Preserving a Community—Through Lens and Badge

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The Square facing the C&O Depot was Crozet’s commercial center for many years. Storefronts in this block during the mid-20th century included Crozet Drug, Red Front Market, and insurance office, Crozet Variety Store, and a shoe repair shop. (Photo by Mac Sandridge).

Small towns often nurture their young men and women to become productive citizens—and those towns are made stronger when their citizens give back to the community. Such is the case with long-time resident Mac Sandridge.

Mac Sandridge came of age in a very different community than the one in which he now lives. Yet, vestiges of that bustling village of Crozet, where Mac grew up in the 1930s and ’40s, can still be found within the burgeoning Crozet where he resides again today.

The western Albemarle County of Mac’s youth was driven by the rhythms and demands of agriculture. Aerial photographs from that time period are defined by a prominent patchwork of apple and peach orchards.

From his south-facing backyard on Saint George Avenue, young Mac could hear the busy Chesapeake & Ohio Railway’s freight and passenger trains arriving and departing from the Crozet Depot. Several hundred yards away on Railroad Avenue, the Higgs and Young cooperage was still manufacturing wooden barrels for shipping fruit. At the close of fall harvest, a circus or carnival arrived in town and set up their tents and sideshows in a nearby field. The surrounding region enjoyed the benefits of Crozet’s prosperity.

Since 1924, nearby Crozet High School provided elementary and high school education to the area’s white students. Mac’s father, Malcolm W. Sandridge Sr., had graduated in 1921 from its predecessor, located between the Baptist and Episcopal churches on Saint George Avenue. Like others in his own graduating class of 1949, Mac enjoyed the guidance and safety of growing up in a unique and supportive village.

While an ABC Investigator looked on, Albemarle County Deputy Sheriff M.W. "Mac" Sandridge Jr. destroyed a barrel of fermenting mash during a raid on an illegal moonshine operation. (Photo courtesy of Mac Sandridge)
While an ABC Investigator looked on, Albemarle County Deputy Sheriff M.W. “Mac” Sandridge Jr. destroyed a barrel of fermenting mash during a raid on an illegal moonshine operation. (Photo courtesy of Mac Sandridge)

The much-loved and respected Reverend H. Lee Marston served his flock at Emmanuel Episcopal Church near Greenwood for over three decades beginning in the late 1930s. Like his fellow pastors, he was a friend to many in western Albemarle County, especially the youth.

“Lee Marston taught me how to swim,” Mac related during a recent reminiscence. “The Boy Scouts had a camp, a little building, down there at the spillway [at Lake Albemarle.] We used to go over there and spend the night. We’d all swim down in the spillway and that’s where he taught us how to swim. He was our scoutmaster. He had an old Chevrolet station wagon and he’d haul us all over in the Valley to the camporees and different things. We’d be in the back of that station wagon with the tailgate down with our feet hanging down over the road. He was a great scout leader.”

The youth of that day could always find seasonal employment picking and sorting peaches and apples during the fruit harvests. Throughout the year numerous businesses in the village provided work clerking in the grocery stores, pumping gas at the filling stations, or as a soda-jerk at the drug store. Some enjoyed jobs at the downtown movie theater.

“I ran the projectors [at Crozet Theatre] about every night my senior year in ’49,” Mac recalled. “Bobby Crickenberger ran the projectors there before I did, and I thought I’d love to do it. Ed Daughtry called me and asked would I help out there some. I used to go out and put up all the posters, on the trees up through Brown’s Cove and all. Ed Daughtry let me use his car—he had a ’48 Dodge with a fluid drive and I’d drive all around [putting up posters] and that was great!”

“I started selling popcorn and it wasn’t but a few weeks later he put me in the projector booth with Bill Miller. Bill ran the projectors at the theater and worked at the Cold Storage. He was the one that trained me. When Mr. Henry Smith bought the theater back from Daughtry I helped Mr. Smith in there even after I went to work in Richmond. I would come back and order the film for him on weekends. Then in 1952, ’53 and ’54 I did a lot of the book work and wrote the checks.”

Two choices made by Sandridge early in his life entwined to influence and direct his professional career. Our community and county has profited because of his decisions.

During his mid-teens, Mac nurtured a keen interest in photography and attended classes to learn the craft’s essential fundamentals. Many hours were spent capturing local scenes and processing and printing those results in a small darkroom set up at home.

A year after high school graduation, Mac elected to serve two years in the Marine Corps, including assignment overseas. On his return to the States and civilian life, his on-the-job schooling in the photographic arts continued while he worked at a professional studio in Richmond. Within a few years he was partnered with Allied Arts, a Charlottesville-based group doing commercial photography and photo engraving. For a while he also operated his own commercial studio in rented space above Crozet Drug.

A vital career move was initiated in 1957 when he joined the University of Virginia’s police force. Less than six months later he signed on with the County of Albemarle as a Deputy Sheriff.

During the latter 1950s and even into the early 60s, those charged with law enforcement in Albemarle County endured conditions relatively spartan by modern standards. Six to eight deputies were each assigned a section of the county. Mac’s patrol area included much of western Albemarle. Two-way radio communication, with the department’s base station was often spotty in the rural areas, and back-up help was available only if contact could be made with another officer, and then only if that deputy was not working a case at the same time. Deputies were on call night and day to respond in their area or assist in another.

Training was minimal and enforcement of the law was accomplished through each deputy’s wisdom and ever-growing pool of experiences. Extreme and unpleasant circumstances, including the physical and emotional aspects of handling tragic accidents and human altercations, were often carried out by a lone deputy. Fortunately, the court system of the day often operated with great efficiency.

“I’ve carried as many as five at one time to the penitentiary,” said Sandridge. “It used to be if we tried a person in circuit court and they got time, we’d have them in the penitentiary by three or four o’clock in the afternoon. The system worked and they’d take them right away. You didn’t have trouble with them either because you knew most of them. All of them didn’t commit that bad a crime.”

Mac’s photography skills came into frequent use as he documented crime and accident scenes. He was promoted to Chief Investigator in 1967, assuming the responsibility for all criminal investigation, while still being counted on to provide much of his usual coverage. In 1969 he was selected to attend the FBI National Academy. As the beneficiary of the unique training given to special FBI agents, this experience also qualified him to teach those investigative skills to his fellow officers.

Quietly, consistently, and in a most professional manner, Mac Sandridge has served and protected not only his hometown of Crozet but all the residents of Albemarle County. Additionally, he recorded for posterity and our present enlightenment historic scenes of our rapidly changing community.

Along with countless others whose sacrificial service preceded his, and to those who have followed similar paths of assistance to their communities, we individually and collectively owe a sincere THANK YOU for the roles they have played in preserving our peace and well-being.

Phil James invites contact from those who would share recollections and old photographs of life along the Blue Ridge Mountains of Albemarle County, Virginia. 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 © 2003-2009 Phil James

1 COMMENT

  1. Great story and I was looking at the picture of the still the police were destroying will on TV I have the discovery channel on and watching moonshiners doing their work in Western Vir in the mts. Interesting. I had an Uncle, well in fact two Uncles who were state troopers in Vir, both at one time worked the Aftom Mt. region.

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