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Backroads books preserve a vanishing way of life

When Lynn Coffey and her husband Billy moved to the tiny hamlet of Love, Virginia, more than three decades ago they looked around at their neighbors and discovered a vanishing way of life.

Inspired to preserve the story of these people and their culture, she began publishing a newspaper about what she observed. Although the newspaper has been retired, she has extracted the essence of the stories and published them in three Backroads books. On Saturday, March 24, she will talk about her books and the folks that inspired them at the Smith Center in Staunton from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. The talk and book signing event is sponsored by the Smith Center Museum Store. A book signing and a sampling of some of those tasty mountain recipes will be part of the program.

Love, for those of you who don’t know, is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Augusta County just above Sherando Lake and just below the Blue Ridge Parkway. Although the current population is only 82, Love was once a bustling mountain community with general stores, grist mills, a post office, and churches. Although she has no formal training as a journalist, Lynn was inspired by the vanishing way of life she witnessed in her elderly neighbors. It was with the thought of preserving that life that she began collecting their stories and photographs and publishing them in a folksy monthly newspaper she called Backroads.

In 2006 Lynn and the newspaper simultaneously retired. But the clamor to preserve those newspapers in a more permanent manner put her back in the publishing world. She selected the best of the newspaper and compiled it in a book, Backroads: Plain Folk & Simple Livin’ in late 2009. The thirty-one chapters include subjects ranging from beekeeping, churning butter, early burial practices, digging ginseng, old-time recipes, butchering, chair caning, logging, as well as many in-depth interviews with the local people.

The book was so successful that Backroads 2: The Road to Chicken Holler followed a year later. It includes information on quilting, making lye soap, midwifery and home births, dowsing for water, mountain music, apple butter boiling, bear hunting, wild game recipes, driving cattle, river baptizing, plus continuing personal interviews with the hearty Scots-Irish people.

That was followed in October 2011 by, what Coffey says, the third and final book: Backroads 3: Faces of Appalachia. The thirty-six chapters contain information about gardening, cutting firewood, making maple syrup, squeezing apple cider, the CCC, scrub board washing and outdoor privies, along with more personal interviews with the mountain people.

The event, to be held in the first floor History Gallery of the Smith Center, runs from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and is free and open to the public. All three books will be available for purchase and autographing. Coffey will speak about her books and the people she has met on her Backroads journey. Visitors will have the opportunity to sample some of the tasty recipes passed down through the generations of families living in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The Backroads books range in length from 267 pages to 312. The 6 by 9-inch books are filled with photographs from a forgotten time. Although similar to the Foxfire books, these volumes capture the culture and faces of people right here in our own communities. For many the pages will bring back memories of a childhood almost forgotten.


What: Backroads books by Lynn CoffeySmith Center Museum Store, talk, taste testing, and book signing event

When: Saturday, March 24, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.

Where: Smith Center History Gallery, 20 S. New St., Staunton

Program: Author Lynn Coffey will talk about the disappearing way of life in the Blue Ridge Mountains that she has helped preserve in her three Backroads books. There will be stories about the people in the books as well as a sampling of some old fashioned recipes she has gathered, All three Backroads books: Plain Folk & Simple Livin’, The Road to Chicken Holler, and Faces of Appalachia will be available for purchase and autographing.

Fee: Free to the public

For more information: Smith Center Museum Store Manager Rachel Salatin at or 540-886-8755.

augusta free press
augusta free press