Sarah E. Kucharski photo
One lone survivor
The Riverside Restaurant in the Brownwood area stands alone as a relic from the once-thriving community that grew around the train depot. Built in 1918 by the R.T. Greer Company, this building was a handling and warehouse facility for roots and herbs gathered from the mountains. After being baled, they were shipped on the Virginia Creeper to destinations around the world eager for the healing qualities of the native plants of the Appalachians. The community never rebuilt after being destroyed by the flood of 1940.
In what can be fondly described as in the middle of nowhere, The Riverside Restaurant at Brownwood is an outpost of bluegrass and fried fish along the shore of the New River.
The closest things around this little treasure in Todd, N.C., are cows and canoes, which should draw rather than deter diners. The restaurant was once the R.T. Greer and Company Root and Herb Warehouse, which was the nation’s largest dealer of crude botanicals in 1928, according to the National Register of Historic Places. The Blue Ridge Mountains were known for their abundance of natural resources, including roots and herbs. Small-scale gatherers typically sold to small general stores.
Warehouses dedicated to the industry were rare and tended to be in larger towns with established trading centers—hence the location of Greer’s warehouse in Todd was unusual. The warehouse was a branch of the company, which was headquartered in Marion, Va., and connected via the Virginia-Carolina rail line. The Riverside is on Railroad Grade Road.
At the warehouse, herbs were separated and stored until there was sufficient quantity to bale. Herbs were thrown from the second floor down through a square hole and into the baling apparatus. Bales were then loaded on to the train for shipment. When the rail line from West Jefferson, N.C. to Todd closed in 1933, the warehouse shifted to truck transportation, which lasted until the warehouse closed in 1945.
Head to The Riverside for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The menu ranges from chicken biscuits to a chef’s salad with homemade dressing, from a hand-packed third of a pound burger to grilled salmon filet. The fried fish is hard to pass up though, particularly served alongside fresh lemonade and sweet potato fries. Saturday and Sunday bring a breakfast buffet, with a lunch buffet on Sunday too. Don’t plan on eating too late—The Riverside stops serving dinner at 8 p.m.
Check the schedule for live music or storytelling, though there’s entertainment enough to be had checking out the historic photos upstairs, letting the kids play a game of tag in the wide open fields, or strolling down to the bank of the New River. There’s even Wi-Fi.