dine outside, glass doors open
onto a big back porch overlooking Potts Mountain. There, dining as well as
some of those local recipes have already been put to the test. A July 4th
celebration found the porch filled with long tables of that
“smack-your-mama” food at one end and the Craig County Boys bluegrass
band at the other end – a winning combination to say the least.
Although there are only six rooms in the Depot Lodge
and a guest room in the red caboose, a limited number of private luxury
log cabins are being built in the woods out of sight. “We don’t want
the area to become commercialized,” Ellison commented. “We want to
keep it as colloquial and simple as we can.”
Bank native Helen Baker, 92, remembers spending the night at the
lodge in her younger days when it was the train depot for the
Available within an hour or so from the community are
white-water rafting, skiing and hiking. There are also several towns close
by for those who enjoy antique shopping and sightseeing.
While visiting Paint Bank, you might want to stop in
New Castle and visit the Old Hotel, which houses a genealogy library and
museum, and the old Court House built before the Civil War. Its bell,
which was made at the same foundry as the Liberty Bell, is still rung
today on special occasions.
trains no longer bring people to Paint Bank, modern highways make it
easily accessible from almost any direction, including from Roanoke off
I-81 and from White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., off I-64.