April 08: Biscuits and wi-fi

April 08: Biscuits and wi-fi

Sometime in the mid-19th century, a small village in southern Albemarle County known as Mount Israel took its official name from a leading resident, Roland Bates. By then, the town was already bustling due to its place alongside the commercial thoroughfare that stretched from Staunton to Scottsville. It was called Plank Road because the lush valley at the foot of the Blue Ridge necessitated the laying down of actual wooden planks to cover the mud.

“Batesville had the reputation that rough folks lived here,” John Pollock says. With grayed hair and the slight visage of Pierce Brosnan, the 60-year-old sports car restorer is the unofficial mayor of the town he moved to 16 years ago, after the roughs had left. 

Batesville is a true community, say residents, who have brought their village rather gently into the 21st century.

“Batesville has a really good feeling, and a kind of spirit that people like,” he says. To hear the mayor and its residents speak, the town on the National Historic Register is a serene spot located not in the outskirts of the county but somewhere in the ethereal hollows of the mind.

Minding the store

“Batesville is a very cool and unusual community, and it is a community,” says Cid Scallet, one of the purveyors of The Batesville Store. He is eating a delicious roast beef, cheddar, and potato salad sandwich prepared in the deli by his wife, Liza, “a world class baker.” By 1884, there were corn and flour mills in the tiny town, not to mention four general stores, including this one. Started by a family named Josephs, the store was purchased by the Page family in 1913 and owned by them for 90 years. Now it is run by the Scallets.

“On any given day you don’t know who’s going to come in,” Cid says. At the counter behind us is a world-renowned National Geographic photographer, surfing the web on the store’s free wi-fi. “We like to say we’re the urban core of Batesville.”

In 1994, Batesville almost lost its commercial center when the Pages decided to shut down. The post office that shares the building remained open, but the small grocery went dark for nearly three years until Pollock and some other residents decided to open a Christmas craft store in its place. Anything to keep it alive.  

Ten years after shutting it down, the Pages finally sold the store to a local resident, who leased it last April to the Scallets, former teachers and Batesville residents since 1986. “We just went for it,” Cid says. “We could do whatever the hell we wanted as long as it was for the community.”

The town has gradually become largely a place to retire rather than to work.

Where grocery shelves once sat is a rustic meeting space with wooden tables. One is for playing chess. The deli sits catty-corner from there, its shelves holding all sorts of delicacies. “For the most part, our business is with people who live five miles from here,” says Cid. One of those is Pollock, who lives four houses down from the country store in a two-story white house with a tin roof that dates from the early 20th century. The wooden floors and molding around the doors are all original but a room that perches 40′ from a running stream behind is not. Pollock and his wife added that as a sitting room to look out on the pasture and hills that stretch out from his idyllic spot. 

Changing faces   

Across the road is the old Methodist Church, built in 1861, and still put to use every Sunday, unlike the Odd Fellows Lodge that used to be where the church parking lot is now. “I seen a man get cut right there, yes-sir-ree,” Danny Mawyer says. A longtime carpenter at UVA, the 66-year-old Mawyer moved to Batesville when he was only 11. He was just a little kid when he saw the fight at the lodge, and he was only in his teens when it shut down. For the last 25 years he has lived in a 100-year-old, one-story house only yards away from that violent spot.

After all these years, the town where he raised his son has not changed much, except for the people who live here. All of the mills shut down years ago and many of the old-timers have either died or moved on. “The community used to be a lot closer, because when I was a kid you could walk up the street and everybody knew you,” says his son, who is now 37.

Now, when he hikes up to the store or to check the mail, he knows hardly anyone. The same goes for Violet Mawyer (no relation), the 84-year-old owner and operator of The Little Market two miles up Plank Road. In 1967, she and her husband bought the little country store. Less than a year later, her husband dropped dead and she was left with a son and a store to run. “The customers took us under their wing and helped us out,” she says.

As Batesville and the surrounding area have transformed from a work town to a place to retire, her clientele has changed, but in surprising ways. In the last two years she has been robbed twice but remains undaunted. Time is her only enemy. “What’ll happen to [the store] when I retire—I have no idea,” says Mawyer.

Perhaps it should become a museum dedicated to the little country store, circa 1980. “One time I started to do some changes and a customer said no, leave it like it is,” Mawyer says. Flints and bullets are still for sale in here. The beer looks fresh, although the sausage biscuit on the counter does not. “And I said, well, if that’s the way you want it, that’s the way it’ll stay. So that’s the way it stayed.”

At a glance

Distance from Charlottesville: 16 miles

Elementary School: Brownsville

Middle School: Henley

High School: Western Albemarle

Average list price of homes on market: $306,333

Average sale price over last two years: $486,100

Important days: Batesville Day on third Saturday of May; Apple Butter Day on third Saturday of October

Sources: Multiple Listing Service, Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors