Why Crozet is a long-running feature that explores the many positive features about life in Crozet. Here at the Gazette, we have a commitment to preserving and sharing local history and are proud to have Phil James and Lynn Coffey as monthly contributors. We’ve learned that history is not only dates and facts, but the impact that events and people have through the generations, and the very individual view of history that each one of us has. We thank all of those who generously shared memories. Thanks to Rob Langdon for suggesting this feature and for sharing a number of photos from his collection.
They grew up in a different world, with a slower pace and a sense of safety and community fostered by the adults who came before. “You could be anywhere with your friends and if you did something wrong, their mama would correct you the same as your mama would,” said Larry Lamb, who grew up with a close-knit band of friends and neighbors on Hilltop Street.
Ralph Sandridge, one of the Hilltop gang, moved to Florida shortly after he grew up, but still thinks of Crozet as his home, and has incorporated “Crozet boy” into his email address. “I think about it every day,” he said. When he took his fiancé home to meet his mom, she said: “My gosh, you grew up in Mayberry!”
“One has to understand and have lived in the old Crozet versus now,” said Rebecca Maupin-Simmons. “Once upon a time when you’d leave the house you would literally know everyone you passed on the road or saw in the store. Everyone knew everyone.”
Maupin-Simmons said no one was prepared for the rapid growth Crozet has experienced. Those who are sad to see their old Crozet slipping away find comfort in finding old photos and talking about their memories of time past.
Rob Langdon, a long-time professional restoration contractor, has a keen eye for the structures remaining from Crozet’s past, and also a particular interest in honoring the elders who inspired generations of Crozet’s children. He’s collected dozens of old photos of people most admired as well as of those who led good and productive lives in relative obscurity. He shares those photos with others on social media and in person, for those without access; and now, with the Gazette, so readers can enjoy them.
That sharing is important, said Phil James, author of Secrets of the Blue Ridge and a popular columnist for the Gazette (he was also a member of the Hilltop gang). “Such priceless personal archives are usually hidden away until one is prompted through trust to reveal those historical treasures to another. We might sit silently alone and create a most amazing scrapbook from our own pieces, but the value of that piece of work multiplies exponentially when we share it with others. Those grand investment opportunities happen often when we hear, see, or read something that triggers our own recollections.” He and Lamb meet often to compare photos and share memories with each other.
Some of the institutions most treasured remain today, although changed in one way or another. One is the Brownsville Market. “I’ve had a lifelong love for Brownsville Market,” Maupin-Simmons said. “My parents met in this building, my grandfather would take me here after we left the Moose Lodge from eating breakfast, and it is now currently my workplace.”
Lamb remembers when it was primarily a gas station and garage, before it became known for its biscuits and fried chicken. The Maupins’ fruit stand was adjacent, and Lamb thinks the proprietor, Odell Rhinehart, lived upstairs. “That’s where the hot-rodders (the T90 club) hung out,” he said. “They were quite a crew.”
Like the Brownsville Market, the Peachtree League is still going strong. Marcus Champ Washington was a catcher for the Indians in the early ’90s, and said his coaches, James Woods and Lowry Abell, made an impression that’s stayed with him all his life. “Coach Woods stayed with the team even when he had no children on it,” Washington said. “He taught me sportsmanship as well as how to bunt, run bases and hit a curve ball.” Washington said Woods never needed to yell, but coached with kindness and encouragement. “I also had the good fortune to have Coach Abell as a basketball coach. He always wanted us to learn but also have fun during our time on the team. These years were among the most enjoyable I’ve ever had.”
Although Washington was the only Black child on the team, he said it never came up. “Years later, when I became aware of the place race has in our larger society, I looked back on those years when I never had to worry about it. That was Crozet.” Washington is now an educator in Salisbury, North Carolina, and comes back six or seven times a year to see his family. “I want my kids to see where I grew up,” he said.
Another institution: the July 4th celebration. It went on for longer then. “The carnival was here for five days, starting the night of the parade,” Lamb remembers. Many of the games belonged to the fire department, and the volunteers would spend many nights building the booths and other structures. There was some low-stakes gambling, including bingo and a space where the men threw dice. “We couldn’t participate, as kids, but we’d ride our bikes down and watch. We neighborhood children looked forward to this all summer, and we didn’t even have to leave our house to see the fireworks.” One year, the fireworks broke out a window on one of the fire trucks, an unexpected event the children saw as very exciting.
Lamb also remembers beauty pageants at the old pool, refreshments home-cooked by the Fire Department auxiliary, and an elaborate parade with vehicles from all over the county.
Phil James has spent much of his life preserving and writing about Crozet’s history, even those events that happened long before his birth. He uses caution in interviewing and verifying his sources so as not to perpetuate a false narrative, but he sees an important role for all of us in being citizen-historians, whether trained or not:
“Everybody has a piece or two of the local history story and each of those pieces has importance,” he noted. “The ‘pieces’ might include oral or written accounts of an event or an earlier period of time, regardless of whether they are first-person or hand-me-down accounts. Family photos, personal mementoes, newspaper clippings and ephemera are wonderful complements.”
He doesn’t discount the stories we hear that we can’t verify “Most historians are not counted among those academics who would discount the value of anecdotal accounts,” he said. That’s because each of us is a historian. We each have unique, trusted access to someone(s) who is just waiting to show and tell the evidences of their own passage through life. Time passes by oh so quickly. Gather, record, preserve—and share the bounty—while you can! All will be wiser and richer for your good efforts.”
Many of those who contributed to this story are part of the Facebook group, “I remember when Crozet was a small town.” To contribute your memories and photos, ask to join the page.