FE and Felonies - The Story of Virginia's Fairy Stone State Park

 Dear Henry,

Right after we moved to Roanoke, Virginia, I discovered an exciting state park about 1/2 hour away.  

The story of Fairy Stone State Park began around the American Revolution when General George Stovall Hariston Sr. started to redeem his revolutionary land grants and purchased other land grants, including a small iron-rich mountain called Stuart's Knob. 

I am not entirely sure who "Stuart" is and why there is a mountain named after him. However, I  suspect it may be named after the Stuart family,  whose prodigal son J.E.B. Stuart became a well-known Confederate general. They were also from that area.

Iron mining in the area did not truly ramp up until 1836 when the Hariston sons George II and John began the Union Iron Works Company. 

It was a problematic mine to operate. The Stuart's Knob area is quite steep. It was difficult to bring equipment to the mine and impossible to bring coal. The grade of the mountain also made it challenging to get iron out of the mine. Steam-powered tools had to be wood-fired, and digging was often a manual process. Even with the enslaved labor of the period, it was difficult to turn a profit. John Hariston sold his stake to his brother George II shortly after, and, in 1863, George II sold the mine to John Barksdale and Johnathan Stovall.

1863 was in the middle of the US Civil War, and although Barksdale and Stovall were thought to be agents for the Confederate Government, the mine was not used to supply Confederate war efforts. As a result, the mine sat idle throughout the Civil War, Reconstruction, and most of the Antebellum period.

In 1903, Barksdale and Stovall sold the land to Frank Ayer Hill, Herbert Dale, and their wives. They began mining operations again on Stuart Knob and created the town of Fayerdale at its base. In 1905, the Ayers sold their stake to the Hills, and the Hills partnered with Herbert Lafferty, Edward Stone, Thomas Goodwin, and Junius Fishburn to create the Virginia Ore and Lumber Company.

Remember how I said the mine was prohibitively expensive to operate? That didn't change, particularly since the miners of 1905 expected to be paid. It was cheaper to ship iron from Germany. As a result, the mining operations dwindled, and the lumber side of the business was not enough to keep the town of Fayerdale at full employment. So when the Virginia Prohibition Act was enacted in 1915, the hard-to-get-to-particularly-for-law-enforcement community of Fayerdale embraced the Appalachians' favorite illegal export. Moonshine.

By 1925, the partners of the Virginia Ore and Lumber Company had enough. The mining and lumber equipment was sold, and Hill, Lafferty, Stone, and Goodwin sold their remaining interest to Julius Fishburn. Moonshine became the primary industry in Fayerdale. 

The situation came to a head in 1928, and the violence that invariably accompanies illegal acts got out of control. Several people died in an O.K. Corral-type gunfight, and then the Feds came in and broke the entire party up.

Then the stock market crashed in 1929, and the area fell apart. In 1933, Julius Fishburn donated the land to the State of Virginia. Using the newly created Civilian Conservation Corps, the area began to be transformed into one of the first six state parks being developed in Virginia. The Philpot Dam was constructed on the Smith River, and the town of Fayerdale submerged into history.

Still, the iron in the mountain has a use. The area surrounding Fairy Stone State Park is abundant in a unique crystal called staurolite. This iron-aluminum silicate forms at right angles and often appears in the shape of crosses. The "legend" of the Fairy Stones - which actually sounds like a story an old-timer told a bunch of kids, than an actual legend, but righty-ho. - is that, approximately 2,027 years ago, when fairies still roamed the Appalachian mountains, a messenger appeared and told them about the death of Jesus. The fairies, devastated by the news, cried staurolite, which is why the crystals are called fairy stones. 

I think we can discount the legend simply due to the laws of geology. Every rock on that hill is older than 2,027 years.

Still, the stones are very cool and are an exceptionally awesome bit of earth to carry with you. Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt had fairy stones as good luck charms, and I decided to pick up a few stones myself to rattle about in the rosary pocket of my purse,  with my collection of prayer cards, medals, the blessed lima beans I've managed to pick up along the way. Staurolite has no industrial value and is used mainly for jewelry and charms. While it's abundant in the area, it is pretty rare, as far as crystals go, worldwide. In addition to the area around Stuart's Knob, you can only find it in Fannin County, Georgia, near Henry's Lake in Island Park, Idaho, Taos, New Mexico, Blanchard Dam Minnesota, Lepontine Alps (the Switzerland Side), and Selbu Norway.

The Fairy Stone State Park has an area open for gathering and several hiking trails. Philpot lake hosts a  lovely beach, and cabin rentals and tent sites are available for reservation at the park. It should be noted that Fairy Stone State Park does see quite a bit of bear activity, so hike safe, stay aware, and don't keep twinkies in your tent. There is a small day-use parking fee of $7.00. 

I should also mention (again) that the area is quite steep. I absolutely required trekking poles to navigate Stuart's Knob and highly recommend walking aids for anyone who struggles even slightly with their gait.

We had a lot of fun checking out the old mines and looking for stones, although I will admit to getting the stones I carry from the gift store. They come pre-found and pre-polished, and the park will also ship you some of your own rocks if you call them here: (276) 930-2424.

Until our next adventure!

xoxo a.d elliott


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Salem, Virginia. 

In addition to the travel writings at www.takethebackroads.com, you can also read her book reviews at www.riteoffancy.com and US military biographies at www.everydaypatriot.com

Her online photography gallery can be found at shop.takethebackroads.com


Like my page? Please consider supporting my work by visiting my sponsors, my webshop, or by buying me a cup of coffee!