Pineville sits in a narrow valley on the old Wilderness Road, beneath a high cliff and a big rock. For years travelers would ask about the rock, and so would local children, fearful that it would roll down Pine Mountain and flatten the town. The adults of Pineville would say there was no need to worry; the rock was safely anchored to the cliff by a chain.
That was a lie. There was no chain -- because a chain wasn't needed. The rock, despite appearances, was just part of the mountain.
In May 1933 some Pineville men were sitting around the courthouse, talking about the town. One of them, Headley Card, said he was tired of lying about the rock and that he wished someone really would put a chain on it. Another man, Pat Caton, said he knew of a chain on a wrecked steam shovel so big that it could be bolted to the rock and seen from the town below.
Inspired, the men christened themselves the "Chained Rock Club" the next day. They recruited help from the local Kiwanis, Boy Scouts, and Civilian Conservation Corps. Using mules and human muscle, they dragged the chain -- over 100 feet long and 1.5 tons -- up the mountain, then anchored it to the rock with 30-inch bolts.
On June 24, 1933, in just a little over a month's time, the project was complete. A local newspaper ran a story about it, the wire services picked it up, and Chained Rock became a national attraction.
To preserve the myth, a plaque was erected next to the rock that claimed that the 1933 chain had replaced an older chain -- but there was no older chain. Generations of subsequent visitors have believed it.
Chained Rock today is reached by a half-mile wooded trail from a mountaintop parking lot. That sounds easier than it is. Several "I'll just wait here" benches along the trail encourage the out-of-shape to bail out, and they should. By the time you get to the rock -- 200 feet long and 75 feet wide -- it's clear that climbing to the actual chain is not something for the dizzy or the weak. We saw several older visitors reach this point, take one look, then wisely turn around.
Chained Rock is a relic from an earlier time of no-safety-barrier tourism -- because there are no safety barriers. There's nothing between you and a 2,000-foot drop except your muscles and sense of balance. A good gust of wind could topple you to your doom. We would not recommend Chained Rock as a destination for small children, or for adults with a careless disregard for their own mortality.
For everyone else, it's great. You can cling to the rock and guess how many buildings it would take out in the little town below -- we'd guess most of the business district -- and marvel at the industry of the people who dragged such a ponderous chain all the way up the mountain. They really did a lot of work for something essentially ridiculous, an effort-to-result ratio at the heart of most good roadside attractions.
Chained Rock Club, we salute you -- but not while standing on Chained Rock.