Remembering Dragon Run Country Store
by Mary Wakefield Buxton
Urbanna, Va.— Long before my husband and I moved to Urbanna, my family would gather at Dragon Run Country Store for holidays and family reunions. Sister Alice had purchased the store in 1981 and moved into a back apartment.
In 1982 she and her husband, Angus Murdoch, opened an arts and craft center that displayed the works of over 100 artists in the store. Later they added antiques. We loved the rural atmosphere at Church View and looked forward to escaping Newport News every chance we could to visit the old store and see what the latest fun activities were.
A large, two-story, yellow-frame building of over 5,000 square feet, the store can be spotted just off Route 17 at Church View. It has quite a history. Built in 1913 by the Northam family and used as a country store that provided every sort of provision imaginable for many years to many native families under management of the Richardson family, the store is celebrating its first centennial this year.
Alice loved living at the old store. Best of all were special memories natives shared with her. One lady said her first pair of shoes had been purchased there. It was a vivid memory because all her other shoes had been hand-me downs from her older siblings.
The old store had a hand hoisted elevator so goods could be lifted to the second floor. When the new bank building in Urbanna boasted it had the “first elevator in the county,” Alice called them to report that they were second to the old country store.
At Christmas, Alice put up a live Christmas tree at the landing at the top of the grand cypress staircase that led to the mezzanine (where she liked to display women’s hats from earlier eras). How we loved her Christmas tree. But best of all was her good home-cooking, roasted turkey with all the fixings topped off with Father’s favorite Christmas day dessert—English plum pudding and hard sauce.
One year as we sat in the living room looking up the staircase to admire the decorated tree, from out of nowhere a cat jumped into the tree. We stared in horror as the tree began to sway, first one way and then the other. Before we could react, the tree came tumbling down the grand staircase with the cat still in its branches and meowing loudly.
There were always a lot of dogs at our family gatherings. We remembered past holidays by the number of dogs in attendance. For example we would say, “Remember the Six dog Christmas?” or the “Four dog and new litter Thanksgiving?” We especially loved to invite prissy in-laws who weren’t especially crazy about dogs and treat them to a real dog holiday.
The dogs, of course, were always lying in the middle of everything. No one would think of complaining, except maybe a prissy relative. Such complaints were soundly ignored as was proper. The Wakefields held firmly to their principles.
Once we had a Great Dane that Angus had adopted. He took up most of the floor with us having to gingerly step over him. This was a bit difficult holding a glass of champagne. It was rather like having a horse asleep on the living room floor.
Alice enjoyed hosting handicraft demonstrations at the old store where different skills were taught like soap and candle-making, and weaving. Once I walked in to find a live sheep in the store as Alice sat in an old antique rocker like Grandma Moses knitting a sweater from yarn woven from sheep’s wool from a spinning wheel right beside her.
Another time Alice had a local Indian tribe to meet on the grounds for a Pow Wow. I called it a “Wow! Wow!” because of their impressive Native American dresses, dances and songs to which we were treated.
The old store has certainly been the center of many happy memories and fun events. But I can’t help but wonder what the next chapter in history will be?
Will it ever become a restaurant in the coming years? Or perhaps a wonderful rural bed and breakfast that specializes in country breakfast of Virginia ham, eggs and homemade biscuits? Or perhaps it will become an antique store that houses beautiful Virginia treasures from throughout the Commonwealth? Who knows what the next 100 years will bring? Only time will tell.
I just hope for one thing. That splendid vision of a Christmas tree ablaze in white lights will return one day on top of the old grand staircase at the Dragon Run Country Store.