Secrets of the Blue Ridge: Russell Bargamin: Right Man, Right Time, Right Place

0
258
Crozet High School opened in 1907 on a lot between the Baptist and Episcopal Churches on Saint George Avenue. Russell Bargamin, chairman of the building committee, presided at its dedication that featured a keynote address by former Virginia Governor and future Congressman A.J. Montague. Courtesy of Phil James Historical Images Collection.

In its earliest days Crozet was barely a crossroads, surrounded by cultivated fields and some forest groves, peopled only by those who lived and worked on nearby farms. It was those farmers who first envisioned the added value that a railway flag stop might bring to their seemingly remote countryside.

“The development of Crozet is traceable to three main in­fluences,” wrote Chesley A. Haden in 1957. “The first of these influences was the need for a trading center to serve a small and isolated mountain region, including rail supplies for the newly established Miller School. The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway had only recently been extended westward from Mechum’s River by Colonel Claudius Crozet… The need just mentioned was met by the operation of the railroad and of several stores where the produce of the natives—largely tan bark, dried fruits, poultry, eggs and butter—were exchanged for such necessities of life as boots, shoes, dress goods, spices, sugar and coffee.

A 1913 view across the C&O Railway tracks from the Crozet Square shows signage for Crozet Cooperage Company, one of the village’s most vital early industries. Photo by Holsinger; courtesy of UVA Library Special Collections

“At the outset, the village was fortunate in the quality and character of its merchants. These men were community leaders in the best sense of the word. They were great believers in churches and education. These merchants often performed the function of a bank, since they issued ‘due bills’ in exchange for produce delivered in excess of purchases made at the moment. These due bills were often in sizeable amounts and held for long periods of time, thus creating a considerable ‘balance’ in the customer’s favor. In addition to acting as banker, they were usually ‘guide, counselor, philosopher and friend’ for the entire community.

“The period just described lasted from approximately 1880 to about 1905. As the fruit industry soared to new levels of prosperity, the many related industries were organized and the foundation for the present community laid. At this juncture, an unusual individual entered the scene in the person of Russell Bargamin [1876–1971] of Richmond, Va.”

The Bank of Crozet was established in 1906 with Russell Bargamin, president; E.L. Wayland, vice-president; and R.E. Wayland, cashier. Rapid growth led to its move into this substantial building on Main Street in 1908. In addition to banking services, the new bank building housed the post office plus an upstairs auditorium that doubled as a lodge hall. Offices for Bargamin’s other business concerns also were maintained here. Courtesy Phil James Historical Image Collection.

In Richmond, in addition to his practice of law, Bargamin was active politically and well-known in those circles. He was Virginia Attorney General William A. Anderson’s appointee to the clerkship of the Attorney General’s office in 1902.

“He married Helen May Wayland [in 1901],” Haden continued, “the attractive and talented daughter of Abram Wayland, a ‘country squire’ of pioneer Scotch-Irish stock. The move from Richmond to Crozet in 1904 was due to the status of Mrs. Bargamin’s health, which was not good in tidewater Virginia. This personable young attorney became immediately engrossed in community affairs and under his leadership the community took on new life.”

The Crozet Cooperage was opened in 1901 to manufacture barrels, boxes and crates for the fruit industry. In 1906, the company was purchased by brothers Russell and Edward Bargamin. They grew the business to include branches at Ivy and Batesville, as well as at Shipman in Nelson County, shipping 30,000 barrels in 1908, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, with production expected to double in ’09.

Crozet’s first pharmacy operated 1904–1909, next door to James M. Ellison’s Store on The Square. Russell Bargamin, on right, relaxed with other Crozet businessmen on that drug store’s wooden sidewalk. Courtesy of the Mac Sandridge Collection.

In order to promote the town’s advantages, two dozen Crozet area merchants, orchardists and principal farmers organized the Crozet Board of Trade in 1908, with Russell Bargamin as its first president. Five years later, they petitioned the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway to replace the dangerous at-grade rail crossing beside the depot. When their request was rejected by the powerful rail bosses, they gathered documentation and appealed to the Virginia State Corporation Commission. Again, Bargamin donned his attorney’s cap and went before the state board. After examining the evidence, and listening to both sides of the argument, the SCC decreed that the underpass must be built “so as to avoid unnecessary perils to travelers upon the highway.”

In 1919, Daily Progress writer J.G. Claiborne visited Crozet to document the community’s achievements. He wrote, “One of the first industries of Crozet is that of the Crozet Coope­rage Company, operating several plants, having a capacity of one hun­dred thousand apple barrels a year. The firm is composed of orchardists at this place, Messrs. Russell Bargamin and his brother Edward M. Bargamin, and being orchardists, they are striving always to put for­ward something for the greatest benefit of fellow orchardists.

The most important example of Crozet’s infrastructure improvements, the C&O Railway’s two-way underpass, was installed in 1917. This necessary public safety improvement was the result of four years of advocacy at the state level by community leaders and the legal expertise of Russell Bargamin. Photo: Phil James.

“And in this connection, it might be said that Mr. Russell Bargamin is peculiarly fortunate in knowing the needs of growers for packages for display purposes, or market purposes, for he has had wide ex­perience in the larger fruit markets of the country in official work done in the apple line while Director of Exhibits of the Virginia State Hor­ticultural Society, having collected, arranged and displayed apples from Virginia three times at the Inter­national Apple Shippers Show, and having also won the sweepstakes cup two of the three times in compe­tition with the United States, Canada and England.”

Chesley Haden summed up his firsthand observations of this storied businessman and conscientious community leader thusly: “He modestly refuses to take personal credit for these building blocks of local progress. It is only fair to say, however, that his ability, initiative and foresight constituted the driving power behind [many of the town’s accomplishments.]

“He personally designed and built both the bank and Tabor Church buildings, as well as the first school building of any importance in the community… He also personally went over the road from Crozet to the [Greenwood] Country Store with the Commissioner of Highways and arranged for using, with little cost to the state, the rock fences along the road as a base for the new hard-surfaced highway. This was a prime factor in getting the road. His talents and means were always at the public call. If Crozet is the ‘lengthened shadow of one man,’ that man is Russell Bargamin.” 

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 © 2003–2021 Phil James 

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here