The Dutch Oven, in Hillsville, Virginia, is so clean, I ate off the floor!
My floors are not always clean but I still practice the 5-second rule. Grant Miller dropped a donut off the stick while transporting them to the serving tray. I swiftly volunteered to eat it. Five seconds hadn’t passed and that floor was clean enough to eat off.
Rolin and Hannah Miller are celebrating more than a year in business. They opened the Dutch Oven on Court Street, Hillsville, Virginia after years of selling donuts and baked goods at farmer’s markets and festivals around southwest Virginia. Business continues to be good according to Hannah. “Friends and neighbors would ask why we didn’t bring our donuts to town instead of driving for an hour to sell them at the farmer’s markets”, says Hannah. “We yielded to popular demand and bought this building from the bank for a bargain, opening our business here in July 2013.”
Rolin Miller went from hammering nails to hammering the cash register. Hannah went from one oven to another. She trained as a baker her whole life, apprenticing under her mother, a seasoned baker with a large family to feed. Hannah worked at various restaurants in her teen years and has been baking ever since.
The Miller’s moved to southwest Virginia from South Carolina and are raising their seven children in an 18-family Mennonite community. The oldest is away at college studying to be a teacher. Grant, for the time being is helping out at the Dutch Oven. Much to Hannah’s chagrin, he will be leaving for a seven-month mission in Asia. The other five children attend Island Creek Mennonite School, Monday through Friday. On Saturdays, the whole family gather to help out at The Dutch Oven.
“Lunch is the big thing.” Hannah maintains. The Carroll County Courthouse is at the end of the block and very handy for lunch on court days. The Millers import their sandwich meats from the Ohio Amish company, Troyer’s Country Market. There are no GMOs and no MSGs or other preservatives. The award winning Baby Swiss cheese severed on the sandwiches was perfected over 50 years ago by Alfred Guggisberg from the Guggisberg Cheese Company in Ohio. In addition to loaves of Hannah’s breads, meats and cheeses are available by the pound for take-out. They also stock Amish Wedding Food brand canned goods of pickled treats and fruit butters that are traditionally served at Amish weddings.
The next time you’re speeding up and down Interstate 77 near the Virginia/North Carolina line, take a break and drive two short miles into Hillsville for a sandwich made on sourdough or wheat bread baked on the premises. If you prefer driving the more scenic routes in southwest Virginia along highway 52, you’re only a block away from a breakfast or lunch worth driving miles for. If a sandwich is too much, take a break for a donut or a cinnamon roll as big as a cat’s head or a pumpkin and cream cheese muffin, all baked fresh each morning. Leftovers at the end of the day are donated to Joy Ranch Children’s Home.
You can still find the Millers selling donuts at the Rocky Mount Farm Days once a month or at an occasional flea market around southwest Virginia, including Hillsville’s Labor Day Flea Market. You don’t have to wait for Farm Day or the Flea Market to try their delicacies. The Dutch Oven is open Tuesday through Friday from 7:00 am to 3:30 pm and Saturdays from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm, 118 Court St, Hillsville, Virginia. Call them at (276) 728-0302.
PUBLISHERS NOTE: This article was written and published in the Big Blue Magazine in 2008. The mansion now puts on a Haunted tour every October. Though they held another GrahamFest this year, the link to the GrahamFest website is no longer active. You can find out more about the Haunting tradition at HauntedGrahamMansion.com and more about the history and Civil War events at MajorGrahamMansion.com.By Dana Sapp I slowly drove along the dirt road enjoying the peacefulness and beauty of the cold, clear February afternoon. Cows stood in pastures around fresh hay bales and birds flew in and out of the thick brush that grew along the fence lines. As I topped a small ridge I got my first glimpse of the Major Graham Mansion in Grahams Forge, Virginia. As I descended the hill I could only imagine beautiful horse-drawn carriages carrying well-dressed men and women along the same path and up to the plantation entrance. I slowly drove through the magnificent iron gate and up to the house. As I drew closer the wear and tear of years of neglect could be seen. Josiah Weaver, the present owner of the mansion and surrounding ranchland is a southern Virginia native with business interests in Virginia and Florida. Even while living in Florida Josiah could not escape the call of the mountains and purchased the Major Graham Mansion and surrounding property to form W.W Ranch. Preserving the history, heritage, and authenticity of the land and its people continues to be his number one goal. Some broken boards and faded wooden shutters could never take away the dignity of this historic place. My tour guide that day was Mary Lin Brewer, festival director of GrahamFestUSA, an annual music festival held on these grounds Labor Day weekend. An avid historian of the Major Graham Mansion Mary Lin's enthusiasm spills over into her commentary. As we stepped into the cold quietness of the foyer the cold air seemed heavy with nuance and history. The mansion is believed to have been built around three very different structures. The first was a log cabin built by Joseph Baker in 1785. It is said that two of the workers building the house were promised their freedom by Mr. Baker after his death. The workers decided to speed up their freedom by murdering Joseph Baker that day. Did I mention that they were all making moonshine in the front yard of the cabin at the time and added Joseph Baker to the mash? The two men were hung on the ridge behind the mansion. The original frame section of the mansion was built in the 1830's with the 3-story brick portion added around the 1850's. From the finely detailed scrollwork staircase to the beautiful huge wooden doors, this 25-room home was clearly built on sophistication and refinement. Born in 1838, Major David Graham, an officer in the Civil War, lived in the mansion his entire life. Major Graham took over his father, Squire David Graham's iron business and farming interests. Always a commanding presence, the mansion is said to still hold some horrible secrets. With these secrets come unsettled spirits from the past trying to find rest from their dark memories. Over the centuries the Major Graham Mansion seems to have hosted everything from the macabre to the eccentric. Climbing the grand staircase to the second floor, our first stop was what is known as the Classroom. It is thought that Betty Graham taught school children here during the Civil War. A clairvoyant friend of Mary Lin's has felt a definite presence of a little girl named Clara. Clara was 7 years old when she died in the classroom from tuberculosis. Next we visited the Bridal Room aptly named for the etching on a windowpane by what is thought to be the diamond ring of a bride on her wedding day. Five sets of initials, a date, (February 24, 1864), and the written name M. Belle Pierce is found scratched onto the window. The clairvoyant also felt that someone who had occupied this room was not happy. Could it have been an arranged marriage? A jealous lover? The clairvoyant also felt that a lady had died in the adjoining room from an unexplained illness. As we ascended the stairs to the third floor, we came to the Confederate Room, a small, narrow room that leads to the attic. It is said that Confederate officers secretly met in this room making strategic battle plans during the Civil War. As we strolled through the house I tried to soak up its feelings and emotional turmoil of the past. Are these restless spirits still here? I never imagined that I would get the opportunity to return to the mansion on a more sinister quest. The next time I drove onto the Major Graham property was just before dark on a Saturday night. I was meeting members of the Virginia Paranormal Society at the mansion to spend the night and hunt ghosts. Formed in 2006 by Nick Ferra and Ron Thorne, these real life ghost hunters and their members spend almost every weekend in dark, scary places. Once the team arrived they immediately began unloading equipment. Our base station was in a downstairs dining room. Night vision cameras were immediately set up in four areas of the house where the most paranormal activity had been reported. This was not the paranormal society's first trip to the mansion. On previous visits they recorded a child's voice saying "What's your name?" near the Confederate room and a man's voice saying :I don't play that tune" in the parlor. Other equipment included digital recorders, flashlights (very important to me!), digital cameras, and an electromagnetic field detector. Yes, it was just like on TV! After the video monitor was set up in the dining room to capture all movement in front of the night vision cameras we only had one thing left to do....wait until it got dark..... really dark. Dividing up into teams, society members went to different parts of the house to listen and try to communicate with the spirits. I followed two members upstairs into the classroom. Sitting in a dark room, in a centuries-old house with a sordid past of war and conflict, listening for spirits, will shake even the staunchest skeptic. Listening for sounds, looking for shadows, a creak, a scuffle, a footstep, the feeling that someone is watching from the doorway. Yes I experienced it all. During two separate visits to the classroom I saw unexplained shadows, felt an uncomfortable, menacing presence, and heard strange sounds. I watched the digital recorder click off twice while laying on the mantel with no one around it as team members tried to coax reactions from the spirits by asking them questions like "What is your name?" and "Give us a sign that you are here." I do not think that Clara was there that night. Was she scared of this stronger, more threatening energy that we encountered? Had she experienced something evil during her young, short lifetime? In the Bridal Room I felt only peace. Nothing scary, no presence, not even the feel of a bride on the anniversary of the eve of her wedding. We happened to be there on February 23, 2008, 144 years later. I felt that I was pretty brave but I did draw the line at going into the basement where it is said slaves were kept in shackles. I figured if there was any place for disgruntled spirits that would be one of them! The team came back empty handed with only tales of a few "mummy spiders." By 1:00 AM everything had become quiet. No more knocks or strange sounds. It was almost like the ghosts have a bedtime too! Was Nick and the other paranormal members discouraged by this visit? Not at all. Most of them agree that the place is probably haunted. Some nights are just better than others so Nick and his team members will be back. They quietly break down their equipment and get ready to spend time next week analyzing the hours of video, photos and digital recordings they have collected. Do I think it is haunted? I cannot say that I saw or heard any ghosts but I am sure that there is something there. Leftover energies from days gone by, spirits who cannot find there way out of this realm because of past tragedies, heck, people who just plain don't want to leave this beautiful old place! If you are a fan of Civil War history, ghost hunting, or just like to visit historic places, the Major Graham Mansion is open during GrahamFestUSA on Labor Day weekend. For a small fee people can tour the house and learn about its former inhabitants and its ghostly findings. GrahamFestUSA also offers a wide variety of music and fun over two days. For more information go to GrahamFestUSA.com. Dana Sapp is a freelance journalist living on her family farm in beautiful Comers Rock, Virginia. She also works in the agricultural industry and loves spending time with her family riding horses, traveling and enjoying the great outdoors!