Just across the border from West Virginia and over East River Mountain one can take Virginia Route 623 up the side of Rich Mountain, traverse the short distance through Little Creek Valley and go through "the gap" into Burkes Garden.  In July of 2005, I passed through the gap to enjoy some time in a little bit of paradise.  Burkes Garden is a valley ten miles long by five miles wide that sits like an island on the top of a mountain plateau.  The entire valley is ringed by mountain ridges and peaks that go up over 4000 feet.  Along the southern ridge of Garden Mountain snakes the Appalachian Trail.  The valley floor is home to 280 people and beautiful rolling farm land. 

Ariel photo of Burkes Garden by Melvin Grub
used by permission www.grubbphoto.com

"First explored before 1748 by eastern Virginians while the entire region was being surveyed for James Patton, who claimed ownership, Burke’s Garden actually earned its name, and in an unusual way. James Burke, one of the survey team, left the peelings of potatoes he was cooking laying on the ground. A year later, he and other explorers returned and found a bountiful crop of fresh potatoes awaiting them." (1) As a joke the area was given the name "Burkes Garden."

Burkes Garden - Photo by AuthorOne item of history tells the beauty and value of this place.  In the 1880s George Washington Vanderbilt II was looking for a place to build his lavish estate to be known as Biltmore.  He was smitten with the beauty and uniqueness of Burkes Garden and with his vast financial resources thought he would have no problem acquiring the garden for himself.  He found out that the land owners in Burkes Garden would not sell at any price.  Jim Hoge the unofficial mayor of Burkes Garden recounts, "He tried hard to buy it. In those days to acquire land in Burke's Garden one either had to heir it or marry it and Vanderbilt had done neither. So Vanderbilt put the 255-room Biltmore in Asheville, N.C., his second choice."(2)  The farmers of the Garden valued the ability to pass on the fertile soil and quiet solitude of the valley to their children as priceless.  They as a group announced to Vanderbilt that Burkes Garden was not for sale!

Burkes Gardne Post Office - photo by authorIn this day when money talks, it is refreshing that in some things it doesn't even whisper.  It stuck me as I drove across the valley floor how different if this place had been sold 120 years ago.  I wouldn't be enjoying the sense of remoteness, the separation from the commercial.  In the heart of the valley is the Burkes Garden post office.  A sign over the door  reads "Burkes Garden VA. God's Land."  While I don't presume to know the full intent of the sign's creator - I can imagine, even after my short visit, that those who call this place home know that the land they walk is a gift from the Almighty.

I also wonder if I fully appreciate the gifts that the Lord has given me and if I ever "sell out" for cheap substitutes rather than reveling in who my God is and what my God has done and is doing.  There is always the possibility of exchanging God's standards of morality for the quick payoff of self-gratifying pursuits.  There is the temptation of valuing my ease and comfort rather than treasuring the blessing and contentment of doing God's work. 

This struggle is one of the reasons that led me to this brief excursion into Burkes Garden.  I schedule a day or two into my year to leave the office, phone and computer behind, to get out of town and  reflect on my life and ministry and to spend some quality time with God.  I always return refreshed and refocused and once again able to see what is of true value in light of life and eternity.  The serene landscape of Burkes Garden provided the setting for my most recent escape.  Perhaps it is time for you to get away and re-evaluate what is not for sale in your life.

Jesse Waggoner
Associate Pastor
© 2002 Bible Center Church

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(1) CrabOrchardMuseum.com
(2) http://www.cc.utah.edu/~pdp7277/burke-1.html

More on Burkes Garden
from Southern Living Magazine
from Historical Markers of Tazwell Co.
from Steve Shivers (great pictures and descriptions)