The African-American community at Dry Fork began around 1880, when freed slaves purchased land in the area, and remains Bland County's only African-American district. Most of Dry Fork's 250 residents live today on tracts of land purchased and farmed by their direct ancestors, on acreage that has been passed down through generations. For over 120 years residents of the area have lived, worked, played, worshiped, and attended school together on Dry Fork land.
Private ownership of Dry Fork has been traced back to wealthy plantation owner Thomas Walker of Monroe County, who acquired 4000 acres on Dry Fork Creek in 1841. Following his death in 1853, the land remained in the hands of his estate administrators to whom he bequeathed it to pay off debts. The land was apparently not needed for this purpose and remained in the Walker estate until 1877, when Walker's grandson, Thomas F. Walker, purchased the 3000 remaining acres. Thomas F. Walker then sold the land to nine African-American families between 1879 and 1883. These families came from Bland, Pulaski, Tazewell, Floyd and Franklin counties. When Walker died in 1885, his heirs filed suit against the Dry Fork landowners, and, while records are incomplete, it appears that those who could offer proof of purchase were granted a deed while others lost their property. One man named "Mack" Ferguson was able to buy back his land and was finally issued a deed in 1891.
These first African-American settlers of Dry Fork gained economic independence through farming the land. Many worked in the lumber industry as well, or sought employment in the nearby coal mines or on the railroad, two industries that hired black workers. Some took advantage of the area's moonshine economy which became prosperous in the 1930s. These means of extra income supplemented income from farming, allowing Dry Fork residents to survive as landowners when many other small agricultural communities could not.
Tynes Chapel was completed by 1901 on land donated by A.J. and Emma Tynes. Soon after, Dry Fork Baptist Church was constructed across the creek. Families belonged either to one church or the other but generally attended services at both. The churches held dinners and summer social events, Sunday school, and Christmas and Easter programs. In 1981 a new Tynes Chapel was constructed on adjacent lands, replacing the original building. In 1999, Dry Fork Baptist Church was torn down, but Tynes Chapel remains.
In the late 19th century, residents built a log school on the Shields family's land along Dry Fork Creek. A small frame elementary school was later constructed next to Tynes Chapel, though students who wished to continue beyond the elementary grades had to go to Tazewell County. Along with all the one-room schools in Bland County, Dry Fork school was closed in the early 1950s, and all students rode the bus to segregated Tazewell County schools. Following desegregation in Bland County, Dry Fork children attended Rocky Gap Combined School.
Although over the years young Dry Fork residents have left the area for urban communities, many are returning to the land. Researchers continue to document the area's past and record oral histories given by community members, in order to preserve the rich African-American heritage of Dry Fork. The oral histories are housed at the Rocky Gap High School in the community of Rocky Gap.
The Dry Fork community is located at the head of the Dry Fork Valley, between East River Mountain and Buckhorn Mountain. Immediately in front of Tynes Chapel is the site of the one-room frame school, and on the hill behind the chapel is the largest of the community's cemeteries. Across the road from Tynes Chapel are the remains of the Dry Fork Baptist Church, and across the creek the house that A.J. Tynes built still stands.
Tynes Chapel is located four and a half miles up Dry Fork Road, two miles north of the Rocky Gap community on the North Scenic Highway. Rocky Gap High School is located in Rocky Gap, one mile from the Rocky Gap exit off Interstate 77.
Geographical and Contact Information
The Dry Fork community is located at the head of Dry Fork Valley, between the East River and Buckhorn Mountains.
Rocky Gap, Virginia