|Continuing east on Highway 61, just over the mountain, you’ll find Burke’s Garden. Local lore has it that George Vanderbilt’s first choice for his mountain retreat (Biltmore) was Burke’s Garden. In the 1880’s the only way to acquire land in Burke’s Garden was “to heir it or marry it.” Unable to qualify for either means of acquisition, Mr. Vanderbilt had to look to Asheville, North Carolina to make his purchase.
Burke’s Garden is known as “God’s Thumbprint,” a title most obviously understood by looking at this aerial photograph of the area. Its origins are lost to time; some say it is the site of an old meteor crash and others say it was once all one dome with a limestone cap that collapsed on itself to form the bowl shape. No one really knows, but everyone agrees it’s beautiful!
| Your visit begins at the Burke’s Garden Country Store with the requisite front porch rockers and one gas pump. Inside the old plank floor creaks as you walk across it, and you may be able to engage in a game of checkers. Benches and another rocker surround the old pot-bellied stove which is the source of heat in the winter. This old store is the secondary source of news for the “Garden.” The first source of news is, of course, the Post Office, just down the road a piece. The Garden loop, part of the Heart of Appalachia Bike Trail and Driving Route , is an outstanding scenic route for cyclists and bikers. If you’re a runner, inquire about the “Varmit Run,” a 5K race on the first Saturday in June; you can compete with runners from all over the USA .
The Old Elementary School is now the community association headquarters and the central point of the Burke’s Garden Fall Festival held the last Saturday in September. This “harvest festival” offers the bounty of local farmers, artisans, crafters and bakers. The discerning visitor may take home farm fresh produce, locally made quilts, a loaf of freshly baked bread, homemade apple butter or hand spun yarn from Tazewell County sheep. Admission is free, but if you park in the Volunteer Fire Fighter’s pasture, please make a donation.
Now wind your way down a country road flanked by pastoral farms. The Post Office is on your way, and Mrs. Cox, Postmaster, is happy to sell you stamps or give you a local history of the Garden. Her family has been living in the Garden for generations and she’s one of the local authorities on Garden history.
Burke’s Garden is the fourth stop on the Mountain Heritage Loop. Page 2.