A Childhood in the Mountain Hollow Community Above Bluemont
Susan. When you talked with Evelyn Johnson, I think it was in 2003 for the Bluemont book [From Snickersville to Bluemont, the Biography and History of a Virginia Village], I remember that you said your father came from Lithuania?
Martin. Um-hum, Lithuania.
Susan. Do you know what year your father was born?
Martin. No, we really don’t. We figured it up and our sister said he was 49 when she was married. She married in 1940.
Susan. OK, that puts him about right, at 1891, just before the turn of the century. Did he ever talk about town he came from?
Martin. Well, they wouldn’t tell you very much back then. See, he couldn’t talk plain English and I wish we had asked him more questions than what we did. They had such a hard time and they didn’t talk very much about their troubles back then.
Susan. How about your mother?
Martin. She was married twice. She married a rector first and had five children, and then he passed away. He had some kind of disease back then. And then she met Daddy.
Well, my Daddy was up in New York when he came here with Mrs. Oxenhart from Faquier County. She brought him down from New York. And that’s how come they were living there.
[Left: Jessica, Eva, Albert, Joseph Michael Mitchell, Daisy Mae Mitchell, and Martin at lower right.]
And in the depression she lost her place and we just had to start movin’. And that’s when we started movin’. She said, every time she had to move, she had to throw another piece of furniture off the wagon.
Mrs. Oxenhart brought Daddy him down here. She was up in New York on a vacation or something. And I don’t know how they met or anything. But he come down and we was working for her. And we lived on her place there – so I understand, but that was before my time.
Susan. So you figure that they were married in about what year?
Martin. Well my sisters were born in about 1926, I think. And I was born in ’30. I would think they married in the 1920s.
Susan. And so, you had three brothers and sisters?
Martin. One brother and two sisters – twins. I’m the youngest one.
Susan. And what were their names?
Martin. Jessica and Eva, and a brother named Albert . My brother and one sister’s dead. I’ve got one sister still living we just went over to see her a while ago. She’s not getting along too good. She’s 89 this September I think. That’s Eva – her last name is Federline.
I was the youngest.
Susan. What do you remember about your mother?
[Left: Only bare logs are left of the Mitchell homeplace, from 1980s photo.]
Martin. She was a very nice person, but she had moody spells. Sometimes she was hard to get along with.
Susan. Did you know your grandmother, your mother’s mother
Martin. No, I remember seeing my grandmother one time, and I was real small then. And I never did see my grandad.
Susan. In those days, distances were further then.
Martin. Yes indeed.
Susan. Were you born on the Oxenhart place?
Martin. No, I was born in Uppervile. You see, we had to just keep moving, because everywhere you’d go there wasn’t no work or anything. We had to. Mrs. Oxenhart lost her farm and everything. I’ve heard my mother say people shot themselves and lost everything, you know. From what I could hear my mother say, they had rough times back then.
Susan. So your father worked in Bluemont, too.
Martin. Yes, odd jobs and he died in 1952. He helped Clarence Fields on the farm and different people round here, for Mrs. Turner when she owned this place where Tom Rust lives.He did her garden work and lawn work. And worked for different people round here by the day. That’s how stuff was here in Bluemont.
Susan. And what was your mother like?
Martin. She worked a whole lot for Mrs. Turner and Mrs. Forester. Just day work, you know, washing clothes and cooking.
Susan. Mrs. Forester?
Martin. Yes, right there where you live now.
Susan. “Aunt Freddie,” as they called her. Did your mother go to church in the little stone church in Bluemont?
Martin. She went over here, you know, to the Bluemont Methodist Church.
Susan. Yes, that is where Mrs. Forester went to church. It was really the church for the community.
Martin. She died in 1962, and my Daddy died in ’52.
[Right: Martin's sister Eva's son John Thomas Wright, with his grandmothers Alice Wright and Daisey May Mitchell about 1940. "I was 10 years old when he was born and he was the first little baby I really knew."]
Susan. Did she ever tell you any stories from when she was a little girl?
Martin. Oh, yeah, she’s tell me about the hard times they had and everything. She would tell you a little bit, but see, my Daddy couldn’t speak very good English, couldn’t explain it to you. And he didn’t talk very much.
Susan. Did he go to church?
Martin. No, he never did go to church. Well, I don’t reckon he could understand and that was one reason he didn’t go. But I don’t know whether he had any religious belief or anything. I wish I knew him better. You know, I really do.
Susan. You know, my father’s father came from Lithuania. But for a while it was Poland, for a while it was Lithuania. And that town was called Marianpol.
Martin. Well I never did hear my Daddy say anything about it.
Susan. Well, there is a lot of our past that is … still hidden…
Martin. Oh, indeed it is.
Susan. So you came to Bluemont when you were a little five-year-old boy and what do you remember about the early times when you first came here?
Martin. Well, we moved up on the hill and several families living up in the holler then. And we all made friends and played together. We hardly ever came to the town over here in Bluemont. We had our own little community back over in the holler.
Susan. Who were those families?
Martin. Well, the Moreland family, the Allder family, and a couple of colored families lived over there, the E.V. Hendersons, and Uncle Tobe Henderson. Gilmore Scott was James Scott’s daddy. He lived up in there. He died right after we moved up on the hill.
Susan. And those are Marie Scott’s family?
Martin. James Scott was Marie Scott’s daddy.
Susan. Were there any little boys your age or close enough to play with?
|School pictures: Martin Mitchell and Betty Allder, Bluemont neighbor and later Martin's wife.
Martin. Oh yeah. We went to school together, well, my wife and her sister and brother went to school over here, and they lived up on the mountain. I started school in 1937.
In 1940, Mr. Allder died and so they had to move, too, because Mr. Wilson up on the mountain had to get somebody to take care of his place. So that’s the reason they moved down in the holler here. And they got to be next door
Schoolboys and Skunk Hides
Susan. Roberta Underwood was telling me about Mrs. Lunceford, the principal of the Bluemont School. And also Judy Anderson told me a little about going to school there in the 1950s. Can you tell me something about your school days and the friends you had there?
Martin. Well, I was about like any other kid, I reckon. I didn’t want to learn. I was right mischievous (laughs). But if it hadn’t been for Mrs. Lunceford, I wouldn’t have learned a thing. I swear I wouldn’t have. (laughs) I wanted to hunt and fish most of the time, you know.
Susan. Oh, you did. That’s what you wanted to do?
Martin. Yes. I wanted to stay on the mountain all the time.
Susan. So you liked to hunt and fish. Did you actually hunt things?
Martin. Oh yes. I reckon I was about nine years old when I had my own rifle. But I was telling Sandy the other day – they was talking about this gun law and everything – my Daddy kept his shotgun in the corner and us kids, we knew better than to bother it. But the kids today, they see too much stuff on television you know, they really do.
But I had my own little rifle. Aw heck, I used to stay in the woods all the time. Hunt squirrels, and rabbits. Man, Betty’s brother stayed in the woods all the time, day and night. He used to hunt day and night.
Susan. You boys just loved it out there?
Martin. Oh yes indeed. We’d catch skunks and ‘possoms. (Susan laughs.) We’d skin ‘em and sell the hides.
Martin. We’d buy our school clothes that way. Wasn’t doin’ anything during the daytime anyhow (laughs).
Susan. So that’s how you got your pocket money.
Martin. Oh yeah, yes indeed.
Susan. Or actually, maybe more than pocket money.
Martin. Oh yes, indeed so.
Susan. How much would you get paid for a skin?
Martin. Well, it all depends. I remember one time (laughs) we sent some furs off – I forget now where they went to – we had a great big ‘possom hide and when it come back, it was described as “one small ‘possum – one cent.” And we got one cent for that hide. But the skunks – we hardly ever caught any 'coon – but the skunks, we used to get two and three dollars for a good one.
[Right: E.W. Kimble's frontespiece to the first American edition of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn captures the type of the American boy hunter from a century and a half ago.]
Martin. Yes. Polecats. They used to use the furs to make things out of, as soon as they got the stink out of ‘em. And all of us kids, when we’d go to school, we’d have skunk on us and the teacher would send us home.(laughs) You couldn’t get that smell off’n you. I don’t care -- we tried everything. Orange juice, tomato juice and everything to get it off. Vinegar—it didn’t take care of it.
Susan. Uh-huh. That is such a great story. (Both laugh) So you had money to buy your pants for school.
Martin. Oh, yeah. We got big enough to where we could make a little money . And Mr. Julius A. Trusdell lived up on 601, he would hire us kids just to keep us out of trouble and give us a little money. We used to work for him for 50 cents a day. That was back in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s.
Susan. So you were not the little scholar, huh?
Martin. (laughing) Oh no, no….
Susan. But you went through seventh grade. And seventh grade then was a lot more heavy-duty than seventh grade now. So what did you learn about say, history or arithmetic or…
Martin. Yeah, we learned quite a bit in the fifth, sixth, and seventh grades. And that was Mrs. Lunceford’s three grades. And Mrs. Miley she was first and second grade. And I liked her, I really did. But I wouldn’t pay attention. No I wouldn’t buckle down and study. But I did after I got in fifth and sixth grades I tried to learn a little bit, you know.
Susan. Do you remember what was there to learn. I have a feeling it might be a lot different from what kids learn today.
Martin. Well, I imagine it is different. We had English and geography and arithmetic books.
Susan. What was geography like?
Martin. Well, it was about the whole world – they’d ask questions and we’d read stories about it.
Susan. So, you would have come out of school knowing, say, the continents, countries.
Martin. Oh yes indeed.
Susan. And how about history?
Martin. Well, that’s one subject I did not like. I never could understand it. Talking about the Indians and things back there then. Now, since I’ve got older, I enjoy history.
But then I didn’t…. I went through enough history myself, you know… (laughs).
Susan. Yeah, maybe you really did, actually -- I see what you mean.
When the Train Ran All the Way to Bluemont
Susan. You lived here when the railroad ran to Bluemont -- I believe it stopped in 1939. Can you tell me about the train when it was running?
Martin. Well, we lived up on the hill in the late ‘30s, moved off the hill in ’42. We could see the train when it practically left Leesburg. We could see the sparks it made when it crossed the – I don’t know whatcha call it – that thing goes up and hits that wire you know?
Susan. Like a trolley car wire.
Martin. And we could see the sparks, you know. From up on the mountain. See, all these trees weren’t around here. Loudoun County was almost bare then. It was all farmland.
Martin. Well, we was up higher first. We moved to Mr. Plaster’s house on the hill in ‘33 or ‘34 and then moved down into the holler in ’42. And then we moved from there to over here in the Dance Hall. About ’44 or something like that.
[Note: The Old Dance Hall is now owned by Epling Landscaping and Lawn Service in Bluemont and the top floor is rented by the Boulder Crest Retreat for Wounded Warriors.]
Susan. Was it the first floor of the Old Dance Hall?
Martin. No, it was up top. It had four rooms that we used and then there was one room on the other side of the thing , but Mrs. Turner had stuff stored in there. So we never used that room. Little, small rooms, but when Larry [Cochran’s Lumber and Mill Works] and all them bought that place they done away with the partitions.
Susan. Yes. The Cochran’s had lots of heavy equipment when they operated up there.
Did you ever ride on the train?
Martin. No, we never did. We went over to the station a couple of times to watch trains. But I never did ride on it.
Susan. So the train looked like a trolley car, more or less? It didn’t look like a train with an engine….
Martin. Well, I saw a train, I know it was a regular freight train that burnt coal or something. It had a smokestack on it, but I can’t remember whether it was any smoke or not. But most of ‘em was electric trains cause you could see the spark flying up.
Susan. But you say maybe some other kinds of trains also used the track? And picked up grain, maybe?
Martin. Yeah, they used to haul stuff there. Haul milk in there – people used to bring their milk to the station in Bluemont. But I told people I saw one of them other trains there and they said – it couldn’t have been. But I really believe that I did see that.
Martin. I know they used to haul stuff, ‘cause I’d help Lewis Posten and them down at Purcellville one time load trees that Russell Smith used to sell — just like the Nalls do on the road to Berryville. They used to sell flowers and trees and stuff. Anderson’s place up there. Russell Smith used to sell all kinds of trees. I used to go down and help Lewis Posten—that was Betty Ann’s uncle who used to work down there. He lived up on Sunny Ridge . And he had a sort of a chestnut orchard up there — chestnut trees, apple trees, and things.
Susan. I gotta ask you – where is Sunny Ridge?
Martin. Well, it’s a place out here on the mountain. They had a school there, I reckon. I heard them say, I never did know it, but they said that they had a horse and buggy road going from Bluemont clear up on Sunny Ridge.
Susan. It must have been on the east side, the southeast side, of the mountain – or it wouldn’t have been “sunny.”
Martin. It was on the east side of the mountain. It’s up around back of Round Hill there.
Susan. It was near to Round Hill?
Martin. You go on past of Round Hill, like you was goin’ to Hillsboro. There was a road up there. I’m sure you can still get up there. [Martin locates a paperback book by Eugene Scheel with write ups about nearby communities] Rock Hill, Trappe, Mount Weather…. Sunny Ridge. Route 73. There was a little schoolhouse up on the top of the hill there, 1935. That’s Sunny Ridge.
Susan. Oh, OK.
Martin. Mr. Scheel [Loudoun historian] used to call on me for information sometimes.
Getting Around in the 1940s
Susan. When you were growing up, I saw in Mrs. Johnson’s interview, that you went to he movies in Berryville What kind of movies were they showing?
Martin. Oh, all kinds of wild westerns. That’s all I ever went to, on Saturday night. Tom Mix, Gene Autry’s pictures too. We’d go to Leeesburg sometimes too. Usually go to Leesburg on Sunday.
Susan. How’d you get out there?
Martin. Bus. A bus used to stop there in front of Mrs. Johnson’s house [Clayton Hall]. A bus to Leesburg and from Berryville too. It’d come on down the mountain. Route 7 wasn’t up there, then. Everything’s come on down through Bluemont. So we’d go to Berryville and catch a bus back at midnight.
Susan. Oh. The last bus, you’d better be on it.
Susan. Jen Stone thought that you had stories of, maybe boys from Round Hill coming into Bluemont and maybe getting into some fights?
Martin. Oh yeah, yeah. We’d scuffle along every once in a while.
Susan. Can you tell me more about that? This is not something that seems to happen much around Bluemont these days.
Martin. Well, what started some of it was in school. We’d play ball with Round Hill and some of the boys would get mad at you, you know, and they’d start a fight at school, while we was playing ball. And we’d get even with them after they’d come up to Bluemont here, we’d get after them.
Susan. But… you were fighting with your fists? You didn’t have knives and…..
Martin. Well, everybody had a knife. Everybody carried a knife. But nobody ever used a knife in a fight or anything. No indeed. We’d just kick and bite and (laughs)…. You know, hit you with their fist and everything, but we didn’t – nobody ever – I mean everybody had a big buck knife in their pocket, but …
Susan. But they wouldn’t bring it out. It wasn’t that kind of fight.
Martin. No, it wasn’t that kind of fight. We’d just sort of beat each other up, you know.
Susan. Did you ever get beat up?
Martin. Yeah, I got beat up a couple of times.
Susan. But no broken arms or…
Martin. Oh no, no, no, no, no. Indeed it never got that bad. Black eyes and bruised up a little bit.
Martin. Now here’s a picture of me, taken right at the end of the Dance Hall. Here’s Tom Rust’s house. That’s me and the little dog there.
Susan. Oh, yeah. You’ve got your dog in your arms sitting up on the fender of – is that your car?
Martin. That was my brother’s car.
Susan. When do you think that was taken? Oh, 1948. That is perfect.
Martin. There’s Evelyn [Johnson]. You want to take this wholescrap book? I just cut out everything and keep it. That’s a story about the [new Boulder Crest] Retreat – it was in the paper. Now this story is by Annabel [Hughes]. Here’s what she wanted to do with the hillside and with Clarington House.
Susan. Yes. She talked with me about it too. But I think now with the opening of the Boulder Crest Retreat that is also very wonderful…. and very important.
Korean War Service and Marriage to Betty
Martin. Here’s a picture of me the night I went into the service. That’s me sittin’ right there. Up here in the [Bluemont General] store. George Dawson playing the music.
Susan. Why don’t you tell me a little about Betty and your marriage…
Martin. Well, they moved in over here in 1940.
Later theylived up where Mrs.[Janice] Richardson is. They bought that house after a couple of the boys got out of service. I went in service in ’1952 and got out in ’54.
And we got married in 1957 I think it was.
|Martin's Bluemont home - view from the air.
||Martin and Betty Mitchell
Susan. She was “the girl next door.”
Martin. We lived next to each other. But I never dated her or anything. Never even thought about it.
The Mitchell Homestead in Bluemont
Susan. Now, Mr. Jerome Fanciulli gave you this land—your homestead? Was it part of his land?
Martin. Yes. I was like a kid to him. I started mowing the lawn for Mrs. Fanciulli in 1943, after he inherited the land from the Marshalls. Mr. Robert Marshall e had something to do with the telephone company. Mr. Fanciulli one time showed me he still had some of the old checks he wrote to me at that time --for $1.00, $1.25. Now it would take probably $100 to get that place mowed.
Susan. So his land stretched down to where Jen Stone’s land ends and then just about the same distance up here to your house?
[Left: Jerome Fanciulli house, now home of Patti and Skip Pettit.]
Martin. He owned this lot and the lot the post office is on. I had thatPost Office lot in my name for a while – I should of kept it. I could have go his whole place. But he wanted somebody to get it and take care of it just like he lived. Somebody to live here.
And I told him, “Mr. Fanciulli, you ain’t gonna find nobody like that now.” Well, things had changed.
Susan. Did he leave this land to you in his will?
Martin. He gave it to me before he passed away.
Susan. Do you remember what year was that when he made the gift?
Martin. I can tell you – I can find it (produces a box of several legal documents).
Susan. So many deeds.
Martin. This is the old deed of gift.
Susan: Reads: “Jerome Fanciulli to Martin Mitchell – November 1979.”
Martin: Now this might be the deed to the whole property. I gave it back to his estate after he died. I said there wasn’t no use for me to keep paying taxes for it. Now this one says 19th of November 1980. “Beginning on the southwest side of Route 7, 34 corner of Jerome Fanciulli and Henry Plaster – that’s the same old deed at this one, I reckon…”
Susan. So he talked about selling you his entire place?
[Above: Plat of Martin Mitchell's homestead in Bluemont. Snickersville Turnpike (Route 734) runs on the right.]
Martin. No, he was gonna give it to me.
Susan. But, didn’t he have any children?
Martin. Well he had one son, but he’d already passed away.
Susan. So, he had no heirs – and his wife had was no longer living.
Martin. Yeah, uh huh. Well he was going to and eventually did give it to the Suttons and Callahagns. He said that he owned the Callaghans a deed – because they set him up in business. But he talked to me first – he wanted to give it to me.
But you, know, I told him – “But Mr. Fanciulli, there’s no way – I’ll be honest with you –I can’t take care of it.” Wasn’t no way I had money enough to fix that place up. It really needed some work. I couldn’t promise him that.
But what first started it – I was working over the mountain and all and they got to talking about how everybody ought to have a deed. And, you know, I didn’t even have a deed. So I got Don Bowman to draw my will up, and I got to talking with Mr. Fanciulli and he hadn’t updated his will. So I talked him into it and I took him to the lawyer and got his will straightened out.
I asked him, one time, what about that piece of land up there in that lot this side of the brick house? I asked him what about selling me a part of that? And he didn’t know, said he’d think about it.
So went on on a month or so, and he said, “How’d you like to have one of them lots over there?” And I said, “Well, I’ll think about it.”
And so we got to talking about it, and he told me he’d have to get somebody to straighten the deed out, cause, it’s like this deed – it didn’t specify this whole lot. It broke right off. “…land and… “ was, I think was the last word it had in it. The rest of it was gone. So we had to get a lawyer to quiet the title and get a new deed.
Susan. So it took all that effort [indicating the many document] to get a clear title?
Martin. Yeah. And he wanted the deed on this land (Martin’s homestead). Well he had Ottinger for a lawyer. The only thing I could find out at the courthouse is that it was part of this land up here where the post office is.
So the lawyer called Mr. Fanciulli one day, and I was over there. And he told Mr. Fanciulli there was no deed on it. He told him he’d have to do this and then do that... and it would cost so much to do it.
Mr. Fanciulli got mad and he said that "you know damn well” that he owned it "‘cause I’m paying taxes on the lot.”
The lawyer said, “You can pay taxes on it the rest of your life, but if you don’t have a deed, you don’t own it.”
Anyhow, Fanciulli said, “Deed that lot to Martin Mitchell and I don’t want to hear any more about it.”
So he sent me the deed for that lot up there. So I kept that for a while and we said, “Well, we’ll get somebody to straighten this lot out.”
I asked Mr. Bowman, he was a lawyer, lived right there in Round Hill and he used to own a farm out here where Great Country Farm is [on Foggy Bottom Road]. I got in touch with him and I asked him about it, and he said, well, I’ll take it on the basis of where I do
Bowman's letter reads:
Mr. Martin Mitchell
Re: Fanciulli to Mitchell
Bluemont, Loudoun Co., Virginia
Enclosed for your files is a copy of the revised Bill of Complaint to quiet title of the above-described parcel, which was filed July 2. 1981.
Copies have been forwarded to Mr. Nickels, Attorney for Mr. and Mrs. Hatcher, and to Mr. Plaster, and it is hopeful that they will accept service and file their answers. Also enclosed is a copy of the order of publication against the unknown parties.
Donald L. Bowman
So he did, he took it in his spare time. And he finally got it worked out. Course it cost both of us some money to get it straightened out. But we finally got a clear deed on this land – got everybody to sign an agreement that their land and boundaries.
Sandy, Her Marriage, Children, and Grandchildren
Susan. Do you remember when your daughter was born?
Martin. Yes, she was born in 1958, last day of September.
Man, I don’t know what I’d do without Sandy.
Susan. Now, she married which Cochran boy?
Martin. Larry Cochran.
|Sandy as a bride and her wedding party: Betty Mitchell, Martin Mitchell, Sandy Mitchell, Larry Cochran, Ralph Cochran, and Ivy Cochran.
Martin. And here are Sandy’s children.
|Sandy & Larry Cochran with David, Ben, and Mtthew.
||Ben playing golf.
Susan. And these are your grandchildren?
Martin. These are my great grandchildren!
|Ben Cochran and his children, Abigail, Sam, and Jonah.
||Ben's wife Katie tours a Virginia cavern with Jonah and Abigail.
|"The greatest" great-grandchildren .
||Toddler Sam investigates some young chickens.
Martin. And we had a wedding just this spring -- my grandson David Cochran and his bride Julia [pictured left in the rainy spring of 2013].
Susan. Well, Martin. This is just wonderful stuff.
This is the makings of a beautiful story— or actually, more than one story.
Thank you, Martin.
Note: Later stories will cover Martin Mitchell's long-time service to and friendship with Bluemont luminary Jerome Fanciulli, publicist of early flight, friend of Henry Ford, and Maryland-Virginia Ford dealer -- as well as his service on the crew at the "Big Dig" (the excavation of the underground sheleters at Mount Weather installation on the Blue Ridge).