History of the Blackburn Trail Center


In 1913 a prominent Washington DC doctor, Doctor William Fowler purchased 10 acres of mountain property and had a "Mountain Cottage" built as a summer place where he could send his family to escape from the city during the hot summer months of July, August and September. On Friday afternoons the doctor would take the W & OD Railroad, get off at the Round Hill train station and be driven up the mountain in a carriage. On Monday mornings he would be picked up and returned to the train for the trip back to DC where he would spend the week at the hospital where he practiced. The original buildings consisted of the main house of log construction where the family lived, a small two-room cabin used by the family's staff and a separate garage building known as the "Carriage House. Doctor Fowler eventually sold his property to an adjoining landowner who later sold the complete tract consisting of the buildings and about 250 acres to two Northern Virginia families, The Chanel's and the Cobb's, who used it as summer home and a hunting lodge. In the 1960's Mavis Cobb bought out the Chanel family and continued to use it for herself and her friends. In 1978 Mavis sold all of the upper part of her property to the National Park Service for protection of the Appalachian Trail, which runs along the top of the ridge, and retained the house and 80 acres. By this time Mavis was quite advanced in years and was having difficulty keeping up the property and in 1979 she decided to put it on the market.


About a mile south of the Mavis Cobb's property there was an old stone shelter, the Wilson Gap Shelter, built by PATC in 1940 right on the Appalachian Trail. This shelter was built at the end of a gravel road close to several mountain homes and in the 1970's it started to be used as a party place becoming a big problem for both the Club and the local landowners. In 1978 PATC made a deal with a local landowner whereby the Club removed the shelter and in return received a right of way over the west side of the mountain where the relocated trail would be well away from the road. This left a missing shelter link and so the Club began a search for a new site. In 1979 Ruth Blackburn along with other club members came across a "For Sale" sign and followed the road up to the property. Ruth reported that a tree limb had fallen through the roof; the front lawn was up to the height of the screen porch, the buildings had been broken into and that the road leading up the mountain was in very poor condition but that this would be a perfect replacement for the Wilson Gap Shelter. Mavis was approached and after some negotiations PATC purchased the buildings and 20 acres with Mavis retaining 60 acres and financing the purchase for the Club over 7 years. The property was dedicated to Fred and Ruth Blackburn for their many years of dedicated service to PATC and to the Appalachian Trail.


Because of the extent of the work required to renovate and manage this new property and because the Club was just beginning work on the Vining Tract project the Cabins Committee declined to take on this cabin so it was decided it would be managed by the Supervisor of Trails. It was also decided that this would be a multi-use property to be used not only for hikers but also as a Trail Center where the Club could put up trail crews, hold training seminars and meetings. When not being used by the Club the Center could be rented to PATC members. In 1980 several different work crews began the work of renovating the facilities but they lacked coordination and a master plan. Also the buildings were constantly being broken into so in 1981 Jim Douglas, then the Supervisor of Trails, asked Lynn Olson to form a Management Committee to coordinate the project. A seasonal caretaker was hired to live in the building to meet and greet hikers and day visitors and to generally keep an eye on the property. Under Lynn's direction work proceeded over the next several years. The kitchen was renovated, the small cabin was rebuilt and turned into the "Hikers Hostel" and the porch flooring replaced. In 1983 the first annual Pig Roast was held at Blackburn and a couple of years later the summer B-B-Q was instituted. In 1986 Lynn moved to Florida and Sandi Marra became Manager of the committee. In 1987 Sandi ran a very successful fundraiser enabling us to drill a new well replacing the old hand dug well that ran dry each summer. During the winter months Harry Thompson would bring his Shelter Crew up so work continued right through the year. In 1989 Mavis Cobb sold her remaining 60 acres to the Club enlarging the property to 80 acres of wooded land. In 1996 Sandi took on the responsibility of President of PATC and Chris Brunton took over as Manager of the Blackburn Committee.


 For some time club member Bruce Clendaniel had been working on a major renovation plan designed to turn the property into a true Trail Center capable of handling large groups. Council approved this project in January 1996 with the first work trip being held in March of that year. The project included modernizing and doubling the size of the kitchen, shoring up the basement, adding a bunkroom above the new kitchen, installing a new standing seam metal roof, expanding the wrap around screen porch and raising and replacing the Carriage House roof. Most importantly the Council approved money to improve the mountain road and trailhead parking area thus really opening up the Center to many more club members, day hikers and locals. Renovations continued from 1996 through 2001 with Bruce overseeing most of the work. Today the major part of the renovation work has been finished thanks to the dedication of many club members and friends. In 2000 the Club purchased an adjoining 16.5 acre tract and in 2001 a 50 acre tract bringing the total number of wooded acres to almost 150 all of which help to protect both the Trail Center and the Appalachian Trail.


Other important projects completed during these past years include the construction, over two seasons, of stone steps on a very steep section of one of the blue blaze trails leading up to the AT. This work was performed by PATC's Cadillac Crew and led by Jon Rindt.   6 tent pads were built close to the house and a picnic pavilion was built just below the Hikers Hostel. This pavilion was funded by ALDHA, built by two Eagle Scouts and dedicated to the late Ed Garvey, long time hiker and big supporter of the Blackburn Trail Center. Improvements were also made to the group campground just above the Trail Center.


Today Blackburn sees literally hundreds of visitors each year. The Center is listed in all the trail guide books, in the Hikers Companion and is shown on PATC's map 7. This has made Blackburn a very popular stop over for both north and south bound hikers and for section hikers. It is popular also with day hikers and local visitors looking for a short hike on the mountain. Most warm weather weekends will find a group in the campground. The main facility is heavily used by the PATC for meetings and training seminars and is now a popular rental place for larger groups something the Blackburn Committee encourages as a way to help offset the cost of operations. The annual Pig Roast and Summer B-B-Q events each attract 60 to 80 attendees and are now big family events. Proceeds from both of these events go to the Club's Lands Fund.  


As with most PATC cabins there are always several projects waiting to be worked on. With help from PATC volunteers we hope to be able to finish some of these in the coming years.


-Chris Brunton