For 21 years Tillie Wood packed her things and made the eight-hour road trip from Roswell, Georgia to Pearisburg, Virginia to run Woods Hole Hostel. For hikers, this journey is a little over 600 miles and takes a good 6 weeks. Tillie was like a bird that had to flock north every spring in order to rekindle her love for her husband, along side the service she gave thousands of hikers. Tillie offered Appalachian Trail hikers a place to rest, solar shower, and a southern style breakfast for only $3.50.
Even when she was diagnosed with a terminal cancer at 89, she sat up in her hospital bed and said, “We need to leave for the cabin next week.”
Tillie and Roy Wood, discovered the cabin in 1939 on or around about Christmas day. They headed up Sugar Run Valley to find a place to spend the year so that Roy could do his thesis on the study of Elk in Virginia. Neighbors in the valley pointed out a little framed house which was set up for renters. Tillie didn’t take a liking to the place at all. She simply refused to live with “that cardboard wallpaper.” So, they were pointed up the valley to find a worn down cabin that had been built in 1880 by Stoney Holiday. He built the cabin out of chestnut logs from the land. He had hoped to farm the land, but gave up when weather and the rocky landscape crippled his dreams.
When they found the cabin, it was more in the shape of a barn. Tillie saw something to this majestic cabin. Roy said he could fix it up, granted there was no existing floor and the chinking was falling out. They lived in the rustic cabin for the year: bathing in the stream, sleeping with the mayonnaise in the winter to keep it from freezing, and making their main quarters in the upstairs bedrooms. The folks down in the valley called them "The Wild Woman and The Wild Man" because they didn’t live like normal folks. Roy finished his thesis after a year, paying only $5 in rent after not being able to find the land lord.
Another year passed when they got a call from the neighbor, Harlow Hoback. “Roy,” he said, “that 100 acres is for sale and it would be cheaper for me to buy the land than build a fence.” Together they bought the 100 acres for $300, ($150 each).
Several years later Harlow called again. "Roy there's a man interested in buying that land and I'm interested in selling."
My granddad asked Harlow if he could pay him what the man offered instead of selling his half. Tillie said they sold the down chestnuts and paid for the other half of the land with the revenue.
Over the next 40 years they rented the cabin to hunters, returning for brief over nights. Roy spent those years successfully preserving national forests and state parks through government work. He worked between Atlanta and Washington D.C. He also worked under Jimmy Carter as a Special Assistan to the Secretary of Interior. Tillie was a teacher of Biology. She was one of the few women from her generation to hold a Masters degree ( in Mycology - mushrooms). They also had three children. If you ever sat to have breakfast with her, you were sure to learn of one of them.
It was in 1983, they decided to go back to Woods Hole with their grand kids, Neville & Jere for the summer. They spent the next 5 summers restoring and mending Woods Hole. They added a kitchen onto the main cabin using an 1850's log cabin they found in the neighboring valley. They took the spare logs and built the bunkhouse. There son, Jere had the idea. He said, “Dad you should build a barn with the leftover logs”
Roy's response.. “Why don’t you!?”
Jere did. With some friends help, of course. The bunkhouse started as a workshop for Roy and a playhouse for his grand kids until a friend of theirs said they should open the place to hikers. They were only half a mile off the trail and hikers always wondered down for directions or a cold drink. Roy loved the idea. Tillie wasn’t so sure about inviting smelly hikers into her home. Once she warmed up to the idea, she asked, “What should we serve for breakfast?”
The only advice he gave was, “Don’t try to fill them up.” Tillie decided on a good old-fashioned southern breakfast of grits, eggs, sausage, biscuits, gravy, jam, coffee, and juice for $3.50. She didn’t serve water because that would be "too many dishes."
In May, 1986, they opened their doors to Appalachian Trail Hikers.
Roy passed away in 1987 at the cabin after putting the last step in the shape of a heart down to finish the renovation. He went to bed singing Amazing Grace only to pass in his sleep of heart failure.
Still unsure at first about opening her home to hikers and heart broken over the loss of her husband, out of love, Tillie continued to flock north for the spring.
For 22 years Tillie gave hikers a place to rest. She made the drive from Atlanta even after learning that she had cancer and only 6 months to live.
Tillie’s main worry was "who would run the hostel when she died?"
Her grand daughter, Neville, had been going to the cabin since she was 4 years old. She loved visiting and helping her grandmother when ever she was able. For the last two summers of Tillie's life, Neville began to help her grandmother full time. When she saw her grandmother's worries about what would happen to the cabin after she died, she stuck up her hand in honesty and said "I will." But even this promise could not secure the truth of what would happen.
Tillie passed away at age 89 in October 2007. During this time a major renovation was occurring at Wood's Hole. There was to be a downstairs bedroom so that Tillie would no longer have to climb the steep stairs to her bedroom. As the renovation was towards it's end, it became apparent to Tillie's daughter, Mary Jo that there was no one committed to living at the cabin which was in dire need of a permanent resident. Mary Jo called her daughter and asked her if she would like to run the hostel. Neville said yes again with out pondering this offer for a second.
After committing herself to this move, she called her husband. His passion for moving to the hostel was even greater than her own. They had both met at Woods Hole in 2005 while he was doing a thru hike and she was helping her grandmother. Michael (Drift Wood) saw what a wonderful opportunity this would be for the two of them. Together they took the next several months to plan their move.
Neville & Michael moved to Wood's Hole in Spring 2009 in order to continue her grandparent's legend and love story.
Woods Hole Hostel
3696 Sugar Run Road
Pearisburg, VA 24134
(540) 921 3444
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