Secrets of the Blue Ridge: Crozet East

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As viewed from the landscaped entrance of Acme Visible Records, c.1955, Tom and Betty Starke’s Cash Market and Amoco Service Station, flanked by Beale’s Lunch and Sandwich stand. The diminutive short-order grill offered curb service; it was previously the office for a used car lot at that location. Phil James Historical Images Collection.

The east side of Crozet is just packed with history! To get up to speed on those happenings, join in on this short, eastbound 1.35 mile jaunt. Where to begin? At Crozet’s “Mile-Zero”—the four-way stop-sign intersection beside the red brick 1923 Chesapeake and Ohio passenger depot.

This storied piece of two-lane blacktop, recognized today as Three Notch’d Road, was surveyed in the 1730s, in part, by Peter Jefferson, father of the President. When the railroad arrived here in the 1850s, the heart of the yet-to-be village was little more than a grove of stately oak trees surrounded by rolling farmland. By the early 1900s, however, the joint was beginning to jump.

North of the passenger depot, from the mile-zero corner to the crest of the hill, the needs of western Albemarle’s farmers and orchardists were served by Russell Bargamin’s Crozet Cooperage, Chesley Haden’s fruit brokerage, the first location of the Bank of Crozet, Warrick’s Machinery’s tractors, the Fruit Growers’ Cooperative, and J.T. O’Neill & Son’s mercantile, later converted and enlarged into Lockhart’s Chevrolet dealership.

Back across the railroad tracks, J.L. Barnes Lumber and Crozet Lumber, with their own railroad sidings, shipped out their milled goods by train and truck. For the better part of a century, the lumber industry dominated much of the area south of the railroad and east of The Square.

Ernest L. Sandridge erected Crozet’s first full-service gasoline filling station in 1923, near the C&O railroad’s former at-grade crossing across from Crozet Lumber Company. His business was brisk. (Despite much opposition from Crozet businesses, Rt. 240 was established through Crozet c.1943, and the “new” U.S. Route 250 was constructed which allowed highway traffic effectively to bypass the town.)

Acme Visible Records’ 1950s water tank was a landmark on the east side of Crozet, much as was the c.1915 water tank behind the Carter/Herbert Cold Storage downtown. Photo by Mac Sandridge

Beyond Sandridge’s filling station, along a section of Rt. 240 extending east to the former industrial plants of Morton/Del Monte/Conagra and Acme Visible Records, a vibrant, historically African American neighborhood began to be established during the early decades of the 20th century. This most-visible of several segregated Black neighborhoods in the Crozet area extended a half-mile along Rt. 240, adjacent to both north and south sides of the railroad tracks.

Among the early African American community leaders was Edgar Lee Wesley (1861–1938), who moved his family to Crozet from Sugar Hollow in 1917. The following year he and his wife Maggie (White) opened a small grocery store.

L-R: Lester Washington, Major Durrette, Charles Maupin and George Collins, members of Union Mission Baptist Church, gathered in May 1984, to witness the controlled burning of Crozet Elementary School adjacent to their church building. Washington and Maupin had attended the c.1916 segregated African American schoolhouse that was decommissioned in 1960. Photo by Jim Crosby; courtesy The Bulletin Inc.

“Edgar Wesley’s Store was a two-story building,” recalled Frances Walker Hill. “You could go there and have dances upstairs. He also rented out to the Knights of Pythias and the Odd Fellows. They would meet twice a month [in the space above the store.]

“He sold white potatoes, squash and fresh vegetables out of his garden, when it was garden time, and some canned goods from wholesalers. He sold a little bit of everything, but he didn’t sell meat or ice cream or things like that. He used to sell fresh fish on Friday. A local train came from Charlottesville about 8 o’clock in the morning. They would bring boxes of iced, fresh fish up to the Crozet Depot. The people would be right there to get these boxes. Edgar Wesley would be standing there waiting for his, and he had a wagon to pull it on back down the road. I was about eight years old and going to Crozet School. If we had some money, we used to go there after school to buy some Mary Janes, or little ginger snaps.”

This 1913 view goes past the C&O section house (on left) and 1880s Crozet passenger depot (on right), then up the hill to the store operated by J.T. O’Neill & Son (previously James C. Gentry). Photo by Rufus W. Holsinger; courtesy Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia.

South of the railroad, beside c.1914 Union Mission Baptist Church, was the c.1916 segregated Crozet Elementary School that served the village’s African American students until it was consolidated into Virginia L. Murray Elementary School at Ivy in 1960. Marian Brown Collins, a hairdresser, operated out of her home beside Union Mission Church.

Home-based businesses on the north side of the railroad included Howard’s Barber Shop and an automotive garage. Located around the midpoint of the community was Jerry’s Place, a popular restaurant and dance hall operated by husband and wife Hercules and Chaney (Henderson) Jerry from 1939 until c.1960.

Crozet Cold Storage opened in 1929, a cornerstone of the great transition to industrial manufacturing that would shape Crozet for a half-century. Acme Visible Records, a Chicago-based manufacturer of office filing systems, arrived in 1950, followed in 1953 by Morton Packing Company (later Morton Frozen Foods), which took over the facilities of the former Crozet Cold Storage Corporation.

The Boston Globe reported: “Morton Packing Company, Louisville, Ky., packers of frozen meat pies, today [June 23, 1953] announced the purchase of the manufacturing and cold storage plant of the Crozet Cold Storage Company, Crozet, Va.” Industrial giants Acme and Morton’s fueled the region’s prosperity for a half-century. Phil James Historical Images Collection.
Businesses on either side of the road between Morton’s and Acme included Gibson’s Service Station, the Oak Grove Service Station and lunch counter, Gibson’s Store, a used car lot, Starke’s Cash Market and Amoco Service Station, Beale’s Lunch and Sandwiches (with curb service), and the Zirkle and Wade packing shed, later repurposed as Acme’s plant maintenance building.

Fruit orchards still fronted the highway during these years of transition. East of Acme was another service station/garage business, its building still extant, directly across the road from Charles Rea’s garage and wrecking yard.

Capping off our ride, at the corner of Clinton Lane and Three Notch’d (only 7,100’ from our staring point) was the White Turkey Inn, dating to the turn of the 20th century. In the 1920s, Edgar Wesley and other trustees of Union Mission Church purchased a lot north of Clinton Lane for a use as a cemetery. In 1953, trustees for the Good Neighbors Club of Crozet purchased acreage adjoining the cemetery property. In 1954, those trustees transferred the property to The Crozet Community Center of Crozet, Inc., which made improvements and operated a social activities building and a baseball field for the use of the African American community. The ball diamond was the home field of the Crozet All-Stars, a highly competitive team in the regional Black Baseball league.

And these are just some highlights from the “early days”—told ya’ it was gonna be packed! 

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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