Longtime smokers remember the mill as the backdrop for Salem cigarettes television ads before an act of Congress banned tobacco advertizing on the public airwaves. Images of Mabry Mill appeared in seven issues of Life magazine and graced the cover of National Geographic. Ansel Adams photographed the mill for one of his famous black and white images.
So its hard to get a fresh angle of the iconic location on the Parkway at the fringes of Floyd County near Meadows of Dan. In fact, both Patrick and Floyd counties claim the Mill as their own but while parts of the mill’s grounds are in Patrick the structure itself is in Floyd.
I’ve photographed the mill for a half century, shooting my first images of it as a high school student in 1962 but haven’t ventured there for a while. These shots come from a wet afternoon after showers cleared the attraction of its usual crowd of tourists.
The Mill and the Parkway play an important role in Floyd County’s economy. Floyd County is home to more miles of the Parkway than any other county in Virginia. A number of county residents work for the National Park Service, either as a ranger or in other roles.
Visitors to the Mill and travelers along the stretch of asphalt that runs from Waynesboro at the Southern terminus of the Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park to the entrance to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park in North Carolina often venture off the Parkway to eat at local restaurants and shop with area merchants.
The National Park Service estimates that millions travel the Parkway by car, motorhome, motorcycle and bicycle each year. Although traffic has declined in recent years because of the economy and changing vacation habits of visitors, it still ranks as the “most visited unit” of the National Park system.
I’ve traveled the full length of the Parkway at least a dozen times in my life, sometimes by car but more often by motorcycle. It’s a tradition I hope will continue for as long as possible.