I’ve long had an interest in the history of Shenandoah National Park, just a few hours west of us–and this past weekend we found a way to get up close and personal. On a last minute whim, we decided to take a quick overnight trip to Doyles River Cabin. The cabin was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1936–the same year that the Park was established–and is now managed as a rental property by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC).
As you probably know, the CCC was created during the Depression as a way to provide employment, housing, and food to young men that were facing grim job prospects. CCC “enrollees” were paid roughly $30/month to built roads and bridges and cabins and more. They built a lot of structures still standing in the park (many of the original structures were removed when settlers were forced out by the state of Virginia to create the park; more on that here).
CCC boys leaving camp for home. Photo courtesy of Oregon State University, public domain
CCC Company 2530 Building a road. Photo courtesy of Edmund R. Golladay, public domain
Meal time at Camp Roosevelt, just up the road. Photo courtesy of Oregon State University, public domain
CCC Camp Kitchen Crew. Photo courtesy of Oregon State University, public domain
A CCC Barracks. Photo courtesy of Edmund R. Golladay, public domain
CCC laying stone for a road, 1933. Photo courtesy of National Archives, public domain
The CCC did a lot of work across the country. In addition to roads and bridges and cabins, they also planted trees, built flood and erosion control projects, erected fire towers, stocked trout—basically did whatever they could to improve the infrastructure of our country.
More than three million young men enrolled in the CCC, including some that later went on to great notoriety–like baseball Hall of Famer Stan Musial and Air Force test pilot Chuck Yeager (I’m imagining fireside chats about curveballs at the speed of sound).
Stan Musial in 1953, from Bowman Baseball cards, public domain
Chuck Yeager in front of the Bell X-1, 1940s. Photo courtesy of US Air Force, public domain
Doyles River Cabin is a primitive (no power or water) one-room structure, but it is sturdy and accommodating and in a great location. It also has a lovely covered porch and a beautiful view. PATC has done a nice job maintaining it, and we were thrilled that it was available on short notice.
The hike to the cabin is just a half mile from Skyline Drive. And with such an easy hike, we figured we could carry some fancy food (shocking for us, I know). We brought a small cooler bag full of our dinner, along with some frozen water bottles to keep things cold (figuring we could drink/dump the water before heading home). We did most of the food prep ahead of time, including cracking and freezing some scrambled eggs (for Sunday breakfast) in a Nalgene bottle.
We dropped our food and overnight gear at the cabin and then headed down trail another mile or so to Doyles River Falls (very pretty, despite the low-flow conditions). We shared the trail with a bunch of friendly folks, and saw quite a bit of bear scat. The black bear population is growing in the park, although we weren’t lucky enough to see one on this trip.
After our hike, we spent time lounging around the cabin and soaking in the view.
Souzz loving the hammock
For dinner, we fried up some trout (just as the CCC might have done), made our favorite frybake French potato dish, Potato Gratin Savoyard (probably not what the CCC would have done), and enjoyed steamed mussels (definitely not what the CCC would have done).
Cheese and prosciutto from our favorite local wine shop, Arrowine
Raw Acacia Honeycomb honey, from the Savannah Bee Company
Souzz assembling the Potato Gratin Savoyard, a backcountry favorite of ours
Fried trout, anyone?
Cooking on the nice stonework
Potato Gratin Savoyard, ready to be baked
Potat Gratin Savoyard, done!
As we cooked dinner, we admired the stonework and hand hewn logs that make up the cabin, as well as the beautiful view of the night sky. It’s pretty amazing to think that Doyles River Cabin has been providing cozy nights under the moonlight for 80+ years. The cabin looks fantastic for its age–which apparently is only a compliment if you are talking about a cabin (ask me how I know).
Souzz and our little cooler
Nice night sky
colors changed by the minute
Something magical about a fire
Breakfast sausage (and eggs in the bottle to the left)
There’s something rewarding about finding an adventure close to home—and even more so when it includes a bit of history and a nice menu. And we have the mussels to prove it.
Souzz and I often spend New Year’s Eve in the backcountry or in a cabin, and we traditionally make risotto (along with some other fancy dish). The standard bearer of New Year’s absurdity was probably the year that we made risotto with lobster in a five burner kitchen while camping in the snow. We didn’t quite reach that level of absurdity this year, but we at least thought about it.
Lobsters in the snow
Souzz and our friend Sara
Anyway, with cold rain in the 2019 forecast, we decided to head to the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club’s Dawson Cabin in Pennsylvania, about two hours drive from our home in Virginia. Dawson is one of the lesser visited cabins in the PATC system, maybe because the hike to the cabin is straight uphill. But the hike is short, and Dawson is a hidden gem that is worth the visit. The cabin is well appointed and very well maintained, and it has southern exposure and a beautiful view.
Approaching the cabin
Lots of windows across the front, so nice light
Roomy and bright
Very well maintained and supplied
Lots of supplies
All of the bedding needs to be caged when the cabin isn’t being used
It was too rainy for us to use this, but in nicer weather it’d be great
Looking back from the bunks
A concrete foundation and nice outdoor space
puzzles for a rainy day
For our planned risotto and filet mignon feast, we hauled in a lot of cookware, as well as a five pound canister of propane and a two-burner camp stove. Utility wagons are a great tool for getting bulky gear into walk-in PATC cabins—but dragging them uphill through the mud and over tree roots in the rain might be an acquired taste.
The start of the trail
Arriving at the cabin as the rain stopped!
When we reached the cabin, we discovered that there was a problem with the regulator on the camp stove, so the stove and propane were basically flammable barbells. The issue was clearly beyond what I could field-repair, and fiddling with high-pressure gas connections is exciting in any circumstance–but especially so in a remote wood-framed structure. I’m also kind of fond of my eyebrows.
As a consolation, at least we had some good appetizers.
Appetizers were easy, though! This is olives, feta, lemon peel, olive oil, garlic
Prosciutto…oh, and beer!
With appetizers gone and still five hours to New Year’s, we had a new twist: how to make risotto without a modern camp stove. But there was a perfectly serviceable wood stove sitting right at our feet, so how hard could this be?
Tending a wood stove is always important in a PATC cabin in winter, although the goal is usually just heating the place. But now we had to figure out a way to keep the heat somewhat constant.
Chopping onions, nothing special
Sauteeing onions in olive oil
Mixing in rosemary
Coating the arborio rice
Wood stoves used to be the only stoves we had, right?
Looking very holiday
Starting to shape up
Ok, so I get that wood stoves have been around for generations, and my friends in bush Alaska are probably rolling their eyes by now (well, at least Ruby is…but in my defense, I don’t remember seeing a lot of risotto on “Life Below Zero“).
It took a little fiddling to maintain the level of heat on the cooktop, and there were times when we had to cool things off by lifting the pan onto a hastily made wire trivet (using a piece from a broken dartboard that we found in the cabin).
And more broth…
But we figured it out, and the risotto was quite good. And the keys to good risotto are the same whether on a modern range or on a wood stove: using homemade stock (way less salty), heating the stock quite a bit before adding, and cooking the risotto at high heat (ideally enough heat to finish the job in less than 20 minutes). With too little heat, things take a long time and the risotto gets sticky.
Lastly, our stove challenge gave us the chance to puzzle over why we go to primitive cabins and then haul in hundreds of pounds of fancy gear. That seems about as logical as getting the turbo option when you buy a Ford Fiesta. So maybe simplifying things should be our New Year’s Resolution? Well, that and preserving my eyebrows.
Souzz’s Christmas gift was an inflatable chair (she got me an Apple watch, whoops).
This weekend we joined good friends for a quick getaway to the nearby Blue Ridge mountains and a stay at theRosser Lamb House. The house was built in 1915 as the home of Hiram and Lucy Lamb and their nine children, and it is now one of thePotomac Appalachian Trail Club’s primitive (no power or water) rental cabins. It is located in Lamb’s Hollow (of course), adjacent toShenandoah National Park.
The spacious sitting room
The dining room, just off of the kitchen
The renovated kitchen
SNP Map #10. The Lamb House is in the lower left quad
Looking down into the valley near Stanardsville
A peek at the two decks and the screened in porch
Shenandoah National Park was created during the Great Depression, and the formation of the park resulted in more than five hundred families being forced by the U.S. government to leave their homes. Many of these families had been on land that they had occupied for generations, and entire communities were uprooted and moved to the east—including some to a subdivision in nearby Madison County called “Resettlement Road” (seriously).
George and Emma Meadows Lamb. Photo courtesy of PATC
George Lamb. Photo courtesy of Larry Lamb
More than 500 families received letters like this. Photo courtesy of Blue Ridge Heritage Project
Resettlement Road. Photo courtesy of Blue Ridge Heritage Project
Emma Meadows Lamb. Photo courtesy of Larry Lamb
In 1934, the Lamb family–which had been in that hollow since 1845–got the word that they needed to relocate. But in a twist of fate, the government ran out of funding for the park before the Lambs were forced to move. The park border stopped just short of the Lamb house, and they stayed there well into the 1960s–when the house was eventually sold to be used as a hunting lodge.
Rosser and Rosetta Lamb. Photo courtesy of Larry Lamb
Rosser and Rosetta Lamb with Sevilla and Thurman. Photo courtesy of Larry Lamb
Sevilla, Rosetta, Thurman, and Rosser Lamb, at their front porch. Photo courtesy of Larry Lamb
Rosetta Lamb and son Thurman. Photo courtesy of Larry Lamb
In 1995, the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club acquired the house and its surrounding property and began what became a 17-year project torestore it. The house has been described by a park historian as “a tribute to a mountain family living out the American dream in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.” And a fine tribute it is.
We spent our weekend hiking on the nearby trails, enjoying the stream-side setting, cooking in the spacious and renovated kitchen, and imagining life here some 100 years ago.
The Blue Ridge Heritage Project Memorial in Albemarle County. Photo courtesy of Larry Lamb
Larry Lamb and Kristie Kendall. Photo courtesy of Larry Lamb
Larry Lamb with the chimney that is a central part of the Memorial. Photo courtesy of Larry Lamb
Larry and Kristie were incredibly gracious in sharing the history of the house and the surrounding area, and both of their organizations are doing amazing work.
Larry’s father, Thurman, was born in the house in 1925, and Larry visited the house often as a kid. He shared that his grandparents, Rosser and Rosetta Lamb, were “kind, humble people who loved the mountains and their home.” There were also stories of corn growing on the hillside, a smokehouse, a big garden, and family gatherings that featured banjo music and dancing the Virginia Reel.
Larry Lamb’s Aunt, Sevilla Lamb, playing guitar. Photo courtesy of Larry Lamb
Inspired by the history of the house, our friend Lou brought his guitar
The Virginia Reel!
As for food during our trip, we tried to use recipes that we thought might be common back in Rosser and Rosetta Lamb’s day. Cherry trees were popular in the Blue Ridge, so we made a cherry pie. The Lambs made sorghum molasses, so we baked molasses cookies and muffins. They grew corn, so we had corn on the cob. They likely atewild ramps, so we had some ramps. The streams in the park had wild trout, so we made a trout dip. They had a smokehouse, so we smoked some fish.
soon to be smoked trout dip
Apps on Friday night
a portable smoker
smoked salmon, 30 minutes start to finish
molasses and apple muffin ingredients
molasses and apple muffins
the muffins, after baking
Molasses cookies, ready for baking
Molasses cookies, not bad!
Pickled ramps, a first for me
A pickled ramp
The finished pie
Ice cream and pie, through the miracle of dry ice
Of course, it’s a lot easier when you get your food from the local supermarket and keep it on ice in a giant cooler—a little different than in Rosser and Rosetta Lamb’s day.
Later on the trip, we visitedFar Pocosin Mission, which is about a two mile hike from the house. The Mission was founded in 1902, and historians describe it as the center of the community at the time. Now, 115 years later, the Mission is slowly fading into the forest–but there are old foundations, stairs, and chimneys that are still visible. Rosser Lamb attended church at the Mission, and his children went to school there.
Remains of the Mission worker’s cabin
peeking into the Mission worker’s cabin
artifacts on the Mission worker’s cabin
A foundation at the mission
Steps to an old cabin
I’ve enjoyed hiking and backpacking in and around Shenandoah National Park for more than 30 years now, and I confess that I haven’t always thought much about the human history. But we found the house and the mission to be powerful reminders of the people that were here before the park. The house is a fine tribute to the Lamb family, and to a lot of other families that lived in the neighboring hollows. I really can’t imagine what it must have been like for those that were forced to leave.
Main headstone in the Lamb Family Cemetery, just up the hill from the house
The Lamb Family Cemetery
Paying our respects for those that went before us
Lastly, it turns out that Pocosin Mission was founded by a very distant relative of mine,Frederick William Neve, a fact which was fascinating to me—but was either irrelevant or annoying to Souzz and our friends. After all, how many times can you listen to someone say “hey, I’m related to the guy that built this!” without wanting to scream?
Actually, I know that answer, and it’s four.
Frederick Neve, the Archdeacon of the Blue Ridge. Photo courtesy of Larry Lamb
A young boy at the mission, early 1900s. Photo courtesy of Larry Lamb