Highland Resident Glad To Be Back Home In Mill Gap
Mill Gap, VA – A steady stream of visitors passed through Mill Gap Supply on Monday, welcoming Keith Scott back to his store. Scott has been in the hospital for 15 months undergoing ankle and foot surgery and just returned home on Sunday. Keith’s wife Luanne has been running the store during Keith’s absence and visiting her husband on weekends.
Keith was in the hospital on the Fourth of July, when the store marked its 35-year anniversary under the Scott’s proprietorship. The couple re-opened the general store on July 4, 1976, but Mill Gap Supply opened for the first time in the first decade of the 20th century. Now in the second decade of the 21st century, the store remains a Mill Gap landmark, and is the only store along the 40-mile stretch between Monterey, Virginia and Huntersville, West Virginia.
The Scotts might seem an unlikely couple. They met while they were both working in Florida. Keith, a Virginia native, was a Vietnam combat vet – a former Army helicopter door gunner working construction. Luanne, originally from Michigan, was driving an ice cream truck.
Keith usually worked as a crew chief and gunner aboard a big Chinook transport helicopter, but the young soldier also flew many sorties as a door gunner on Hueys, the iconic chopper that carried infantrymen into and out of combat zones. Keith went down three times in disabled Hueys, but fortunately, all three times, the aircraft was not far off the ground and inside relatively secure landing zones, or LZs.
“Well, where we went down was at the LZs,” said Keith. “We were taking people in, one time, and the other two times, we were trying to get out of there, but we didn’t make it. But we were pretty close to the ground all three times.”
The third time Keith went down in a disabled Huey, the LZ was not entirely secure, and fixed-wing air support was called in to stop an enemy attack.
“They came and threw the napalm out all around us, so, we finally got to where they brought some more ships in and got us out,” he said.
The door gunner and the ice cream truck driver met while working in Florida and fell in love, but Luanne told Keith he had to get a good job before they could get married.
“I told her I wanted to be her old man and she said, ‘well, if you want to be my old man, you’ve got to get a job.’ And I said, ‘well, if I’ve got to get a job, that means I’ve got to go to Virginia’ and she said, ‘go’ and I said, ‘okay,'” Keith said.
Keith returned to Virginia and got a good-paying construction job in Tidewater with Brown and Root. Luanne joined Keith in Virginia and the couple wanted to get married. Incredibly, Keith’s boss wouldn’t give him a day off. Finally, in December 1972, Keith came up with a reason for a day off that even his draconian supervisor could understand.
“December 30 – we told the boss that if I didn’t get married before the end of the year, it was going to screw up my taxes,” he said. “So, the 30th, we got married. We took the day off and ran around, got our friends together and went down to my Daddy’s house down in Prince George County and got married in the living room of my Daddy’s house.”
Keith transferred with Brown and Root to Staunton, and Luanne found a job working in a hospital. In the spring of 1976, the couple rode to Highland County to visit the future site of the Bath County Pumped Storage Facility, where Keith expected to work with Brown and Root. They passed by the empty Mill Gap store, which had been closed for two years.
“I knew Highland County was a fantastic place because I used to come out here and I went caving,” he said. “I knew there wasn’t many places to live up here. So, we saw the for sale sign,” he said.
The couple decided to buy the old store and try to make a go of it. Even if the business failed, they figured, they would still have a place to live, in an area that both of them loved. To the couple’s great surprise, Bluegrass Valley Bank loaned them money to buy Mill Gap Supply.
The Scotts spruced up the place, opened for business and survived a difficult first winter. After construction on the pumped storage facility began in earnest, business picked up and Keith quit his construction job to work full-time at the store.
“We ended up getting in touch with the Wrangler people, and, while those guys were down there building the dam, that stuff went like hotcakes,” he said. “It was good.”
The business expanded to sell greenhouse plants and sales were brisk for several years, but the couple ended their labor-intensive greenhouse operation several years ago.
Keith said business has steadily declined over the last few years, but Mill Gap Supply will remain open, for now.
“We’re going to keep it open as long as we can,” he said. “There’s no reason to lock the door, yet, because once I get over this foot thing, I’ll still be up and moving. I’m happy to be home. Home is a fantastic place. As a matter of fact, I think home is a cosmic crossroads to the universe, and I hate to be away from Mill Gap because somebody might come in that I should have been there to talk to them.
“I’ve been on five of the seven continents, so far, and I’ve enjoyed myself on each one of them, but there’s no place I’d rather go to bed at night or wake up in the morning than Mill Gap.
Nobody was happier to have Keith back home than Luanne.
“I’m glad to have him back onboard,” she said. “He’s where he needs to be.”