in 1939, Tillie and Roy Wood headed up Sugar Run Valley to find a place to stay while Roy worked on his thesis on the Elk in Southwest Virginia. Neighbors in the valley pointed towards a little framed house set up for renters. Tillie didn’t like the place at all. She simply refused to live with “that tacky cardboard wallpaper.”
They were pointed up the valley to find a worn down cabin that had been built in 1880 by Stoney Holiday. Stoney built the cabin from American Chestnut logs on the land. He had hopes of farming the land, but gave up when weather and the rocky landscape crippled his dreams. On Christmas day in 1939, Tillie & Roy discovered the cabin that would become Wood's Hole Hostel.
When they found the cabin, it was more in the shape of a dilapidated barn. The cabin boasted a dirt floor, with crumbling chinking between the logs. One could see the stars through the pin holes in the rusted tin roof. Despite its flaws, Tillie & Roy saw something in this majestic cabin. Roy said he could fix it up.
They came to live in the log cabin for the year: bathing in the stream, sleeping with the mayonnaise in the winter to keep it from freezing, and making their main quarters the upstairs. The folks down in the valley called them “The Wild Woman and The Wild Man because they didn’t live like normal folks.” Roy finished his study of the Elk after a year, paying only $5 in rent after not being able to find the landlord.
Another year passed, when they got a call from the neighbor, Harlow Hoback. “Roy,” he said, “that 100 acres is for sale and it would be cheaper for me to buy the land than build a fence. Would you like to go in and buy it with me.” Together they bought the 100 acres for $300, ($150 each).
Several years later Harlow called again. “Roy, there’s a man interested in buying that land and I’m interested in selling.”
Roy asked Harlow if he could pay him what the man offered instead of selling his half.
Over the next 40 years they rented the cabin to hunters, returning for brief overnights. Roy spent those years successfully preserving national forests and state parks through government work. He worked between Atlanta and Washington D.C. He also worked under Jimmy Carter as the Special Assistant to the Secretary of Interior during his Administration.
Tillie became a school teacher focusing on Biology. She was one of the few women from her generation to hold a Masters degree (in Mycology, i.e. Mushrooms). They also had three children. If you ever sat to have breakfast with her, you were sure to learn of one of them. Mary Jo was a Veterinarian, Ben a “world renowned architect,” and Jere was a lawyer and Mayor of their home town: Roswell, Georgia.
In 1981, after Jimmy Carter was not re-elected, Roy decided to retire. Tillie and Roy spent the next 5 summers restoring and renovating Woods Hole, hosting their grandkids Neville, Jere, Amy, and Travis.
A second American Chestnut log cabin, circa 1830s, was found in the valley, disassembled and relocated to add a kitchen onto the back of the main cabin.
Their son Jere had an idea. He said, “Dad you should build a barn with the leftover logs.” Roy’s response: “Why don’t you!?”
Jere did. With some friends' help, of course. The bunkhouse started as a workshop for Roy and a playhouse for his grand kids until a friend of theirs said they should open the place to hikers. They were only half a mile off the trail and hikers always wondered down for water, to borrow the phone, or just out of curiosity.
Once she warmed up to the idea, she asked, “What should we serve for breakfast?”
Given the advice from a friend, “Don’t try to fill them up.”, Tillie decided on a good old-fashioned southern breakfast of grits, eggs, sausage, biscuits, gravy, jam, coffee, and juice for $3.50. She didn’t serve water because that would be “too many dishes.”
In May, 1986, they officially opened their doors to Appalachian Trail Hikers.
Sadly, Roy passed away in 1987 at the cabin the night after putting the last step in the shape of a heart down to finish the renovation. He went to bed singing Amazing Grace only to pass in his sleep of heart failure.
Still heart broken over the loss of her husband, out of love, Tillie continued to flock north for the Spring.
For 21 years Tillie Wood packed her things and made the eight-hour road trip from Roswell, Georgia to Pearisburg, Virginia to run Woods Hole Hostel.
For hikers, this journey is a little over 600 miles and takes a good 6 weeks. Tillie was like a bird that flocked north every spring in order to rekindle her love for her husband, alongside the service she gave thousands of hikers. Tillie offered Appalachian Trail hikers a place of rest & rejuvenation, with a primitive solar shower and a southern style breakfast for only $3.50.
Even when she was diagnosed with a terminal cancer at 89, she sat up in her hospital bed and said, “I hope that doctor gets his act together, because I need to leave for the cabin next week.”
Tillie’s later concern was “who would run the hostel when she died and tend to the hikers?”
Her granddaughter, Neville, had been going to the cabin since she was 4 years old with her sister. She loved visiting and helping her grandmother whenever she was able.
For the last two summers of Tillie’s life, Neville began to help her grandmother full time. When she saw her grandmother’s worries about what would happen to the cabin after she died, she stuck up her hand in honesty and said “I will.” But even this promise could not secure the reality of what the future would allow.
Tillie passed away at age 89 in October 2007. Only a few short months before her passing, a major renovation had begun at Wood’s Hole to ensure that two log structures would be in place for another 100 years. There was to be a downstairs bedroom so that Tillie would no longer have to climb the steep stairs to her bedroom.
As the renovation was towards it’s end, it became apparent to Tillie’s daughter Mary Jo that there was no one committed to living at the cabin which was in dire need of a permanent resident. Mary Jo called her daughter Neville and asked her if she would like to run the hostel. Neville said yes again without pondering this offer for a second.
Neville moved to Wood’s Hole in Spring 2009 in order to continue her grandparent’s legend and love story. They place an emphasis on sustainable living thru organic farming, animal husbandry, communal meals, massage therapy, yoga, and much more. She has continued to renovate and upgrade the buildings and property, serving the Appalachian Trail Hiker community as well as expanding in to a Bed & Breakfast.