I recently moved to SW Virginia from Florida. I’d heard that the Blue Ridge region of Virginia had a reputation for moonshining – especially Patrick and Franklin Counties. My friend, who walks the woods in these parts, told me about an old still site that he had found around Philpott Lake. The site was in the northern part of Patrick County, deep in the woods.
He gave me directions and off I went. I parked at the top of a high ridge near the foothills of the Blue Ridge. I hiked along the top of the ridge for about half a mile and then started down a ravine, following a stream. It’s very rugged land out there, still technically in the piedmont, but you felt as if you were in the mountains. I pushed through the rhododendrons, trying not to slip on the ice and snow into the creek.
I hiked down several hundred feet of elevation, and there it was – a busted up old still. It lay at the junction of two small creeks along a flat level spot. Much of the still was still intact. You could make out the furnace, the boiler, and other barrels. Everything had axe marks which meant that the revenuers had found it and busted the operation.
It was amazing to see everything in the condition it was in. I have no idea how old the still was, but it was in remarkably good shape. There’s a small tree growing out of the furnace, so I’d guess that it’s at least fifteen or twenty years since the still was in operation.
The one thing that struck me about this still was that it was made of sheet metal and wood nailed together. I know that in the old days, a hundred years ago or more, moonshine stills were works of art made of copper. As time went on, and larger operators came into the business, stills were made of sheet metal. I had no idea that the stills were nailed together with wood, though. I’ll have to do some more research on this.