I was born in a little place called Esmont about twenty miles southwest of Charlottesville, Virginia. The house where my parents lived at the time of my birth was on property owned by Mrs. Laura Lane. According to my mother Mrs. Lane’s husband, Henry Lane, gave his wife the property as a wedding gift. Mrs. Lane’s home was a big Georgian style house that sat atop a hill away from the little house where my parents lived. The Lane house was built about 1816 and was considered a palatial mansion at the turn of the century.
As a young girl I remember walking with my brother along a pathway near the spot where our family once lived. The house burnt down after my parents moved away. As an adult I have found myself searching for information about this little place called Esmont where I was born and where I lived until finishing high school in 1943.
It was in a book called Country Roads by Susan De Aba where I learned the community of Esmont took its name from the Lane Estate. And while attending a cousin’s funeral the grandson of Laura Lane told me his grandfather, Henry Lane, gave his property the French name of Esmont. Today that beautiful red brick house sitting atop a hill is now a Virginia Historical Landmark.
I never knew anything about Mrs. Lane’s husband until I read a little booklet called Soapstone – Shortlines by Garth G. Groff. According to information in this little booklet Henry Lane was considered the ‘boy wonder’ of Esmont’ as well a business genius and played a major role in the development of Esmont. He was also instrumental in developing slate quarries and a mill after finding large deposits of slate on his property. It was at the turn of the century when he put men to work digging quarries and a mill to produce roofing slate.
Growing up in Esmont the slate industry was just part of Esmont’s landscape, but it was also the place that brought tragedy to our family before ever I was born. It was in one of those quarries that my father’s oldest brother, Thomas, fell to his death back in 1914; he was only eighteen years old.
I also learned that back in 1910 the bank building was known as the Lane Family’s Bank of Esmont, later it would be known as the Esmont National Bank. It was and is to this day the largest building in Esmont. When I was a young girl old enough to go into the bank building alone there was a pharmacy on the right and across the hall the local post office. Up on the second floor was a doctor’s office and the only public restroom in Esmont. Dr. Early was the local doctor and the doctor who brought me into this world on the day of my mother’s twenty-fifth birthday in 1925.
Since Esmont was not a very big place you knew everybody and where they lived. You could walk to all the houses and stores and never had to worry about being afraid. We walked to and from school starting from first grade through eighth. After eighth grade we rode a bus to Scottsville High School where I graduated in 1943.
Esmont had a gas station, a train station, a Post Office, an Inn and Steed’s Store where you could buy dry goods and household items as well as feed for animals. Next there was a church with a graveyard right next to the Esmont School. And, Mrs. Payne’ store was across the road from the train station. I remember that store as being like a department store.
There were also several grocery stores in Esmont. The closest store to where my family lived was the Butler’s store. At Mrs. Butler’s store you could buy household items, groceries and the best five cent cone of Ice Cream. Then there was Mr. Goode’s Store a little further up the road from the Butler store. Whenever old Mr. Goode would bring groceries to our house he would tease our little dog until he went crazy barking. Later the Douglas family owned that store…no more deliveries, no more barking dog.
Pace’s Service Station was across the road from our house. His service station included a small store where he sold things like candy, soft drinks, bread and a few other household items. Next to the store was a garage and out front were two gasoline pumps.
Then there was the train that came through Esmont from Schuyler on its way to Howardsville. Most times when we would be walking home from school the train would be idling near the station with the trainmen just sitting around.
Back in 1941 moving picture scouts came to Esmont looking for locations for several scenes in a movie being filmed called ‘Virginia’ co-staring Madeleine Carroll and Fred MacMurray. When the scouting crew decided to use the Esmont Train Depot people were all a buzz. Later when the construction crews started building camera platforms and such the residents, especially the young people, were all excited about seeing movie stars up close. But, excitement was short lived when the cicadas made too much noise and the director took his crew down the tracks to the Howardsville Train Depot and Esmont lost its minute of movie fame. Later I learned from a boy in my graduating class that he was a water boy and met a bunch of movie stars. The movie ‘Virginia’ was about the rural south seventy-five years after The War Between The States and filmed in black and white.
But, Esmont had its ‘Hey Day’ long before the movie company came to town in 1941. Back in the 1920’s Esmont had its own baseball diamond in a big field just across the railroad tracks from Mrs. Butler’s Country store. From what I understand all kinds of events took place on that field. There were baseball games, revival meetings in tents and the place where my mother saw ‘Birth of a Nation’, a silent film recreating the human tragedy of the War Between the States.
During the month of July in 1925 a woman’s baseball team came to play the Esmont ladies. According to my grandmother that event drew the biggest crowd Esmont had ever seen. My grandmother Kate Lillian Wilkinson wrote a newspaper column for The Scottsville News. The Esmont News was usually about her family, friends and neighbors. But, when the Scottsville News was published on Thursday August 6, 1925 my grandmother included two big events that took place during the month of July 1925.
1. The largest crowd ever seen in Esmont, estimated from 1,000 to 1,500 persons, witnessed a baseball game between the Esmont team and the Philadelphia Bobbies on the 25th. The Quaker lassies made the home of Mrs. K. L. Wilkinson their headquarters while in Esmont.
2. The stork visited the home of Mr. and Mrs. J. N. Wilkinson Tuesday July 28 and left a fine 11-pound baby girl. Miss Catherine Chrostek of the Philadelphia Bobbies who is a trained nurse was present when the stork arrived and has expressed a desire to be the little ladies godmother.
~Kathryn Wilkinson Clerico