During the year 2001, were making our way around Virginia, each
issue visiting a small town and meeting some of the folks who make up the heart of
electric co-op country. On this years fourth stop, well be...
Down Home in Montross by Lynn Norris,
in PDF Format Something old,
something new, something borrowed, but seldom blue! Located on Route 3 southeast of
Fredericksburg and its sprawling suburbs and the booming research
community surrounding the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Dahlgren, the
Town of Montross is not large either in terms of population or size.
Bill Sanford, who followed in the footsteps of his grandfather as the
town’s maintenance supervisor, and Town Manager Brenda Reamy hold the
Montross banner in front of the new Town Hall, which opened for business
Nevertheless, two summers ago when the Marines
launched an urban warfare training exercise here for young officers,
certain Montross residents led by Mayor
Dave O’Dell showed their revolutionary tendencies to such an extent
that the terrorist infiltrators (read: enlisted men acting the part) gave
those few “Good Men” quite a run for their money.
On the national TV news, no less.
Revolution is, after all, in the Montross bloodlines.
George Washington was born just up the road, as were James Monroe and
James Madison, as well as Richard Henry and Francis Lightfoot Lee, the
only two brothers brave enough to risk their property and their sacred
honor by signing the Declaration of Independence.
Old Town Hall is being torn down this summer to allow
for smoothing the 90˚ turn Route 3 takes in the heart of Montross.
In short, Westmoreland’s county seat is a wonderful
blend of intriguing history and excitement about life in the present —
chiefly due to the personalities of her service-oriented inhabitants, many
of them lifelong residents.
Pitts, for example. He’ll be glad to talk your ear off about the
fire department (he’s a charter member of the 52-year-old, all-volunteer
organization) or about the architectural and archaeological manifestations
of the nearly 350-year-old county. Pitts has carefully documented much of
Peoples Drugstore is famed far and wide for the delicious old-time
flavor at its lunch counter. Pharmacist Bob Burner and wife Peggy are
pictured here with employee Janice Belfield and customers James Wise,
Naomi Johnson, Louvenia Reed, Stump Chatham, Chuck Hutchinson, Sophia Oord
and Mrs. Oord’s sister, Gerda Hyma — who was visiting from Ontario.
Talk to band-director-turned-pharmacist Bob Burner, the vice mayor, and his wife Peggy, whose family have run Peoples Drugstore since Sept. 1, 1934.
Start the day off sweet with pancakes at the counter where many old-timers
gather to catch the latest news. Hand-dipped ice cream and old-fashioned
milkshakes made from scratch are an equally fetching draw.
Or talk to Town
Manager Brenda Reamy and Mayor Dave O’Dell, who could share stories
from here to next year about the generosity of Montross residents. George
King, Stanley Schoppe and Les
Sisson merit special mention for their cool, calm and collected aid in
emergencies and during town events, but community spirit is high
year-round — as evidenced by donations for gifts for those who are ill
or have suffered some accident or calamity or for such causes as the
town’s Christmas lights and various seasonal festivals.
Council Talks History
Dating to the early 1950s, this photo of the heart of Montross was
given to Town Manager Brenda Reamy by Mrs. L.E. Westmoreland. It sparked
much discussion at a recent council meeting.
Reamy treasures two large pictures from the early
One is an aerial view and the other is shot from
where Angelo’s Pizza Restaurant stands today — looking toward the
Northern Neck Coca-Cola Bottling Co., where since 1921 the Carver family
have been famed worldwide for the excellent flavor of their product,
enhanced by ultra-clear artesian water.
These occupied council’s attention for almost an
hour at the February meeting, its first in the new quarters. The
beautifully detailed photos, donated by Mrs.
L.E. Westmoreland, will be hung in the new building, so they had to be
“Lookahere, there are signs showing four gas
stations right in the middle of town. And isn’t that a ’52 Chevy? And
a 1949 or ’50 Ford?” council duly noted.
This eye-catching mural draws attention to the Northern Neck Coca-Cola
Bottling Co., where the Carver family have bottled their delicious brew
since 1921. Check out Northern Neck Ginger Ale (also bottled as Carver’s
Ginger Ale) for a burst of flavor.
That was when Brenda passed around some town
stationery given to her by Virginia
Harris Clapp, from the days when her dad Richard Harris was Mayor,
Ashby R. Carver was treasurer and Elizabeth H. Yeatman was town clerk.
Council members in those days were Mary M. Sumner, W. Norris Lowery,
George L. Hutt, Elton C. Healy, Charles W. Harris and Arthur E. Carver Jr.
Other memorabilia include the badges of former law
enforcers Sgt. Sam Hall and Chief Arthur Thorne.
Councilman and 23-year Northern Neck Electric
Cooperative employee Page Sanford
was raised in Montross, as was his mother, who lived upstairs as a child
from the car dealership run by her daddy Flynn Smallwood where Wakefield
Furniture now sells appliances and furniture.
Like the rest of council, Sanford is proud of the
parade and a variety of sales, music and other activities surrounding Fall
Festival, the first Saturday of each October — a celebration of harvest
season. Christmas begins the first Friday in December with carolers,
celebrations at local businesses and banks, and the lighting of the Rescue
Tree on the Courthouse Green.
Shown here with Fire Chief Eddie Weston, Buren Pitts is one of two
charter members of the Westmoreland Volunteer Fire Department who still
lives in town. He’s kept the active, dedicated department’s history
since it was founded in 1948.
The town was officially incorporated on June 3, 1946,
but has a much longer history, of course.
According to the place-names section of the county
history book, Westmoreland County
Virginia, edited by Walter
Norris Jr., the origin of the name may be traced to “shipowner and
merchant William Black, who in 1759 leased his land and house, commonly
called Montrose, contiguous to Westmoreland Court House,” to Thomas
Minor. It was designated a town corporate in February 1852 by an Act of
In other historic notes, monthly court meetings from
the county’s earliest days in various locations set the scene for
Westmorelanders to exercise their disputatious, litigious and frequently
Longtime Mayor Dave O’Dell is always ready to share a joke.
Court Square in Montross was the center of this
activity from the 1680s on, with vestiges of the 1707 courthouse enclosed
in the c. 1820 structure that still houses the Clerk of Court and all the
county’s court records, as well as deed, will and land books.
Three war memorials in front of the courthouse honor
the county’s war dead from the Civil War, World Wars I and II, Korea,
and the Vietnam War.
of Court Gwynne Chatham’s son, Kenny
Jr., adopted the cleansing of the monuments and the landscaping of the
grounds of the Courthouse as his Eagle Scout project. In the course of
this, the vista was altered greatly, as the large trees on the green
proved to have rotten hearts.
Back row: Dottie Lewis, Stan Schoppe, George King and Debbie Polly
give a great deal of energy to the town’s youth and festivals. Pictured
here with them at Stan’s Skateland are hockey players Stan Schoppe Jr.,
Will Lewis and David Jones. Schoppe has employed hundreds of local
students at the Dairy Freeze since 1969, at Skateland since 1981.
Other changes will be readily apparent to those of
you who may have visited the small but hopping town in the past:
A new branch of Central Rappahannock Regional
Library is going up across from the English Building, which houses the
county offices and today’s circuit and general district courtrooms.
The sharp turn on Route 3 in the middle of town
is going to be smoothed out. This necessitated the building of a new Town
Hall, across the street from the old one, which formerly held sway in a c.
1927 bank that must be razed for the new roadway.
figures show Montross has actually declined in population from 1990 (359)
to 2000 (315), but growth is definitely on the way due to the enhancement
of utilities via a new sewer system and the extension of water lines.
shell building in the industrial park just outside town — for which
funds were channeled through the Rural Utilities Service, courtesy of
Northern Neck Electric Cooperative — has not sold yet. But there are
nibbles and the county is marketing it through a number of venues.
Genealogical researchers and others are welcome to visit the old
courthouse, where County Clerk of Court Gwynne Chatham and her staff are
the proud keepers of the county’s 350 years of deeds, books, wills and
circuit court orders. Pictured here are, front row: Brenda Fowler, Alisha
Smith. Back row: Betty Horner, Anne Bayne Battaile, Gwynne Chatham and
The long and narrow “Village” of Montross
stretches about 2.5 miles from stem to stern; there are three ways to come
From the west on Route 3, up the steep hill from
serene Chandler’s Millpond.
On a network of back roads that offers a shortcut
to those coming from Essex and Richmond counties, emerging by the Dollar
General Store, Kwik Stop and Southern Tire.
From the east on Route 3, via bustling East End,
where the thriving Northern Neck Building Supply stands cheek by jowl with
Sisson’s fruit stand, restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores,
Northern Neck State Bank (whose congenial Vice President
Rusty Brown is a member of the Northern Neck Electric Cooperative
Board), and more.
Northern Neck Electric Cooperative employee Page Sanford is a Montross
Once you’re in Montross, the friendly souls here
will keep you busy for quite awhile.
There’s plenty to eat, ranging from gourmet cuisine
to pizza to some of the world’s best fried chicken.
Check out the Welcome Center and Museum to check out
the latest exhibits or pick up some genealogical tips from Darlene Tallent, chat with Dal
Mallory about his book on the Civil War, or put together a few shards
from the 17th-century pottery that curator Vicki
Miller is reassembling.
You can find almost anything you want in town.
Flowers find their way to every occasion throughout
the year, whether solemn, sad or joyous, from talented arrangers here such
as those at Bridget’s Bouquets. The Ptuchas’ greenhouses also provide
both beauty and nourishment, available for purchase in the old Pitts’
The three banks in Montross are vital to commerce and have a history
of good advice when it comes to saving for a rainy day. Pictured are
Northern Neck Electric Cooperative board member Rusty Brown
(vice-president of Northern Neck State Bank), Bill Johns (president and
CEO of Peoples Community Bank) and Pam Fawver (Montross Branch officer,
Bank of Lancaster).
And there’s a 50-50 chance you’ll be served by
folks who’ve been serving people here for decades, whether you’re at
Peoples Community Bank or the Bank of Lancaster, at Blue and Gray
Supermarket, in mechanics’ or body shops, or getting your hair done or...
Although small, as noted, the town offers a veritable
barrage of services.
Realtors, accountants, lawyers, doctors, an Internet
service provider, auto sales and parts dealers, the Westmoreland
News are easily accessible within walking distance, as are Washington
and Lee High School, the Methodist and Episcopal churches, a laundromat,
shoe repair shop and dry cleaners.
Whether you want gifts, crafts, antiques or vintage
or children’s clothing, your every need can be met thanks to the
creative force centered in Court Square. Visitors have said the interest
level compares to that of Gatlinburg or a little Colonial Williamsburg.
Come visit. You may end up staying a lifetime!
Tourists are welcome throughout
the county, which has miles of waterfront, accompanied by a suitable
number of marinas and seafood restaurants.
History comes alive at the town’s Fall Festival each year.
Brochures and more info are
available on the numerous sites of interest from Town
Hall (804-493-9623), through the Westmoreland
County Museum and Library, (804-493-8440) on Court
Square in Montross, and over the Internet at
A brief sampling of the local
attractions, starting from the western end of the county, includes:
Nature Preserve and Westmoreland Berry Farm. On Route 637 near Oak
Grove (804-224-9171). Miles of woodland trails along the Rappahannock
River; pick-your-own and already-picked fruit.
Winery. On Route 638 south of Oak Grove (804-224-8687). Tours and
tastings of award-winning vintages.
of Colonial Beach. Off Route 205 north of Oak Grove. Visitors have
been flocking to the Potomac-front town for more than a century to enjoy
its delicious seafood, festivals, boating opportunities and history
(804-224-8145, P.O. Box 475, Colonial Beach, VA 22443).
birthplace. A monument on Route 205 marks the birthplace of the fifth
Washington Birthplace National Monument. Route 204 near Oak Grove
(804-224-1732). Waterfront colonial farm, natural area, walking trails
wind through Popes Creek Plantation, where the Father of our Country was
State Park. On Route 347 (State Park Road) near Baynesville
(804-493-8821). Miles of woodland and riverfront nature trails, cabins,
camping, swimming, fishing, boat rentals and picnicking.
Stratford Hall Plantation
Hall Plantation. On Route 214 near Lerty (804-493-8038). Ancestral
home of the Lees, including the only two brothers to sign the Declaration
of Independence — Richard Henry and Francis Lightfoot Lee, and the
birthplace of Gen. Robert E. Lee. The 1,670-acre plantation offers tours,
a dining room, nature trails.
Museum. On Route 203 off Route 202 at Kinsale, the oldest incorporated
town on this side of the Potomac; the museum is open weekends
Want to stay overnight? There
are two B&Bs, (’Tween Rivers,
run by the Debskis — 800-485-5777 or 804-493-0692; and Porterville,
hosted by Mary Porter Hall — 804-493-9394). Also available are the Washington
& Lee Motel (804-493-8093) and the historic Inn
at Montross (804-493-0573), whose basement dates back to 1683 when
John Minor kept an “ordinary” there.