In hindsight, I suppose it was a good idea to four-lane U.S. Route 460 all the way through Mercer County, and on to Roanoke, Tazewell County, and well, everywhere for that matter.
But it sure was traumatic at the time.
I lived on the old 460 near Oakvale growing up, and that two-lane highway was, of course, the lifeblood of the area as far as business was concerned.
At one time, there were several stores on the road in that area, especially in Kellysville, which included long straight stretches of the road. Service stations, at least one with groceries and hardware, truck stops and other stores could be found.
Of course, a few beer joints as well. In fact, several. At one time, I think there were five beer joints within a few miles of each other along that stretch of 460 from Kellysville to Fountain Park.
The Bull’s Eye is the only one left, but that is another story.
Obviously, when the new four-lane was constructed and traffic dropped off drastically, so did customers. A big chunk of the local economy fell by the wayside, as did pieces of history.
As depressing as that was, though, the worst part of it was when people lost their homes to make way for the road.
Yes, I know what they always say. That’s progress, a price you have to pay. But it was rough.
For us, it was the loss of Aunt Tham’s house.
Her house was located just west of Oakvale High School, and she lived across the road from the nicest house in the area that belonged to Ed Davis, who owned the funeral home and a popular Texaco station beside the school.
At that time, the funeral home was located between his house and the school.
That little stretch of road was really pretty, with the creek, Five Mile Fork, running along the road and behind Aunt Tham’s house.
My cousin Gee and I played in that creek growing up and in the field near her house, as well as her huge front yard.
Her house was a very popular place for family and friends, where people gathered often and always felt at home.
Driving through there now, her house is long gone, so is the Davis house, so is the funeral home (which is now where the Texaco store was).
Instead, that beautiful little valley is merely ground support for huge pillars that support the four lanes of Route 460, towering above like bizarre long spaceships from an alien invasion.
It was a sad time for many, but Aunt Tham and Uncle Fred took it in stride, as they did everything. But I know it hurt, and hurt a lot.
Others lost their homes too, and it was always sad.
My Uncle Belmont lost his place near Littlesburg when the reservoir was built. A beautiful piece of land and small farm. Gone. For progress.
Well, now I can leave Roanoke, take Exit 118B at Christiansburg and drive straight to Bluefield, all on a nice four-lane highway.
A trip that used to take more than three hours now takes about half that time.
That, admittedly, is progress.
I enjoy the time saved, the convenience, of course. That part is great. The scenery continues to be nice as well.
With the time, gas and money saved by having such a nice highway, it is easy to justify constructing it in the first place.
We all understand that. Besides, with the volume of traffic these days, that old 460 would simply not be enough to handle it. Yet, I can’t help but feel a sense of remorse about what happened, not only for my family but for all the families and businesses that were impacted.
Life was never really the same after that. Our hearts changed, as did the landscape.
A real sense of community was lost. Not only that, as a driver and as a person who loves to travel, I enjoy riding on older roads and seeing life off the four-lanes, away from the interstates.
It’s like being on an airplane, looking down at earth and seeing forests, roads, cities, waterways and houses. Seeing, but not really experiencing it.
Actually driving through all of these small towns and communities, along creeks and railroad tracks, winding through and across the hills — there is nothing quite like it.
It gives such a sense of being alive and being connected and feeling comfortable. Just like being at Aunt Tham’s house.
That is, if you’re not in a hurry, which we all seem to be in these days. Oh well, I guess that’s progress too.
Charles Boothe is a reporter for the Bluefield Daily Telegraph and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org