Following the pioneer's path along the Wilderness Road on this 80 mile loop through Virginia's westernmost county.
Named for a character millions of years in the making, Stone Face Chase journeys through the heart of the westernmost tip of Virginia in Lee County. Stone Face is a natural rock formation, the product of erosion from wind and water flowing down the ridges of the mountain to Stone Creek and into the Powell River. Folklore tells us the Great Stone Face marked the entrance and watched over sacred Cherokee lands long before European settlers made their way to the region.
Starting your Stone Face Chase in Pennington Gap, head west on Veterans Memorial Highway/US 58A towards Jonesville. About halfway, you’ll come to Ben Hur, an unincorporated community oddly named by Auburn Pridemore, Confederate colonel and commander of the 64th Virginia Cavalry in the 1860s, after the novel by that name written by Lew Wallace. Ben Hur marked Col. Pridemore’s private railroad stop halfway between Pennington Gap and Jonesville and later would become one of the two top producing oil production fields in the state.
Southwest of Ben Hur, you’ll come to VA Rt645, the turnoff to the historic Long Hollow Log School Museum, now located on the Lee High School campus. The structure dates to 1858 and last served as a school in the 1950s. It was used during the early 1860s for Methodist camp meetings when Pridemore’s Confederate troops took over the Jonesville Methodist Campground. The log schoolhouse is just behind the football stadium.
Continuing on Veterans Memorial Highway/US58 is Jonesville, midway between the dense mountains of eastern Lee County and the rolling hills of Powell Valley. Incorporated in 1834, Jonesville is named for Frederick Jones who donated the land in 1794. Jones is buried at the entrance to Cumberland Bowl Park and picnic area. Take time to explore Jonesville. Roads on the north side of US58, the town’s Main Street, ascend steep hills which make for great views of the area. The Methodist Campground mentioned above is just two miles west of town at US58 and VA Rt652.
From Jonesville, head out on Rt.652 then west on Rt659 or follow US 58 toward Rose Hill. Once called Martin’s Fort, Rose Hill, named for the abundance of wild roses covering the hill, is the second of the two top oil production fields in Virginia. Martin’s Fort came under siege by natives shortly after it was built in 1769 and was abandoned. The Rose Hill railroad depot opened here in 1890 which carried both passengers and freight westward through the Cumberland Gap forged by Daniel Boone.
Your trek continues westward bringing you to the township of Ewing, the home of Lee County’s first sheriff, pioneer Samuel Ewing. Among the more spectacular sights is the mile-long white rock outcrops that top Cumberland Mountain. White Rocks are the sandstone cliffs that rise above Ewing’s northwestern horizon to an elevation of 3,500 ft. The Kentucky boarder is immediately beyond this geological jewel marking the eastern border of the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. While in Ewing, another perfect photo op is a visit to Cowan Mill, located on Rt698. The gristmill was built in 1890 and used by locals to grind their grain. This rare treasure is considered one of the most photographed places in Lee County.
From Ewing, head south on Rt744/Atlantis Hill Road into Tennessee then back towards Virginia on State Rt70/Mulberry Gap Road and continue on Rt612 then onto US 58/421 toward Pennington Gap. One mile north of Pennington Gap on US421/Old Harlan Road, you’ll catch up to old Stone Face. Pull over, snap a few pictures, gaze over to Stone Creek and imagine a hunting party of old stopping to give thanks to the guardian for his vigilance in keeping these hallowed grounds for all to enjoy.
Once back in Pennington Gap, you may want to stop in at Powell Valley News. Not only the area’s local newspaper office, the Powell Valley News offers up souvenir keepsakes to commemorate your Stone Face Chase and much more.