Williams Carter Wickham and Crozet, Virginia


by Phil James

wickhamSeedtime is a time of faith and hope—faith in the vitality of the seed and hope that Providence will again supply the nurture through harvest time.

Pleasant Green, the old Wayland homestead west of Crozet, Virginia, has witnessed an abundance of seedtimes over the past 175 (!) years. It has seen the local economy progress from tobacco to fruit to industrial manufacturing. In 1838, as one of the newer homes in western Albemarle County, it stood by while Claudius Crozet (1789–1864), Principal Engineer for the State of Virginia, passed by its front porch, marking a furrow for future railroaders to follow. A dozen years later it served as a place of respite for Colonel Crozet while teams of laborers worked to fulfill his vision of a great road “over and through the Blue Ridge.”

With the 1836 chartering of the Louisa Railroad, predecessor to the Virginia Central Railroad, the pace of life that had characterized old Virginia was altered for all time. Along that rail line, 20 miles north of Richmond and 90 miles east of Jeremiah Wayland’s Albemarle County abode, stood another plantation with ties to the Old Dominion’s aristocracy.

Carter family of Shirley Plantation. Political and social opportunities were the norm in this family also allied with the Nelsons of early Virginia. General Robert E. Lee was yet another esteemed member of this extended family. Anne Butler Carter moved to Hickory Hill following her marriage to W. F. Wickham. Their first child, Williams Carter Wickham, had been born in Richmond in 1820, prior to his family’s move into rural Hanover County.

Williams Carter Wickham grew up on the Hickory Hill estate and, along with his father, watched as the Louisa Railroad was constructed through their working plantation. A stop was established there, appropriately named Wickham, and their crops were loaded at its adjacent rail siding.

Following his graduation from the University of Virginia, W. C. Wickham entered law practice in 1842. Much of his time was spent, however, managing the business affairs of Hickory Hill. By 1849 he had married, was serving as a justice on the Court of Hanover County and had been elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. His military responsibilities began with his appointment as Captain of a cavalry unit in the Virginia militia.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, his company aligned itself with the Confederate Army. Wickham participated in many of the major battles. He was severely wounded more than once, captured by the enemy and paroled. He was promoted to Brigadier General in September 1863 and served in that commission for 13 months.

By the end of the war’s hostilities in the spring of 1865, the Virginia Central Railroad had suffered severe damage. The states of Virginia and (newly formed) West Virginia partnered to rebuild and expand this rail link so vital to their economic recoveries. Williams Carter Wickham was hired as president of the Virginia Central Railroad Company that November, and when the company merged with the Covington and Ohio Railroad in 1868 to form the Chesapeake and Ohio RR, Wickham was retained as president of the new corporation.

Monies required to fund expansions to the refurbished railroad were severely lacking during the nation’s reconstruction period. Wickham secured solid backing when he was able to trumpet the merits of the C&O to a group of investors headed by railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington. Huntington assumed the presidency of his newest investment and Wickham became his vice-president.

Meanwhile, back in dear old Albemarle County, the details of the last will and testament of Samuel Miller had been hammered out in the courts, and preliminary work had begun on Miller’s monumental gift to the orphaned children of his native county. The closest point on the railroad to receive delivery of materials for Miller’s school and shops was the Mechums River Depot. Because of the enormous scope of the project, Miller School officials petitioned the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad to establish a whistle stop three miles west of Mechums River at a point closer to the road to Batesville.

After watching the steady procession of goods and traffic along the eastern edge of his farm during the summer of 1876, Abraham Wayland (son of patriarch Jeremiah) settled in his mind what needed to be the next logical step. He sent his son Charles, then 15 years old, on horseback to the surrounding farms to collect signatures on a petition requesting the C&O establish an official station at the location of Miller School’s busy whistle stop.

That Centennial Year petition resulted in a personal visit from the vice-president of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company, Colonel Williams Carter Wickham. The trackside meeting adjacent to the Wayland and Ballard farms was brief and to the point. Wickham was presented with a list of possible names for the C&O’s newest station and, as legend states, he replied directly to those in attendance, “The name [of the new station] will be Crozet—or nothing!”

Williams C. Wickham (1820–1888) died while at work in his office in Richmond. He was interred alongside other family members at his beloved Hickory Hill in Hanover County. In 1891 his “comrades in the Confederate Army and employees in the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company” presented to the City of Richmond a memorial statue. Fashioned in bronze by noted Richmond sculptor Edward Virginius Valentine, the monument was erected in Richmond’s Monroe Park. The sentiments of the donor groups were summed up simply—WICKHAM: “SOLDIER, STATES-MAN, PATRIOT, FRIEND.”

Charles L. Wayland (1861–1953) also experienced many seedtimes through the course of his busy life. As a young man he worked as a telegraph operator in the Crozet and Waynesboro train depots. His larger work, in addition to providing for a family of ten, was as a commercial nurseryman, peach grower and exemplary citizen. At nearly 90 years of age he still recalled as a special highlight his youthful ride through the countryside collecting signatures on his father’s petition—and the naming of the depot and village of Crozet, Virginia.wickham-wayland_house