by Joan Tupponce
For Virginia Business
Fred Øesch was looking for an appropriate site for architectural projects when he found Schuyler, a community made famous by the television series “The Waltons.”
Schuyler, which is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, was the boyhood home of Earl Hamner Jr., the creator of the TV show that followed the progress of a Virginia family during the 1930s and 40s.
But Øesch was drawn to Schuyler by its quarries, not its connection to “The Waltons.” “I dreamed of doing something provocative from the architectural standpoint using some of the quarries in the area,” says Øesch, owner of Øesch Environmental Design, an architecture and building construction management services firm. “Schuyler was the industrial hub of Albemarle County [the town sits on the line between Albemarle and Nelson counties] when soapstone mining was prevalent.”
Øesch purchased a lot that contained a quarry that had been out of operation for 50 years. “It was spring fed, full of water and beautiful,” he says. “This year, I’m in the process of designing and building my own home over the quarry.”
Øesch and a partner also bought more than 500 acres of property with the purpose of preserving quarries on land they developed into The Quarries Eco-Village. Approximately 12 homes have been built in the development — the village has a total of 50 home sites. “We sat one quarry aside as a private common park,” Øesch says. “We have land for a looping pedestrian trail system that connects all the lots to the quarries.”
Øesch has been practicing sustainable (green building) design for more than 30 years. “I’ve always cared about man’s effect on the environment,” he says. He recently received a Green Innovation Award from the Virginia Sustainable Building Network for a single-family home in North Garden.
His projects emphasize solar energy and use natural, nontoxic materials. Almost 60 percent of his work is within a one-hour radius of Charlottesville. “Green building is becoming more mainstream,” he says.
Øesch loves Schuyler’s rural charm, which Hamner was able to capture in his nostalgic TV series. About 90,000 fans of the show, which ran from 1972 to 1981, visit The Walton’s Mountain Museum each year. The museum, which opened in 1992, includes a reproduction of a bedroom used in the show by the character John-Boy Walton, the family’s oldest son and Hamner’s alter ego. Also featured are the Walton family kitchen and living room and Ike Godsey’s Store. In addition, the museum displays photos and memorabilia from the show and Hamner’s family.
Not far from Schuyler is the larger community of Scottsville, which is completing a $1 million streetscape design project. The Scottsville Museum has exhibits on a variety of subjects, including the Civil War and local history. It also houses photographs and Native American artifacts.
“Schuyler isn’t a destination,” Øesch says, “but it is a good place to visit.”
The local economy
Because of its rural setting, Schuyler’s economic base consists mainly of small shops. One of the community’s largest employers, The Alberene Soapstone Co., has about 16 employees. According to the company, Alberene stone is recognized as a premier soapstone by builders and architects. The Alberene deposits in Schuyler are the world’s largest. The Walton’s Mountain Museum has about five employees. Nelson County turned the museum over to the community a few years back.
Where to stay
If you do trek up to Schuyler and want the “Waltons” experience, stay at Polly and Jim Bob’s Bed and Breakfast, adjacent to the home of Earl Hamner. You might also consider The White Pig Bed & Breakfast and Animal Sanctuary at Briar Creek Farm where you can commune with nature. This vegan/vegetarian retreat is in the heart of Schuyler. The Scottsville area is home to High Meadows Vineyard Inn, a Virginia historic landmark on The National Register. The inn’s vineyard produces Pinot Noir grapes.
Where to eat
Dining options in Scottsville include Minor’s Diner for down-home Southern cooking. The town also has a new pub-like eatery called 330 Valley.