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Country Stores--Genealogy--Art


Introduction by Roger C. Davis

 
 

Up to and including World War II the country store and post office were a social/commercial institution that has remained in rural Gloucester County from the 1850s.  Transportation and goods distribution limited the distance traveled for most people.  Radio and telephone were in their early development stage.  People still took time to “sit a spell” and talk about the war and community news.  They shared their sorrows and hardships when they gathered at the post office and country store.

The storeowners and operators became the center of this local information exchange and community structure. The families became an integral part of Gloucester County.

In February 1999, Kimble A. David, architectural historian, prepared a Final Report, “Country Stores and Rural Post Offices of Gloucester County.”  She reviewed thirty-nine stores, ten at the intensive level, and documented her findings.  Eight stores were determined eligible for listing on the Virginia Landmarks Register and National Register of Historic Places by Virginia Department of Historic Resources E-team, October 1998.  These stores are Zanoni Store and Post Office, Arthur Tab Store and Ware Neck Post Office, Freeport Store and Post Office, P. E. Muse Store and Coke Post Office, W. E. and J. Edgar Pointer Store and Bena Post Office, R. P. Gray Store and Signpine Post Office, Horsley Store and Short Lane Post Office, and Roanes Store and Post Office.

I have asked Ben Borden to tell us some history and family lore about some of these stores operated by his family.  Ben is a grandson of Peachy Elbert Muse and Valentine Haywood who operated the P. E. Muse Stores.  We have a genealogy of the Muse family for those searching this line.  A copy will be placed in the Vertical File of the Virginia Room at the Gloucester Library.

The heritages of the country stores in Gloucester have been recorded in pen and ink drawings by Harriet Cowen and published in two books, “Driving Tour - Gloucester County’s Country Stores and Post Offices” and “Field Trip Guide for Elementary Schools.”  Mrs. Cowen, a resident of Bena, has captured the character and beauty of these wonderful country store landmarks.  She has consented to let us publish some of her drawings in this issue.

 At the Gloucester Genealogy Society Meeting held on September 27, 1999, our guest speaker was Mr. Ben Borden, and our guest artist was Mrs. Harriet Cowen.  Ben told about the country stores in operation in the 1940’s and 50’s, during and immediately after World War II.  He shared information about his grandfather, Peachy Elbert Muse, and others of his family who were involved in the operation of these stores.  The following are excerpts from this meeting:

Mr. Ben Borden...

Thank you Roger.  I consider this a real pleasure to talk about something I like to talk about.  But you may think, before I am through, that I didn’t have but one granddaddy and that was Peachy Muse.  I did have a Grandfather Borden, but my daddy was from Front Royal and I only saw that Granddaddy but once or twice a year but Peachy Muse was just down the road.

I would like to, in this short time, give you a picture of the Muse family and Peachy Muse in particular; how they migrated to Gloucester County and the country stores that they operated, because there were more than one.  Some of their descendants are still living here, and I hope that it will be of interest to you.

Peachy Muse was next to the youngest of seven children and born in Essex County in 1871.  His father, Samuel William Young Muse, left his first five children, one of which was an infant, and went to Tappahannock and enlisted in the Confederate Army.  He was discharged at age 42.  That always interested me that he would leave his wife and five young children, one an infant.  My granddaddy, Peachy, came along in 1871, and I don’t think he was the first Muse to come to Gloucester County, but I’ll get to that later.

The three stores I want to cover and the three locations are the Eddie Minor’s store in Coke or the P .E. Muse Store, (it stayed the Eddie Minor’s longer than P. E. Muse), the Bridges store and the store at Ordinary.  The Ordinary store had two locations.  The property where the first store was located was bought by Newton Motor Company and Chrysler Plymouth Dealership so my grandfather bought another store across the road, which had been owned by a Mr. & Mrs. Dutton.

Let me take you now to Coke in about 1895.  I am not sure who built that store building and house, but I think it was a man named William HaywoodWilliam Haywood was my grandmother’s, Annie Valentine Muse, uncle.  Both her parents had died and Annie was raised by William Haywood and Elizabeth Hogge Haywood.  He also raised Mable Willet Buck, those two called each other sister, although they were not kin, but were raised together and many people today think we are kin to the Bucks, but we are not, but it was through that association a long time ago.

Sometime around 1895 Peachy Muse came on the scene in his early twenties.  He had some business dealings with William Haywood and met my grandmother.  They got married and then we find that he was operating the store.  The building across the road was the residence and they are both still standing today. In some of our publications there are pictures of both.

Peachy Muse's children: the first of which was Dolly, then Ella, Willie and Cassie were all born in Coke.  Lot of people don’t know that.  The two youngest were born later at Bridges in 1917 and 1920, respectively.

Now I think that the store business was evidently good at Coke and I often wondered why he wanted to move.  There was a really large population in that particular area of people who were rather prosperous in the oyster business, forestry and numerous other things that took place at that time.  He often told of some of the best customers he had in the store business were at Coke.  One of which happened to be my wife’s, Frances, great granddaddy; a man named Benjamin Franklin Oliver, who had an oyster business.  There were many stories of salesmen who called on him. But if you visualize the store, there was not any electricity then. I think they had gaslights, it wasn’t Delco, I think that was something that came later, but it was gaslights. 

Papa (Peachy Muse) used to talk about two blacksmith shops in sight of the store.  One was Claude Brookes’ and the other was Sylvester Oliver’s.  And he would talk about how many horses would be tied around different trees and posts on Saturday for people who came to get the services of the blacksmiths.

He talked about the people in the community who had particular talents. One was a man named Eddie Oliver who was a great marksman.  There was hardly anything that he couldn't hit with a .22 rifle.  My granddaddy said that on one occasion a salesman, for either the Winchester Arms Company or Remington Arms Company, who came to the store, challenged Eddie and beat him.  He said that was the only time between around 1900 and 1915 that anybody was better with a rifle than Eddie Oliver.

Another tale that he told was a ghost story, sort of, that we like to hear him tell about my grandmother waking him up in the middle of the night and the children were all asleep and that somebody was walking downstairs.  Papa said that he went downstairs and a cat had gotten in a rocking chair and kept it going back and forth and the cadence was exactly of someone walking. But anyway that was a happy ending to that story.

Let me talk a little bit more about Coke in that during that time a doctor came to Gloucester County named Dr. Clements.  And that one, Papa called Old Dr. Clements.  It was not the James Clements that we all remember down at Ordinary, but his father.  Well he came down from Albemarle County and he didn’t have a horse and buggy to make his house calls with.  My granddaddy loaned him a horse and buggy.  Well for that, in return for that favor he delivered all the children and gave free medical services as long as he lived and even up until the time Frances and I were living with my grandmother in the mid 50's at Ordinary and James Clements was still living, he wouldn’t charge my grandmother anything.  And this loyalty between people and friendship at that time, I think, is something that should be emphasized about the communities and the various things that happened in these stores.

During the time they were at Coke, Beech Grove Baptist Church was formed in 1904. My mother said she went to school there.  And then in wondering about why he wanted to go to Bridges and that made him closer to Hayes Store School.  And when we came along here, we wouldn't talk about Hayes, it was Hayes Store.  I didn’t know for many years later that that was named for a man named Joel Hayes who was in Abingdon and Gloucester and so forth.  And anyway, if they moved to Bridges they would be closer to Hayes Store School and I think my mother and Uncle Willie had a pony once and a cart and drove every morning from Bridges down to Hayes Store School.

Let’s not leave Coke, yet.  When Granddaddy decided to make that move he sold out to Eddie Minor's father.  I don’t know whether his name was Eddie also or Edward and I don’t know when the young Eddie took the store over.  But a lot of friends I had in Coke called the young Eddie Minor and the old Eddie Minor that I remember.  They called him Bubba and Ed because they said that when he was a little boy they called him that to distinguish him from his father.  So Eddie Minor took over that store around 1915 and this is absolutely accurate, as far as I know, and he operated it until 1964 and of course it was Coke Post Office.  Coke Post Office and Coke was a name for a person.

You have to remember at that time everything was by horse and wagon.  I think Benjamin Franklin Oliver had to take his oysters up to Clay Bank Wharf and put them on a steamboat and what groceries came in by wagon.  There wasn’t any kind of refrigeration at that store at that time, I am told.  Eddie Minor later modernized it quite a bit, which I will tell you more about.

Let’s go on to Bridges and we will find that Papa bought Bridges from a man named Tom Bridges. There was a home place situated on 20 acres and a store building situated on 5 acres and a farm with 100 acres.  I think the Bridges family had been there for some time for the post office there to be named Bridges.  The descendants from the Bridges family may be of some interest to you.  Dr James Smith, who practiced medicine at Hayes Store, had a wife who was Tom Bridges’ daughter.  Another Bridges that some of you may have heard about was John Bridges who was, as my granddaddy used to say, a drummer, he didn’t say salesmen, they were all drummers, that came around and took orders from Buryn, Old and Eaton in Norfolk and he called on my granddaddy, as I understand at Bridges and at Ordinary.

There was a glass over the door as you entered the store at Bridges that was in gold leaf.  It read “Bridges Post Office.”  Well somewhere back in the 1930's some of the Bridges’ relatives came by, and my Mother and Father gave them that glass. It might be down in Norfolk somewhere now, but that was the sign above the door.

I am going to tell you in a minute, as time is rapidly passing, what happened to the post office at Bridges after Papa moved to Ordinary.  It went up the road to Sam Pointer's store and I can't tell you when they started the rural route at one time from Ordinary and they closed the store and post office at Bridges, which was then in Sam Pointer's store.

The operation at Bridges was much larger than it was at Coke.  A larger building, two story, well built, it was paneled on the inside with beaded paneling.  It had a balcony; in other words it was two stories.  But upstairs there was a stairway railing around.  There was a place to display furniture on the second story.  There were two long counters downstairs with a large storage shed on the left.  One more thing, upstairs was a room just for shoes. The back had a unique type of icebox with walls that were about 6 inches thick and filled with saw dust and a place at the top like the old icebox to put ice and every now and then he kept some meat, probably for a short length of time.  Where did they get the ice?  On the property there were two very deep holes that we were always told were “ice holes.”  They were near a stream that could be damned up, and if the winter was cold enough they would take the ice and put it in the hole and cover it over with dirt and sawdust and hopefully it would last to around the 4th of July.  And you dig down in there maybe to make a freezer of ice cream.  Along that same line, David Burke told me that one of the biggest occurrences in his life was on the 4th of July.  They would meet a steamer from Baltimore which had ice you could buy and go home and make a freezer of ice cream.  So times were a lot different then than they are now.

They say my grandmother was a very calm person, and she was.  One day while she was clerking in the store, my Uncle Willie was on top of the house.  It was a two story with a steep roof and someone came in and said, “Mrs. Muse, Willie is up on top of the store building walking down the ridge pole” and she said, “Is that right?  I’ll be over there in a minute.”  Nothing ever excited her.

My two youngest aunts, Frances Haywood Muse and Annie (Betsy) Elizabeth Muse, were born at Bridges.  My daddy, Benjamin Elias Borden, also arrived while Peachy was still at Bridges.  In a little diary at home in something we call a “fertilizer book,” (fertilizer companies used to put these out and we carried one) it says, “arrived: Bridges May 15, I believe, 1922.”  This was shortly before P. E. Muse sold the entire store and property and his residence to someone else and moved out to Ordinary.  At that time the trend was to get out on the highway.  He was a notary public and insurance investigator.  They only verified that someone was living.  It was a company that was called Hooper Homes that you could fill out the little forms that verified that a person lived at certain post office and had three children and they paid you 50¢ or something like that.

Anyway, while at Bridges he had a gristmill and people came up Timberneck Creek to a place called Sawmill Hill, and that wasn't named for Daddy’s sawmill it was named Sawmill Hill long before my father put a sawmill at Bridges, and they would grind corn.  On up until about 1942 my granddaddy wouldn't have it any other way but to hook up a pair of mules, get in the wagon and put a bag of corn in it and go all the way to Haynes Mill Pond.  Most of you know where Haynes Mill Pond is.  Well, the other day the flood (Hurricane Floyd, Sept 1999) almost wrecked the dam and washed the rest of the mill over into the ravine.  I can remember going with him up there to Haynes Mill Pond and getting corn ground and coming back to be put out at Bridges.  Also, while he was at Bridges, he bought the property where Rosewell Cemetery is now.  That had been owned by Willie Haywood, who raised my grandmother, and I think there were a hundred and twenty-five acres in that.  That passed to Stratton in later years.

 So I think he wanted to go out to Ordinary and run a small store and maybe be some sort of a gentleman farmer.  He was fortunate to have people help him, and he would, when he didn't have an automobile, just walk out on Providence Road and hold his hand up, and it didn’t make any difference who it was, they stopped and picked up Peachy Muse.  He never thumbed or anything or asked them, he just held his hand up like a policeman. He'd do a school bus same way.  If he was getting from Bridges to Ordinary and the school bus was coming, Papa would stand and do like that, and they all knew him and, they would stop and let him get on the bus.

 It was about this time, in 1922, that my father met my mother.  Granddaddy Muse came to the small store, although they built a big bungalow that had three bedrooms, a reception hall, living room, bathroom, a big dining room and a large kitchen since he loved people so much that this was to attract the drummers that would stay overnight.  It was like a “Bed and Breakfast.”  It was a great time when two or three of them were there, and they all sat around the big dining room table.  They did not help my grandmother and Dolly dry the dishes.  They all went into the living room to smoke cigars, and you couldn't even see in the place for cigar smoke.  And that is what went on there.

When all the children had gone off to school, it just left my grandmother and grandfather there and Dolly.  Dolly was born, and became deaf at a very early age, she was their oldest child, I think born 3 October 1902.  She always stayed at home, helped my grandmother with the canning and helped take care of the younger children.  My grandmother always thought that she would expire before Dolly, but it didn’t work out that way.  Dolly died 13 February 1954, and my grandmother lived to be 90 years old and died 8 January 1970.

Another quick story about my grandmother.  She had said that both her parents died, and she was raised by Willie Haywood and Elizabeth Hogge Haywood, that her health was not good and the doctors told her that she wouldn’t live to be about 20 years old.  And she said, maybe it was old Dr. Clements, said that maybe you should take some cod liver oil everyday.  And she did, all of her life, and she lived to be (90) ninety.

In 1940, which Roger wanted me to talk about, the stores where being operated in this fashion.  Eddie Minor had modernized Coke a whole lot.  He had a modern meat case, which had electricity at that time.  It seems that because the population in that area of Cedar Bush Creek, Shley and Coke had increased some and there hadn't been an exodus of people away from that community, Eddie did a great business.   In recent years when the Martins took it over and made it Martins Corner, some of his books were in there and Eddie Minor did an excellent business, particularly during the late 30's and early 40's. He handled a lot of hardware, parts for farm implements, horse drawn farm implements, hog points and such as that.  If you wanted to buy a pump point for a pitcher pump, does any one know what that is; you would go to Eddie Minor’s to get it.  If you wanted to buy a pump he had it and paint for boats.

After Papa, in 1922, moved from Bridges down to Ordinary, he sold to a family, I believe, from Baltimore.  They bought the house and they bought the store but, anyway, it didn’t pan out.  So he had the new house out here to pay for and the new business and I think somehow he was still responsible, the way banking and that sort of thing were done, for the place at Bridges.  Well my mother and father got married in 1926 while Daddy was managing a sawmill in Keysville, Virginia.  In 1929 he came back to Gloucester and my mother and father bought the Bridges place from my granddaddy, Peachy Muse.  The store and house had been vacant for awhile.  There were not any modern conveniences, but anyway in 1929 they moved in.

Daddy’s father and his grandfather had several sawmills and barrel stay mills, and Mama always said she wasn’t real anxious to move to Bridges.  But she did.  Peachy Muse was a positive thinking person and would always try to encourage someone.  I remember my mother saying that she told my granddaddy once, “You know this summer all of Ben’s, meaning my father, brothers and their wives are coming down, and we don’t have any modern conveniences.  Papa said, “Look, Ella, you just make them feel at home.”  Well, she did, and that was the favorite place for all of them to visit from then until they all passed away.  They would come down to Gloucester, and later on we got a few conveniences.  I always liked that story.

Out at Ordinary I can remember the nights in the store with the men sitting around, and up on one counter there were cigarettes, loose, and they sold them for a penny a piece.  Young Dr. Clements smoked one after another.  He would sit and talk for awhile with my granddaddy and the other men, and he would go up and get a cigarette and he would smoke that one and when he would get ready to go, said, “Here Peachy, I had so many.”  And that was all until the next night he came over.

At that time Dr. Clements would charge $2 for an office visit.  And, I guess it is alright to tell this, but when Newton Motor Company sold a new Plymouth to him a few years after that, actually it was after the war in 1946, he paid for it in $2 bills.

Okay so Eddie's business was thriving in the 40’s.  Bridges Store was then used by my father to make barrels.  They had a barrel factory at Gloucester Point but the August storm of 1933 took it all away.  And that was the same time they said that the piano at Clopton's Drug Store was going down the river playing “Stormy weather.”

Anyway there was a migration or exodus, I guess you say, of people leaving Piney Swamp or Bridges.  Daddy was a bird hunter and we would hunt some afternoons and I’d follow him, and there was one vacant home after another.  These people had all gone to Baltimore, Detroit or Philadelphia for jobs.  There was one vacant garden after another, which was a good place for a covey of birds.

Just a little bit more now about the Muses.  So my granddaddy, Peachy Muse, had a store at Coke and at Bridges and he came out to Ordinary and then remember I told you that when Newton Motor Company was built he bought Mrs. Dutton’s Store.  Now uncle Bob Muse, who lived at Wicomico had a store at one time where Jones Oliver Store used to be, a sharp bend in the road directly behind Farm Fresh.  Okay, when Harry and I were going to Hayes Store School there was a store that Carrol Muse owned and the two people that worked there were Leroy Howlet and Wesley Jackson.  Okay.  So Carrol Muse was my granddaddy’s brother’s child, so he was his nephew, but a lot of people thought that Carrol and Peachy where brothers, but they were not.  Carrol was Mary Florence Muse's father.

Let’s go back up to Essex a minute.  Tom Muse evidently came down here, my granddaddy's older brother was a carpenter.  Moved back and opened a store at Upright which was near the “old home place” way out in the country off to the west of Ozeana and a little south of Dunnsville, that part of Tappahannock.  Uncle Dickey was out on Route 17 at Ozeana and he had a country store.  Uncle Charlie was an oyster inspector at one time and Uncle Charlie and Uncle Bob both lived in Wicomico and let me give this to you quickly.  Uncle Charlie sold his property to Spottswood in 1935/36, and he and Aunt Mary moved to Richmond and she opened a boarding house.  Uncle Bob died in 1935 but he owned Uncle Charles’ place called Pigeon Hill, and I forget now what they call... the same place that they moved the Waterman’s Museum building from, I think the man who owns McDonalds owns that place now, it was old Hogge property.  In fact, most all the property was owned by the Hogge family from Timberneck Creek on down the York River to Hayes.

In 1940 if you had left Coke and gone out by White Marsh and to come down to Ordinary you would have gotten to Clopton's County Store Post Office taken a right when you got to White Marsh there was a large store operated by Mr. Newcomb.  Coming on down the road Tommy C. Hogge had been in business for a long time.  Prior to him operating the store was a man name Taliaferro.  When you got down to Ordinary, there was, T. C. Hogge in Ordinary, Peachy Muse on one side and Dutton on the other.  That was before the Duttons passed on and so forth.  Now if you came through Piney Swamp which means you would come out at Eddie Minor's Store and get on Providence Road off of Cedar Bush Road, you came by Sam Pointer's Store and you came by BridgesBridges was the only one of those stores that I named, that was not operated in, I believe in 1940.  Tell you a little more about CloptonMrs. Raymond Brown, Dr. Brown's wife, Elizabeth, was a Clopton.  I intended to call her to see if she knew what year Clopton's Post Office closed and what year they went out of the store business.  It is absolutely amazing that all of them could make a living, but as some of the literature we have here indicated, they all were very prosperous at that time.

One other thing, I've covered the Muse men that ran stores.  My grandmother used to tell me about going back to Ozeana to visit my granddaddy’s relatives.  They would leave very early in the morning and you would get to Saluda by 12 o’clock.  You would feed the horse and rest and eat a sandwich and by dark you would be up in Essex, at Upright or Ozeana.

Just one thing, you all probably know this by heart, I’ll close with this.

A PEOPLE WHO TAKE NO PRIDE IN THE NOBLE ACHIEVEMENTS OF REMOTE ANCESTORS ARE NOT LIKELY TO ACHIEVE ANYTHING WORTHY TO BE REMEMBERED WITH PRIDE BY REMOTE DESCENDANTS.

Thank you.  Thank you very much, I enjoyed it.   n

 

 

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