The Great Homecoming: An Open House at the McAllister Cabin

McAllister Cabin
Rosie Keaton and Mary Rice stand in front of the McAllister Cabin at the Albemarle Mountin Heritage event. Photo by Fred Williamson

At about a quarter past eleven, on the last Saturday in March, the faint sound of music carried from the McAllister Cabin, down to the swift-moving Moorman’s River and through­out the winding roads of the Sugar Hollow area of Albemarle County. The old familiar tune being played was not in people’s imagination—in fact, a crowd of people had gathered in front of the McAllister family’s former home to listen to Jackie Sandridge and her bandmate Tom Payne play some traditional, old-time tunes with Steve and Barb Geiger, who joined in for a few songs.

Despite some rainy weather, nearly 250 people visited the McAllister Home as part of an event that celebrated Albemarle’s Mountain Heritage. Bob and Carroll Gilges, who own the building and surrounding land, graciously opened their property to the commu­nity for the event. PEC sponsored and organized the celebration with help from Doug Decker, Phil James, and Larry and Debbie Lamb, who had family connections to Sugar Hollow and throughout Albemarle County.

This was the third mountain heritage event that PEC has organized in the region, and PEC and the Gilges wanted to celebrate the preservation of an iconic building in a community steeped in history. More importantly, however, the goal was to tackle false stereotypes and provide accurate interpretation about Appalachian culture. In a sense, the goal has been to honor these families and their rich mountain heritage in a way that really isn’t done very often.

Located only a few miles from Shenandoah National Park, the landscape of Sugar Hollow in the pre-Park days was dramatically different from its appearance today. It was once a bustling community with dozens of homes, schools, churches, and sawmills that dotted a largely open landscape. Afterthe cre­ation of the Park, the cherished culture quickly came to an end. Families were moved out of the mountains and resettled elsewhere. The McAllister Family did not lose their property but they did lose much of their community.

For Doug Decker and so many other attendees who remembered visiting with siblings Mertie and Cecil McAllister at their home, this March was a long awaited homecoming. Many Sugar Hollow families were represented by descendants of the Ballard, Boyne, Carr, Daughtry, Harris, James, McAllister, Sandridge, Via, Wonderley, Wood, Wyant families, and many more. The McAllister House was open for tours, and family members displayed photographs and fam­ily antiques. Signage along trails allowed visitors to see the family cemetery, root cellar, chestnut barn and other outbuildings, while learning how the McAllister Family would have lived on and used their land.

Phil James recalled, “Near the close of the day, one of those [Sugar Hollow] family members was over­heard to say in a most genuine manner, ‘I don’t want this day to end.’” Their lament mirrored the feelings of many in attendance. Oh, that Sugar Hollow folks could be brought together in a similar way every year!”

This article was featured in our Summer 2014 Member Newsletter, The Piedmont View.