Secrets of the Blue Ridge: The Country Store at Greenwood

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This modern masonry building was built as the new home for the Country Store in 1940 after an earlier frame structure was destroyed by fire. It remains a popular destination today for those searching out antiques and one-of-a-kind treasures. (Photo courtesy of E.O. Woodson Jr.) Additional images accompany the print edition of this article.

The area surrounding Greenwood is flush with history. It is hard to believe that before the arrival of the railroad tracks to that section of western Albemarle County in the early 1850s, there was no Greenwood community, much less a “downtown” Greenwood.

“Uptown” Greenwood got rolling first with the arrival of crews that labored to excavate the rail bed and hand-drill Claudius Crozet’s easternmost mountain tunnel. While Greenwood Depot denoted the temporary end of the Virginia Central Railroad’s line extending westward from Richmond, steam locomotives were refilled with mountain spring water and driven onto a massive apparatus that turned and pointed the engine back east. The soon prospering Uptown greeted arriving railroad passengers with a hotel and general store, and a private boarding school that employed teachers from Jefferson’s University at Charlottesville. A decade later, Uptown faced firsthand the fury of Civil War troops and their bent for mayhem and destruction.

Greenwood’s train depot greatly enhanced life and business in the Greenwood region for many decades. Inadequate modes of transportation and poor road conditions drove passenger and commercial traffic onto the trains until well into the 20th century. The coming of automobiles and, finally, public monies for road improvements, gradually weaned travelers away from the steel rails.

At the foot of the steep roadway leading to the depot sat H.R. Boswell’s store in downtown Greenwood. Depending on wind direction, pungent fumes from his sassafras mill in the side yard often tainted his corner location. Less frequently patronized during the heyday of rail travel, his mercantile establishment nevertheless sat at an important crossroads in the community. Directly across the road stood the venerable blacksmith establishment operated by three successive generations of the Woodson family. Boswell was an active, contributing member of his community, serving on the Greenwood School Improvement League, as supervisor of construction for the village’s 1908 two-story schoolhouse located behind his store business, and as a school board trustee who aided the establishment of yet another community high school building in 1921.

The hugely popular and successful Country Store that had no equal in western Albemarle County eventually replaced Boswell’s store and mill. Their stationery stated “Dealers in Most Everything”. Advertisements of the day left little question that if it were needed for farm, orchard, home or business, they likely had it on hand, or could quickly get it for you.

A devastating but temporary business setback occurred during the afternoon of Tuesday, November 7, 1939. A fire that was believed to have begun in the basement furnace quickly swept through the wooden structure, despite the best efforts of Crozet, Charlottesville and Waynesboro firefighters. Their diligence saved the store manager’s home next door as well as Greenwood High School. After three hours time, only a smoldering heap remained. The financial losses, fortunately insured, totaled more than $50,000, a formidable sum in its day.

A modern masonry building replaced the burned structure, and for several more decades it anchored the community. The Country Store sat on Greenwood’s “hot corner” (the intersection of Greenwood Station Road [Rt. 690] and Greenwood Road [Rt. 691]), to borrow a baseball term easily recognized by Sammy Fox who, as a youth in the late-1930s, worked at the store for 15-cent wages (while he anticipated his next baseball game). Both before and after the fire, the pace and patterns of rural life could be observed from the store’s long, covered front porch.

Diagonally across the road once sat a massive rock crusher where convicts in boldly striped suits, overseen by serious-minded guards with long guns, broke large rocks into many smaller ones that were used to improve the surface of the road toward Jarman’s Gap. During WWII, around-the-clock village volunteers staffed the Aircraft Warning Service spotting tower, logging and reporting all planes passing overhead. Later, at that same location, the Corner Garage kept everyone’s vehicles in good repair. When its days of service ended, the post office located there.

Nearby, Tobe Moyer’s barbershop might have been open for business—unless a customer or passerby had convinced him to accompany them to a spot where the fish were said to be biting that day. Always dependable Country Store clerk George Ellinger could have been seen daily going to work from his lifelong home on Greenwood Road, gathering day by day his century’s-worth of Greenwood memories.

Sheila Fox grew up just a short walk down the road from the country store. She fondly recalls her father Sammy’s tales of growing up in the village and his working at the store as a youngster. She also remembers the Country Store as it was during the 1960s and early ’70s when it was operated by Walter and Lucy Young.

“In the summers,” she recalled, “my brother, sister, and I would scour the ditches and roadsides to find soda bottles that we would take up to the store for two-cents return fee each. Instant wealth! Of course, we never took the money. We would use our newly acquired funds on the vast array of penny candy that the Youngs had lining the insides of the U-shaped counter cleverly positioned right there at child height. Squirrel Nut Zippers, Mary Janes and Bit-O-Honeys. The list went on and on, each mounded up in its own container. Heaven on earth!

“The store had everything—it wasn’t just a grocery store. There were pots and pans, sewing notions, glassware, apparel, etc, to the left. Then on the right side, it was a grocery store. During our teenage school years, all the neighborhood children would walk up to the store to buy little baby Cokes and honey buns or Juicy Fruit gum, and linger in a warm place while we waited for the school bus which would come down from Newtown and then turn left unto Jarman Gap Road. Greenwood Country Store was a fixture in our little community.”

Today she maintains a presence within that storied institution with sought-after examples of her magician-like expertise creating imaginative and useful furniture and decorative items.

Cherished memories are still shared today by a gaggle of young girls who would arrive at the store via pick-up truck ride from their grandmother’s home several miles away at Casa Maria. Without fail, Mr. Young wittily welcomed the group as they entered the store with a loud, “Hi, boys!” Indignation prevailed, of course, among the little group while they “did their shopping”, but then faded away (until the greeting was repeated during their next visit) while they enjoyed their customary Sugar Daddy on the return trip down Greenwood Station Road.

You know, they just don’t make downtowns—or country stores—like they used to.

Follow Secrets of the Blue Ridge on Facebook! Phil James invites contact from those who would share recollections and old photographs of life along the Blue Ridge Mountains of Albemarle County. You may respond to him through his website: www.SecretsoftheBlueRidge.com or at P.O. Box 88, White Hall, VA 22987. Secrets of the Blue Ridge © 2003–2017 Phil James

2 COMMENTS

  1. I am happy to report that George Ellinger is still alive, although no longer living in his home in Greenwood (I believe he is in a nursing home in Fishersville). I hope he gets to read this article!

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