Donna Lee Deaver Baker has beautiful memories of North River Mills, the lovely Hampshire County village where she grew up. Her parents, Lee and Betty, owned Deaver's Grocery. This well stocked store was a vital part of the community, as well as Donna's loving home for the first 21 years of her life.
North River Mills is sadly now an abandoned village
Although the main part of North River Mills is sadly now an abandoned, lonely village, the store in ruins, the memories that live on are very important to Donna, and many other people as well. I so appreciate Donna sharing her memories with us, and I believe you will enjoy them as much as I did.
Donna began by noting how fortunate she was to have grown up with wonderful older people who taught her so much.
Goldie and Granville Moreland, along with their adopted daughter, Betty Preston, live up the road from the store, in a two-story white house with a screened porch on the side. Granville drove the school bus and was also a mechanic. His garage was located in what was once the old North River Mills school house. Goldie was a homemaker and played the organ for the North River Mills Methodist Church. The church was loved and attended by the Mills community, with services twice a month.
Charlie and Wilma also lived up the road in a beautiful, historic, immaculately-cared for, spacious white home. A large comfortable porch ran the length of the front of the house, facing the road. Charlie was an excellent farmer, as well as a good singer and rarely missed church services. Wilma lovingly kept a spotless home and raised a bountiful garden. Masses of lovely flowers adorned her yard, including tall iris which accented a front bay window.
Mr. and Mrs. Dora Eaton lived down the road in the square yellow house beside the store. This house has a porch on two sides. The run flows behind it. Every summer Dora had a huge garden near their home which he tended on a daily basis. Mrs. Eaton (Annie) lived to be 100 years old. Mr. and Mrs. Eaton were Goldie's parents.
Mrs. Flora McDonald and her daughter Audra (Wilma's sister) also lived down the road in a pretty white two-story home with three porches. One of the porches was open, with a porch swing facing the road. Donna and Audra often sat in the swing in summer days, eating graham crackers and sipping tea. Many lovely iris plants grew on a bank near the road. Audra was postmistress, having the post office in their home for many years.
Some years after Flora had passed away, Audra married Elmer Croston. Donna spent many days in their home and they were almost like grandparents to her. Audra had been a school teacher in younger days and told stories of riding horseback to teach school as well as staying at the homes of her students. As a young man, Elmer had been a soldier and often talked about serving in France during World War I. Donna always went to them when she needed help with her homework.
Audra and Donna would go to Ice Mountain every summer to pick the beautiful rhododendron, or laurel as Audra called it. Ice Mountain had at one time belonged to the Deaver family, and the family reunion was held there.
The North River Mills Picnic, benefiting the church, was always held on the Miller's lawn. Days of preparation went into this event. Hand-churned ice cream was a specialty. Food such as chili dogs and sloppy joes were served out of Wilma's kitchen. Donna commented on how exciting the picnic was for her, so much so that it was hard to sleep the night before. She always had a new dress to wear for the picnic.
When fall came to North River Mills, the village was filled with the flow of maples. After the leaves had fallen, the whole community would rake and burn leaves, filling the air with that wonderful autumn scent. The smell of burning leaves may bring back memories to many of us, taking us back in time to those long ago days when life was young.
When apples were ripe everyone worked together to make apple butter to sell for the church. It was the best apple butter for miles around, and sold out every year. Donna told me that as much as she enjoyed this event, it usually happened on a school day, causing her to miss most of it.
Another memory that Donna shared was when North River Mills first got telephones, there were no private lines, just party lines, with as many as four families on each line. Often it wasn't possible to make a call because the line was already in use.
When Donna was around eight years old, a television salesman stopped at the store. Lee told them they didn't want television, so he continued on to Audra's. Donna did want TV and after pestering her dad, she was told to run down the road and tell the salesman to come back. Lee felt that Donna would learn a lot by having television. He was very concerned that she have a good education and do well in school. I happen to know that she did just that.
Once the television was installed, Donna enjoyed watching Westerns, including Wagon Train. Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, and Bonanza. She also enjoyed Bozo the Clown, so much that she wrote to Bozo a letter and enclosed pictures she had drawn. She was thrilled to receive tickets to the show, although she didn't attend. (I believe Willard Scott was the original Bozo).
During the years the store was in operation, many people raised hogs and chickens. Lee would help people butcher hogs. Donna still has the knives that he used. In those days Lee kept the knives in a box under the counter in the store.
Lee worked in the store on a daily basis. He was a kind and friendly gentleman, well like by everyone. He was very generous and would never turn anyone away should they lack the money to pay for food.
Donna remembers Lee being a good swimmer and many times he attempted to teach her to swim. Although she didn't learn to swim, Donna loved floating on inner tubes, and like all of us, never wanted to leave the river. Some of the places that she would go were the Mill Pond, the underwater bridge, and to what was called the baptizing hole.
Unfortunately, Lee lost his eyesight to glaucoma while Donna was still quite young. The two of them would sit on the porch while she read the newspaper to him.
Betty was always busy. She not only kept a beautiful home and took care of her family, but she also worked in the store. Betty was an excellent cook, and her family loved her wonderful pies and chicken dumplings. Customers often commented on the delicious aromas coming from her kitchen, which was located next to the store. Betty always listened to WELD (Fisher) on the radio. Donna has happy memories of waking up in the morning and hearing her mom's radio playing. Betty's pet name for Donna when she was small was Bimbo taken from a song by Jimmy Dean. I well remember Betty lovingly calling her little girl Bimbo. It was obvious Betty and Lee loved Donna very much and they were very good parents.
Some of the people who patronized the store (and stayed to visit) on a regular basis were the Calvin Gladden family, Theodore and Juanita Moreland and family, Ben and Mary Slane, the Earl Wolford family, Dan and Lorie Shanholtz, who rode their tractor to the store (and everywhere else being their regular mode of transportation), Jack Schaffernaker and Earl Wolford playing music, Goldie and Julian Whitacre (who would walk to the store and Lee would always take them home in his pickup),. Bill and Verlis Wolford, the Cunningham family, Wade Gladden, Robert, Riley, Gary and Lloyd Baker, David and Lester Poling, Ted Orndorff, the Otis Baker family, the Ellis Shanbholtz family, the Mack Kerns family, the John Whitacre family, the Knisley family, and of course, all of the local folks who lived right in the Mills.
Gypsies camped in a grove of trees near the village
During the Summer months, gypsies camped in a grove of trees near the village. Some of their names were fascinating: Missouri, Little Missouri, and Carnation.
Deaver's Grocery carried just about anything their customers could possibly need: animal feed, nails and barbed wire, salt fish, penny candy, oil cloth, and of course, their famous longhorn cheese. Bologna was cut from a round roll. Customers would often buy it to eat as a snack and Betty generously added crackers. Other items included in a full line of groceries were Gibbs pork and beans (Betty felt this was the only brand to buy), side meat, eggs purchased from local farmers, as well as Nehi soda in flavors including root beer and cream soda, Coca Cola, ginger ale, and other soft drinks. Lee also sold gas. Donna's earliest memory is 3 gallons for $1.00. I can remember it selling at $.25 a gallon. My husband Mack told us the gas tank had a glass bowl on top of the tank, and a lever on the side of the tank by which the gas was manually pumped into the glass bowl, then by gravity the gas would flow through the hose and into the gas tank of the car. Lee sold Sinclair brand gasoline.
buying boxes of Christmas candy
Every year at Christmas time Lee would buy boxes of Christmas candy which he, Betty, and Donna would then fill into one-pound bags. I remember that candy. It meant Christmas was here and it was so good.
Since the delivery truck would not come to North River Mills, every Monday Lee would travel to Winchester for supplies. The ice cream truck also would not make the trip to Deaver's Grocery so Lee and Donna would go to the intersection of Routes 29 and 50 in order to meet the truck and buy ice cream.
Anyone who ever was in the store will remember the two stuffed bobcats on a high shelf, one with its mouth open as if it were growling. There were also several mounted deer heads, and in later years a squirrel and a big hornet's nest.
Donna and my brother Bud went to school together. Donna asked me what Bud remembered most about the Mills. I wasn't sure, so I e-mailed him to ask. This is his reply:
What I remember most is Deaver's Grocery, of course. The hollow sound of your feet hitting the porch, then I think there was one step up and the step was kind of a rough beam or log. The pop machine was on the right of the door. You had to lift the top and move the bottle through a maze to get it out. I think a bottle of pop was a nickel. There was a screen door that slammed behind; you. On the left wall were shelves of cereal, flour, boring stuff. In the middle of the room was the pot belly stove; in cold weather it would be hot and have several loiterers around it. On your right was what, a cooler or ice cream freezer, maybe hardware behind that? Next on your right was the important stuff, the oak and glass candy display case. It looked like Tiffany's to me, all that wealth just sitting there. Sometimes I was allowed a dime candy bar, but usually just a nickel: Sky bars, Rollo, Zero, Clark Bar, Fifth Avenue, Forever Yours, Zagnut, all yours for five cents. Sometimes we had bottles to turn in for two cents per bottle. At the back was the counter and cash register where Lee stood below the two bobcats. Then I had my candy bar and bottle of pop, and slam out the door I went.
My sister Ann says that she most remembers weighing herself on the scales on the front porch of the store, adding round weights in order to weigh correctly. When I told Donna about Ann's favorite memory, she said that she remembered someone using the scales to weigh a turkey he had killed.
Since North River Mills was such a small community with few children, Donna's playmates were usually Betty Preston and Roger Miller. One of the main things that Donna and Roger liked to do was play in the run behind the store, spending almost every day there during the summer months. They made seines from sawed-off broom sticks and burlap sacks and would seine for minnows and crayfish. Apparently at least once they took time off from seining to get in trouble for pulling up vegetables in Audra's garden.
On Halloween they would dress up and go up and down the road, receiving the best treats, even homemade candy. They were treated so livingly they never soaped anyone's windows, confining their Halloween pranks to throwing leaves on porches.
Donna attended school in Slanesville for grades 1-4, riding the school bus driven by her neighbor Granville Moreland. She then transferred to Capon Bridge, and eventually to Hampshire High School, graduating in 1968. Shortly after graduation, Donna began working for West Virginia Dept. of Transportation. Donna and Kenny were married in 1971. They have two fine sons, Kevin and Andrew, Donna retired from WVDOT in April, 2007, with 30 years of service.
For 21 happy years, Donna lived with her parents at Deaver's Grocery in North River Mills, a community of loving, caring people. I know, I was there.