Secrets of the Blue Ridge: Wedding Days in the Blue Ridge Mountains

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The Sign of the Green Tea Pot (photographed here in 1935), a former log-bodied post house and inn located at the village of Hillsboro, western Albemarle County, served the motoring public from 1913–1928. A popular honeymoon destination, it also hosted the wedding rehearsal dinner for Helen Davis of Waynesboro and William Luke Jr. of Covington in 1923. (Frances Benjamin Johnson; courtesy Library of Congress)

Elizabeth Catherine “Bettie” Via (1882–1957) was born on her uncle Sam Naylor’s farm near Elkton in Rockingham County. When she was five, her family moved across the mountains close to her father’s roots in western Albemarle’s Sugar Hollow. She preserved her memories of living in the hollow until her marriage there in 1899.

Bettie wrote: “I was visiting Cousin Tom Naylor at Bear Lithia Springs near Elkton in Rockingham County. Minnie Wood would write and tell me about the different boys who came to work at the stave mill back home in Sugar Hollow. This time she was telling me about Mr. Gochenour, and how Georgia, her sister, was so stuck on him and what a nice, quiet fellow he was. That must have been about 1895.

The Luther and Elizabeth (Via) Gochenour family, c.1920s. The Gochenours were married at the bride’s home in Sugar Hollow, western Albemarle Co., in April 1899. Bettie recounted the happenings of that special day along with some of its customs and superstitions. (Courtesy of the McAllister Collection)

“After I returned home, I was over at Mr. Wood’s, across Moorman’s River from our house, sitting on the porch talking to a couple of fellows who happened to be there, when Mr. Gochenour came in the yard. He had just walked across the Blue Ridge Mountains from Crimora in Augusta County and it was a hot afternoon. He sat down under the locust tree. Pretty soon, he got up and went to his room. He told me later he peeped out of the door at me. I think he must have liked my looks or was listening to what I was talking about. I believe it was something about going home to get supper. Ha! Edna Via came up and they struck up quite an acquaintance and when she went home, she told me to take care of her boyfriend.

“In 1896, he started to go with me. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened to us girls if the stave mill had not moved into our neighborhood. Would we have married someone else, or I wonder if we would have met some other place? ‘God has his mysteries to perform. His ways we cannot tell. He hides them deep, like the secret sleep of those he loves so well.’

The bell atop the original Piedmont Baptist Church at Yancey Mills pealed for the celebrated wedding of Stewart W. Wood and Lavinia Peters Spears on the eve of the United States’ entry into WWII. The church was filled to overflowing and much pomp accompanied the joyous event due, in part, to the widespread popularity of the groom, a longtime butler at Greenwood’s storied Mirador estate. Sadly, Mr. Wood passed away just six months later and was laid to rest at the Piedmont church. (Photo: Phil James)

“We were married April 26, 1899, at my house in Sugar Hollow. That was a busy day for everyone except me. My mother and Aunt Fannie James were busy making preparations and getting the meal all planned, to be served after the wedding ceremony. Dinner was served for fifty people. Aunt Fannie was very artistic in doing things. Of course, preparations had been going on for sometime. They baked cookie dough in strips maybe eight or ten inches long, iced them, and built up three corner pans. In the center of the table, Aunt Fannie took four or five pounds of butter and made it look like a pitcher. She even had flowers made out of butter. Mattie Long baked the wedding cake, iced with white icing, with Bettie Gochenour on one side and Luther Gochenour on the other side, written in pink. Mother reminded her that I was not Bettie Gochenour yet, but Mattie said that I would be when it was cut. When I try to look back, I can’t remember a thing we had to eat, but I am sure there was a big Virginia ham close by.

Philip C. Via, a Sugar Hollow native, and Pearl Douglas were married in February 1914, at the bride’s home near Geer, in Greene County. They are pictured here with their children Philip Jr. and Madaline. Virginia State Police Inspector Via, an Army veteran of WWI, died from complications of injuries he received while providing a motorcycle escort for President Calvin Coolidge near Waynesboro, while the president and his wife were staying at Swannanoa Palace for the Thanksgiving holiday in 1928. (Courtesy of Phil James Historical Images Collection)

“I had three bridesmaids and two flower girls. Georgia Wood, Edna Via and Hattie Sandridge were the bridesmaids with Brother John [Via], Lucian Ballard and Mr. Beard as their escorts. Luther’s sister, Edmonia and Martha Sandridge were the flower girls.

“We were to be married at eight o’clock, but the preacher’s horse balked in the river because we had a hard thundershower, so he was late getting there. Father heard him crossing the river and went down to the mill where they usually came, to hitch his horse. Father was down there waiting and the preacher came another way, so Father almost missed seeing his last girl get married.

“Our porch ran two sides of the house and we were married near the corner of the porch where all could see. Our house was too small for all of us to get in one room. I will never forget how Frank Clayton stood back of the preacher making faces at me, but I had heard if you laugh you won’t hold out and I didn’t want that to happen to me, so I wouldn’t crack a smile until it was all over. After the handshakes and kisses, we proceeded to go down in the basement where the big feed was waiting.

J.M. Ellison’s Liberty Hall Hotel, established alongside the C&O railroad at Crozet in the 1880s, was a perennial favorite of summer guests who arrived by train from Richmond and the Tidewater region. The hotel also served as the venue in June 1908 for the wedding of Robert Hamner of Covesville and Laura Beall Robinson of Crozet. The daily paper reported that, following the nuptials, “Mr. and Mrs. Hamner left on [C&O] No. 16 for Washington, and will be at home at Covesville after June 8.” (Courtesy of Phil James Historical Images Collection)
“I couldn’t walk down with Luther because that would be bad luck. Lucian Ballard took me and Edna took Luther. We sat opposite at the table. At twelve o’clock Edna came and said it was bedtime and she went with me up to my room. We spent our first night there with Mother and Father.

“The next day we were off for the only honeymoon I ever had. We drove across the Blue Ridge Mountains with horse and buggy, the distance of ten miles. Luther took me to live at his home at Crimora. I didn’t get to see him very much. He was working for Mr. [William R.] Talley in the post office and little store, and he had to stay there at night. Sometimes I would go down and spend the night with him and he came home on Saturday nights.”

Pleasant Green, ancestral home of Crozet’s Wayland family, was host in August 1912 to the morning wedding of Raymond Gentry and Miss Annie O’Neill. The parlor was decorated in ferns and cedar when “the bride and groom entered to the strains of Lohengrin’s wedding march.” The Waylands and O’Neills were well aware of the historical significance of the adjacent room, seen here in the background, where Col. Claudius Crozet stayed when he boarded with the Wayland family. (Photo: Phil James)

Bettie and Luther’s marriage was blessed with seven children, five boys and two girls. Through their years, Luther’s work took them far afield from their Blue Ridge Mountain beginnings, and, eventually to Washington, D.C. Yet, as was the custom for many, as the time for each child’s birth drew near, Bettie would find her way back home to the place of her marriage, and the safety and comforts of her mother’s home in Sugar Hollow.  

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 © 2003–2020 Phil James

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