Secrets of the Blue Ridge: Riding in the Buggy with Little Lillian

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William F. “Billy” Walker Jr., a multi-talented entrepreneur familiar to all in western Albemarle, plowed heavy snow from Crozet’s Main Street with his work horse and farm sled/plow when state highway crews were busy on the primary highways. The Crozet Superette, owned by Moses and Virginia “Pete” Sandridge is seen through the snowflakes in the background. Courtesy of the Frances Walker Hill Collection.

Long before Crozet had four-way stop signs and traffic lights, horses ruled the roads, and taking care of the steeds who took care of you was paramount. Good horse stock helped the world go ‘round for farmers and village-folk alike.

Lillian Gentry Kessler Bondurant was born during the winter of 1901 in Mint Springs Valley west of Crozet. Imprinted on her earliest memories were names of some of the Gentry family’s horses and the vital roles they performed.

“My Poppa, John William Gentry [Sr.], was born in Crozet, Albemarle County, in 1854,” she said in memoirs she recorded for her family in the 1980s. “I remember him telling some of his remembrances of the Civil War, when he would take the horses up in the mountains to hide them when there were rumors the Yankees might pass near the farm. He was approximately ten years old then. Can you imagine having an experience similar to this?

A one-horse runabout buggy exits The Square in Crozet, 1915, during the first stage of construction of the Fruit Growers Ice and Cold Storage Corporation’s six-story facility. Prior to the 1917 installation of the downtown underpass, all traffic passed through The Square by way of the at-grade railroad crossing at the west end of the C&O passenger depot. Courtesy of the W.F. Carter Collection.

“Grandpa [James Cornelius Gentry] rode on a white horse named Dandy. Poppa bought a horse from Grandpa sometime in their early farming days after he and Momma were married. He was going to pay for that horse as the crops came in. One time, the harvest wasn’t very good, and Poppa’s payments fell behind. There were some rough times along with the smooth times in those early days.”

Crozet, like any up-and-coming railroad town worth its dot on the map, had blacksmiths and liveries. At the blacksmith and wheelwright shops of J.P. Huckstep, James G. Klise, Presley E. Williams, and James T. Woodson (the community garages of their day), one could have horses shod, plus harnesses and equipment repaired or fabricated.

Liverymen Levi P. Maupin, John H. Moomau, and Ernest L. Sandridge maintained saddle horses and teams, as well as buggies, carriages and wagons to lease. Additionally, one could hire a driver through their establishments. At the livery stables, those departing from town by rail could arrange short-term board for their horses. E.L. Sandridge’s business also sold hay and mill feed.

The Bank of Crozet opened for business in 1908. The edifice, described by newspapers of the day as “an ornament to the town,” fronted Miller School Avenue (now Crozet Avenue), a primary transportation and trade artery in western Albemarle for travelers and teamsters alike. Courtesy of Crozet Print Shop; Jim and Delores Baber.

On Main Street where Crozet’s Modern Barber Shop is located, William H. Rogers operated a funeral parlor. A stable in the back sheltered his horses and provided safe, dry parking for that business’s horse-drawn hearse.

“We walked the mile to school if the weather was good,” said Lillian. “But if we had rain or snow, Poppa took us to school in the buggy. We had a top buggy and an open buggy. That’s what we called them. If we were going to be out in the buggy long enough that we might get real cold, then a lap robe was a necessity. Traveling slowly in a buggy, that was likely to happen even if we were going just a short distance.

“Sometimes in real cold weather, Momma would warm a couple of bricks in the oven, wrap them in a piece of old blanket and put them on the floor of the buggy to warm our feet, and warm our bottoms, too, if we sat on the floor in the buggy, as sister Louise and I often did. We rode backwards, of course, leaning against the dashboard with our legs stretched out under the buggy seat, cozy and warm. Some may not understand the need for a dashboard on a buggy, which was a shiny leather-like board as a protection from the rain or mud or dust that was kicked up by the clip-clop of the horse’s feet. There was a socket attached to the dashboard on the driver’s side which held a buggy whip in case old Logan or Bessie seemed to be getting a little drowsy with the monotonous sound of their hooves on the road, and needed a little urging with a light flip of the whip.

Farm hands bring out horse and mule teams for an early-1900s workday at the Wayland family’s Pleasant Green farm on the western edge of downtown Crozet. Courtesy of David Wayland.

“During the school session each year there was great excitement when the teacher would come to our house to spend the night. One of our teachers always rode horseback to school, sidesaddle. When she rode up to our house and came in, she would take off her riding skirt, which was a full skirt of real heavy material that covered her clothes and came down over her shoes to protect her and her clothes from the mud and the dust that was stirred up from the road.

“Another exciting time was after we’d had a spell of real cold weather. We had a freshwater pond near the house that was not only a source of fish for our table and, in winter, ice for the ice house, but also a place for skating parties when the thermometer plunged and the ice was thick.

“We didn’t go out very much at night in the country, but some of the young people didn’t mind going home from the skating party after dark, snug in a buggy with your girl or your beau with a side curtain snapped in place and the lap robe tucked around your feet and your legs. The girls were already protected from the cold by long heavy skirts and underskirts and, more than likely, a flannel petticoat, and long drawers, of course. How the girls ever skated in such an outfit is hard to imagine. But looking feminine and looking pretty and appearing to be just a little bit helpless was just as important as being able to skate.

Advertisement from the American Agriculturist magazine, December 1875. In September 1889, Thomas Powell placed the following want ad in the Staunton Spectator: “Horse Power Wanted. I want a second-hand two-horse power to saw firewood, with or without saw and fixtures. State condition of machine and price. T.J. Powell, Crozet, Albemarle Co., Va.” Phil James Historical Images Collection.

“Young people didn’t have cars, so we went for walks or we sat in the porch swing with our date, or out under the apple tree in the yard. One party is very clear to my memory when my date hired a horse and buggy from the livery stable to take me to a party on a winter night. There was snow on the ground, a full moon in the sky, the horse blowing puffs of steam from its nostrils into the cold air, and a big warm lap robe to keep out the chill.

“Coming home from church one Sunday, driving to their house ahead of us, Aunt Lelia suddenly got out of her carriage, ran back to Poppa’s carriage, waving her arms and calling out in a shrill voice, ‘Automobile’s coming! Automobile’s coming!’ An automobile had stopped just a little distance ahead. The driver got out of his car and patiently led the frightened horses past that outlandish machine. As he was ready to go on his way, Aunt Lelia called out to him, ‘I’ll be glad when these things go out of the country!’ The man called back, ‘Lady, I think they are here to stay.’” 

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 © 2003–2022 Phil James 

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