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Before the turn of the twentieth century, "Esmont," which lies west of Scottsville, referred only to the circa 1820 estate by that name that was owned Dr. Charles Cocke.  He and his family were members of Virginia's wealthy landed aristocracy.  Slate quarrying began nearby in Alberene in 1883.  At its peak in the 1920's, Alberene was the nation's larger soapstone producer operating on 6000 acres and employing up to 1000 workers.  To support this soapstone business and its employees, a railroad and depot, general merchandise and grocery stores, a school, an inn, a bank, and a post office were established on land parceled from the Esmont property. The growing village also borrowed the estate's name.

Some in nearby Porter's Precinct, which had become a primarily African-American community after the Civil War, began calling this new community "The Bottom" or "Lower Esmont" due to its topography.  Porter's Precinct, in turn, gained another name: "Upper Esmont."  The name change is apparent on historical county maps.
Frank A Massie's 1907 map of Albemarle shows Esmont lying northwest of Porters; an 1875 map by Green Peyton shows only Porters.  The area's voting place retains the official name, "Porter's Precinct."

The quarrying operation that built Esmont ended in the 1960s due to concerns about pollution.  Regarding Esmont's history, the authors of a 2007 National Register of Historic Places nomination form for southern Albemarle wrote the following:

"The economy of Esmont in the early twentieth century was centered around slate quarrying, which is evidenced by the slate pier foundations supporting many of the town's historic buildings.  Esmont was also a financial center for the region in the early twentieth century and holds one of only three historic banks in the county found outside of Charlottesville.  The town also featured at least three stores, a railroad depot, an Episcopal Church and a high school.  The site of the slate quarries still remains undeveloped and several, small dry-laid stone structures, along with the quarries themselves and railroad abutments, remain intact.  Also similar to Alberene, Esmont features a large Victorian house that was built to house the manager of the quarry.  The fortunes of Esmont paralleled those of Alberene, although the fact that the town had developed a small individually-owned commercial core allowed it to survive longer than its northern company-owned cousin.  Today, the center of Esmont is the Esmont National Bank, which now serves as a post office.  Currently a quiet residential village, the town as a whole has had trouble finding an economic rhythm for several decades.  However, Esmont has retained a vibrant African-American population that was recently the focus of an oral history project sponsored by the Carter G. Woodson Institute.  Through this project, and a collection of letters from the African-American educator Benjamin Yancey, Esmont has become a significant source of knowledge for those studying rural early-twentieth century, African-American communities."

The rural community is marked by a few two-lane paved roads, which frame wide stretches of hills and woods.  A semi-hidden but extensive network of small lanes trail off from the main roads, opening up to hidden-away houses and other properties.  There are both large estates and comparatively modest clusters of homes.  Small commercial buildings and churches, several of which give name to local roads, are scattered throughout, with the greatest concentrations in the village centers of Esmont and Porters.

Today, since the only post office for much of the area is in Esmont, mailing addresses are listed as Esmont for communities as far south as Mt. Alto and as far north as Alberene, which are situated about six and five miles away, respectively, from the center of Esmont.  Nevertheless, legacy place names like Mt. Alto, Chestnut Grove, and numerous others continue to appear on many maps.  They also endure on street signs, as church names, and in community memories.

Esmont has historically faced challenges with poverty, with many older residents remembering childhoods where their houses were insulated with only newspaper, shoes were a rare luxury, and hardship was a part of daily life.  Yet Esmont has always had a rich sense of community, where church and school served as social places where residents could come together and enrich themselves spiritually and educationally.


References: 
1) Hallock, Jennifer; Gardiner Hallock & Kristie Baynard. "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Southern Albemarle Rural Historic District." 2007.
2) Massie, Frank A, and Virginia School Company. A New and Historical Map of Albemarle County, Virginia. Owned and published by the Virginia School Company, 1907.
3) Peyton, Green, and Worley & Brachter. A Map of Albemarle County, Virginia. Engr. by Worley & Brachter, Phila, 1875.

Scottsville Museum wishes to thank Maxwell Johnson, our 2018 Institute For Public History (IPH) Intern from UVA, for his dedicated and thorough research on Esmont as well as for his many photographs of the Esmont area.  The Museum is also most grateful to the Mellon Foundation, who funded Maxwell's internship on this project, and to Dr. Lisa Goff, Director of IPH, for all of her support and encouragement to the Museum and Maxwell on this project.  Additionally, thanks to Fannie Louden for the numerous road trips she took with Maxwell, Connie Geary, and Evelyn Edson to map out the many interesting Esmont sites for this project.  Most well done, Maxwell, Mellon Foundation, Dr. Goff, IPH, and the Scottsville Museum team!



Please click on each image below for a larger view and more information.

Esmont Churches

Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church Date:  2018

Image Number:  MJ02cdMJ01

Comments:   At left is the new church building, built in 1963, for Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church near the end of Fortune Lane and Esmont Road in Keene, VA.  Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church is one of ten churches in the Esmont community which includes Esmont, Porters District, Chestnut Grove, Keene, and Sand Road in Alberene, VA.  The majority of these churches were organized in the 18th century:  Mt. Zion Methodist Church in Esmont (1828); Sharon Baptist Church in Esmont (1852); Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Keene (1867); Oak Ridge Baptist Church in Schuyler (1867); Chestnut Grove Baptist Church (1868); New Hope Baptist Church, Esmont (1875); Mt. Alto Baptist Church, Howardsville (1882); Sand Road Baptist Church, Esmont (1883); New Green Mountain Baptist Church, Esmont (1896); and St. Stephens Episcopal Church, Esmont (1914).  To learn more about churches in the Esmont area, click on the above photo at left.


Copyright 2018 by Scottsville Museum


Esmont Homes

Edgemont, Esmont, VA Date:   1935

Image Number:   Library of Congress, LC_DIG_csas_04140

Comments:  The Esmont community possesses a variety of residential homes built in the 1700's to early 1900 time frame that contain numerous high-style resources that represent commonly found styles as well as a few examples of more unique designs.  Shown at left is Edgemont which was designed by Thomas Jefferson and built in 1796 for James Powell Cocke.  Other homes built during this time frame in the Esmont community include Coleswood (1904), Enniscorthy (ca. 1850), Esmont (ca. 1816), Estouteville (1827), Guthrie Hall (1901), Mountain Grove (ca. 1804), Nydrie (1898), Old Woodville (1796), Plain Dealing (begun 1784), Tallwood (1803), and Trosdale Home for Boys (1965).  To learn more about Esmont area homes, click on the above photo at left.


Copyright 2018 by Scottsville Museum


Esmont Schools

Loving Charity Lodge, Esmont, VA Date:  2016

Image Number:  B404cdB27

Comments:  At left is 1909 student body of the Loving Charity Lodge of Esmont and their teacher, Miss Rebecca Moore.  The Loving Charity Lodge was a private school for black children in grades one through six.  Other schools for black children in the Esmont Community included Glendower School (1869), Esmont Colored School on Porter's Lane (1874), Chestnut Grove School (1930's), Sand Road School (1930), Benjamin F. Yancey Elementary School (1960), and Oak Ridge School (Schuyler).  Early schools for white children included the old Esmont School located on Esmont Road near the post office and train depot and Esmont High School (1922) in Esmont.  To learn more about Esmont area schools, click on the above photo at left.


Copyright 2018 by Scottsville Museum


Esmont Businesses

Esmont Depot Date:  1950s

Image Number:   Nelson and Albemarle GE Diesel 50

Comments:   With rapid development and population growth at the end of the 19th century, Esmont's resources expanded to include a post office, general merchandise and grocery stores, and a railroad depot with trains to connect to nearby soapstone and slate quarries and to transport the Esmont area's products to its customers.  To learn more about Esmont area businesses, click on the above photo at left.


Copyright 2018 by Scottsville Museum




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