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Walton's in the Media.
TV Guide
April 13, 1974



John-Boy Would Feel Right at Home
Come visit the town that inspired 'The Waltons'

By Terry Turner

When Earl Hamner Jr. was growing up in Nelson County, Va., he absorbed the sights and sounds that later would be reflected in his television series The Waltons.


If there is a place in this country where The Waltons could be re-created, it would have to be Nelson County.


Somehow, people know that. By the hundreds they find their way through the Virginia countryside about 30 miles south of Charlottesville, on four-lane, modern highways and narrow secondary roads, driving through awesome mountains and peaceful pasture lands, past apple orchards and cattle farms, through the tiny towns staked out with small country stores and white, wood Baptist and Methodist churches.


They drop in at the gas stations, the county library, the chamber of commerce, and they ask how to find Walton's Mountain or how to find the place where the Waltons grew up.


There is no Walton's Mountain. But there is an old homestead where Earl Hamner grew up with his seven brothers and sisters, and where his mother, Mrs. Earl Hamner Sr., still lives with her memories.


Since September 1972, when The Waltons made its debut, more than 1800 visitors from throughout the United States have found that homestead. They found it not tucked serenely up against the base of a mountain, surrounded by fields and forests, but in the small town of Schuyler, Va. The Hamners lived in a small town, not out in the country.


Mrs. Hamner's brother lives beside her 60-year-old, two-story frame house with the tin roof. Her sister lives right across the street. The Baptist church is just a few steps away. The hand-built barn is on the rear lot line of about a one-half-acre parcel. The school is a city block away.


Although Nelson County contains hundreds of breathtakingly beautiful scenic vistas, Schuyler is not one of them. An old soapstone quarry, the mountains of rock slashed and bare, is a scar on the side of the hill. The old mill where soapstone was turned into laundry tubs and other utensils is tilted and abandoned. The houses of Schuyler are old; they sag.


But the visitors don't seem to care. They make the trip to the edge of town, find the old Hamner home, and knock on the door. At least one visitor every day of the year. Sometimes two or three. During the vacation season last summer, on many days up to 100 would appear. They want to see the place where John-Boy and Elizabeth and all the rest grew up. They want to see the woman they think of as Olivia Walton. They want to come and look for a moment and chat a bit and then go on their way.


They ask about the life style of the 1930's - the hand pump for water, the lack of electricity, the baking of biscuits three times a day - and they sometimes ask advice on how to raise children, how to form family units filled with love, warmth and respect, like the one they see on The Waltons.


Mrs. Hamner has lived too long and too wisely to reply with quick, assured answers. "What can you tell them?" she asks. "The times have changed so much. Children are being raised in different times than when mine were little. 1 understand that; I see it in my own 15 grandchildren. Every generation is different and I've often said I'm glad I'm not raising children these days."


Mrs. Hamner has lived in the house for more than 40 years and the times have changed for her, too. She still sees without glasses, but the red hair is faded and the posture of her small figure has begun to stoop slightly. The blue eyes are warm, but there is an appraising expression, a kind of wisdom, that shows through.


On one day not so long ago, the rain was failing and she listened for a moment.


"Rain on a tin roof," she said, "one of the nicest sounds in the world. When my grandchildren visit, sometimes they ask to go to bed early so they can lie there and hear the rain on the roof."


There is a pause. Without thinking. she blurts out: "Oh how I miss my boys and girls on a day like this!"


Earl Jr. is gone - to Hollywood to supervise The Waltons and Apple's Way. He calls at least once a week, usually to check her reaction to an episode of The Waltons and he sees to it that she flies out to California for month-long visits once a year or so.


Jim is unmarried and has some time to spend with her. Marian and Audrey and Cliff and Bill and Nancy drop by frequently from their homes in the larger cities of Virginia. Paul stays in touch from his New Jersey home. The family remains supportive and Mrs. Hamner feels secure. But an occasional rainy day can be lonesome.


In near-by Lovingston, the Nelson County seat, Miss Laura Turner sits at an old wooden desk in the tiny county library.


Miss Laura taught most of the Hamner children before retiring as a schoolteacher and becoming a librarian.


"I can remember teaching school back in the mountains and knowing that some of the parents of the children I taught had never been more than 20 miles from their homes in all their lives. Now their children and grandchildren are scattered all over the world."


Miss Laura was asked about the television show.


"All of us love The Waltons," she said. "It's not just because of Earl, although we love him for staying the same sweet person that he always was. He was here last year, you know, for the annual Nelson County Day and more than 10,000 people showed up. There's only 11,000 people living in this county.

"And I must say the television series is as authentic as can be expected, especially when portraying the different children.


"But I think The Waltons has a value of its own, authenticity aside. It's warm and it's decent and we need more television like this instead of all the crime and violence we get."


Miss Laura, it turns out, echoes what many Nelson County residents feel.

In Small's Grocery on Route 151 in the Rockfish Valley, approximately 11 miles to the northwest of Schuyler, the shoppers don't know the Hamners, but they know The Waltons.


"Sure we all watch it," said one. "We'd watch it no matter where it was located. Nelson County doesn't matter all that much to the show. It's good television and that's what we need."


At the Nellysford Grocery down the road, the people agreed.


Some were asked if The Waltons reflected accurately the 1930's Depression in Nelson County.


"Certainly," said a shopper. "We got through all right. We had our land and our crops. We had everything except money. I'm more worried about this next year than I was back then."


He had just heard a farmer checking the price of merchandise and the store owner saying, "You know how I could sell you 100 pounds of seed potatoes last spring for seven dollars and 50 cents? This year I'm paying $13.50 wholesale and I don't know what I'll have to charge."


The people of Nelson County are beginning to worry. Richard Sperry is the Nelson County administrator and he has the statistics. "We have 11,300 people living on 478 square miles, so this is definitely a rural county. Our per capita income is $2357, compared to Virginia's per capita of $3650. The median age in Nelson County is 31.4, compared to the state's 26.8


"In the old days, what was made here was spent here, but now Nelson County has become a bedroom community. Our plants are closing. We have only one factory left and it only employs 150 people, mostly women. Almost half of our work force commutes out of the county - to Charlottesville and Lynchburg and Waynesboro - to find work. So money is made elsewhere and spent elsewhere."


Inside the Hamner home, Mrs. Hamner has offered coffee to her visitor. At the end of the long kitchen, a metal space heater, vented to a near-by chimney, is stoked with wood.


"We put that in last fall," she said. "We were worried about the energy crisis." (Mrs. Hamner used to cook on a wood stove and insists it's still the best way to bake cakes and biscuits. But it was replaced years ago by an electric range.)


"I was married at 17," she said. "I never regretted marrying young. We didn't have money but we had an awful lot of love in this house and that meant a lot. We raised our children with love and respect. I don't think it's good to pick at children. We expressed ourselves the way we felt; we let them know when we were upset or disappointed, but we always praised them when they did something good.


"You know how in the show everybody says 'good night'? We did that. My children still do it with their families. If children go to bed happy, they wake up happy. And to this day, I still see something good in every little face I see."


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