Allen de Hart
In addition to being the Southern mountains’ trail measurer extraordinaire, Allen de Hart in 1957 founded what Louisburg College now calls the Allen de Hart Concert Series.
I was born September 3, 1926 near Woolwine in Patrick County, Virginia. My oldest brother, Moir, was 12 years my senior. With my two younger brothers, Willie and Richard, we four were a devoted team for exploring, building trails and treehouses, fishing, swimming and working on a large dairy farm between Woolwine and Bob White Covered Bridge over Smith River. The river passed through the farm. (Later joining our team was a sister, Virginia Ann, born in 1939.) Our environment was an ideal world for us, though it included some of the Great Depression years.
In 1936 Moir left the farm to work in Roanoke. Taking his place to help us construct trails for shorter routes to school and neighboring farm friends was a first cousin, Robert Dillon, 12, and two years my senior. Robert’s father, Guy, became one of the supervisors for the nearby Rock Castle Gorge Camp of the Civilian Conservation Corps in Rocky Knob area of the Blue Ridge Parkway in late 1937. What happened to me for the next few years changed my life from being a future farmer to dreams of trail and road engineering. Uncle Guy arranged for Robert and me to be part-time volunteers as water-boys and message-boys, mainly in the summers of l938-40.
Since the Appalachian Trail was being constructed in the Rocky Knob area, I recall on a water-boy visit I asked about the AT routing. The worker stated, “I think it begins in Georgia and goes somewhere north. I don’t know, maybe to Heaven.” Metaphor or not, from then on we called it “The Trail to Heaven.” Robert and I also began to hike completed AT sections. The Pinnacles of Dan was a favorite. (The AT was later relocated from the Rocky Knob area.) With the beginning of World War II, my plans for engineering changed, as almost all men in the Stuart High School class of l943 were drafted into the military. I was drafted later, l951, into the Korean War. Later, and out of the military, I completed university degrees, married Flora Ballowe, and in 1958 we joined the faculty of Louisburg College in Louisburg, N.C. I retired 52 years later.
After completing the AT in 1978, I recognized the need for comprehensive trail guidebooks in the Virginias, Carolinas, and farther south. I began by hiking and measuring more than 57,000 miles over the next 30 years (some of the miles were repeats for new editions). From wearing neoprene waders in the Everglades of the Florida Trail, from twisting among cypress knees shaped like pulsating alien creatures in South Carolina, and from the windswept Dolly Sods of West Virginia, each trail took a place in my soul.
In 1996 I began flagging and designing 60 miles of North Carolina’s Mountains-to-Sea Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway from Stone Mountain State Park south to Blowing Rock. The final six miles may be completed in 2011.
Today I can see my beloved Rocky Knob and Smith River Valley from DeHart Botanical Gardens, near and east of Lover’s Leap on U.S. 58 in Virginia.
I think of the CCC worker who said the AT went to Heaven. Is there an Appalachian Trail in Heaven? If not, I hope the CCC crew will help me and others design and construct it when we meet again.