For many Americans who have never even visited the beautiful state of Virginia, Virginia still feels a bit like home thanks to the beloved story of a family called The Waltons. Between 1972 and 1981, the nation followed the television depiction of the Walton family and their struggle to survive the trials of the Great Depression and the Second World War. Thanks to the exceptional realism of the show, many people came to feel like the Walton family were friends and wanted to know what the real story was behind the TV program. Did you ever wonder if the Waltons were real people and where they really lived?
Find The Real Waltons, Just Miles From Emerson Creek Pottery!
In the foothills of the lovely old Blue Ridge Mountains…
…Lies the small town of Schulyer, Virginia, home of the Hamner family – the real-life family on which the Waltons were based.
The mountain town of Schuyler is home to about 400 residents, and there the two storey Hamner family home still stands.
Nearby, fans of The Waltons will be thrilled to visit The Walton Museum which not only has recreations of sets from The Waltons TV show, but also has a wonderful collection of Waltons’ memorabilia on display, plus a gift shop and regular events you can attend.
Sadly, the local store that was the inspiration for Ike Godsey’s General Merchandise burned down many years ago, but the pretty Baptist church still stands tall in the verdant landscape and visitors are apt to recall the major part this landmark played in the Waltons’ storyline. Mama was a devout baptist and never gave up trying to get Daddy baptized, but Daddy was his own man and determined to honor God in his own way. While the family conflict over religion was especially hard on the Hamner/Walton children, their parents’ solution of loving one another despite their differences taught the boys and girls (and we TV viewers) a valuable lesson about tolerance and acceptance. And, who can forget the incorrigible Yancy Tucker bursting into a revival meeting at the church with a string of fish to get out a rainstorm and winding up getting baptized in Drucilla’s Pond, despite his humorous and shady career as a moonshine runner and chicken thief?
Such attention to historical and local detail was put into the creation of The Waltons that devoted fans will readily recognize the names of other real places in the vicinity. The village of Rockfish was the nearest town to where the Hamner/Walton family lived and they often went there for things they couldn’t get at Ike Godsey’s. Sadly, Rockfish is all but deserted now, and yet the Rockfish River still runs along beneath the railroad tracks.
The James River and Rivanna River are real rivers you can visit and just a few miles from Schulyer. Waynesboro and Richmond are frequently mentioned in the television show and are near at hand. You will find another familiar Walton’s locale just a few miles from Schuyler – the town of Charlottesville. Charlottesville was the closest thing to a city place when the Hamner family was growing up and a trip there in Daddy’s rattly old truck or John Boy’s hard-won roadster was a real occasion. Charlottesville still features many charming, old buildings and offers a good home base for visitors exploring this appealing region of Virginia.
While touring Charlottesville, don’t miss a visit to Monticello. We are very proud to share that Emerson Creek Pottery’s ceramics have been featured at Monticello and the important history of this world-famous landmark is central not just to the story of The Waltons, but to the history of all Americans. Thomas Jefferson’s opinions on states’ rights in Colonial times were the forerunners to the deeply-held beliefs that fomented Civil War in our nation. Grandpa Walton wants his grandchildren to remember that Walton land is fought-for land and that Waltons fought in the Civil War. When the elderly Baldwin sisters discover that their father harbored Yankee soldiers during the Civil War, they are convinced that they must permanently withdraw from society until a WPA writer proves that Judge Baldwin would likely have been acquitted for his ‘crimes’ due to his heroism in caring for the wounded on both sides of the War Between The States.
In another memorable episode, the Walton’s neighbor Verdie Grant retraces her roots to the time of slavery and finds a pictorial record of her ancestor who was stolen from Africa and brought to labor at a local plantation. Air time was also given to the fact that Walton land had once belonged to the Cherokee people before they were forced to go on the Trail of Tears and John Walton must confront his own sense of entitlement and right to dwell on the mountain. War and prejudice, the struggle for justice and truth – these are recurring themes in the story of the Walton family and the story of America.
Timely Lessons From The Waltons
Waltons creator Earl Hamner Jr. moved us with his saga-like account of one family’s commitment to survival in hard times. John and Olivia Walton live to see their four sons – John Boy, Jason, Ben and Jim Bob – go off to war. They live through Mary Ellen losing her husband at Pearl Harbor, Erin losing her fiance to post traumatic stress syndrome and their youngest daughter, Elizabeth, pining for her brothers to return from the battlefield. While the treatment of WWII’s effect on the mountain family is very touching, it may be the earlier episodes that are set during the Great Depression of the 1930′s that speak most clearly to Americans today.
Our economy is currently in a state that is being compared to those hard times the real Hamner family lived through. When we watch The Waltons today, we see the family’s prized vegetable garden and Mama and Grandma canning the produce of that garden to see the family through the winter. We see Daddy hunting to put meat on the table. We see the ongoing struggle to find work and keep the electricity bills paid and candles being lit when there is no money to pay those bills. The character of John Boy portrays Earl Hamner Jr. and we are repeatedly reminded that while the hard work, the family efforts to pull through, may have seemed trying at the time, when he looks back, all of it seems joyful to him.
That’s a lesson we can take away for keeps from The Waltons. Many American families are putting in vegetable gardens, maybe for the first time in their lives. Many are learning to simplify both their expectations and their lifestyles to keep in better tune with the tone of our times. How we approach these challenges and changes is what will dictate the pleasure we find in daily life. Is having an organic veggie patch a chore or a blessing that connects us to land and home? Is cooking from scratch a deprivation from restaurant meals and frozen foods, or a loving act we can perform every day for our family, secure in the knowledge that we are most likely serving up better health with every home-cooked supper? Is doing without luxury items a woe or a chance to discover the basic necessities we really need to support life and love it?
This is a subject that has real meaning to the potters here at Emerson Creek Pottery in Bedford, Virginia, just a stone’s throw from where the Hamner family lived. In our work, we have striven to create basic functional pieces that families really need for home cooking, baking and family-style eating. We have committed to using safe, lead-free American clay and our pieces are all made by hand here in Virginia. For the past few generations, Americans grew used to depending upon the cheapness of foreign labor to provide both essential and luxury items and now we are looking at that decision with a weather eye. The tradeoff hasn’t turned out well and the mass importation of cheap-seeming non-essentials has done some things to our nation that aren’t in our best long-term interests. Did you know that there are no longer any textile mills in America with looms wide enough to weave basic household sheets and blankets? We’ve long thought of ourselves as a rich and lucky nation, but how wealthy are we, as a nation, when we haven’t even got the means to produce our own bedclothes?
The Walton family (and the historical Hamners) throve on self-sufficiency, and that, too, is an American story. Our forefathers were jacks-of-all-trade the likes of which one seldom sees these days. Imagine knowing how to build a house, grow crops, weave cloth, make soap, mold candles, sew clothing, forge metal, carve furniture. These were the common skills of our American ancestors and in modern times, we are thinking about the loss of these skills more and more in an age when many people have never cooked a single meal from fresh ingredients, let alone having re-shingled the roof of their home.
In our own small way, the potters here at Emerson Creek Pottery are working to bridge the gap between the days when nearly all products were made by hand domestically and the modern age in which nearly all of the things in American homes are imported. We are one of the last commercial pottery houses located in the United States and are determined to keep offering our neighbors a domestic choice for the essential ceramic wares you need to run your home well. The power of this choice is where we’ve learned that the pleasure comes in for many of our long-time customers. It is good to serve supper on dishes you know were made in your own land, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is good to know you are supporting the economy in which your family lives and needs to thrive. This is the kind of good sense that saw the Walton/Hamner family through the Depression, and it seems that it’s making new sense to us today in these changing times.
If You’re Visiting Virginia
Our corner of Virginia is rich in history and natural beauty and Virginians are eager to share a taste of the good life here. Waltons fans are certain to have an unforgettable visit to Schuyler and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Come for the Dogwoods in spring or the majestic color of fall. You will find yourself recalling all of your favorite Waltons’ moments as you visit the very real places where the Hamner family lived. And, while you are in the neighborhood, please consider dropping by our own historic location – our pottery shop located in the Silas Wade log cabin, built in 1825 on Emerson Creek. You will be warmly welcomed if you visit and you will be able to hold in your own two hands the pottery sold here on our website. There is something about the slow and cordial pace of life in this part of Virginia that makes it so easy for visitors to step back in time, and we hope that you will come away with a valuable new sense of the can-do spirit that finds strength and joy in hard times and celebrates the simple happiness of good times. We’d love to see you here.
Flickr Photo Credits: