‘Wild’ night at Graves Mountain Lodge
Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze lit up the screen in Dirty Dancing, a chick-flick many of us will admit to watching a million times. While Max Kellerman’s upstate New York Catskills resort doesn’t actually exist, the film’s producers were able to capture the old-school family retreat feel at the Mountain Lake Lodge in Pembroke, Va., set at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The filmmakers could have instead easily chosen Graves Mountain Lodge in Syria and captured the same essence, perhaps more.
This local gem evokes the imagination — a rustic 300-year-old lodge, a place of gentle horseback rides, fresh water trout fishing, and wildlife filled hiking trails stretching up to Shenandoah National Park. It is nestled within a stone’s throw of the breathtaking White Oak Canyon.
Here one celebrates myriad events, including annual summer bluegrass music and apple festivals. Dining is homemade cooking, from recipes local grandmothers and generations of great-grandmothers have passed down.
The expansive wraparound porch, reminiscent of bygone days, is accented with cozy country rocking chairs. Gatherings inside fill multiple rooms overflowing with locals and visitors alike, enjoying a night, weekend, or long vacation savoring the country quiet and Blue Ridge starry nights.
It is such a place that hosts once a year a “Wild Game Night” to honor J.W. Aylor, a beloved local resident who died in 2007. Several hunt groups donate and conjure up fabulous foods ranging from bear, pheasant, venison, fried chicken and mashed potatoes — with a dessert table that looks like a presentation out of Bon Appetit’s country cooking edition.
The event, held this past weekend, has mushroomed over the years, growing to over 700 invited guests. When the food runs out, the night is done. The cost is simply a donation and all proceeds go to a good cause.
Rachel and Jimmy Graves, owners of the lodge, preside with gracious oversight, and the volunteers are in abundance. The game night is known in these parts (or so one volunteer shared whilst sporting a huge smile on his rugged face) as “the most disorganized/organized annual event in Virginia”.
The history of the lodge is equally fascinating.
Captain Thomas Graves sailed a ship from England to Jamestown in 1608. He established for himself quite the quintessential Virginia pedigree, having served as a representative in the Virginia Assembly at Jamestown and on the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg. In 1852, Paschal Graves, the grandfather of Jimmy Graves, the current owner of Graves Mountain Lodge, opened an “ordinary” or inn along the Blue Ridge Turnpike on land that is now part of Shenandoah Park.
Eventually the Graves family moved to their current location and a log home was built. Over the years additions were added to what today remains the homeplace of generations of the Graves family.
* Graves Lodge is located 3626 Old Blue Ridge Turnpike in Syria. Phone: 540-923-4231