Local historian and Crozet Gazette writer Phil James has published his second volume of Secrets of the Blue Ridge, Stories from Western Albemarle, and came before his many fans to talk about Crozet-area history at Tabor Presbyterian Church March 11.
“This is what I do for fun,” said James, “but it’s gotten serious in the last few years. I’m passionate about finding out about western Albemarle. Crozet was the newest place in Albemarle in 1876, but there was a lot going on here before then.”
James, whose usual style is to interview older local residents, said he had had a surprise visit earlier in the day. “I had visitors who are descendants of a family that was displaced from the Shenandoah National Park. They still know the stories handed down from their parents, who lived on the top of the mountain above Jones Run. I have time to learn from them and to love one another.”
James remembered his fourth grade teacher, Isabel Bing, showing her photograph and a picture of himself when he was in her class. “She introduced me to Virginia history,” he said. The cover shot, which shows a crowd eating watermelon at a 4-H event, includes her.
“I like ordinary history,” said James, who asked his audience to let him see their family photo albums.
He showed a photo of Blanche Standup, who died in 2010. “She never married. She was born near Boonesville in 1920. She’s in the first chapter. When I went to her funeral the pastor started with Psalm 90: ‘We live our lives as a tale that is told. What good is a tale if nobody tells it?’ My heart lives for that.
“I’ve been collecting local stories for 30 years. Everybody has got a piece of the story. What everybody saw is different. I gather the pieces and tell the story.”
James read from his second chapter, which is about Miss Mattie Maupin, who lived on Pasture Fence Mountain. “She saw [Stonewall] Jackson’s troops come through Brown’s Gap. It was a 12-mile long column of men.” Then he told the story of her return late in life to visit the abandoned cabin where she had lived as a child.
James was asked about African-American history in Crozet before the Civil Rights movement.
“Their stories are all behind the scenes,” he said. “I’m not aware of issues that were blatant, but Crozet was typical of the Jim Crow South. If an African American bought an ice cream cone at Crozet Drug—now the Mudhouse—he had to go outside to eat it. The only ‘colored’ sign at an entrance that I ever documented in Crozet was at the depot. The African Americans I’ve talked to have never disparaged the people of Crozet of their time.”
James said he will be at Crozet Library May 7 at 7 p.m. for a Crozet Soiree evening with Lynn Coffey, a noted historian of the Blue Ridge who lives in Love, a small community in Augusta County above Lake Sherando.