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The Sounds of Old Scottsville

Dr. Percy Harris using his horse and buggy to make house calls, 1913

Name:  The Sounds of Old Scottsville by Ruth Klippstein

Date:  ca. 1913

Image Number:  RM16cdRM02

Comments:  Dr. Percy Harris came to Scottsville in 1912 and used this horse and buggy for making house calls as a generak practitioner for the town and for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad.  Before obtaining a Maxwell automobile in 1915, this horse and buggy were his primary means for making house calls.  He once traded a mail carrier for a horse and learned to adapt to this horse that stopped at every mailbox.  Dr. Harris made house calls to treat patients in the Virginia counties of Albemarle, Fluvanna, and Buckingham thoughout his practice in Scottsville.

Scottsville Bridge, 1910
Scottsville Bridge, 1910

One of the many sounds of Scottsville in the last century was that of horses being driven or ridden on Scottsville's old iron and wooden bridge over the James River: see bridge above.  Lost sounds don't slide away into silence.  They are replaced by new sounds, made by new technologies, new ways of living and working.  We don't hear oxen pulling freight wagons through the packed dirt streets or the cranked ignition of Dr. Stinson's 1910 Maxwell.  When was the last time you heard a 1958 Thunderbird?  Now some Prius electric hybrid cars have a mechanical sound built back into them for safety.

Many of the most characteristic sounds of Scottsville in the last century are lost, and some have shifted form.  I talked to 25 residents about what they remembered hearing:  nine of them immediately responded with tales of the noon whistle; seven-some of them the same people-told me about hearing the steam trains.  The old iron and wood bridge at Ferry Street, near the current boat landing, was mentioned three times.

"Anyone who grew up around town expected the noon whistle," Cenie Re Sturm says.  Bill and Pat Pitts, who lived near it, set high up on the side of the Masonic building, say the whistle was sounded six days a week by Charlie Lenaham, "a wonderful person who helped out the town, took care of the water works."  It was a fire alarm, Pat says, and "one time it hadn't worked for a fire, so this checked that it was working daily."  Ted Childress calls it the "lunch-time bell," and says, "I remember that sound for many, many years.  When Charlie Lenaham died, it stopped; I never heard it again."

The Sounds of Typing
The Sounds of Typing

The old trains ("more than trains," Pat Pitts assures us, "they were a part of the texture and mythology of Scottsville") stopped to take on water and coal.  Marvin Ripley, who hitchhiked or took the train to Scottsville from Howardsville, recalls the big boiler, steam escaping, and "if you were walking along the tracks, it would scare you to death!"  After they faded out, Monty Duncan recalls, some of the diesels would stop, and you could hear the "clunk-clunk-clunk of the glad hand couplers tightening.  You could hear the whistles at night, and that made you feel safe"

The old bridge, Bobby Pollard notes, made a noise "everybody in town heard" because of its wooden planks.  "The noise would wake you up," says Gene Harding.  Barry Grove tells how the planks rattled when a car went over them, allowing his whole family to note when his aunt's Buckingham beau was arriving.  I've heard his mother, Jacqueline Grove, tell this story on herself, saying her mother noted the time the car came across the river to return her daughter from a date, and the time she actually arrived at the house, knowing what might have caused any delay.

Looking back at subjects we've explored in this column over the past dozen years, we can hear the harmonies of the Londeree brothers, singing at the depot, as A. Raymon Thacker used to tell us, entertaining citizens gathered to see the evening train come in.  We've heard 1950s golf clubs connect with balls on the short course to the east of the rubber plant; and all the cheering of the town watching their boys play baseball against another town's team.  Horse tack and creaking saddles at the livery on the corner of Valley and Main Streets; the quiet hum of the weaving machines and overhead bobbins at the braid factory with its three-story elevator-that's the Brewery now; cutting, chopping, and pressurizing home produce at the community cannery in the late 1940's.  There were chickens clucking in cares, ready to be bought and butchered, on the sidewalk in front of the James River Market.  We've heard the first radio broadcast and the last man marching with Phillip Sheridan's Union cavalry - sounds that have passed into history.

The Sounds from inside a Scottsville school bus in 1955
The Sounds Inside a Scottsville School Bus in 1955.

The high school's gone now too; it held many sounds eagerly remembered by alumnae.  Callie Bowers recalls most of the junior and senior girls in typing class, the "ping of the machines at the end of a line."  There was the daily Pledge of Allegiance, and a bell on the desk which a teacher could hit if the class was out of order.  Janie Caldwell rang a hand bell "to bring the first and second graders in from recess," Callie says.  And in the afternoons, Becky Miller, the home economics teacher, would play the piano "as we left school, marching out to the bus."  Dreama Coleman recalls that every week there would be an assembly for the whole school, with a speaker, and the students would always sing.  I could not find anyone to describe the sound of the 1936 "Broom Drill" listed on a high school music program.  Maybe it wasn't very loud.  Pat Pitts recalls the sound of the Scottsville marching band forming up at the Masonic building and marching down the street.

Earl Morris recalls that just the sound of students on the playground is a downtown sound we'll never hear again.  Irene Dorrier Schneider recalls the "whoosh" created by the soda jerk as he made her a cherry smash at Bruce's Drugstore, pulling the big black handle to fill a glass with syrup and carbonated water.  She'd have the drink and a tuna sandwich for lunch if she was lucky to have enough money, noting that you didn't have to sign out of school, but just walked down the street.  She also recalls, on other days, the click of metal lunch boxes opening and closing.

Some sounds involving high school students came from pranks-the time, Callie Bowers says "some of the boys got up in the tower of the Methodist Church and put the Everly Brothers' "Wake Up, Little Susie" on the loud speaker.  You could hear it like the hymns or organ music the church usually played all over town."  Pat Pitts remembers the time when high school students sang, more politely, Christmas carols.  "It was nice."

Many people remember the various church bells, but Cenie Re Sturm's story is most touching:  "A sound I grew up with and that I really miss was that Daddy (Russell Moon, proprietor of the Clover grocery store) always rang the bell at St. John's on Christmas Eve when the midnight service was over, and we proclaimed the birth of Jesus.  When someone else did it after he died, tears streamed down my face because it reminded me of him."

Sounds poured out on the streets from all sides.  Monty Duncan says "When I was young, the town was full of sounds.  You could set your watch by Charlie Hudson's bus to Fork Union.  Paulette's Hardware had a custom store on the second floor, windows open, of course, so you could hear a planer or saw anytime."  At Lee's Restaurant on Valley Street, there was "a section for black people, and there was always sound from there: singing, music.  The old Dew Drop had tables with juke box selections on them."  Tom Stargell recalls walking downtown as a youngster, going by a pool room with the "door always open.  You could hear a little holler, or a big holler, or choice words."  Joe Luper's pool room at 330 Valley Street would sound and look alluring to a kid, never fights or bad behavior, Tom says, but dim and secret and special, grown-up.

Bubbles Rhodes Goodwin, Marie Lane, and Martha Alice Newcomer all remember the sounds of children and young people "walking up and down.  Kids would play on the sidewalks and streets," Martha Alice says, and "everyone on Warren Street knew us, they knew where we belonged."  She recalls building playhouses in the alley next to the Stinson's house, using a carbon from Parr's furniture across the street and pulling down all of Mrs. Stinson's hydrangea blossoms to sprinkle around-until Mrs. Stinson would come home and suggest, "That's enough for today, girls."  Marie Lane recalls all the businesses open late Saturday, and everyone so friendly and in the streets.  Bubbles Goodwin worked weekends at the Pitts' Grocery, fetching items from the shelves for each customer, then ringing up the bill.

Other sounds of Scottsville at work are recalled: Gene Harding mentions Mr. Elam's blacksmith shop, closed in the early '50's in the area of today's Farmers' Market; Chub Walsh recalls the noise of the ice plant; Monty Duncan and Denise Davis talk about the five-story Scottsville Flour Mill and the sounds of grinding, belts slapping, and feed whisking down long wooden shoots.  (Monty, who worked there summers starting when he was 10, found young boys could slide down, too, and not get killed.)  He helped unload box cars of grain and drive a 1940's tractor trailer of feed to Staunton; he shot rats at night with a .22 rifle.  "I would have worked for nothing for the benefits," he now says.)

Mary J. Goodman tending the spindle machine at the Rubber Plant
The sounds from the large production room of the Scottsville Rubber Plant.  In the
foreground is Mrs. Mary J. Goodman tending the spindle machine.

The rubber plant-U.S. Rubber, and after 1945, Uniroyal's "24-7 noise," says Denise Davis, was distinctive.  "A hum," recalls Mark Stevens at Coleman's Outdoors.  "It was definitely noisy down there," says Rusty Fulford, former manager of the TruValu store.  Irene Dorrier Schneider, who grew up at Paulette Town, recalls "There was a sawmill in the woods for years and all summer you could hear it."  Lumber stacked beside it, and that sawmill was there for years."

Farming could add sound, too.  Cattle lowing at Valmont, the "gee, haw, git up, whoa" of working with mules.  "I had an old mule, Jefferson," says Chub Walsh, "who knew more about plowing than I did.  Never trained him, just worked him."  Everett Sturm recalls a steel-wheeled tractor run by John Baird, who lived east of town but farmed the low ground in Scottsville.  He'd drive this "basically cleated wheel tractor, slow, through the Scottsville streets, sometimes pulling a wagon with his harvest of pumpkins."

A few lost sounds: "One day I heard somebody riding a horse up Harrison Street.  That's an extremely evocative sound," says Jeffrey Plank, "a way of marking time and motion at a special pace.  Kit Decker, growing up in England, adds, "the crackle of a needle on a vinyl record, that burst of sound that makes you anticipate the music.  The rotary dial on a phone, with its two-part sound" - ask Kit to imitate it for you.  And the heavy old light switches clicking, rather than dimming down silently.  Pat Pitts says firecrackers were set off every Christmas morning of his youth, a European custom.  Marianne Ramsden contributes the "nice kachunk of the 1970's and early 1980's library check-out machine," recording the number embossed on a metal plate on your library card.

Maybe best of all the distinctly summer sound that Everett Sturm tells us about, the ice cream truck with its recorded music that made a loop through town, went out Route 6, and returned by The Cross Road.  Can we still hear it echoing?

Copyright © 2020 by Scottsville Museum

Reference: "The Sounds of Old Scottsville" by Ruth Klippstein, Scottsville Monthly, June 17-July 14, 2016, p. 4, 6-7; Valley Publishing Co., Palmyra, VA.

Top Image Located On:  Capturing Our Heritage, CDRM02

Second Image Located On:  Capturing Our Heritage, CDB16

Third Image (Sounds of Typing) Located on Scottsville Monthly, June 17-July14, 2016, p. 6.

Fourth Image (Sounds from inside a school bus in 1955), courtesy of Scottsville Museum.

Fifth Image Located On:  Capturing Our Heritage, Hyosung America Inc, HA01



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