When Edwin Boston Mabry (1867-1936) built his water powered mill in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, he had no way of knowing it would become one of the most photographed places in the United States. The mill, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, is now run by the National Park Service and has several hundred thousand visitors each year.
Ed Mabry (Frelen, John, Charles, Isaac, George, Francis) was one of the fifth generation of Mabrys to live in this part of Virginia. He was born in Patrick County and is buried in Floyd County not far from the mill.
On March 22, 1782 his great-great grandfather Isaac Mabry received a grant for 183 acres of land on the south side of Robertson's Creek of the Dan River. This land is on Mayberry Creek about 4.5 miles southwest of the Mabry Mill and about one mile east of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Nearby is Mabry Gap and Mayberry Presbyterian Church. Isaac Mabry's brother George Mabry had land on Rock Castle Creek, about two miles northeast of the Mabry mill and also on Burk's Fork and Greasy Creeks near the present line between Carroll and Floyd Counties. Today there are hundreds of Mabry descendants living in Floyd, Patrick, Carroll and other nearby counties.
Before 1890, on land not far from his birthplace in Patrick County, Ed Mabry had a water-turned lathe, which he used to make chairs. He later worked as a blacksmith in the coal fields of West Virginia. In 1903 he returned to Floyd County and soon began construction of the mill. It was first a blacksmith and wheelwright shop, then became a sawmill. By 1905 it was in operation as a gristmill. By 1910 the front part of the mill was completed and included a lathe for turning out wheel hubs, a tongue and groove lathe, a planer, and a jigsaw. Between 1905 and 1914 he bought adjacent tracts of land, mostly for the purpose of acquiring more water power. Those who knew Ed Mabry thought well of him and have described him as peaceable, easy-going, honest, hard working, a Primitive Baptist, and a Republican. Whatever he needed he tried to make himself, including most of the furniture in his home. He did not travel much, but when he did it was either on foot or in his one-horse Concord wagon.
Today the Mabry Mill is one of the most popular attractions on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway. The gristmill and sawmill have been restored by park naturalists in order that visitors might see live exhibits, a real mill, and a working miller to demonstrate the milling process. The grounds of the mill include other interpretive media; all designed to tell about mountain industry. The Matthews Cabin is an outstanding example of mountain architecture and workmanship and offers an intriguing look into the tanning and shoemaking crafts. There is also a whiskey still, a sorghum mill, and a working blacksmith shop.
Ed Mabry left no children, but his legacy lives on reflecting the self-sufficiency and hard work of our ancestors on the Blue Ridge.