Mutton Hollow

When I was little, my parents were asked to serve at a small church, Mutton Hollow, nestled up a hollow at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains between Elkton and Stanardsville, Virginia.  It is a very unique stone church built out of river rock.

The church as it was in the early 1950’s.

This was a big sacrifice for my parents who had to travel Route 33 west from Penn Laird where we lived and cross a steep, winding mountain.  It took us about an hour to go to church. I would get very car sick every Sunday, on the way there and on the way home. Mother said sometimes I could make it to the top of the mountain before throwing up. There were three of us kids and my younger sister also suffered terribly from motion sickness.  My folks had to deal with two puking kids and the mess every Sunday and nothing helped.

Today Gene and I traveled to Harrisonburg and decided to take the scenic Route 33 instead of Interstates 64 and 81 as we normally do. Times have changed, the road has been widen, straighten and the road across the mountain greatly improved. But let me tell you, it is still steep and curvy and include “run-away truck ramps” for out-of-control truckers to save their necks and loads. Gene made comment that he would not want to drive a truck across that mountain.

We had extra time and I asked Gene if we could take a side excursion. I wanted to see Mutton Hollow Mennonite Church, now renamed Mt. Hermon. At the base of the mountain on the Stanardsville side is a dirt road (Mutton Hollow Road) with a small church sign saying two miles.

I only have a few memories of attending there as it was before I was four years old. One of them was fording the flooded creek in the car and the water came up to the headlights. I remember daddy being concerned that he could be in trouble.  I remember one Sunday walking into my Sunday School class with a small red purse with a long strap dangling from my shoulder. I was so proud!

I also remember one Sunday as we crossed the mountain seeing a tractor trailer that had failed to navigate the curves down over the steep side of the mountain. Daddy stopped the car and we all gazed at the scary sight wondering how they would retrieve the truck and if the driver lived. As we were staring down the side, another church family stopped to look.  (Ike Risser family).

I also remember the pipe sticking out of the rock with mountain water flowing somewhere going up the mountain. There were several picnic tables in little coves along the road for travelers to stop and rest or seek relief from their motion sickness. I don’t remember, but I suspect that my folks had to make use of both spots to clean and calm their puking girls.

Today as we turned down Mutton Hollow Road, I was very anxious to see “the creek”.  We soon came to a nice concrete bridge crossing the creek and I had to stop and take pictures. To my surprise, we crossed the creek (on bridges) three more times.  So, I have no idea which crossing was the one I remembered! There were a few sparse houses on the road but we mostly wound through Shenandoah National Forest.  We could hardly believe that a church would be so far back in the middle of nowhere with almost no homes around.

The first concrete bridge.

The other crossings seemed to have more water.

The little mountain stream was flowing fairly well.

Two miles later, we rounded a corner and there in a clearing was the stone church just as I remembered except they now have a building program with a major addition being added. We were stunned. Where do the people live that attend there?

The front door of the church was wide open and you could see the preacher behind the pulpit.

It is good to know the church is still thriving and bringing God’s message to the community of Lydia.

Today the parking lot was full of vehicles!  I got a couple of pictures from the road but we couldn’t snoop around.  The setting was beautiful, a step back in time, with the dirt road still running between the church and the creek.  Just past the church, the dirt road ended and a paved road lined with homesteads took us back out to 33. We realized we had come in the back way, up the hollow, to the church.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip down memory lane today. And for memory sake, this is the picture of Judy Risser Pritchart (left) and I (right) at one of those crossings or down the bank beside the church.

I struggled with car sickness even up into my teens years. By the time we were married, it had mostly disappeared, however, I have to be careful especially on curvy, narrow and up and down roads. I credit several things; better roads, better cars with air conditioning and the privilege of now being the front seat passenger!  Our cars in those days were real “boats”! It can still sneak up and get me if I am not careful like the historic Route 58 in southern Virginia several years ago. I have no desire to return!!!

The following two pictures taken by Judy Risser Pritchard several years ago before they started the renovation project.

The original is the back section.  The front is an entryway with bathrooms and a library.

I like this picture as it shows the year the church structure was built. History records that the church was organized in 1936 as a mission outreach from Eastern Mennonite University and they met in a local Brethren Church.  It is recalled that the first structure either burned or flooded (at a different location) and a new building was built on the current location.

We would have attended 1951-1956.

Several additional pictures shared by Bertha Horst…the road up the hollow. She got better pictures than I did.

One of the few homesteads nestled in the edge of the forest.

Now you can really see why we wondered why there would be a church up this road!


  1. Kendra L Said:

    Someone can correct me, but I think a number of the people that go to Mt. Hermon “cross the mountain” every Sunday.
    If you care about being perfectly correct, I think you traveled east on 33. And the town is Stanardsville, although many people do call it Standardsville. =)
    And if you travel that route again, there is a delicious bbq joint (The Barbeque Exchange) in Gordonsville that we always make a point to stop at.
    Do you still get carsick like that?

    • Kendra L Said:

      I’m just seeing that the email version I read didn’t contain the last part of your post, so forget the carsick question! =)

    • Pat Said:

      Thanks and I corrected the spelling. I never noticed that it was missing a “d”!

  2. Janessa Heatwole Said:

    This was such an enjoyable read!!!:) I grew up attending Mt Hermon, and have only recently been attending elsewhere. My husband and I live in Dayton and the 45 minute drive to church was getting to be a little much. I love that little mountain church and the people there with all my heart. People from Linville, Dayton, McGaheysville, Weyers Cave, and Elkton all make that drive across the mountain for church. The church pews are typically filled on a Sunday morning and yes, as you witnessed, windows and doors are often opened to allow for breeze but also to hear the crik 🙂 The cabin you took a picture of belonged to Addie Dean, who married at the young age of 13 and would tell the story of the first time she heard an airplane fly over. The bridges were reconstructed in the last 10 yrs I believe… but for most of my childhood, they were just slabs. Anyway, all that to say, thank you for this write up!!

    • Pat Said:

      Thanks for your comments. It all adds to the story. I love knowing the story of Addie Dean. I would love for you to tell the airplane story!

      • Pat Said:

        I am curious also who you are and how you fit into the Heatwole family. I don’t recognize your name.

      • Janessa Heatwole Said:

        The only snippet I remember being told me about Addy Dean and the airplane is that she hid behind her mothers skirt and they were all amazed by this flying “thing”:) As far as who I am, I married into the Heatwole family. My husband, Alex, is Margret Wenger Heatwole and late Oren Sr. Grandson. His parents are Oren Jr and Cheryl Heatwole:)

      • Pat Said:

        Very interesting. I know exactly where you belong! I am a third cousin to Oren Jr. though it always seemed closer than that as our parents were good friends.

    • Angela Said:

      And I’m thinking Sherman who lives there on that property is one of those I spoke of that no one should try to recon with. His brother I think Mauzy lives below the pictured property nearer the church. Who also cannot be reckoned with. Don’t try.

  3. Audrey Landis Said:

    We would’ve loved to have you stop in and ‘snoop around’ 🙂 the new addition is going to be great once it’s completed!! My family lives in McGaheysville, and make the trip every Sunday. (When the bridges aren’t washed away) Lovely post!

    • Pat Said:

      Thanks, and sometime I just might!

  4. Angela Said:

    Ma’am I liked your little story. I like to think I’m still living in those times of your memory’s even though I never have. But I know the area well, and I don’t attend a church ⛪ but I feel that if we had more like your parents who went through hell & high water to get to church in BFE the world would be a much better place today. The members of this church today are just as dedicated as your parents were. And, most of the civilization that you did see on your stroll down the mountain and through the hollow are the most kind & inviting souls you’ll ever meet. But don’t cross them. Because everyone knows right and wrong. That’s how we were raised.

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