Friday, August 05, 2011
Loose boundaries, tight community
Community center brings together the diverse population of history-rich Coopers Cove.
Photos courtesy of Cooper Cove Community Center
Children's activities, including a temporary tattoo application station, are included during events such as the annual ice cream social at the center.
Coopers Cove, one of Franklin County's oldest communities, is home to young and old, locals and transplants, who join together for regular events and activities.
The community center hosts regular events, including an annual spaghetti supper fundraiser. Proceeds from the dinner are used to maintain the center.
There are few communities on the lake whose residents can boast about longevity. Coopers Cove is one of the few.
According to a history compiled by its residents, the community located just up the Roanoke River channel from Hardy Ford Bridge got its name in the 1500s when the king of England granted a portion of present-day Franklin County to the Cooper family.
By the late 1700s, several farming families had planted roots along the side of Lynville Mountain. Growth came, including two Baptist churches -- Coopers Cove and White Rock, both of which maintain congregations -- and a two-room schoolhouse and tomato cannery, both lost to time.
The neighborhood was not, and still is not, defined by fences or entrance signs but by the people who have formed their own community.
Arnold Hurt is a self-described Coopers Cove native.
"I'm 75 years old and I've been here since I was 2," said Hurt.
His grandfather bought land in the area in 1883 and someone on his family has lived on the property since. Although Hurt left Coopers Cove for about 20 years after marrying Dot, the couple moved back to the family farm in 1972 to rear their children.
During his youth, Coopers Cove Road, today a heavily traveled bypass between Virginia 116 and Hardy Road, was nothing but gravel. Hurt said two or three cars crunched along the road each day and one of those belonged to the mail carrier.
"You always knew who they were; very seldom a strange car passed through," he recalled. "Now, it's almost like a super-highway as the traffic goes by to go into Roanoke."
Neighbors depended on one another to help reap the fruits of their labor, be it harvesting crops or butchering cows, said Hurt. Although much of the farmland is gone -- a watermelon farm has been replaced by Lakeshore Terrace subdivision -- neighbors still step up to help each other whenever needed, he said.
Kay Christiansen said the Coopers Cove community stretches along the road with the same name, down the streets that stem from it and into Lakeshore Terrace. Waterfront properties tend to be steep, so they're more affordable than the average lake lot, she said. According to county data, the average assessed value of area homes is $165,128.
Nety Reeker, who moved to the subdivision with her husband, Ron, in 2003, said almost everyone is a full-time resident; half are age 50 and older and half are younger families, some with children. Christiansen said there's a fairly even blend of Franklin County natives and transplants, with most coming from the Northern Virginia-Maryland area.
What brings them all together, said Christiansen, is Coopers Cove Community Center.
Membership in the center is optional at $25 for the first year and $10 to $25 (however much members are willing to spend) thereafter, with all money going toward maintaining the center. Currently, there are more than 40 member households, said Christiansen, adding that membership is open to anyone, anywhere, whether they live in Coopers Cove or in another county.
Founded 49 years ago, the center is a hub of activity. It's the area's polling place, site of the town hall and club meetings, and where the library's Bookmobile stops every month. It also plays host to a smattering of social events.
On Sept. 10 from 8 to 10 a.m., there will be a community breakfast with money ($6 for adults and $4 for children) going toward the center's upkeep. Another fundraiser, the annual spaghetti supper, will be held Nov. 5. Non-fundraising events include a Christmas potluck and ice cream social.
Reeker said the atmosphere at the center's get-togethers is lively.
"It's nonstop talking to everybody," she said. "You go around and around and around to everybody; there's never a quiet moment."
Everyone is warm and open, said Jeannie Mann, adding that the young and old blend together seamlessly.
"At one function, we had maybe a 16- or 17-year-old boy showing one of the elderly members about the Facebook page," she said. "Just to see that diversity there was, I think, pretty unique."
The frequent gatherings have created a close-knit community that harkens back to the early days of Coopers Cove.
"In Roanoke, I'd wave to the neighbors or say 'Hey' or whatever in passing," said Mann, who moved from the city 11 years ago with her partner Kim Roe. "It was not the togetherness [in Roanoke], I guess, that we seem to have here."
The camaraderie is so strong, some former Coopers Cove residents continue their center memberships even after leaving the area. John and Mary Boenke moved to Roanoke County about a year ago after more than 20 years in Coopers Cove. John Boenke said they've continued paying dues and attending community socials.
"We found it a nice little community," he said. "I think in any community, it's the people and it's the activities [that define it]."
Reeker said she thinks of her Coopers Cove fellows not so much as neighbors, but as extended family members who care and look out for one another.
"The other day, my husband and I went somewhere and we accidently left the garage door open," she said. "I got an email and a phone call about it."
Reeker said they didn't turn around and they didn't give a second thought to the possibility of someone breaking into their home.
"We knew everybody was aware and they were going to be watching," she said. "We were not worried about it one bit."
Not that the area sees much traffic aside from cars whizzing by.
There's isn't even much action on the water. Christiansen said few boaters venture under the Hardy Ford Bridge to see the community that sits on the cusp where the Roanoke River becomes Smith Mountain Lake. Those who do often are fishermen.
The Coopers Cove community is hidden, with many people fully unaware of its existence, said Reeker. And that, she said, has its pluses and minuses.
"I think it's a good thing if you want to be a little bit out of the hustle and bustle, but it's a bad thing when you're trying to get something like wireless or Cox cable," said Reeker. "It's a bad thing for that."
About Coopers Cove
Location: Franklin County
Size: More than 100 homes that range in assessed value from $16,000 to $481,800.
Amenities: Coopers Cove Community Center
Interesting fact: The Coopers Cove community is not limited to one subdivision, although Lakeshore Terrace is located within the community. There is no property owners' association, but area residents, and even those who live across the lake, can buy a membership to the Coopers Cove Community Center, which hosts various social events throughout the year. The center also serves as the area's polling site, public and town hall meeting space, and a stopping point for the library's Bookmobile.