Secrets of the Blue Ridge: Crozet’s Hilltop: A Neighborhood Model

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Barnes Lumber Company anchors the bottom of this mid-1950s Crozet view with Hilltop and Myrtle Streets visible in the middle and upper right. Claudius Crozet Park was established in September 1958 on a portion of the land visible in the upper left. (Photo by Mac Sandridge.)

The young village of Crozet began its growth in a similar fashion to the croplands surrounding it—organically! The earliest lot purchases by “outsiders” were, of necessity, bought from the principal farmers in the area. Abram Wayland and William Ballard sold individual lots from their farms that fronted on two intersecting dirt byways.

Prosperity roared into town with the maturing of fruit orchards around the first decade of the 20th century. A boom of business building and accompanying jobs fueled a demand for more houses. The First World War coincided with the decline of the once-lucrative Albemarle Pippin apple, but Crozet’s momentum as a major producer of fruit continued into the 1940s.

The demands of WWII upon the nation’s citizenry and local governments were severe. With that war’s end, savvy manufacturers and local entrepreneurs with an ear to the ground addressed a pent-up desire for new automobiles, houses and the like. In Crozet, Blue Ridge Motor Company was one of the business partnerships showing confidence in the future of their town.

Dr. Albert Bledsoe Wayland, M.D. (1874–1915), of Covesville, established his Crozet medical practice in 1899. In 1909, he built a hospital “overlooking the town”. That same year he arranged a survey of his property south of the C&O railroad, creating “The Southeast Subdivision in Crozet”. It included 30 lots nearby the railroad and the downtown Square, 40’ roadways and a cul-de-sac. His vision of establishing the village’s first planned development went unfulfilled due to declining health and early death at age 44. (Courtesy of Phil James Historical Images.)

Blue Ridge investors Silas Barnes, Harris Coleman and Dabney Sandridge already were seasoned businessmen. Barnes operated the town’s lumber company, and Sandridge had grown up in his family’s country store. As younger brother Sidney Sandridge stated, “The business of buying and selling was as natural to us as breathing. Ours was the business world, and we lived and learned from that world.”

The corner of Main Street and Jarmans Gap Road was business central for the Blue Ridge Motor group. A full-service Gulf gasoline station complemented on-site auto sales (headed up by Harris Coleman), a taxi service (Yes, in Crozet!), and trucks and drivers for hire.

L-r: Dabney Sandridge Sr., D.W. Sandridge Jr., and Meredith James at the 1962 grand opening of Crozet’s Western Auto store on The Square. James, a radio, television and antenna specialist, had joined with the Sandridges when they opened their adjacent Sandridge A&H (“Appliance & Home”) store in 1959. (Photo by Mac Sandridge; courtesy of Ralph Sandridge.)

In 1946, anticipating the needs of returning servicemen and an economy poised for growth, the company purchased 51 acres of former farm and orchard land and developed plans that initially called for 26 lots of approximately a half-acre in size—space for young families to grow, with generous room for backyard gardens.

The lots fronted on new streets designated as High, Hilltop, and Myrtle. Dabney Sandridge placed his vote of confidence in the new development by building his own home on Lot #1 at the corner of Hilltop and High. That confidence was validated in 1950 with the arrival of manufacturing stalwart Acme Visible Records. In 1953, Morton Frozen Foods arrived, destined to become the county’s largest employer. Crozet and western Albemarle County would never be the same.

Buckner Ashby Jr. (1922–2009) grew up in Charlottesville, but when he and his wife considered another place to raise their daughter and two sons in the early-1950s, that search led them to Crozet. He wrote, “When I worked as a RPO (Railway Post Office) clerk, I had one run that I worked six days on and eight off. During the off-week and in the evenings, I worked regularly for Midway Electric. This helped the bank balance.

“We searched for a lot to build on and found one in Crozet on Hilltop Street. I recall paying $500 for the lot, which included the water line in front of the house. That was a good buy. Bought it from Dabney Sandridge, who lived in the corner house as we turned into our street.

Meredith James and his son Mike paused on the front porch one Sunday morning en route to church. Meredith and his new bride Joanne rented a small house trailer on Hilltop Street in the late 1950s. They invested themselves in that development by later purchasing the property, working locally, and helping to establish a stable neighborhood in which their children could grow up. (Photo courtesy of Mike James.)

“I had learned a good bit about construction working as an electrician’s helper, but not enough. I worked also for the Bishop brothers who were brick masons and contractors and helped them build two nice homes off Ivy Road west of Charlottesville. I worked without pay just to learn. They were supposed to repay me with cinderblock work when I got ready to build, but they couldn’t spare the time when I was ready for them. They did build the chimney and Heatilator fireplace and it put off good heat.

“A fellow that I knew did the block work. He first laid the block up to floor level after I had dug and poured the footings. Then, in one day, my father-in-law and I poured the floor. That was a big job for the two of us. We used regular 3-inch gutter to run as heat ducts for the furnace and then poured concrete around them. I got the plans from Better Homes and Gardens, and, if I do say so myself, we did a good job.

“The mason laid the block for the exterior walls and the center wall. I was on the road that week and there was a fairly strong windstorm. We both sweated blood wondering whether the block had fallen, especially the center wall because there was nothing to hold it down. We lucked out.

Blue Ridge Motor Company business partners Harris Coleman, Dabney Sandridge, and Silas Barnes invested their resources in 51-acres of former farm and orchard land in 1946. Crozet’s first successful housing development, defined by High, Hilltop, and Myrtle Streets, was one result. Claudius Crozet Park, established by the citizenry of Crozet, was also formed from that land tract. (Courtesy of the Phil James Historical Collection.)

“After we put up the rafters, from there on, it was mostly me and I’d find someone to help when I absolutely couldn’t do the work alone. It looked like a small house when you went by, but it was approximately 24×48’ — about 1200 sq. ft. We continued to add odds and ends to it as time went on. It was a well-constructed house with good-sized garden and it kept us out of the cold for quite a few years.”

Soon, the Hilltop/Myrtle Street neighborhood was joined by housing subdivisions at Wayland Park, Orchard Acres, and Laurel Hills. Still more followed. Their front yards and streets filled with children. Local churches expanded to meet their needs, as did local businesses. People became accustomed to long traffic back-ups at shift changes and quitting time. The many new neighborhoods created an overarching community that the village founders never could have envisioned.

Noah Webster’s definitions of a neighbor included, “One who lives in familiarity with another… an intimate; a confidant.” Creating neighborhoods takes some time and much effort. In the case of Crozet, the adeptness of that model has been proven oe’r and oe’r. 

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: SecretsoftheBlueRidge.com or at P.O. Box 88, White Hall, VA 22987. Secrets of the Blue Ridge © 2003–2018 Phil James 

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