Ralph Waite and the Real Walton’s Mountain
Ralph Waite, 85, passed away and the real “Walton’s Mountain” is in mourning.
Schuyler, pronounced “Sky-ler,” is about 30 miles south of Charlottesville, Virginia. Situated between Rockfish Gap and Scottsville, the town of 400 was founded in 1882. Best known as the boyhood home of Earl Hamner, Jr., the town, along with the rest of Nelson County, was devastated by fragments of Hurricane Camille in August 1969. The hurricane, which dumped three feet of rain in the region, made it a major weather event in America during the late 20th Century.
Schuyler is not a town with grid streets and a central downtown. It’s more like a hamlet with pockets of houses sitting here and there along the winding country road.
During the early 1900s Schuyler thrived on the soapstone factories in the region. Soapstone is a rock that’s soft enough to be carved into flooring tile and countertops. The mining of soapstone kept the region afloat until synthetic materials became popular and the Great Depression hit the country.
Schuyler became a bedroom community for people who worked in Charlottesville. Located about 30 miles up the road, Charlottesville is the home of the University of Virginia and the region’s primary medical center, University of Virginia Hospital.
Walton’s Mountain Museum is in the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills in western Virginia. The old high school, which was built in 1924 and in use until 1955, is now the Community Center and also the location for the museum.
A visitor to the museum will be able to see duplicates of John-Boy’s bedroom, Ike Godsey’s Store as well as The Waltons kitchen and living room. Next door is a new Military Museum which is annexed to the main building. A half-hour video introduces the visitor to the displays and gives a brief history of the area.
In 1992, with permission and financial help from Earl Hamner, Jr., the museum opened. The price of admission to the museum helps support Schuyler’s food bank, literacy program and the county’s volunteer fire and rescue squads. Scholarships for students, a health clinic and the local library are also supported through the work of the museum making it a win-win for the town and visitors.
The admission price is $5 and gets the visitor a guided tour of the museum and a place to visit a spell. The visitor is free to roam the museum and grounds and revisit favorite exhibits until closing time. About twenty years ago, Ralph Waite was able to visit the real “Walton’s Mountain” and had good things to say about the museum and its work.
To get there take Interstate 64 West from Richmond, Virginia, and get off at State Route 29 as the interstate passes Charlottesville. Turning right on Rockfish River Road the museum will be the second building on the right.
Earl Hamner, Jr., AKA “John-Boy”
Earl Hamner, Jr., is the author of what many say is the most popular television series in America, The Waltons. Born in Schuyler, Hamner wrote several other autobiographical stories about his life in the Blue Ridge Mountains during the depression. Spencer’s Mountain, 1963 was turned into a feature film starring Henry Fonda and The Homecoming was the basis for the hit TV show.
Earl Hamner, Sr.
John-Boy’s father, played by Ralph Waite, was based on Earl Junior’s real life father, Earl Hamner, Sr., who had worked at the village soapstone factory until it closed in the early part of the Great Depression. Just like in the series, Earl Sr. lost his job at the factory and opened up a sawmill next to his home.
Earl Sr. died in 1969 before his son’s work was turned into the television series. His widow Doris lived until 1990 and was able to see her son become a famous author. Doris, who had actually had eight children, once joked that “…she could afford eight children, but CBS could only afford seven.”
Although television viewers will miss Ralph Waite, the real “Walton’s Mountain” can still be visited today.
By Jerry Nelson