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Sale sign end of line for landmark farm

Chris Dorst
The white frame house built in 1897 still has one of two original stone fireplaces. When the property sells, it likely will be razed for development.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Near Eureka Road along Corridor G, a huge banner hangs on a weathered white frame carport:

FOR SALE

Available for the FIRST TIME!

Preoccupied drivers zipping by on the busy highway give little thought to this pending demise of history.

Unnoticed in the rush of everyday life, a tiny outbuilding beside the carport hints at a pastoral past consumed by the ravenous jaws of progress.

"That was the boiler room," she said. "That's where they heated water to wash the milk bottles. The milk house was right over there.

"No one knows it was a dairy," she said. "There are a lot of memories here."

On a breezy spring day, 87-year-old Virginia Pruett Pauley roams the grounds of her homeplace at 1230 Oakhurst Drive, steeling herself for the inevitable day when she finally walks away.

In December, challenged by the upkeep on a home built 115 years ago, she put the place on the market, all 1.6 acres of it -- the last vestiges of the 40-acre Pruett Dairy Farm.

"It needs to be developed," Pauley said. "Somebody needs to buy it and build condos. Maybe they would give me one as part of the deal."

That's the practical side of things. The sentiment, the heartache of letting go, tugs at her every day.

Her father, Denver Pruett, grew up here with his siblings, Garnett, Ben, Bern, Bessie, Ada and Kate.

"My father was born here, and all five of us girls, me and my sisters -- Marie, Elizabeth, Irma and Thelma. It was just wonderful, the five of us playing here together."

Denver Pruett and brother Garnett started the Pruett Brothers Dairy in 1922. "We would go to town in the milk truck," Pauley said. "We sat on the milk bottle crates. I've still got daddy's milk carrier."

The brothers sold their dairy route to Valley Bell in 1958.

The milk house vanished. The picturesque barn, home to 25 cows and a horse named Barney, bit the dust 32 years ago.

"I wish even a piece of the old barn was still there," Pauley said wistfully.

Chunks of concrete from the barn's walkway protrude from the brush, marking the location like a crumbled tombstone at a neglected gravesite.

As plans revved up for Corridor G in 1980, a salvage company bought the barn from the state highways department for $1 and carefully dismantled it. The salvager predicted he'd fetch $5,000 for the wormy chestnut lumber, highly coveted after the chestnut blight of the early 20th century killed virtually every chestnut tree in the country.

A painting of the old barn hangs in Pauley's kitchen, framed by wood from the barn.

"Our property went all the way up to Smith Road," Pauley said. "We called it Ridge Road then."

Up the hill from the barn was a garden where her mother raised strawberries and rhubarb. "In strawberry season, mother would make strawberry ice cream. We cranked the ice cream maker by hand."

That little house adjacent to her home was the smokehouse, Pauley said. "They cured their hams in there."

The pigpen was up the hollow. "Every fall, they would slaughter a hog and hang it on the pear tree. That old stiff thing, if you went out for a walk, you'd better not run into it."

A chicken coop sat in the yard by the driveway, near what is now just the stump of a big red maple tree. "I would help gather eggs," Pauley said. "Garnett called them hen fruit. He'd say, 'You going after some hen fruit?'

"The chicks would follow their mother when it was going to rain," she said. "Then they would cover up under her wing. I remember thinking, 'Now that is security!'"

The home itself was built on a hill behind two majestic beech trees. The new road took one beech tree. "The other tree fell seven years ago," Pauley said, nodding at the massive stump. "That tree shaded the whole back yard. The family gathered there."

A holly tree, one of the oldest and tallest in the state, disappeared in 1979.

The road was first paved in 1923. Officially, it was W.Va. 214, or Oakhurst Drive. "We just called it Davis Creek Road."

In a 1980 Charleston Gazette interview, 81-year-old Denver Pruett remembered when the dirt road accommodated only an occasional wagon. "Sometimes you could go all day and not even hear a wagon," he said. "It was so quiet, you could hear someone walking up the road."

Loading a horse and wagon with buttermilk and vegetables from the farm, Denver traveled a mud road to the train depot to take goods to customers in town.

Only five or six houses dotted the hillside between his house and Charleston, he said.

Interviewed by the Gazette in 1993, Garnett recalled when woods covered what is now the Southridge shopping center. He remembered hearing screeching hoot owls and screaming wildcats when he walked home at night.

"Farmland? It was worse than that," he said. "It was wild land."

In 1935, Garnett and Maude Pruett built a home adjacent to the homeplace. Eventually, encroachment of Corridor G forced them to move the house back against the hill.

Visible from the corridor, the renovated white house is occupied by Virginia Pauley's niece and her husband.

Progress kept nipping at the Pruett land. The highway department devoured most of it. The county took eight acres and built Kenna School in the old orchard. Another 20 acres went to a housing developer.

But memories can't be sold off with a business deal. Everywhere she looks, inside and out, Pauley sees reminders of her girlhood and a lost way of life.

"That's daddy's milk carrier over there with the flowers in it," she said. "Here's daddy's rocker. There's mother's sewing machine.

"She made so many biscuits in this kitchen. She didn't cut them. She just rolled them. Daddy had biscuits three times a day."

After her marriage to Austin Pauley, Virginia moved to Nitro, then to nearby Terry Road. In 1984, her father died. He was 84. The following year, she moved back into her childhood home.

"I always wanted to come back here," she said. "And I've enjoyed every minute of it."

Listed by Valerie George Ellis of Real Estate Central, the property was recently reduced to $294,800.

Reach Sandy Wells at sandyw@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5173.


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