This is the first in a series of photo essays from C’ville Images called “Backroads.” I will be exploring some of the lesser-seen locations around Albemarle County and into the adjacent counties. I hope to find old photographs, take new photographs, and uncover some hidden history of places surrounding Charlottesville. “Backroads” will feature historic homes, small towns, forgotten landmarks, and anything else I find off the beaten path. Thanks to everyone who continues to share old photos of Charlottesville with us at C’ville Images. We welcome any old pics from outlying areas as well!
Esmont, Virgina is a small town in southern Albemarle County. Once a thriving little village, it is mostly a scattering of residences today. Empty properties line the main road through town. The post office, now housed in this building that was once a bank, is the only remaining business.
This photograph from 1910 shows Esmont in its heyday with the railroad and depot bringing goods and people to and from town.
Today, the same view shows an abandoned general store, missing buildings, and a grassy knoll where the railroad tracks once ran.
This concise history of the town of Esmont is provided by the Virginia Center of Digital History at the University of Virginia:
“Named after the former plantation (and today farm) from which the town’s lands had been purchased, Esmont is located some seven miles northwest of Scottsville in the southern part of Albemarle County, Virginia. Although records indicate that the area had been populated since the mid-18th century, it was only at the tail-end of the nineteenth century that Esmont’s population was large enough to justify the opening of a post office. The rich red soil on which Esmont is situated has provided the principal source of livelihood both for ante-bellum plantation owners, and for the African-American residents that purchased land and settled the area subsequent to the Civil War. Until the mid-twentieth century the majority of Esmont’s African-American residents were largely self-subsistent, growing their own vegetables and raising livestock for meat and milk products. In the interviews it is apparent that most men and boys were hired, at least for a period, by local (predominantly white) farmers as farm-hands, while women and girls were employed as domestics. When the opportunity arose, however, Esmont residents took employment in such diverse fields as education, nursing, the military, railroad work, and construction. Esmont’s residents recount living in extreme poverty: some families had only old newspapers to insulate their homes during the cold winters, and children rarely owned a pair of shoes. Despite the hardships they faced, the interviewees in this collection describe a rich and vibrant community. As in many rural communities in the area, church served as a spiritual backbone as well as a social center in which residents met (sometimes seven days a week). Children converted empty lots to baseball fields and adventure parks, while parents and grandparent formed a tight social network in which vegetables, baked goods and clothing were exchanged regularly.”
Esmont, the plantation home and namesake for the town, has been beautifully restored and stands just a few hundred yards from the town.
Pace’s Grocery and adjacent service station have not been in use in decades.
Photographer John Shepherd took this detail of Pace’s in the 1970s after the store had already closed.
This vacant building stills stands along the main road through town.
John Shepherd’s image reveals the building’s former life as Purvis’s Grocery and a Gulf station.
Shepherd also took this photograph of the store seen in the 1910 image. The distinctive round roof was still intact in the 1970s.
The structure still stands but Mother Nature is slowly having her way with it.
This building appears to be an old school house and now serves as a residence.
Artist and craftsman John Morris spent his final years working to restore one of the old homes in Esmont, despite battling illness. A native of England, Morris found charm and value in old properties and sensed the history of the small town of Esmont.
The unfinished project was donated by his wife to Habitat for Humanity and is now for sale.
The century-old St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church (built 1914) stands at the north end of town. Its cemetery reflects some of the area’s history.
The 1910 photograph comes to us courtesy the Library of Congress. The 1970s B&W photographs are courtesy John Shepherd. You can see much more of Shepherd’s work on his website. All other photos by Steve Trumbull. ©2010-2014