By Phil James
If buildings could talk, the old Piedmont Store in White Hall would be surrounded by a crowd of eager listeners. By the mid-19th century, the expanding neighborhood, as well as the traveling public, were already crossing its threshold to obtain needed wares. Piedmont was the biggest deal for miles around.
A dozen or so years after its establishment, in the spring of 1862 Piedmont Store (located near the intersection of Sugar Hollow Road and Brown’s Gap Turnpike) found itself encompassed by a sea of armaments and soldiers resting all around its grounds. Stonewall Jackson’s Confederate troops had used Brown’s Gap Turnpike in a diversionary maneuver away from the Shenandoah Valley, en route to Mechums River Depot and then with a surprise move back into the Valley. Military activity had not been an uncommon sight around the store since the nearby Piedmont House was being used for the convalescence of Confederate soldiers formerly housed in Charlottesville. But the living drama of thousands upon thousands of muddy, exhausted troops, horses and accompanying supply wagons was a sight to behold.
In its very earliest days, the crossroads village of White Hall in western Albemarle County had been identified by the names of various local stores or taverns. In 1799, Chapman White married into the local Maupin family, a move that allowed him a portion of Maupin land on which to erect a Tavern Stand just east of the intersection of Garth Road and Brown’s Gap Turnpike. As traffic increased, White expanded his offerings to the traveling public. The stagecoach stop eventually adopted the name of White’s home and business.
The village had sufficiently prospered by 1827 for the nation’s growing Post Office Department to assign an official designation. The most obvious local geographical feature, Moorman’s River, was chosen as the post’s identifier. That post office name was used until 1941 when its postmark was officially changed to White Hall (two words), VA.
Moorman’s River Post Office moved around the village of White Hall as postmaster assignments were meted out by whichever political party was in charge. For at least one of those early reassignments, in 1885, it was relocated into Piedmont Store, where storekeeper Thomas E. Powers served his first four-year stint as postmaster. The P.O. returned to stay at old Piedmont in 1914 when Ernest L. Harris was running the business. Taswell P. Haden assumed the store and the post office job in 1930, followed by Clarence Jones in 1950. By the time Jones resigned as postmaster in 1977, the store business and post office were settled next door in the Jones family’s present cinderblock building closer to Brown’s Gap Turnpike.
Brothers Emory and Ellis Wyant were born in lower Sugar Hollow in 1911 and 1919, respectively. The round-trip of five miles from their house to Haden’s (Piedmont) Store usually was a welcome reprieve from chores and other country labors.
“It was a big general store,” said Ellis. “You’d go up steps to go in. The Haden Store and Wyant’s Store were competitors at that time. You could buy a bag of feed from them. Whatever you needed in groceries. Spools of thread. Anything you needed back in those days.”
“E.L. Harris ran it before Haden did,” said Emory. “The block house right across from it was where E.L. Harris lived. I remember when they built that house and when the Hadens moved there and took over the store. They had a son named Massie and a daughter. We used to go there and buy salt fish. I remember salt fish.”
Ellis added, “Cheese and crackers! You could sit on a barrel in front of the store and eat all the crackers you wanted to.
“And their son Massie Haden used to ride a motorcycle when I was a kid. One of the real old ones. Later on he opened the Harley-Davidson shop in Charlottesville and I bought one from him. It was my first Harley.”
“They would buy rabbits,” Emory continued. “All you had to do was just take the insides out and they would take and hang them up and dry them, and they would keep for ages like that. Sell rabbits for a quarter a piece. Some people said they used to sell squirrels, too. In the winter time it stayed cold and they would hang them up inside. Most anything you wanted, they had it.”
Homer Sandridge, son of storekeeper Laurie K. Sandridge at Mountfair, also was familiar with the businesses at White Hall. “Piedmont Store was run by T.P. Haden early on in the thirties,” recalled Sandridge. “He had a daughter that was about my age. I went to school with her and liked her very much. And she died real young. Haden ran the post office there and had a general store. The right-hand side of the building was kind of a ware room. When you run a general store you had to have a ware room because a lot of it is feed and bulk items: hundred pound [sacks] of salt, stone crocks.”
Lifelong White Hall resident Dan Maupin looked across Brown’s Gap Turnpike from Piedmont Store. “They used to call this Cooper Shop Hill,” he said. “There was a cooper shop that made apple barrels right in that corner. We used to sleigh ride there, starting about where the shop was. I had a long sled and we had a good steep hill to get started on. When the conditions were right I’ve ridden down over the hill into that hollow.”
The corner at Piedmont Store truly has known all manner of sights and sounds—and changes—over the past two centuries. From tobacco-economy plantations powered by enslaved workers, to Civil War troop movements, a Confederate hospital, a C.C.C. encampment, and German WWII prisoners-of-war barracks, to mountainsides blanketed by apple and peach trees, to the youthful joys of memorable sleigh rides. Oh, the stories that would be told, if only buildings could talk.
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 © 2003–2015 Phil James