Secrets of the Blue Ridge: New Beginnings in Old Crozet

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By Phil James

Image from Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper, 1909 (Courtesy White Hall Media)
Image from Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper, 1909 (Courtesy White Hall Media) (Additional images accompany the print version of this article)

Early on New Year’s Eve 1908, Walter Whately was still hard at it, penning one last piece of business correspondence to get to the post office before the noon pick-up. Wearing the hat, at that moment, of secretary of the Crozet-based Virginia State Horticultural Society, he had been tirelessly processing entries for an exhibit of apples at the society’s upcoming annual meeting in Lynchburg.

“I have had a pretty busy time the past month,” he wrote. “As a matter of fact while writing some 12 letters a day, & making out entry cards, & records, have not written any letters I could avoid. Besides the Christmas season has intervened, & I have had certain annual letters to send to Old Country friends, & also a certain amount of social obligations to perform.

“We had 15 inches of snow here last week & some still remains, thus it is very muddy on the roads now. Here we have organized a Board of Trade & starting to clean house & inviting strangers to come in.”

Those muddy roads certainly had not facilitated Whately’s task of “starting to clean house & inviting strangers to come in” because the “house” being referred to was the entire turn-o’-the-century village of Crozet and its rural environs. The “strangers” were the ones who would respond to a yearlong advertising campaign championed by the newly minted Crozet Board of Trade, of which he was also secretary.

Comprised of a progressive group of local bankers, principal farmers and merchants, the members of the Crozet Board of Trade exuded pride in their growing community. They shared the belief that others also would appreciate the town’s advantages and wish to contribute their own talents and energies for its advancement.

The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway’s simple graded crossing had been little more than a man-made bump in the road since the 1850s, shared by the adjoining farms of Ballard, Rothwell and Wayland, and travelers along the old Three Notch’d Road. That bucolic setting changed forever with the reading of Samuel Miller’s will in 1869. A macadamized road was laid down to transport building materials between that rail crossing and the 1870s construction site for Miller’s Industrial School near Batesville.

Crozet had been on the move, slowly but steadily, ever since its official genesis in 1876. That Centennial year endured a most contentious presidential election contest, and Rutherford B. Hayes’ controversial victory had led to political compromises that brought an end to the Reconstruction era in the South.

Farm owners adjacent to the new rail stop willingly divided off small plats of land to businessmen eager to capitalize on the opportunities afforded by the increased traffic. The initial ramshackle assortment of buildings was upgraded and expanded as business profits were reinvested. Freight and passenger depots constructed by the railroad, in addition to regularly scheduled service, attracted and encouraged even more growth.

In the early 1890s, Rev. J. J. Lafferty purchased land just south of the growing village, a move that would project the name of Crozet toward an even larger audience. The Methodist clergyman moved his family there along with his Richmond Christian Advocate publishing business. Lafferty’s new property included the former Powell’s Mill.

Rev. Lafferty, a member of the Board of Visitors of the Medical College of Virginia, had long nurtured an interest in improving the nutritional value of wheat flour. Upgrading and expanding the old mill site on his property, he perfected a milling process that preserved the full nutritional value of the wheat kernel. The Lafferty Complete Flour Company, with its beginnings at Lafferty’s Mills in Crozet, was marketed through offices in Richmond and New York, advertised in numerous periodicals, and stocked on grocers’ shelves all along the eastern seaboard.

The profits realized by local farmers and orchardists with ready access to rail markets brought a great interest in new plantings of fruit tree stock. By the first decade of the 20th century, Crozet’s name was being recognized and respected in ever-increasing markets. Albemarle Pippin and Winesap apples were enriching the coffers of all who could dedicate even a small plot of land for their propagation.

The Bank of Crozet’s original building had been constructed next to the Crozet Cooperage in 1906. By 1908 the diminutive structure was already straining to handle the increasing successes of its patrons. A new two-story Corinthian-columned edifice was constructed on the town’s Main Street. In addition to the bank’s own offices and burglar-proof vault, other concerns that occupied office spaces in the modern structure included the Post Office, Crozet Cider Company, Crozet Cooperage Company, and the Albemarle Manufacturing Company. Lodge rooms for several fraternal organizations were located on the bank’s second floor.

Beginning in January 1909 and continuing on a monthly basis through December, the Crozet Board of Trade trumpeted the village’s attributes through the pages of the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper. The word was out and mailed inquiries began pouring across Walter Whately’s busy desk.

CROZET! — on the main line of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad; in the centre of one of the most famous fruit districts in the country and is the largest fruit shipping point in the State; neighboring mountains and valleys are well adapted to the growing of peaches, apples, strawberries, cherries and other fruits, and these products have taken grand prizes at the Chicago, St. Louis, Buffalo and Jamestown Expositions.

CROZET! — Virginia bluegrass which is indigenous to this section makes excellent grazing, so that the raising of cattle, horses and sheep is made very profitable; Grasses and grain crops here are the equal of any in the world; Its climate is unsurpassed, combining one of the most healthful sections of Piedmont Virginia with that of the Blue Ridge Mountains; educational advantages include a new public school building and close proximity to the University of Virginia.

CROZET! — with six grocery stores, a drug store, eight churches in a radius of eight miles, four daily mails, two grist mills, a cooperage plant, a cider factory, and the best known and highest class cattle breeding establishment in the Southern States.

“Although these enterprises have not heretofore been brought to the notice of the general public… the Crozet Board of Trade has now been formed to accomplish this purpose.”

 

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