In 1975, Nellysford native Frederick Pershing Phillips began work on a tiny shopping center right off Rte. 151 where he once ran a fruit stand, selling bushels of apples for $3. “I dug the foundation with a roto-tiller,” he says. “My uncle and I built the cinder-block, I helped a neighbor do the plumbing.”
Four years later he opened the Valleymont market. “My grandfather was a farmer and my dad was a farmer,” he says. “My dad said if he had one son he hoped he would be smart enough to not be a farmer.”
Newer houses in Stoney Creek have equally good views of a golf course and the Blue Ridge.
His dad also built the house F.P. grew up in, just down the road from the center. When his father died the son inherited the shopping center and the land it sits on. With a walrus thick mustache and a ponytail, he is now a landlord to three restaurants, a home-builder, and tenants who live in apartments overhead.
His white-haired mother Hazel stands in front of the store’s counter waiting for her son to ring up her groceries. Born in Beech Grove only a few miles away, she moved to Nellysford when she was 21, and has lived just down the road in a stone house since 1948.
Outside Stoney Creek, many Nellysford homes are unassuming.
“My husband used to drive the cattle from his father’s farm that was over there, to this one, and they joined each other down the highway,” she says, pointing in different directions and then laughing. “This area was basically a farming area and it’s gradually more or less been changed to, I don’t know what you’d call it.”
“Everyone who has moved here in the last 30 years has moved here from the city, built a house, and started living exactly like they were in the city,” F.P. injects. “What’s with that?”
“I came here in 1975 as part of the group to open Wintergreen,” says Tim Hess, a managing partner with Wintergreen Real Estate Co. While he came to develop a mountaintop resort, he fell in love with the rich valley. Today, his office sits nearly in the center of modern-day Nellysford and he is responsible for much of its development.
In 1982, he opened the town’s other shopping center 100 yards from his current office. “We basically started it because our wives were driving all the way to Charlottesville to shop,” he says. Now it is filled with the sort of stores—an ABC store, a pharmacy, an art gallery—that make it the town’s commercial center.
Then in 1999, he and his real estate partners bought the rights to the Stoney Creek development that runs behind his office and into the hillside. Within its gates are a deluxe golf course and a number of suburban-style subdivisions with mountains unfolding behind homes that easily top $400,000. In his more than 30 years in the area Hess says he has carefully encouraged development without over-commercializing it. “We want it to stay a sleepy nice little community.”
Since 1982, this little shopping center has provided a commercial center for the basic needs of Nellysford.
“One of the key elements was to try and slow down traffic on 151 because if you just slow it down a little bit you realize there’s a lot of hidden special things,” he says. On Saturdays, there is a farmer’s market in an adjoining open field, where well-groomed retirees from Stoney Creek mingle with the denizens of small houses that dot the nearby hollows. A new restaurant called the Dogwood just opened up down the road, but an older one near Valleymont might be Hess’ favorite. “The Blue Ridge Pig is probably some of the best smoked turkey you’ll ever have in your life,” Hess says. “A small funky place but great food.”
Opened in 1988, the barbecue joint is now a main attraction for visitors and locals. “We had a humble beginning,” says its owner, “Strawberry” Goodwin. “We sat here for days waiting for people to come in.”
To help them get off the ground his landlord F.P. Phillips let him stay rent free for the first couple years. F.P. also built the small smokehouse in back where Strawberry cooks pork and turkey in a shroud of hickory smoke. “Get down low so you can see,” he says, opening the stove door as black clouds swoop out. Behind them are slabs of pork tenderloin and ribs. Some of it has been cooking for 20 hours with a few more to go.
“See how nice and pretty they are,” he says, tearing a piece of pork off. It is blackened on the outside but pink and tender inside. Delicious.
“When people eat with us we want it to be a treat, not because they’re hungry,” says the bearded ex-Marine, a Vietnam Vet who has spent much of his time in Nellysford covered in soot. “It takes time, a little bit longer to do it, and hopefully everybody enjoys it. If they don’t, we can’t help it.”
At a glance
Distance from Charlottesville: 31 miles
Elementary School: Rockfish River
Middle School: Nelson Middle School
High School: Nelson County High School
Average list price of homes on market: $590,000
Average sale price over the last two years: $418,000
Why it’s called Nellysford: While there was an actual “ford”—a low water-crossing for carriages and horses—in the small town at one point, no one knows exactly who it was named after. Some say Nelly was a horse, others that she was a woman. According to Hazel Phillips, the latter was the common understanding. “I suspect you would name a mule Nelly before you would a horse,” says her son F.P.