Secrets of the Blue Ridge: Women of Albemarle Who Mean Business

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Crozet native Bettie Gentry Shelton (1875–1950), wife of Arthur C. Shelton, collecting rent in 1935 from her numerous rental properties fronting on the highway east of Crozet’s C&O Depot. Photo courtesy of Betty Edmundson.

No efforts could be worthy enough to single out even a few of the women who have labored among us, and for us. Were any group of individuals asked to create such a list, no doubt few names would be duplicated, so overwhelming a compilation it would be. With only the adage, “Honor to whom honor is due,” and begging the limitations of space and time, these few are shared here as a reminder to each of us to preserve for posterity something of their work.

Sarah Martin Early (1829–1887) was a business force to be reckoned with throughout Crozet’s first decade beginning in 1876. The former schoolteacher-turned-real estate entrepreneur served as postmaster of Crozet 1884–1887. She was the grandmother of Crozet-born Stephen T. Early, press secretary and trusted confidant of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Crozet native Eloise Rogers Gentry was a member and recording secretary for the Charlottesville Chapter of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs. Photo courtesy of the Gentry family.

Martha Woodson Wayland (1837–1904), wife of Abram Wayland of Crozet, welcomed summer guests into 10 rooms of her family’s Pleasant Green home, which came to be known in the news media of the day as Hotel Wayland. By 1881, Wayland’s accommodations were listed in the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway’s excursion brochures, with rates of $5/week or $16/month for summer boarders. Decades earlier, her mother-in-law Mary Ramsey Wayland hosted the village’s namesake Col. Claudius Crozet at that place.

For more than two decades, Martha Wayland’s seasonal advertisements appeared in Charlottesville and Richmond newspapers: “Pleasant summer board can be had at Crozet, situated on the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Breezy and healthy locality. Freestone water and ice. For particulars apply to Mrs. A. Wayland, Crozet, Albemarle County.”

Florence Gibson, in 1930, developed a business model for convenience stores in western Albemarle County: a clean, attractive building fronting on a major highway with gas pumps out front, fresh cooked food, and limited grocery items for sale. Photo courtesy of the Les Gibson Collection.

Lucy Annie Partillo Brown (1864–1961), wife of Rev. Andrew D. Brown, operated Mountain View Inn, a boarding house, hotel, dance hall, and summer resort for African Americans at Hillsboro/Yancey’s Mill, from at least 1928 until her death in 1961. Through economic ups and downs, she advertised in newspapers far and wide, attracting clientele from a radius of states and the District of Columbia.

Mountain View was listed in Victor Green’s Negro Travelers’ Green Book between 1938 and 1962, the year following Mrs. Brown’s passing. Her advertisement in the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper in the summer of 1928 summed up the promised experience: “Spend your vacation at Mountain View House, Albemarle County, Va., near the Blue Ridge Mountains, 2 miles from Crozet, Va., on the Jefferson Highway. All modern and up-to-date accommodations, open air pavilion, tennis courts, fine mineral water, the very best of Old Virginia Cooking. Plenty of foods. Chicken dinners a specialty. House open May 1st to November 30. Accommodations by week or month. Book early for reservations. Write for terms. Mrs. Lucy A. Brown, Mgr. Box 52. Crozet, Va.”

Millicent Mundy Gardner, one of twin daughters born to Lindsay and Eleanor (Hall) Mundy, grew up on a farm encompassed today by Preddy Creek Trail Park, near the Southern Railway village of Burnleys in Albemarle County. She rose through the ranks of business professionals to become president of the Charlottesville Credit Women-International, and played an important role in the Charlottesville Retail Merchants Association. Widowed early in her marriage, and with school-aged children, Mrs. Gardner exemplified the can-do attitude of other businesswomen in similar circumstances. Photo courtesy of the Gardner family.

Mae Harris Owsley (1880–1956), wife of Albert P. Owsley, was the owner and manager of The Blue Goose Inn at Crozet. The stellar reputation earned by The Goose among travelers was owed in great part to Lillian Massie Spears (1910–1993), who ruled the kitchen. Mae likely learned the ropes of the hospitality industry from her mother Ida Woodson Harris (1858–1910) who managed the Crozet Hotel on The Square.

Dorothy Newton Earp (1874–1956), a Pennsylvania-born neurologist and psychiatric nurse, worked nearly 50 years from her Yancey’s Mill home that she dubbed The Hut. To help care for the patients referred to her very personal care, she employed her neighbors as aides, cooks, orderlies and maintenance workers. Always committed to her clients as well as to her greater community, Miss Earp endowed the village of Crozet with its first library in 1907.

The National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, in March 1933, observed National Business Women’s Week. Charlottesville’s Daily Progress devoted a full page to the roles of county and city federation members engaged with local businesses, including Margaret Bing and Ruth Burress of Free Union, and Crozet native Eloise Rogers Gentry. Mrs. Gentry (1906–1985), wife of John W. Gentry, was bookkeeper at the Daily Progress, where her husband was also employed.

Thelma Partillo Washington (1917-1999), wife of Emmett Lester Washington, was a welcoming presence in her family’s Crozet Shoe Repair business, as well as in Crozet’s Dollar General Store where she was store manager. Greenwood native Lady Nancy Langhorne Astor (1879–1964) sought out the Washingtons’ shoe business. (Lady Astor spent her childhood years at Mirador near Greenwood, and later, in 1919, became the first female Member of Parliament to sit in the United Kingdom’s House of Commons.) Photo courtesy of James Crosby, The Bulletin, Inc..

Florence Clements Gibson (1871–1953), wife of Claude M. Gibson, assisted with the operation of her husband’s service station, garage, and wrecker service fronting on the highway on the east side of Crozet Cold Storage. Once her children were raised, however, she walked back across the street and purchased the vacant lot beside their home. There she designed her own business, the Oak Grove Amoco Service Station.

With gasoline pumps to lure in the travelers, she also offered fresh prepared foods and selected groceries. Eventually automotive sales were added. This woman meant business! The competing family enterprises continued adjacent to one another for only a few years before the untimely passing of Lloyd Gibson in 1933. His business lot was sold within a few years for use in the local fruit industry.

Dorothy “Dot” Sipe Hutchinson operated the ever-popular Crozet Snack Corner on The Square in Crozet for 37 years. Photo by Phil James.

Crozet Snack Corner opened on The Square in a front corner of the Sandridge A&H Store in 1967. It was managed by Violet Collier and Lillian Vess, and later, by Jack and Catherine Kearns. Harrison “Pop” and Ethel Sandridge employed the tiny grill as a springboard to opening their iconic Pop & Ethel’s Restaurant at Mechum’s River in 1971.

However, it was Dorothy and Ollie Hutchinson who turned the diminutive business venue into a perennial Crozet favorite lovingly referred to as Dot & Ollie’s. Ollie, the self-styled “King of Hamburgers,” passed from the scene in 1985. Dot (1944–2018), with and without her beloved Ollie, held court magnificently at that location for 37 years. The business name was retired when Dot left the building.

To these women and countless others, we pause and say, “Thank you.” 

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 © 2003–2019 Phil James

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