Two Area Lakes Figured into My Early Years: Hungry Mother State Park and Cox’s Lake

A Virginia legend states that when Native Americans destroyed several settlements on the New River, south of what became known as Hungry Mother Park, Molly Marley and her small child were among the survivors taken to the raiders' base north of the park. Upon finding help, the only words the child could utter were “Hungry Mother,” indicating a strong craving for food.

A significant highlight of the late 1940's was for my family to embark on a short excursion to a local state park, Hungry Mother State Park, located in Smyth County is just above the Virginia line near Marion, Virginia.

The park, which gets its name from the Hungry Mother Creek that feeds the lake, is situated on a 108-acre lake with a manmade beach. What makes it so pretty is the gorgeous view of the mountains surrounding the lake.

Hungry Mother Park with the little white fence visible in the lower left

The beach consisted of a fully enclosed white wooden fence positioned in the water along the left side of the beach. Parents could allow their youngsters to play in this fenced-in area without having to worry about them getting too far out in the water.

On one journey, I played in the sand with my bucket and shovel most of the day. When we departed and returned to our W. Watauga apartment, I realized that I did not have my bucket. Mom picked up the phone and pretended to call the park and ask them to be on the lookout for my sand bucket. This gave me hope that I would eventually get it back. Isn't that just like a mom? I soon forgot about my sand bucket.

We went to this recreational area several times during summer months. I have pictures of these trips in our family album. For some reason, we stopped going there around 1952.

During the July 4th, 1993 weekend, my family and I revisited Hungry Mother Park. It looked about the same except the wooden fence in the kiddy's pool was long gone. The picnic area was a little bigger than I remembered it. Several new parking lots had been added. It was about as crowded in 1993 as I remembered it to be in 1948.

I never gave any thought to how Hungry Mother Park got its unique name. During this visit, we pulled over at a Virginia welcoming station and I asked the attendant if she know how the park got its name. Surprisingly, she did not. I just had to find out. The lady, wanting to assist this, searched through some material she had but could find no reference to it. 

During March of 1996, my son, Brandon, and I went to our main public library. He was doing a research project on Edgar Allen Poe. While I was in one of the isles looking at some books, he came walking up to me grinning. He had found the park mentioned in a book.

And now, (drum roll)… According to my source, here is the legend of Hungry Mother Park: “An early pioneer named Molly Marley, her husband, and their small son were caught in an Indian raid;  her husband was killed immediately.

“Molly and her son fled from the Indians. After several days of wandering and eating berries to stay alive, Molly collapsed from hunger near a creek at the foot of a mountain. Her son, after trying to arouse his mother, followed the creek seeking help until he arrived at some houses. He was so weary and hungry himself that the only two words he uttered were “hungry” and “mother.” Help came too late for his mother.” The mountain was named Molly's Knob and the creek became identified as Hungry Mother Creek. The park later assumed that designation.

Advertisement for Lakeview Park, formerly Cox's Lake and later Cox's Lake

I have fond memories of going to that beautiful park on Saturdays in the late 1940s and early 1950s. I have no explanation why we stopped going there. I soon became much enamored with another body of water … Cox's Lake (originally known as Lake Wataussee), once located on Lakeview Drive (figure 2). I could quickly access it on my bicycle.

Once, I nearly got electrocuted when I stepped on a live wire that had fallen to the ground; I was in a wet bathing suit and caused quite a stir, but that is another story. And no, I didn't have my sand bucket and shovel at this lake.