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June Tolliver Playhouse ...home of The Trail of the Lonesome Pine

In 1881, Jerome Hill Duff arrived with his family in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. At the time, it was known as "Three Forks." The family lived in a one-room cabin near a rock quarry. Soon after they settled in, a sawmill was brought in and set up near the cabin. Duff took advantage of that and used some of the wood to build an eight-room house for his family. As the area grew and more people moved in, Duff added more rooms to the house, and it became the town's first hotel. 


Duff purchased the lot across the street and was building another home for his family, but before it was finished, the hotel was destroyed by fire. The family moved into the unfinished house, then Duff passed away. For years afterward, people stayed as guests in the Duff family's home. Over the years, it became a place where young people would drop in to enjoy evenings of music and fellowship.


Today, the house on Jerome Street (in honor of Duff) is known as the June Tolliver House & Folk Art Center, in honor of the central character in John Fox Jr.'s book, The Trail of the Lonesome Pine. 


The house is a registered Virginia and National Historic Landmark. It is next door to the June Tolliver Playhouse, home of The Trail of the Lonesome Pine outdoor drama. For sixty years, the drama has entertained visitors to Big Stone Gap. 


The Playhouse seats approximately 335 people. The serene outdoor setting is nestled into an area surrounded by tall evergreens. A small waterfall and pond add to the serenity of the outdoor amphitheater. 


The Trail of the Lonesome Pine is based on Fox's novel of the same name. The drama tells the story of a lovely Appalachian Mountain girl named June Tolliver and Jack Hale, a handsome mining engineer from the East. A brochure about the musical drama "depicts the story of the great boom in Southwest Virginia when the discovery of coal and iron ore forced the lusty, proud mountain people into making drastic changes to their way of life."


Fox was one of Virginia's best-selling authors in the early 1900s. His books chronicled the customs and characters of rural Appalachia. The Trail of the Lonesome Pine was published in 1908 and became one of the first million-selling novels in the United States. The novel was adapted for the stage and produced at the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York in 1912. The film version was written, directed, and produced by Cecil B. DeMille in 1916. 


The play was first performed in Big Stone Gap in 1964 when The Trail of the Lonesome Pine was adapted into a stage play by Earl Hobson Smith and Clara Lou Kelly. The play was named the Official Outdoor Drama of Virginia. 


The show continued to be produced each year, guided by Barbara Creasy Polly, who originated the role of June Tolliver in the 1964 production. Polly served as the show's artistic director, general manager, and producer until her passing in 2016. Her vision was instrumental in acquiring the John Fox House (now a museum) and the June Tolliver Playhouse. 


The show has seen many adaptations and revisions in its sixty years at the Playhouse. It is one of the longest-running outdoor dramas in the United States. The cast members are all local residents, most of whom have never been on a stage before. Many have performed in the show for years (even decades). The production is entirely a volunteer effort by Lonesome Pines Arts and Crafts, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the artists of Southwest Virginia. The main focus is to entertain the guests who travel to see the show while honoring the history and traditions of the past sixty years. 


If you plan to go, check ahead to see if there will be a special event on the performance evening. From time to time, there are wine tastings, craft vendors, or food trucks before the show, so you'll want to arrive early. Otherwise, the routine is the same: the box office opens at 7:00 pm, and local musicians provide pre-show entertainment at 7:15 pm. The house band, Ol' Dave and The Pickers plays a selection at 7:45 pm, followed by a flag ceremony and the singing of The National Anthem at 7:50. The show then begins promptly at 8:00 pm and has a run time of an hour and fifty minutes with a ten-minute intermission. 


The show is outdoors, and sometimes Mother Nature doesn't cooperate. In the event of rain, the weather is assessed, and if possible, the drama will continue after the rain passes. 


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