Secrets of the Blue Ridge: Pleasant Green: Crozet History 101

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Jeremiah Wayland and, later, his son Abraham, expanded the main dwelling at Pleasant Green from the 1830s until the turn of the 20th-century. That family hosted summer boarders who were encouraged by C&O promotions and newspaper advertisements to stay at Wayland House or Hotel Wayland. (Photo courtesy of David Wayland)

Rev. Edgar Woods published the book Albemarle County in Virginia in 1901, “giving some account of what it was by nature, of what it was made by man, and of some of the men who made it.” In this seminal volume he wrote, “Benjamin Ficklin… purchased in the western part of the county upwards of 1300 acres, and his residence for 20 years, called Pleasant Green, was the place adjoining Crozet on the west, now occupied by Abraham Wayland.”

Michael Marshall, publisher of the Crozet Gazette and an owner of Pleasant Green for nearly two decades, said, “The house was built in five sections, as far as I can make out. [The original owners] knew what they were doing. That’s the sweet spot of the property, right on the elevation, close to the creek. They chose well.”

The Ficklin-Wayland house, Pleasant Green, in 1849, lodged the town’s namesake Col. Claude Crozet. Jane Warwick O’Neill (Graham) lived at Pleasant Green into her high school years in the mid-1930s and identified the room (see arrow) where Col. Crozet stayed. Interestingly, Jane’s mother, Jane Gordon Warwick (Mrs. Charles T. O’Neill), was born in 1892 in the “Crozet House” on Main Street in Richmond. (Courtesy Phil James Historical Images)

Rev. Benjamin Ficklin (Sr.) (1790–1864) was in western Albemarle County by 1812, and served as the first pastor of the Eschol (later, Mountain Plain) Baptist Church at Mechums River. By that year, he began manufacturing tobacco with Bland Rea under the name “Ficklin & Ray.” Ficklin purchased his first of several tracts of Albemarle land in 1814, and took up residence near the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in his home named Pleasant Green. Among his children born at Pleasant Green was Slaughter W. Ficklin (1816–1886), who later founded Belmont Stock Farm at Charlottesville, imported the first pair of Percheron-Norman draft horses, and established that robust breed in America.

Another son, Benjamin Franklin Ficklin Jr. (1827–1871), became “the most picturesque and widest known Ficklin in America.” His lifetime was one of legend and hairbreadth escapes from danger while fighting wars, operating stagecoach lines, initiating and helping to carry out the establishment and operation of the Pony Express mail service, and blockade running for the Confederacy. One who knew him wrote, “After listening to him for a couple of hours, you could not help being ashamed of yourself for having only the tame and prosaic life of civilization…” Not to be overlooked was his brief ownership of Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. The published notice of his death described him as “fond of adventures, fearless, persevering, [with] an indomitable will and courage. [As for his establishment of the Pony Express]… an unprecedented performance, and no person but one endowed as he would have succeeded in it.”

Pleasant Green was a producing farm for the Ficklin, Wayland and O’Neill families, from tobacco and livestock in the early/mid-1800s to apples and other fruits into the 1900s. Both Ficklin and Wayland arrived at the then-extensive property with enslaved laborers to assist in its workings. Abraham Wayland sold lots from the old estate, beginning in the 1880s, for the development of Crozet’s downtown business district along Miller School Avenue. (Photo courtesy of David Wayland)

Jeremiah Wayland (1786–1887) purchased Pleasant Green from Ficklin in 1832. He supplemented the cultivation of tobacco by raising livestock and grains, and expanded the house at Pleasant Green to welcome travelers along the Three Notch’d and Buck Mountain Roads that bordered his property. Among those travelers was State Engineer Col. Claude Crozet who surveyed through that property in 1839 for a proposed rail line west across the mountains. In 1849, Crozet returned to board for several days at Pleasant Green prior to building the Blue Ridge Railroad.

Jeremiah’s son Abraham (Abram) Wayland (1834–1906) purchased 323 acres from his father in 1867. He entered into the propagation of fruit trees, and established some of the first orchards that fueled the growth of prosperity in old Albemarle for more than a half-century. Abram’s initiative led to the establishment of Crozet in 1877 as an official station on the Chesapeake & Ohio line. He was appointed the village’s first station agent and postmaster.

Jane O’Neill Graham grew up at Crozet’s Pleasant Green during the 1920s through the mid-’30s. She wrote fondly of her family’s years in that place, and some of those rich memories are excerpted here: “Daddy [Charles T. O’Neill Sr.] had peach and apple orchards, and worked in Charlottesville where he was vice-president and trust officer of the National Bank and Trust Co. When he and mother were first married, they moved to Crozet. Daddy started a small school for boys in the back of the big old house in Crozet. It had been a boarding house and was made into a double house. Dr. and Mrs. Willis lived in the other half. Colonel Claude Crozet had stayed there while he was designing and planning the train tunnel under the Blue Ridge Mountains near Greenwood.

Colonel Claude Crozet (1789–1864), from a rare CdV (carte de visite). Col. Crozet, Principal Engineer of Virginia, and, later, Chief Engineer of the Blue Ridge Railroad Company, roomed at Jeremiah Wayland’s Pleasant Green in June 1849 while locating the exact line for construction of the Blue Ridge Railroad through western Albemarle County. (Courtesy Phil James Historical Images)

“Our house had fireplaces in every room and a central furnace (large radiator) in the front hall. There was a beautiful staircase in the front hall, and we used to slide down it.  There were several outbuildings on the place including an icehouse, wood house, barn, grain house, and a small dairy house with spring water flowing through to keep the milk, butter, etc. cold.

“Down on the creek was a little house where “’Ant’ Betty” lived. She was a black woman who helped in the house and did all the laundry. We loved to go down and visit with her. Our black maid ‘Georgie’ was a tiny little woman who cooked breakfast, lunch and supper every day. Her nephew Arthur served. He and Georgie lived with us.”

“Uncle Will McComb and Aunt Lelia, Dad’s sister, lived across from us. Aunt Lelia was a wonderful cook. We always liked to watch her make butter, churning the milk in her huge cradle-like churn on her back porch.

An 1867 wood engraving of an Overland Pony Express courier commemorated that daring venture to transport mail across the raw west from St. Joseph, MO, to San Francisco, CA. In operation for only 18 months, its end coincided with the completion of the transcontinental telegraph lines in October 1861. Ben Ficklin Jr., born at Pleasant Green in December 1827, was the first proponent and a superintendent of that fantastic undertaking. He oversaw the building of 190 relay stations, the purchase of the company’s horses, and hiring of the soon-to-be legendary riders. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

“Jessie, the iceman, came every day to bring large chunks of ice, which he put in the ice box. When we heard his old truck coming, we always ran out and met him. He would chip off slivers of ice for us to eat. Most of the time, groceries were ordered over the phone (16-F, our number) and Mr. [A. Elmer] Rea, the grocer would have them delivered. Milk was delivered every day—it had thick cream on top and good regular milk on bottom.

“Mail was not delivered. Everybody had boxes at the post office. However, mail was put out twice a day and on Saturdays also. Doctors made house calls any time of day or night.

Though less pretentious than a Monticello or Mount Vernon, the venerable Pleasant Green has served nobly as home to esteemed patriarchs of Albemarle County, a birthplace of some who made history on a national stage, and a place of shelter and board to the town’s honored namesake Colonel Claude Crozet.

For more than two centuries, from Ficklin and Wayland to Marshall, each of Pleasant Green’s owners have affirmed its worth and honored their responsibilities of stewardship. Its future deserves no less. 

Wayland House circa 1890.

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