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Virginia Tolles

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From Walton's Mountain to Monticello - And Back Again
By Virginia Tolles   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Monday, October 08, 2007
Posted: Monday, October 08, 2007

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Visiting the Walton's Mountain Museum and Thomas Jefferson's Monticello on the same day had a profound effect on the author and caused her to do some serious thinking.

Many years ago, while living in Virginia, my husband and I took a daytrip down Route 29 to Charlottesville and beyond to Schuyler. Schuyler, you may or may not know, is the birthplace and childhood home of author Earl Hamner, creator of The Waltons. In short, Schuyler is the real-life Walton’s Mountain.

Indeed, some place names used in Hamner’s books and television series are real. Charlottesville, surely, is real. So is Rockfish. Other place names are not. There is no Boatright College; a source I read many years ago explained that Boatright was actually the name of a college official where Mr. Hamner studied.

People in Schuyler really did go to Rockfish to catch the train. In the days when John Boy rode the train to find his muse in New York, it was the Southern Railway’s Crescent. Today, it’s Amtrak’s Crescent, and people drive up to Charlottesville to catch it.

I digress, but you surely knew I would, since there’s a train involved.

Since the cancellation of the television program, the citizens of Schuyler have created a Walton’s Mountain museum. It is located in what used to be a school in Schuyler. A set of the inside of the Walton home has been replicated; most of the actual furnishings from the Hollywood set were lost.

The Hamners still live almost directly across the street from that 1950s-genre, red-brick schoolhouse. The house bears a striking resemblance to the house in which the Waltons lived on television.

The museum also includes a replica of Ike Godsey’s store. Today, it sells Walton’s Mountain memorabilia. My husband purchased a set of bookends. They were manufactured of soapstone from the nearby mines.

The real store represented by Ike Godsey’s was located a quarter-mile down the road before it burned down in the 1980s. Today, a metal-sided convenience store and gas station stand there.

Perhaps, the most striking fact for me was how, even today, the people of Schuyler are poor. One can only imagine how much poorer they were in the Depression era portrayed on The Waltons.

Which leads me to the point I set out to make in this piece. After leaving Schuyler, my husband and I drove up to Charlottesville to see Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. It was a serious mistake to go there after seeing how the mountain poor lived.

I became so angry as I walked amongst Mr. Jefferson’s riches that I had to leave the house and walk outside. How dare he sit on top of that hill, overlooking Charlottesville, among cherished possessions, the value of which would have fed any number of those mountain poor!

But, then, that is life, isn’t it? There always were, and there always will always be, the haves and the have-nots. And, yet, both the Hamners and the Jeffersons served those around them as they were called to do. The Hamners were pillars of their small, rural community. The Jeffersons were pillars of a new and founding nation.

When all the glitter and glamour have been wiped away, it is how one lives one’s life that really matters, not whether one’s living-room sofa came from Paris, France, or Ike Godsey’s General Store.

To learn more about these museums of Americana, visit these websites:
Walton’s Mountain Museum -
Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello -

Web Site: Tales Along the Way Home

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Reviewed by John St. John 8/20/2010
Great story! It took me back, not just to the iconic TV program, but to my own trip somewhere around 1998 from home (Fairfax, VA at the time)to Schuyler and Monticello. I also enjoyed the "teaser" for "Tales Along the Way Home". Hope you will post an excerpt or two here.

By the way, are you by any chance related to George Tolles, who lived in Steamboat Springs CO around 1989?

Jack (John J.) St. John