The Store, as I will refer to Purvis store, was where I encountered most of the interesting people in town. The store was operated by an Interesting man called Bernard Ragland. He had cut a deal with my family to operate the beer counter, cut the meat, stock the coolers with ice and drinks and whatever else came up. He was allowed to sell chances on Punch Boards to the clients as they drank beer. This was the source of much excitement and some foul language!!
In the mornings we would be awakened by Ned Earl Brown who was a giant black man who was in business with my Grandfather Jack Purvis. They bought cattle, horses and whatever in a 5 county area, and put them up in the pasture across from the Store during the week. On Saturday they would load them up and take them to Charlottesville and sell them at the stock market there. Jack financed the business out of a shirt pocket full of bills secured by a large safety pin. They would enlist my services on Saturday night to unravel all the loans to Ned made by Jack. This led to many loud discussions, because nothing was ever written down. One Saturday night, in the midst of this accounting, if you will, Ned was heard to exclaim loudly to Jack, “You Know, Mr. Purvis, if you and I stay in this business much longer I will be just as crooked as you are, and you will be just as black as I am!"
During the day, we would have H.P. McCary, the former banker, show up to drink beer most of the afternoon and roll the tobacco out of Chesterfield cigarettes behind his back, between his thumb and forefinger. He never smoked, he just rolled and piled up tobacco on the floor all afternoon. After he left for the day, someone would sweep up his pile of tobacco. He drove a 1931 Dodge Brothers One Ton Truck that had 5 forward gears. The pin was gone that kept the gearstick in line so you could find the right gear anywhere from the steering wheel to the glove box. There was much grinding of gears as HP, as he was known, would go home at night. One night a bunch of us boys jacked his truck up and put wooden beer boxes under it. H P got in and went thru all 5 gears before he realized it wasn’t moving, the engine was just racing.
Another regular was Sam Payne Sr. whose trade mark was a crooked stem pipe that he would smoke all day as he drank his beer. Every year Mr. Payne planted a big garden and he had lots of big watermelons in it. After fortifying himself with lots of beer and bragging about how he was going to take care of those kids who were raiding his watermelon patch, he would head home, get his shotgun, get in his favorite chair with a commanding view of his garden, light his pipe and fall into a deep sleep. We knew about how long it would take for him to get into REM sleep, so we would get in the creek at the Store and wade up to his garden. We knew where to get so the sun would be on his crooked pipe stem and when we could see the saliva dripping regularly off the pipe stem, we knew the time was right to strike! We would get a haul of watermelons, throw them in the creek and wade back to the store. I think he knew what was happening and he was just playing with us.
We had a young man named Frank Cleveland, who was mentally challenged, who did odd jobs around town. He was easily led astray, and some of the older boys had him doing some pretty obscene things. Poor Frank would do anything to be included. His Mother had a big sea shell horn she used to call him home. One day he was working for the Raglands next door to the Store getting in stove wood. He had split a big wheelbarrow full and was trying to get it on their porch. We were watching from our kitchen window, as the snow began to fall and Frank was trying to negotiate the wooden gate to get to the back porch. Every gate in that part of the county had the same closing mechanism. It was a round piece of Soapstone from the Quarry in Schuyler and had a hole in the middle to run the gate chain thru. The heavy Soapstone pulled the gate together very quickly. Frank’s Mama decided about this time to blow the horn for Frank to come home. Frank hated that dern ‘ole horn. He could not move very fast, and when he would throw the gate open and turn to move the wheelbarrow, the gate would close. All the while his Mama was blowing the dern ‘ole horn and Frank got madder and madder at the gate, but he never did figure out how to prop the gate open.
He gave up and called his Mama a “dern ‘ole woman” and up the hill he went.
You had to have been there!
Then there was Tom Louden, who worked for the Van Cliefs. He came in every day of his life, checked the pressure in all 4 tires on his car. Bought 2 gallons of gas and a “twarters” worth of cheese. He had some speech problems, but he was in every day.
The weekends were special, we had a wonderful group of black customers and they all came on Saturday, to the Post Office and the Store.
Wiilie Hudson came in his wagon with a beautiful pair of Mules, Uncle Tom and his wife came in from Chestnut Grove in his wagon and a team of horses. He brought everyone else's grocery list, their empty lamp oil can and the samples of fabric they wanted us to match on their bags of animal feed. In that time all the feed was sold in printed sacks and folks made tablecloths and clothes out of them.
Mama would take the list from each family, check it against what they owed her, and delete anything she considered unnecessary and send the balance. Daddy had to fill the oil cans, he raised cane because they never had caps to go on them, so he had to use a potato to put on so the oil wouldn't spill out on their groceries.
Daddy hauled rock in his dump truck all week and on Saturday mornings, he would work on it. Really, he had this creeper thing on wheels and he would put the truck under the big maple tree in the yard, then he would get a nap under it while Mama tended the store. She knew what he was doing so she didn’t bother his nap until she got really busy.
When I got old enough to drive his truck, Melva and I would load all the groceries, animal feed in the proper printed sacks, and the lamp oil cans, all sporting a new potato, and take off to Chestnut Grove. All the roads were dirt and when it was wet we would get stuck in the big dump truck. I found out that if I took an axe I could cut a small tree and Melva could stick it between the dual wheels and most of the time we got it out. We never thought of how dangerous this was, but we knew how quick Melva was!
~ Pete Purvis
Hello to Friends of Esmont!
My name is Pete Purvis, I am the grandson of the owner of Purvis' Store.
I have 82 years’ experience with Esmont and thousands of wonderful memories. I will share some of these moments with you because there is no way to separate the history of Esmont and Purvis' Store.
Here we go! The building goes back to the 1920's, Jack Purvis bought it in 1932 from a Mrs. Butler who had financial problems. The selling price was $1500 down and $1000 the following week.
The sale was handled by Claude Yardley, Attorney.
The entire Purvis family relocated from the Farm on Green mountain to Esmont. The Family consisted of Jack and matriarch, Mary Purvis, Pete and Lucille, my parents, Erma Lee, oldest daughter, and Dudley Patterson, Jimmie, youngest daughter and Eugene Johnson.
The building at that time, included the store and the home which was connected. The home included Kitchen, Dining room, Front room, and 6 bedrooms upstairs. There were 2 nice porches in front and a stoop at the back. We were fortunate to have a hand pump in the dining room since the well was under the house.
"The store had two entrances, a main entrance and another to access a storage area for large sacks of animal feed and to serve as an area for our black customers to use."
I came along in August of 1935 and was the first grandchild in either family. Can you imagine how entitled I was! Mama used to say that my feet never touched the ground.
Jack Purvis was a born entrepreneur, and soon he was granted a license to sell beer on and off premises. This was the ticket to success for the venture; Purvis’ Store became the gathering place for the entire neighborhood. Jack took upon himself the weeding out of unruly individuals who would misbehave after a few beers. His method was very simple, he would literally remove them from the premises and deposit them in the street. He was armed with some instrument of enforcement which were placed in easy reach below the cash register. These protective instruments were rarely used, but their presence ensured an air of serenity could prevail while folks were enjoying a cool one after a hard day.
Jack ruled the family and determined what all the men would do while the ladies ran the store and the house. Dudley Patterson worked for the State Highway Dept. at the Esmont State Shed, as it was called. Daddy and Eugene had various duties, as we offered a moving service, various farming services, small engine repair, taxi service, grocery deliveries and anything else that was profitable.
Jack offered a very wide assortment of animal breeding services. He had male animals that he would take to the customers farms when the need arose, He offered male horses, mules, pigs and cows, at times these would all be on his truck as he took off on his rounds. There was no name for this service, but as you can imagine there was lots of levity associated with this effort. Jack also used this service to purchase animal for resale.
All these activities, combined with the constant flow of customers made for a very exciting childhood for me. My goal in life for a long time, even thru my college days, was to one day own Purvis’ Store!
More stories later, as I must spend a little time with Purvis Marketing now, my current source of income.
The only home I ever remember as a child was Purvis Store. There were always many people around: family, customers and “hangers around.”
In the late 1930's ,40's and into the 50's, Esmont was a jumping place! Every house was occupied and there were dozens of kids. We played all kinds of games: cards with AttiLee Coffee in her wheelchair, football, baseball, May I, Simon Says, Hide and Go Seek. It was easy to get a dozen or so kids together and the road thru town made a great playground.
The “Dust Plant” as it was known was wide open, even extra shifts! Tucker and Livvy Tapscott had a large wood yard where they combined pine wood from Chestnut Grove and loaded it on the N and A railroad for its trip to Warren to hook up with the C&O and eventually to a paper plant somewhere. There were lots of big farms in the area and the farm hands all shopped in Esmont
Starting at the School and going South there were the following establishments: The Episcopal Church, C.C. Steeds Store, Esmont national Bank, Dr, Early’s office, a Pharmacy, Payne’s Department Store, the train Depot, Tapscott’s Wood Yard, Douglas’ Store, Pace’s Store, Purvis’ Store and Paces Service Station.
Up on Porters Precinct, there was a garage run by Coopy Paige and several other stores the largest of which was run by Elias Simpson. There were also several churches there and a school, I think. I know absolutely nothing about the schools on Porters. It was and still is a predominately Black Community. The kids from there would come down to Esmont and play with us, but primarily we would meet them at Mamie’s Hole which was a place one mile down the track where Ballengers Creek was deep enough to swim without building a dam. I now brag that we had the first integrated swimming hole in Virginia. We all swam naked and had very few problems getting along. When the train came down from Esmont we would all have to jump in for the sake of modesty.
The school in Esmont had 6 grades in 3 classrooms. Each of the three teachers would assign one of the better students to monitor 2 grades while she or he taught the other. Lunch was served each day prepared by Mrs. Polly Pace. Each student brought what they could from home and it went in the pot. “Hish Hash and Hellfired Stew” was the daily fare!!
From grade 7-11 we would ride the school bus to Scottsville. The buses were driven by Senior boys who could easily be talked into long delays due to mechanical problems both real and imagined. I can faintly recall a Fan Belt being cut, and water drained from the radiator. Sometimes there were real problems, they were old buses with little maintenance, so no one suspected sabotage!
The town had its fair share of characters and I will try to expound on them.