Old U.S. Route 460 ran all the way from St. Louis, Missouri and wound its way to Eastern Virginia. Millions of stories could be written about what happened along that old road, but I will concentrate on only a few of the happenings going down from Shortt Gap Mountain to Oakwood, Virginia where I graduated High School at Garden High School.
As one began the circuitous route 460 from the Shortt Gap post office, just over the Buchanan County line, the first house on the left was the Robert Boyd place. One warm night as we walked home from a brush- arbor meeting on the Tazewell side, some of the more mischievous boys began taunting Sherman Rose, a not too bright young man that I always felt a little pity for. There were girls along, including two of my sisters, and what happened next was not too savory for them. As we approached the Robert Boyd place, Sherman ran toward the house shouting “I’m bein’ kilt,” or something to that effect! Robert’s wife, Ethel, being Sherman’s aunt, grabbed a rifle and told us weary travelers that “I’ll shoot the first one that shows themselves.” Some of the faster running boys scrambled toward the safety of Irby Altizer’s store but the rest of us had to lie down in the dirty old ditchline where all kinds of trash had washed into it as the summer rains came. We stayed there until we saw the door close at the Boyd place. Mrs. Boyd probably figuring that the boys had already escaped gave up shooting at any of us.
We crawled carefully toward the store and as we rounded the curve in front you can bet we were the quietest bunch of brush-arbor attendees you ever saw!
The next place one encountered along route 460 was the Irby Altizer Store sitting smack in the middle of a very steep horseshoe curve. Old timers used to say, “You can shore meet yourself comin’ back around that old turn!” My dad had a running bill at that little country store and when we were sent up there to get something that Mom needed in a hurry, we would simply say, “Put it on Dad’s bill!” We never checked to see if either Mr. or Mrs. Altizer ever wrote it down or the amount! Usually, as children, we were too interested to see if their television set was on as they had the only one in the neighborhood until our neighbor, Howard Pruitt, procured one in some kind of trade. Everyone always wondered why Mr. Altizer built his store in that particular location which was not only on the steepest curve on 460 but was also built astraddle of the headwaters of Grassy Creek which always overflowed her banks during spring freshets! Had a drunken man, leaving Raven or other points in Tazewell County, headed down the steep grade from the post office hurriedly, His only target would be the front of Irby’s store. Several did not make it around and ended up in the front of the store through the plate glass windows in front! Mr. Altizer must have had pretty good insurance as these windows were replaced forthwith!
Now as I think back, I remember a horrendous auto crash up at the post office one Sunday morning. Bro. Albert Ball, the local minister at Grimsleyville Church, always stopped in front of the post office, on his way to minister, to pick up local children who wished to attend Sunday School at his church. That morning, as the children had gathered into the car, probably about four or five, Bro. Ball must have accidently hit the gas pedal before starting the curvaceous route to his church. Off to the left of the old road was a field, running straight down, that was both steep and long, probably 200 yards to the bottom. His old Chrysler started forward and before Bro. Ball could steer it back into the road, the car flipped to the side and rolled over and over until it came to rest at the bottom of the ravine! If Bro. Ball had not believed in miracles up to that time, he surely did afterward. Every single child in that car walked out of the wreckage with minor scratches as did Brother Ball. The car was completely demolished!
As one progressed on down Old 460 he would encounter the Wade enclave, but just prior to that was an old log house, the Sally Jane Moseley place, where my dad and his family used to live when he was a boy, as did several other families. There were no wooden floors, only packed down dirt. If it got a little dusty, someone was sent to Grassy Creek nearby to fetch some water to sprinkle on the dirt. The local legend was that Sally Jane was a witch and the place there was haunted. Needless to say, when we passed the place in the dark we sped past as fast as our little legs would carry us.
The Chambers’ place was the next on the route then came our house. Dad raised eight of his children there until we moved up to Shack Ridge. Across the road from us was the Ashley Davis place. A mess if you ever saw one. Ashley’s wife was not the cleanest housewife one could ever meet. It is a wonder all their children didn’t die from all the filth around, but all miraculously made it to adulthood! Along the way toward Grimsleyville was Grandma Shortt’s house, the Clarence Shortt rock house, that my Grandpa Addison built, next came the Pruitts, the Osbornes, and next the Wades where was the Grimsleyville postoffice which was inside the store and across the highway was the Grassy Creek Church, you guessed it, sitting astraddle the creek! To the right of the church was the King Osborne place.
One incident that happened at the church is worth mention. This was the shooting of Peach Wade. He was a cousin of the Wades who owned the store. Local boys used the church to gather on church nights and for no other reason than to meet girls. If they became sweet on one they would try to persuade the little miss to meet them outside for a little necking! Peach Wade came that fateful night and some say he was three sheets in the wind before he arrived. As the congregants got into the full swing of their worship, shots were heard outside the church. This being an unusual happening, the whole church emptied out and there breathing and bleeding his last was Peach Wade in a pool of blood! You can bet that the local boys were not so anxious to hang around the church after that. After all, who wants to be shot! Who shot Peach? Buchanan County still does not know for sure!
Moving on down past the church, there was the Hughes family, and then the old Grimsleyville School where every Shortt at Shortt Gap attended as did all the Addisons in the vicinity. Some of the other families were the Davises, the Osbornes, the Wades, the Wards, the Moseleys, the Stillwells, the Grimsleys, the Pruitts, and a slue of others I cannot recall. We were a motley bunch! Two teachers, Murtis and Lucy Wade attempted to make ladies and gentlemen of these rough hillbillies. I might add that the Shortts from Shortt Gap had bad reputations to begin with due to the antics of our Grandfather, Jefferson Shortt and the rough crew that he sired!
Moving on down the line, one would come to Marvin, Levisa Creek Hollow, Contrary Creek, Keen Mountain, then on to Oakwood where lay the High School, built real close to Levisa Creek! The flood of 1957 took out the bridge leading over to the school as it almost took the whole school had it not been made of brick and stone. That one flood devastated the whole County of Buchanan as the county lies between two steep hills and when it floods the water has nowhere to go except straight down to Grundy, the County seat! This story will end there at the High School, but something must be said about all the killings in Buchanan County between the High School and Shortt Gap. There were several beer joints in that stretch of road. When miners drink, they have one thing on their minds, fighting! My uncle was killed at the Curt Johnson café over a cheap pistol. Several black men who worked on the road were killed just because some farmer wrongly accused them of raping their daughters. The place where they were killed just above old 460, was thereafter referred to as “Dead Man’s Curve”!
There were some good, God-fearing people in Buchanan County during those tumultuous days! We will not give the devil all the dues. Some of the little churches were called, Grassy Creek Church, at Grimsleyville, Mona’s Chapel(Pronounced Monie) at Marvin, an old Lutheran Church at Keen Mountain, as well as, several different churches up the many hollers (hollows) and byways of Buchanan County.
When the new Highway 460 was built in the late 1960’s, the whole place seemed to change as businesses were bought and razed for the right-of-way for the new road. All the places of degradation were gone and mostly forgotten. For some unknown reason, families began to pay closer attention to education, their faith, and most tried to get along with their neighbors! It would take several books to record the history of old Route 460 before the new Highway changed, not only the looks of the countryside, but the views of most of the people!