“There was once a beautiful place in our Valley called “Happy Valley” where all the people living there were kin –if not by blood certainly by spirit,” writes Helen Prillaman in Places Near The Mountains. Happy Valley, named by the first minister there, is now Carvin’s Cove Reservoir, a place us mountain bikers know in varying depths of intimacy. Whether we stick to the lowers, take to the uppers, hit the fire road on cross bikes, or hang a hammock at the edge of Enchanted Forest to search the sky for osprey and eagles, we leave the cove feeling better, more grounded, more peaceful, and more joyful. It might be for this that we are so devotedly impassioned by our desires to ensure its protection.
It was thru a conversation about the cove with my friend, Carol, a native of the Hollins area, a former leader in the Horseman’s Association, and a woman with a passion for trails and forests, that I came to know Places Near The Mountains which recounts the history of the cove including some details of the families who lived there prior to the dam. In the Forward is written the Chinese Proverb, “To forget one’s ancestors is to be a book without a source, a tree without a root.” Carol, understands the rich history of the cove and worked to have many of the trails we know named in honor of the families who resided there prior to the building of the dam.
There were 59 families in Happy Valley, and some of their names may sound familiar to you, though other historical names have since been changed. The cove is named after William Carvin, who was the first to take up land there according to the book. William Carvin is important grammatically as well as historically. It should be Carvin’s Cove, but it’s officially Carvins Cove. Native Americans surely came before, but I could not find enough in writing to share their pre-Carvin history.
At one time Happy Valley was home to Dr. Jacob Kern (Jacob’s Drop), then his son, Senator John W. Kern who built Kerncliff, a summer home overlooking the road and creek bottoms. Joseph Leonard operated a sawmill; Charles Riley a general store, Densmore Poultry operated a hatchery. There was an inn, a school, and a church, Cove Alum Baptist, which was “the social center.” Wife of Senator Kern, Aramenta Kern, founded Tuck-A-Way Park which was built near Cove Alum Springs, and hosted concerts drawing large crowds from Roanoke.
In November of 1926 the Manager of Roanoke Water Works announced that a dam had been planned for Carvin’s Cove to supply water to the city of Roanoke; the 59 families residing there would be displaced. The school was soon torn down, as was the church. The church bell, a donation of Mrs. Kern, went to Catawba Valley Baptist Church, where I believe it is still today. But the homes and businesses fundamental to the functioning of Happy Valley did not survive. The dam was complete in 1928 though not put to use until the early 40’s. Within a decade there was demand for additional water and the tunnel through Tinker Mountain was planned, as well a tunnel to divert Catawba Creek to the cove.
Carol shares that she wanted the trail names to reflect the history and to honor the sacrifice that was forced upon this community. She’s a bit miffed that Clownhead (now Hemlock Tunnel) was chosen over Layman Trail. James Layman resided in Carvin’s Cove for 45 years and served as a deacon, Sunday School superintendent, and Justice of the Peace. Hammond Trail, today’s Gauntlet, was proposed for Dr. Hammond who drove his buggy about to provide medical care. Tinnell Trail, for the Tinnells who worked a 400 acre farm and also taught school, became Buck’s Rutt.
We don’t need more reasons to endear ourselves to the cove; we all declare “how lucky we are,” but it is my hope that this brief history adds to our roots and enriches our experiences. I’m so glad Carol shared her knowledge, history, and Places Near The Mountains. The book is available on Amazon and at our local libraries, and several websites have briefer accounts. Maybe one of you, who knows the history and landmarks best, will be inspired to lead a ride –a guided tour by bike– of what’s not underwater but remains to be seen.