By Howard E. Cummins
My Grandmothers family are all from Blackwater, Va. and over the years we have routinely taken excursions to introduce family members to some of the old homesteads and cemeteries. Blackwater is nestled in a valley of lush pewter-green rolling fields and meadows and is a part of Virginia many visitors never see. The journey there provides a spectacular view of Lee County, as well as Hancock County, Tennessee.
One of the roads leading into Blackwater crosses into Mulberry Gap, and then climbs directly to the top of Newman’s Ridge before dropping down into the valley that runs directly into the region of the county known as Blackwater. Once in the valley and along one of the winding roads was a country store that could qualify as representative of a classic early store of the American South. Some visitors might refer to it as an anachronism, an out-of-date dinosaur, and a relic of another era. This store was a favorite location to visit during every one of our trips because it offered a nostalgic journey to another time. We could easily envision one of our long-departed ancestors crossing that same threshold.
There are no odors like those found in these old country stores, and this one never failed to bombard me with an emotional storehouse of memories. The cumulative years of business had resulted in scent-drenched perfumes of old wood, coffee, onions, mustiness, camphor, vinegar, smoke, cardboard, spices, fruit, and moth balls. Mixed together, the air within these old buildings will be full of the delightful, pleasurable, intoxicating, hypnotic, and fragrant odors of another time.
Once your eyes have adjusted to the lighting you are able to view quite a variety of items that have accumulated over the years, and all for sale to the inquiring customer. In any true country store, there might be shelves of canned food and in-season fresh vegetables, but there might also be a bin of socks, another of folded bib overalls, and another of work boots. Shelves of tools or hardware items would be common. Possibly fabric and sewing accessories, along with common laundry and cleaning supplies. All of the basic items a family might need.
In the early years of settling this nation one of the first businesses to wish for was the opening of a local general mercantile store. Often these would be among the first stores to open as a community began to develop but frequently, they would be stand-alone destinations surrounded by farms and various homesteads.
Today abandoned country stores are like obsolete lighthouses. They stand silently and proudly with their once bright lights extinguished. The few that remain open are almost like museums, neither worldly nor sophisticated. They have survived by sheer willpower and perseverance, and they have remained in the proverbial life raft and rowed through the turbulent waters of change.
These wonderful old relics are tucked away on narrow and winding country roads. The simple but austere clapboard buildings hold a wealth of treasures and lessons from our American past. The admission is free; but a purchase welcomed.