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20 years in the Amusement industry

Part 12: Doswell - It Ain't just Kings Dominion!

While 99% of every car exiting I-95 right onto Route 30 turns right into the Kings Dominion parking lot, the savvy Doswell visitor may wish to “turn left” and visit one of Doswell’s other numerous cultural landmarks that does not involve being tossed, thrusted, heaved and thrown in several different directions at once.

And while here, also feel free to get directions, wait for the logging trucks to clear the road or even use the Exxon station’s pay telephone, since cell coverage is spotty at best.

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Jarrell'sTruck Stop: Land of Lost Opportunity

The story is the stuff of Doswell legend, told to this writer personally in 1986 by the former owner of the Truck Stop, Owen Jarrell. According to Jarrell, in the spring of 1972 several executives from Taft Broadcasting were in Doswell surveying the 400-acre chunk of cornfield they either were purchasing or just purchased to build a sister amusement park to a similar one north of Cincinnati, Ohio. They were enjoying breakfast in the Jarrell Truck Stop restaurant when either the owner of Meadow Farm or the horse trainer approached the men. Smelling affluence, the man told them that he was with the horse farm down the road, where Riva Ridge was born, and he had a horse there that could really run – like even faster than Riva, and he was wondering if the Taft guys would be interested in investing, because he thought this horse would go far. According to Jarrell, the Taft guys replied thanks but no thanks, they were not interested in investing in some no-name horse in the middle of nowhere. The man left. I hear that horse would up doing pretty well after all.

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Virginia’s oldest free-standing Video Rental sign

Doswell proudly still sports one of the oldest video store signs in Virginia: the A-Z Plus Video store, with “Free Membership.” Standing proudly on Route 1 near Taylorsville Road, the A-Z Plus video store opened in the first floor of the now-private home in 1985. The “A-Z” meant that any movie available on VHS might be in stock, no matter what letter was in the title; the “Plus” presumably stood for the adult janitor’s closet, where a grey curtain and a flickering neon light separated the family offerings from the more randy selections. The A-Z Plus video store closed around 1991.

Directions: Heading north on I-95, take the Doswell exit and turn left on Route 30. Turn Left on Route 1 and go 1.5 miles. The sign will be on your left, facing south.

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The Doswell Tire Tree

For local dendrologists, students of vulcanization and even casual visitors to Doswell the Tire Tree is a “must see.” Standing over an embankment off Route 30 near Interstate-95, the Tire Tree is a fascinating anomaly of nature: the 18” diameter base of a 120-ft tall Oak tree is completely surrounded by a fully intact truck tire, guaranteed uncut. Local historians do not know the age of the Tire Tree, or of its origins. Feel free to scramble down the embankment and pose for family pictures, but watch out for tics and poison oak! The tire tree is open 24 hours a day, but optimal viewing hours are 7:00 am until dark.

Directions: Heading east from Route 1 on Route 30, pull over in the parking area just past Binn’s Road. The Tire Tree can be seen about 28 feet down from the Route 30 guardrail.

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Doswell Art Gallery (warning: adult themes)

Hidden from view just on the other side of the Tire Tree is the Doswell Art Gallery. Murals painted by some of Doswell’s most anonymous artists grace both sides of the C&O railroad overpass, hidden from general view to anyone but quick-thinking Amtrak riders and the most intrepid patrons willing to chance tics, snakes and sumac. The west side of the underpass hosts a large mural apparently titled “Felch,” judging by the gigantic label. Red-shadowed block letters command over an oceanscape of blue, yellow and white graffiti-themed elements. If you don’t know what “Felch” means, Wikipedia does a horrifically thorough job of explaining the meaning of the title.

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Directly across from “Felch” is “Aest Eyeball,” a more whimsical piece of dancing, stylized typographics executed in violet, lavender and light vermillion.

A painting in progress greets the hiker down from Route 30 that seems to say “Snake” or something. At least it doesn’t say “Felch.”

Directions: park across from the Binn’s Road turnoff and walk 400 feet down the abandoned service road. Take a left prior to the railroad tracks. The gallery is directly in front of you. Do not walk on the Railroad tracks. That is wrong.

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Historical grave: here lyes the body of Temperance Harris

Few visitors who careen into Doswell eager only to park, leave their common sense in the trunk of their car and ride scary rides may realize that one of the oldest existing gravestones in Virginia is located almost within spitting distance of the giant Intimidator roller coaster. Or it would be within spitting distance if it was legal to spit off the Intimidator, which it is not.

Anyway, the small Harris family cemetery sits on park property on a service road just off of Route 30, between the Kings Dominion greenhouse and the million-gallon water tank. The oldest marker there marks the resting place of a woman named Temperance Harris, and she died February 19, 1716.

According to genealogists, Temperance was born Temperance Overton at Blissland Parish in New Kent County March 2, 1678, the daughter of William Overton and Mary Elizabeth Waters. She married William Harris Sr. in 1695 and they had 12 children. William Harris was a land surveyor, and he “patented” 2,000 acres in Hanover County between 1713 and 1725. He built a small clapboard home there, called Cedar Hill, where he and Temperance raised their family. That home was still standing when Taft Broadcasting bought the property in 1972, and they tore it down.

An absolutely unforgivable act – serves those jerks right for not investing in that really fast local horse.

Temperance’s father William Overton died in 1697 in Jamestown. His father, General Robert Overton, was a Colonel under Oliver Cromwell, and commanded one wing of the army at the battle of Dunbar. He was sent into the Tower of London by Cromwell for unknown reasons and died there.

When Temperance died, her husband had a stone cut and set at her grave. That stone miraculously survived until 1934, when descendants of Temperance and William had the stone set in a large granite marker, with a facsimile of the original stone set facing the opposite direction. The only problem is the stone cutter got her death wrong on the facsimile, setting it at 1710 instead of the correct 1716. The original stone reads “here lyes the body of Temperance Harris deceased the 19 of feby1716 WH.”

Directions: Pass Kings Dominion heading east on Route 30. Cross over the railroad tracks and turn right on Route 688. Go almost one mile and turn left on Dominion Drive. WARNING: Private Property! Get permission to go further! Go approximately 1700 feet. The road turns sharp right. The cemetery is on your left (north side).

The Boston Marathon bomber is also buried in Doswell. That’s enough of that.

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