Big Walker Mountain Lookout

October 21, 2009

Big Walker Lookout is still drawing tourists just as it's done since a tower was built near the top of Big Walker Mountain in the 1950s!

The coming of Interstate 77 in the early 1970s could not kill business at this antiquated roadside attraction whose centerpiece is a 100 ft steel tower. Fire couldn’t kill it either, although it destroyed a gift shop and former restaurant on the property.

Stuart Kime, Ron Kime's father, was an aircraft engineer who got the idea for the tower while working on a similar structure in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas.

Near the end of World War II, he found the spot for his tower right on the Bland and Wythe county line at an elevation of 3,405 ft.

He opened a gas station and gift shop in 1947 then built a 50 ft tower himself by 1953. He hired a company to add another 50 ft to the tower and he and his wife Abigail opened a restaurant called the Pioneer Dining Room complete with a 4,000-sq-ft basement where the family lived and where Ron Kime and his sister grew up.

Kime built a new store and filled it with country crafts and the work of local artisans. Now, 6 yrs after the disastrous fire, Big Walker Lookout is still drawing tourists off US 52 just as it’s done since Kime’s father built the tower in the 1950s.

For $5, a person can climb the tower, which shimmies and bouces with each step. The climb is worth it when you reach the top and soak in the nearly 360-degree views which include WV mountains to the north and Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain to the southwest. Three states are visible: WV, VA and NC

The old shop and restaurant burned in February 2003. The swinging bridge crossed to the tower and was connected to the back of the old general store. It was not destroyed by the fire.

Site of the former restaurant, gift shop and family home.

Among Big Walker Lookout’s attractions were a snake pit and a chair lift that crossed the road and climbed the mountain toward a faux moonshiner cabin.

Parking lot view of the previous access to the swinging bridge to tower. Although you can still walk on the swinging bridge, it now leads away from the tower to this dead end.

Beautiful view off the parking lot near the swinging bridge.

Owner Ron Kime (right) gives Bob Whittinghill and admission sticker to climb the 100 ft tower. (Roanoke Times newspaper)

The 70s and 80s were tough times for the attraction. The Kimes even turned over the operation of the lookout to another couple in the early 1990s, but Ron and his mother took it back around 1992 - right about the time the scenic byway opened.

Big Lookout Mountain is the entrance to the Monster Rock Trail. About a 10 minute walk will reward you with a cliff overlook that spreads the valley views before you. As you are on TOP of the mountain, you can see both the north and the south valley views and woodland flowers on the trail. (WE MISSED THIS! - next time!)

John & Yvonne at the top of the tower.
He's not smiling: doesn't like heights!

Looking North - patchwork quilt of the farmlands.

Looking South - The untouched wilderness of Jefferson National Forest.

Those mountains are incredible!

Now he's smiling! I was glad he went up with me!

I climbed the tower at Big Walker Lookout!! :)

And here's my admission sticker to prove it, complete with date stamp!

Shooting into the sun here.........

Interesting view of the road cutting across the side of a mountain.

He's all smiles because we're on our way down! :)

Big Walker Lookout, which used to be open only from spring to fall, is now open year-round. History tours and bluegrass music are on the weekend schedule throughout the end of October.

There are many old signs posted on the building.

We see Smokey the Bear signs quite often down here.
Apparently because of all the mountains and forests?

John resting on the porch while I take pictures.

The BW Country Store features gifts, Amish wood accessories and furniture, local craft and artist’s works. There’s hand dipped ice cream cones and good old fashion fudge. The shop features of 30 varieties of home canned james, relishes and other fixins’.

They have special entertainment every weekend all summer and fall. Their crafters and artists demonstrate their skills or special shows are presented. Schedule is posted on their website at or call 276-663-4016 for info as to who is performing or demonstrating.

I reached right for that Pappy's XXX White Lightnin'
- only to realize it could not be the "real thing"!

Local craft and artist’s works.

Craft prices are surprisingly reasonable!

Good old fashioned candy - always a staple!

You can always find all sorts of Rebel gear in the south!

Ron estimates that business is up nearly 25 percent over last year. He has plans for the future, such as starting a trolley to the mountaintop. This type of attraction is unique now, he said. There were hundreds of them in the 50s, now there are none.

Heading home and 12 Miles South of the Tower on US 52 is the small town of Wytheville in Wythe County which was named after George Wythe, who was the first Virginian to Sign the Declaration of Independence.

This unique town landmark, stands outside Wythe Office Supply. It was erected in 1959 by businessman John Campbell Findlay. The aluminum pencil is almost 31 ft long and held in place by steel cables

Built in 1921, the Wythe County Courthouse is located in downtown Wytheville, Virginia. The courthouse serves as the seat of Wythe County Government.

Wythe County is also the Birthplace of the “Father of Texas,” Stephen F. Austin, and Edith Bolling Wilson, wife of President Woodrow Wilson.

Looking down Main Street of this small town.
Pink ribbons were everywhere for Breast Cancer Awareness Week.

MILLWALD - is a combo of the names of former owners Morris Miller and Rolfe Ewald. They owned the theatre which was built in 1928.

They apparently also owned this Barber Shop by the same name.

Note: During the Civil War the Battle of Cove Mountain was fought in Wythe county.


Back on I-81 heading home, we had to pass this Antique Mall.
I am sure anyone from Roanoke will recognize it as it sits prominently off I-81

Ron Kime, owner of Big Walker Lookout, and his wife Diana, and sister Linda Hedrick, also run the Old Fort Antique Mall along I-81 near Max Meadows.

Long time manager Anne Britton helps run the place most days.
I've often wanted to stop in here, so we did this time after going to the Lookout.

Inside this mall at the above booth I found among the postcards an old card of Northport Harbor, NY where my family lives and I bought it for my daughter who collects cards of Northport. I was surprised to find it there!

I saw this picture of the Dionne Qunits for sale at the Mall.

They were a favorite of my mothers when she was young and later, when I was born, she named ME after two of the quints: Yvonne and Marie. The other quints were Annette, Emilie and Cecile.
As a result, I have always had a "special interest" in them.

They were born May 28, 1934, two months premature, and were the first quintuplets known to survive their infancy. They are the only female identical set of five ever recorded. The sisters were born just outside Callander, Ontario, Canada near the village of Corbeil.

Annette - Emilie - Cecile - Marie - Yvonne
After 4 months with their family, they were made wards of the King for the next nine years under the Dionne Quintuplets' Guardianship Act, 1935. The government and those around them began to profit by making them a significant tourist attraction in Ontario!

Quintland was built and the quints lived there full time. They were put on display several times a day and hundreds lined up every day to see them!


Donna said...

Yvonne I tried to leave a comment but I don't believe it went. I think I need to subscribe to have a google account.? Anyway I will try again.

Yvonne said...

Your comment went through Donna! I have to approve it before it's posted and I wasn't online all day as I was sick. You don't have to subscribe to google. Thanks for viewing the pics. Glad you liked them. Y.

Drifting Away said...

These pictures are amazing. Love the commentary too! Can't wait to retire someday so I can go and see these places in person!
Keep up the good work so I can live vicariously through you!

Yvonne said...

Hi Kris! Just found your comment though I did receive an email on it. So glad you enjoyed the pictures!! I love our mountains down here :)