Monday, June 22, 2015

52 Ancestors: The Old Homestead - She Ain't What She Used To Be

Amy Johnson Crow of No Story Too Small has issued a challenge:  write one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It can be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem – anything that focuses on one ancestor.

Every generation has a place they consider a “first home” or the “home place.”  Often it is a place that evokes memories of childhood, of afternoons with grandparents, of rambles with friends through surrounding fields. One such “home place” in my family was not exactly a “home” although it became one in another life.  It was a store.
Davis Store 1920s
The Davis Store as it looked in the 1920s

My great-grandfather Walter B. Davis (1867-1934) spent most of his adult years as a carpenter like his father. He built numerous houses throughout the town of Shenandoah in Page County, Virginia. However, by 1920 he had become the owner of Davis and Sons Groceries at the corner of Sixth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, just across the street from where he lived. At various times my grandfather Orvin and his brother Millard were the “Sons” in that business, managing things while Walter continued building houses.

Davis Store Receipts
Some receipts 

When I was growing up, a trip to Shenandoah to visit my cousins always included a drive by the old store building. I wonder what my grandparents thought about as they stared at the old store, which by then had been converted into two apartments.
Davis Store 1980s
The Davis Store as it looked in the 1980s

Lucille Davis in the Davis Store
My grandmother Lucille Rucker Davis behind the counter

Did they recall the times when my grandmother Lucille Rucker Davis worked there?

Mary Sudie Eppard Rucker
My great-grandmother
Mary Sudie Eppard Rucker

Did they laugh recalling the time that my grandmother and her mother got in a fight that got physical? Granddaddy was just heading in to check on Grandma when Sudie Rucker stormed out of the door. “You need to get Lucille under control,” she said as she showed him her sleeve where Grandma had ripped it almost completely off. Granddaddy only laughed, but Sudie didn’t appreciate that. Inside the store, Grandma was fuming and fussing about her mother. Granddaddy laughed at that too, but Grandma didn’t appreciate that either. Granddaddy did not win any points that day.

Did they think about the time Grandma kicked a customer out of the store?  The family dog Fritz was more welcome than some patrons. One day when Grandma was working behind the counter, Effie Helton came in to do some shopping. She was a BIG woman who played on the men’s baseball team. Fritz bit her ankle, and Effie responded with a swift kick. Grandma then kicked Effie out of the store.
Mary Eleanor Davis Slade, Fritz, Friend at Davis Store
Momma - Mary Eleanor Davis
holding Fritz outside the Davis Store

Did they remember when Momma as just a little girl used to nap behind the counter?

Surely they laughed about the time Momma embarrassed them in front of George, a black man who sometimes helped out at the store. Whenever Momma as a child asked for some coffee, my grandparents would say, “Drinking coffee will turn you black.” One day Momma looked at George and said, “You sure must drink a lot of coffee.”

Did my grandparents wonder what became of the customers who had left their diamonds in exchange for their purchases? After Grandma died, Momma had the diamonds made into a ring.

Ring made from diamonds left at the Davis Store
Diamonds left at the Davis Store

My grandparents missed Shenandoah, I know, but Portsmouth had become home since World War II when job opportunities in the shipyard were too good to pass up.

In April of this year, those trips down memory lane came to a halt when a bulldozer pulled the Davis Store down. Asbestos and termite damage rendered the building beyond repair, not even worth flipping, I guess. Plus that corner lot was much too valuable for a dilapidated building to stand useless.

Davis Store April 2015
Demolition of Davis Store April 2015
photo courtesy of Jan Hensley

© 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. What lovely memories, such a shame the building is now demolished.

    1. I guess so, but I can tell from the photos that it was pretty rough inside. I'm not sure what it would have taken to fix it up. It probably was more economical to tear it down.

  2. I think I might cry, such sweet and funny memories. I am very sad the store is gone, and I know I will really be sad when Scoop has to sell the house that Walter B. built. That house brings good memories to mind for me.

    Did you get your furnace cap from Jan?

    1. When Scoop leaves the house, THAT will be really sad.

      Yes, I got the cap, and I had planned to photograph it and add to this post, but it's so full of soot, that my hands were black just holding it on the edges. I need to clean it up somewhat.

  3. Wonderful memories! It must break your heart to see the building demolished :-(

    1. The building had no architectural significance, I'm sure, so it probably means nothing to the town. It's our family's personal icon that we will miss seeing.

  4. That was sad that the store was torn down, but I guess that does happen so frequently with older buildings. Wonderful memories though of when your grandparents' owned the store. I bet their memories were probably filled of being glad to have some type of business to be able to help provide for their family.


    1. They ran it during the depression, but I always felt that they were better off than many of their friends and neighbors. Momma had piano and dance lessons -- that says something for their financial state, I guess.

  5. Oh how sad. I will send you a link to a post of mine with the old Summit Store in Coalville. I love to walk through the store knowing my husband's great grandparents on both sides walked on the same floor when they were children. Thankfully the Summit is still in existence....and you can still buy groceries and say, "Put it on my tab."

    1. What a great story and wonderful pictures. Thanks for sending it!

  6. I hate it when a piece of history is taken down, termites or not. Even when I don't know the history of the house or buildings, I like to try and imagine what it use to be like. It is wonderful that you know some of the actual stories that took place in that store.

    1. Whenever we drive past an old house or abandoned gas station or store, I try to imagine what it was like when it was brand new. I try to picture the automobiles that might have driven by. I wonder about the social life of the people who occupied the home.

  7. Enjoyed reading about the memories related to the old store in your family's background. My father owned a store - you have inspired me to want to write about it.