Bumpass, Virginia:

A small town built around a railroad station

Laura Emery, Field Editor

Bob Harvey has served on the Board of Directors of the Louisa County Historical Society and has made his primary focus the history of the railroad in Louisa County. ‘This was a new railroad that farmers needed to get their crops to market.
It was a real infrastructure
accomplishment,’ Harvey says.

January 2018

 

Travelers passing through the sleepy hamlet of Bumpass in Louisa County likely are unaware that the area once known as “Bumpass Turnout,” a side-track along the Louisa Railroad that began carrying passengers in 1837, was once a booming village boasting varied, even unusual, businesses.

There was the B.J. Grasberger Company, which manufactured wooden ice-cream spoons shipped across the eastern United States until it shut down in the 1940s. In 2001 volunteers with Field Day of the Past, an annual salute to historic machinery and buildings held in nearby Goochland County, salvaged much of Grasberger’s old equipment to display as part of a machinery exhibit. The Bumpass Coop Company manufactured chicken coops. A boys’ academy, post office and several stores, including the Karl Harris Store and C.W. Bumpass & Co. Store, were all clustered near the turnout’s passenger and freight stations

“The Louisa Railroad was one of the few railroads that became an east-west railroad,” explains Bob Harvey, a railhistory buff and former railroad man. “This was a new railroad that farmers needed to get their crops to market. It was a real infrastructure accomplishment.”

A locomotive engineer for 21 years, Harvey also served with the Rail Safety Advisory Committee as a representative for locomotive engineers. He and his wife moved to nearby Lake Anna in 2006 after his retirement; he’s served on the Louisa County Historical Society’s Board of Directors and focuses on the history of the railroad in Louisa County.

Passenger travel through Bumpass, which once allowed locals to commute easily to jobs in Richmond, stopped around 1968-’69. The depot building is long gone, but freight trains still rumble through Bumpass today on the same track bed surveyed in 1836.

Bobby Edwards spent his early life in Bumpass before moving to Richmond with his family as a young teenager. Now divorced, the father of three (he lost one adult daughter), retired from a Commonwealth of Virginia job and moved back to Bumpass in 2002, observing, “I never really left Bumpass because I still had family and friends here. My parents moved back to Bumpass, too, and stayed here the rest of their lives.

“I remember when passenger trains came through here. I remember the first living room suite my parents had came via train and we went [to the depot] to pick it up,” he adds. “I remember going with my parents to pick up [travelers] at the station. The train made the community bustling.”

Bumpass as a village dates back to the 1700s and was named for a family of local landowners. Edwards says, “Some called it Bum-Pass because bums got off the trains here, but that’s really just a funny myth.”

No one knows the current population of Bumpass, an unincorporated community about an hour from Richmond just off Route 33. Postmaster John Nuckols notes there are 126 post office boxes, which could be a good indicator; 3,600 customers share a Bumpass zip code in a postal district that also includes parts of Hanover and Spotsylvania counties.

Nuckols, who lives in nearby Hanover and has been postmaster since 2015, says, “My father Carlton Nuckols grew up in this area and knew everybody in the community.”

Lifelong resident Bill Diggs, who lives with wife Ramona in the house where he was born, says Bumpass is different today.

“There used to be six houses between my house and the post office, now there are about 100 houses [in that same distance],” he explains. “There used to be mostly little farms here. I’ve stayed here because it’s the best place in the world to live! We are fortunate that it’s still right much rural in our area.”

Diggs recalls his wife commuting to Richmond by train for a job and notes that electricity changed everything.

“I was 7 years old in 1938 when electricity came. Many people didn’t want electricity; I remember they said, ‘It will burn your house down!’ One old farmer said every light pole they put on his property, he would chop down,” Diggs recalls. “My father agreed to get electricity but he didn’t have the money to get the house wired at first; that took about six months. We had two 15-amp circuits. We got our first refrigerator in 1941; when my mother got an electric stove, they had to upgrade the amperage/service [to accommodate it].”

Two historic churches anchor Bumpass: Sharon Christian Church, founded in 1887, and St. Thomas Baptist Church, established in 1895. Local volunteer Joan Lassiter, who attends Sharon Christian Church, notes, “The best way to meet community-focused people is to find a welcoming church.”

Lassiter says it was Bobby Edwards, who also attends Sharon Christian Church, who first expressed concern that no one except “old timers” had a clue where Bumpass is/was, since most physical remnants of the village no longer exist (one former store has been renovated and turned into a private residence).

Lassiter and Edwards spearheaded research that led to the dedication of a Bumpass Historical Marker on Bumpass Road in September 2017, on property owned by CSX Railroad that is currently used/ maintained by the Buckingham Branch Railroad.

“I got tired of seeing what I saw on that corner, which was high grass and weeds. I thought no one has any idea this was Bumpass unless they grew up here,” Edwards explains.

A “Bumpass History Day” was held in April 2017 at the church, featuring photos and memorabilia from local families. Sales from lunch and baked goods provided by Sharon Christian and St. Thomas Baptist were the beginning of a fund that would go towards the cost of the marker (the Virginia Department of Transportation forges, installs and maintains state markers).

Pastor Sharon Roberts, the ninth minister at St. Thomas, has been pastor since 2005. A former Virginia Department of Corrections employee, Roberts has three children and grandchildren and is working toward a master’s degree at Fredericksburg Bible Institute & Seminary. She also provides care for her mother, Katherine Jackson, who lives with her and husband Melvin, a retiree and part-time bus driver for Louisa County Public Schools.

She laughs at the irony that when her church was founded, women could not oversee them and “today the church has a woman pastor … me!

“We do a lot of cross-fellowship with other congregations. We try to teach our people to open up and make people feel accepted and that we’re one family. There is healing in that,” Pastor Roberts explains. “This is a family-oriented area; both white and black families have a shared history together. Most [locals] do attend church and new people are welcome here.”

Jackson grew up near Buckner; after her mother passed away when she was only 7 years old, she went to live with a local family, where she helped on the farm, milking cows and walking to school. She says she worked hard as a child and enjoys life with her daughter.

County administrator Christian Goodwin, whose father was chief of the Bumpass Fire Department when Goodwin was a child, grew up in Bumpass and lives on his 17th-century ancestral farm. Lake Anna, a 13,000-acre freshwater reservoir created in the late 1960s-1970s to provide water to cool nuclear generating plants for North Anna Nuclear Power Station, has become a popular recreational lake, with numerous “lake homes” about 5 miles from Bumpass.

Goodwin says Louisa encompasses “the best of both worlds,” noting, “There’s strong commercial growth in some areas and [we still have] rural areas that make up the historical fabric of the county.”

Carved out of Hanover County in 1742 and named for Great Britain’s Princess Louise, Louisa spans 514 square miles and has a population of about 35,000. The largest employer is a Walmart distribution center in Zion Crossroads, employing about 1,200 people.

The Sargeant Museum & Heritage Farm is in the town of Louisa, operated by the Louisa County Historical Society and housed in a 1914 home built by Frank Sargeant, the grandfather of J. Sargeant Reynolds, who served as Virginia’s Lt. Governor 1970-’71. The museum also offers living history demonstrations and genealogy research assistance.

Just down the road is the nationally recognized 27-acre Project Perry/Central Virginia Parrot Sanctuary, founded by Matt Smith in 2005. The nonprofit’s primary mission is to help rescue exotic birds, as well as abused/neglected birds.

“The Wild Bird Conservation Act of 1992 outlawed legal imports of exotic birds from other countries, which led to a 1990s boom in breeding birds in the United States,” Smith explains.

“This gave way to large facilities I call bird mills, with hundreds or thousands of birds in cages for the sole purpose of providing babies and eggs as production animals, similar to puppy mills [in the dog world].”

Smith points out that macaws, for example, can live to be 80 years old, adding, “So many baby boomers are getting baby parrots, thinking their adult child will care for the bird [when they die]. Cat and dog shelters are actively euthanizing [such] birds, but shelters don’t have to report on it. Birds are lumped into ‘other’ [statistically] so we really don’t know how many [former pets] are being euthanized.”

Two-thirds of the birds at the sanctuary are rescue birds, with about one-third in the sanctuary’s “lifetime care” program. A 2013 donation grant of $200,000 from Bob Barker’s DJ & T Foundation helped greatly, Smith says. The sanctuary is open May- September for public visitation, and holds an annual open house every May.

Back in Bumpass, Pastor Roberts notes, “I was in a civic meeting here when a man told me ‘this is the first friendly place I’ve seen’ [as he looked to relocate] … most people still get along here.”

Bobby Edwards remains gratified by the Bumpass Historical Marker placement, observing, “The spirit of Bumpass has not changed. We have lost some buildings, but sharing, caring and being there for your neighbor still exist.”