Secrets of the Blue Ridge: First Things First: Building-Up the Village

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An aerial view of the Carter/Herbert cold storage compound, extending from Main Street to Carter Street, alongside the railroad in downtown Crozet, late 1950s. (Detail from original photo by Mac Sandridge)

Whether one has been cast headlong into the raw elements by a disaster, gotten lost in the woods, or just wheeled into a strange town after sunset, the cautious ones with a preparedness mindset know that safe shelter is a first priority. Finding out if the water suits one’s taste buds will follow shortly thereafter. First things first. There will be plenty of time after the sun rises again to tackle the details.

Benjamin and Ellen Ficklin wheeled into Crozet, so to speak, for the first time back around 1814. Whether they started from scratch or repurposed an earlier settler’s abode is not known. However, inside the walls of the Pleasant Green estate they sold to Jeremiah Wayland when they moved to Charlottesville about 1832 was a solid core of logs, hand-fitted together. First things first. The fancy gingerbread trim, cheery hues of paint on clapboard, and brick-lined flowerbeds came later.

Abram Wayland (1834–1906) grew up on his father Jeremiah’s farm bordered by Three Notch’d Road in western Albemarle and he learned well the hard labor and business acumen modeled by his elder. Young Abram sat at the dinner table with Claudius Crozet when the eminent Chief Engineer of the Blue Ridge Railroad Company boarded there while surveying through that family’s farm, and he keenly observed the railroad’s progression as it bisected the cropland where he had roamed as a boy.

Abram purchased 323 acres from his father in 1867. Following the establishment of Miller Manual Labor School in 1874, he found himself in an enviable real estate position as freight and business traffic generated by that school’s construction made for commercial opportunities nearby Crozet Station.

An “exploded view” of the cold storage illustrating the sequence of building expansions. The original 1910/’12 structure was removed during major renovations initiated in 1978. (Detail from original photo by Mac Sandridge; illustration by Phil James)

It surprised few when, along with the April 1877 establishment of the flag stop named Crozet, Abram Wayland was announced as the official agent for the new rail stop, and, soon thereafter in January 1878, the village’s first postmaster.

Eugene R. Mays could see those opportunities, too, all the way from his vantage point in Nelson County. In 1878, he purchased a one-acre lot from Mr. Wayland, fronting on the railroad within a quick jiffy of the station’s platform, and there, in a simple log affair, he established Crozet’s first store business.

Within a few years, the entrepreneur Mays cashed-out of business, selling his property and store building to Sarah Early, a widow with an eye for worthy Crozet real estate. Mrs. Early was grandmother to Stephen T. Early, who was born in Crozet in 1889 and, in the 1930s, became the indispensable confidant and White House Press Secretary to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The Carter Corporation constructed two near-duplicate six-story reinforced-concrete cold storage facilities in Crozet between 1915 and 1919. The monumental task was accomplished with local workers. The crew pictured here includes the following: Julian Belew, Ashby Wood, S.W. Belew, Jeter Humphreys, Bill Powell, Robert Rea, Massie Critzer, C.H. Clark, Charlie Belew, Nat Wade, Willis Maupin, Davis Bruffy, and Bruce Phillips. (Names supplied from “Crozet: A Pictorial History”, by Meeks & McCauley.) (Photo courtesy of Mac Sandridge)

The former Mays property changed hands several more times, and was particularly remembered by Abram Wayland’s granddaughter Ruth Wayland Nelson. She wrote in 1950, “The house owned by Mrs. Ruth Garrison Haden used to be where the Herbert Cold Storage now stands. It faced the tracks and had a nice front yard all fenced in. Mr. George Burton lived there. Mrs. M.P. Sadler, a former resident, was the youngest daughter of Mr. Burton.”

Jacqueline Burton Sadler was the wife of Morton P. Sadler who, in 1909, in partnership with William T. McLeod, opened Crozet Hardware, the village’s first full-service establishment of its sort, located next door to the new Crozet Drug Store in the red brick Goodall Building on the hot corner of The Square.

Crozet’s commercial district made great strides in 1909, due in part to the late Abram Wayland’s savvy willingness to sell lots from his farm to incoming residents and prospective business owners. Among the most optimistic was the group of orchardists and businessmen who organized and chartered, in 1909, the Fruit Growers Cold Storage and Ice Manufacturing Company. On the former Eugene Mays lot, construction began on a three-story concrete block warehouse with a capacity of 8-10,000 barrels “to store a good part of the apple crop at home instead of sending to the cities to store. They will ship out then in refrigerating cars properly iced.”

That project languished mid-stream and, in May 1910, the effort reorganized under the auspices of the Crozet Ice and Cold Storage Corporation. Principals in this group included Dr. William Fitzhugh Carter, Charles L. Wayland and W.F. Carter Jr. The project was completed by fall 1912.

In 1915 the Fruit Growers Ice and Cold Storage Corporation was chartered, and “one of the most modern reinforced concrete [six-story] warehouses was erected adjoining the original building.” Local fruit production continued to climb and demand soon outstripped even what the new behemoth could provide. By 1918, the Carter Corporation began yet another addition: a near-duplicate joined to the 1915 expansion.

It is hard to fathom today what this operation meant to Crozet: years of construction jobs, and year-round employment including multiple managers, clerical positions, warehousemen, and a 24/7 maintenance staff. Increased regional fruit production created more jobs for orchard workers, coopers and barrel factories, truck drivers, and maintenance personnel of all sorts.

Of equally great value were the additional services and benefits to the village of Crozet: the cold storage’s steam boilers burned coal, and a private rail siding kept a constant supply of fuel available for the plant and residential users; the plant’s dual electrical generators supplied electricity enough that a grid was set up to serve homes and businesses within the village limits. Streetlights were installed “which gave the town a decided metropolitan caste,” as described by the Daily Progress.

The plant’s ice production, needed for the refrigerated boxcars that transported the fruit, made the former dependence on uncertain frigid winters and underground storage of unsanitary ice from surface water a thing of the past. Clean water approved by the State Board of Health for the plant’s sanitary ice production was drawn from a 400’ deep well on the company’s property into a 50,000-gallon steel tank towering 150’ above the ground. Water mains were installed around the village, and the plant’s own water department kept the clean water flowing.

Jobs. Coal. Ice. Power. Water. Lights… until 1930, when the Virginia Public Service Company purchased the light and power rights for Crozet from then-owner of the cold storage Thomas Herbert. Aside from fighting for better roads, the good folks of Crozet, with a first-things-first, can-do attitude, showed that a community-minded progressive people could well supply its own needs—and then some!

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