By Phil James
Ruth Wayland Nelson thoughtfully sat down in 1950 to pen some reminiscences of growing up in “old Crozet.” Her great-grandfather Jeremiah Wayland had purchased a large farm in western Albemarle County in 1832, forty-four years prior to the establishment of the village where Ruth lived her entire life. In 1839, Claude Crozet, Principal Engineer for Virginia, surveyed for a railroad line through the Wayland farm. Crozet returned to board with the family during a part of the construction phase of that historic project.
Born in 1892, only 17 years after the village’s first train depot and post office, Ruth Lee Wayland’s path never wavered far from the village of her birth. Carefully folded into her memories were several of those individuals who helped lay good civic foundations, and who lent noteworthy character to the progressive little town.
In the mid-1870s, her grandfather Abram Wayland had garnered the support of other landowners in the region to ask that a rail stop be established to enable the shipping of their farm commodities. Ruth’s father, Charles Lee Wayland, then a young teenager attending “a little red schoolhouse” on the hillside south of present Tabor Street, had carried that historic petition by horseback from farm to farm to gather the signatures. Although the petitioners asked that the proposed stop be named “Farmer’s Station,” the will of the railroad leaders to honor Col. Crozet prevailed.
“The school that I first remember,” wrote Ruth Nelson, “was a one room affair that stood between the Baptist and Episcopal churches [on St. George Avenue]. Miss Mollie Wayland taught there and later Miss Sudie Wayland Day. In about three years time, two rooms were added to this building. Those were wonderful days. We had more fun and learned a great many things that were not in our text books.
“On the present site of Browny Brown’s filling station [present Dairy Queen] stood the village blacksmith shop operated by Mr. Jim Woodson. I remember as a child running errands, and I used to walk under the shed of the shop on my way to the village.
“At first there was only the [railroad] freight station. The original still stands; then a funny little one room affair was built. It was painted yellow and heated with a large, old pot-bellied stove. There was a wooden platform running the length of the depot, which was not too secure, but it served to keep one from stepping in the mud.
“Just beyond the station [across Rt. 240] was Mr. O’Neill’s store where everything was sold from stick candy and chewing tobacco to garden seed and plow points. A railroad crossing was just west of the station; there was no underpass then.
“Where the variety store now stands [on The Square] was Mr. Jim Ellison’s store and storehouse. Joining this was a peculiar little room, which for a short time housed the post office. Down on the corner where the drug store now stands was a tiny shoe repair shop. Across the street was Haden Brothers store, a one story building owned and operated by Mr. Curtis and Mr. Clifton Haden.
“Mr. Ellison and his family lived in the apartment above his store for some years before building his home in the [lumber company] grove. Some of us can recall the days when Crozet had summer boarders. It was quite a summer resort. The Ellison house and the Wayland house had the largest number of boarders. Mr. Ellison built a dance pavilion in his grove, and on weekends the guests had a wonderful time dancing to the music furnished by local talent. During the week, the chief amusement was meeting the trains, going for the mail and playing croquet.
“Mr. Ellison was quite a conspicuous character in our village. He was small of stature, neat and dapper in dress, and always laughing and joking with everyone he met. During the boarding house days he was never known to miss meeting the trains: he met every train that stopped during the day. He might be remembered as the village host, for he greeted everyone who came to the community, and he knew all the news and gossip for miles around.
“We must not overlook Mr. Walter Whately, an Englishman who used to live on St. Georges Avenue and who had as much, or I may say more, civic pride than anyone who ever lived here. He was always getting the village cleaned up, and in his day, the street past the drug store and under the underpass was often cleaned and even hosed.
“My grandfather Abram Wayland was a tall, slim man and he wore chin whiskers; in appearance he resembled the cartoons of “Uncle Sam.” He was very stern and short-spoken, and was said to have a great deal of curiosity. Strangers never came to Crozet without being questioned by him as to who they were and where they came from and what they came to Crozet for. This old man always walked with his hands clasped behind him, and his favorite path home was up the railroad track. He could be easily distinguished from any other pedestrian, for he walked on the cross ties which are a little close together for good walking. He would take two short steps and one long one, stepping over every other cross tie.
“Stephen Early, who was secretary to [U.S. President] Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was born in the house now owned by Miss Minnie Gentry [and now replaced by the new Crozet Library].
“Mr. Sherrard, a Presbyterian minister, was tall and carried himself quite erect. He wore chin whiskers, which added to the length of his already long face. He was a prohibitionist of the first waters and never failed to express his views whenever the opportunity presented itself.
“Then there was Dr. Jones, a dear old man who never believed in hurrying. He always had time to sit and visit when he came to see the sick member of the family. He used to mix his own drugs and make his own pills. I marvel now at his ability.
“Those were the horse and buggy days…
“Please forgive my ramblings. I dare not recall more for I have already placed myself among the ANCIENTS, in many of your eyes, but for those of you who have come along this way with me, may I ask for your corrections, if any of my recordings are exaggerated. Ruth W. Nelson, 1950.”
~ Excerpted from the writings of Ruth Lee Wayland Nelson (1892–1983) titled “Old Crozet, as I recall it…” ~
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