Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Girl From Gip

Sylvia (Duncan) and Lloyd Hayward Groves- Merchants of Oil Creek
The small elderly woman sits in her living room in an easy chair with her telephone and walker within easy reach. Her hair is white and her hands are feeble, but her eyes are clear and her memory is sharp. She speaks without hesitancy about her life on Oil Creek. Now nearly ninety-eight years of age, Sylvia Groves recounted the early years of her life for this writer.
Left: Sylvia (Duncan) Groves. This picture was made from a photo of Sylvia on her 90th birthday.

The Trip to Oil Creek

“In 1922, we lived about halfway between Elmira and Gip in Braxton County. My dad read in the newspaper about a farm for sale which was near Arnold in Lewis County and he bought it. There was a little bit of furniture in the house he bought. We sold all of our furniture in our Braxton County home except for whatever good stuff we had which would fit in a wagon. I don’t remember who was driving the wagon but it started out for the new farm.”

Right: the trip from Gip to Peterson Siding. They walked the first 9 miles east to the railroad, probably at Gassaway. (The present day railroad is the grey line running west of I-79.)

“Cars weren’t heard of in those days. My parents, Jesse F. Duncan and my mother Bertha, my three older sisters, Reavith, Marie, and Vonda, my brother Henry and I started walking the nine miles to the railroad stop on the old Coal and Coke line located on the Elk River at Duck. We caught the train and arrived in Orlando late at night. To go on to Arnold, we had to change trains and go up Oil Creek on the B & O line. It was a noon train so we had to spend the night in Orlando. My mother asked someone at the depot if there was a place to stay overnight. We were referred to the home of Lee Morrison, the Orlando photographer, who had a big house on the hill overlooking Orlando and that was where we spent the night. Mr. Morrison also owned a restaurant at the foot of the hill and we went there for breakfast. Since all he had was apple pie, that is what we had for breakfast. We caught the noon train and got off at Arnold and then walked back toward Peterson Siding about a mile or so to our new farm.”

Right The Morrison home, that overlooked Orlando.

A New Life in Lewis County
“My dad was a farmer, and that was how he made a living. I was the youngest in the family,” recalled Sylvia. In 1922, almost every man and woman in the Oil Creek valley was a farmer except for those who were employed by the railroad, and most of them were part-time farmers. Sylvia and her farm family lived about like every other farm family lived in the Oil Creek valley. Farm life was hard work and with little recompense, except the food which was raised for the family dinner table. Her childhood was mostly uneventful, except for the excitement generated by the B & O railroad which sliced through the Oil Creek valley on its way to Weston. Farm work usually stopped as the train rolled by, whether it was a freight train with boxcars or flatcars, or a passenger train with passengers in the cars, returning curious stares at the men and women and children in the fields doing farm chores.

School at Arnold
After moving to Lewis County, Sylvia Duncan enrolled at the nearby Arnold School. This one room country school was located a short distance up the Jacksonville Road from its intersection with the Roanoke-Orlando Road. “I received a Free School diploma,” said Sylvia, meaning that she finished eight years of school. “My first teacher was Mary Holbert, my second was Lucille Cunningham who was from Burnsville. I then had Della Holbert, Mildred Sapp, Ercel (Groves) Spencer and Ruth Duncan. Ruth Duncan was from a different set of Duncans,” said Sylvia. “We never did figure out if she was related. Ercel (Groves) Spencer was the daughter of Frank Groves.” and the sister of the man Sylvia would marry, Lloyd Hayward Groves.

Reminiscence of a Train Tragedy
Trains were always at odds with the Oil Creek valley farms. They were a nuisance to farmers whose farms were split in half by the steel railed tracks. Livestock was often crippled or killed by the trains and many three-legged dogs attested to the one-sided ferocity of animal meeting train. Several deaths of residents occurred in the Orlando area over the years by virtue of a distracted or deaf walker on the rails who was overcome by the train coming around the bend. Sylvia Groves remembers one such tragedy which occurred in the Peterson area. In 1925, Matthew Lawrence Peterson was sixteen and lived near the mouth of Red Lick at Peterson Siding. Despite admonitions from his parents, Lawrence, as he was known, and his brother made sport of jumping onto freight trains which were passing, riding a short distance and then jumping off. Lawrence had become rather “expert” at this sport and began taking his skill for granted. In March 1925, Lawrence attempted to take a short ride on a B & O freight but as he attempted to climb aboard, his hand slipped from the handle on the side of the freight. His momentum slung his legs under the train. One was sliced off by the rolling freight and the other wasn't much better. Even in the face of such a grievous injury, folks held out hope for Lawrence. Sylvia recalls that Mr. McCord, a railroad employee who lived close by, put the boy on a railroad hand car and, pumping furiously, took him into Weston to the hospital. The boy lived through the night, but died in the morning.

Right: an example of a railroad hand car.

Sylvia Marries Hayward
Hayward was a boy from the neighborhood,” said Sylvia, “and that was how I met him. Hayward was the younger of the two sons of Frank and Leah (Gay) Groves, his brother Wilson being the oldest. Hayward had three sisters, Ercel Spencer, Mary McCord, and Madeline.”

In 1934, Sylvia was twenty three and Hayward was twenty four. They had taken a shine to each other and decided to go to Burnsville, look up Preacher Donahue at the M. P. Church South, and get married. For the next fifty years, until Hayward’s death in 1984, Sylvia and Hayward lived on Oil Creek.

Left: Burnsville's Methodist Epsicopal Church, South.

Right: Lloyd Hayward Groves and Sylvia Duncan, two years before they wed.

The Early Years
During the early years of their marriage Sylvia and Hayward rented a small house on Oil Creek from the Weston National Bank. After a while, Sarah and Hayward bought a small farm on Bear Run from Sarah Scarff and settled in. Meanwhile Hayward worked at various jobs. Hayward’s father Frank had the contract to deliver mail from Roanoke to Burnsville and he subcontracted the job to Hayward. Since this wasn’t a fulltime job, Hayward worked at various other jobs including the State Road, Louie Glass in Weston, and the Little Swiss Oil and Gas Company. Hayward also raised cattle and farmed the Bear Run farm.

Above: Hayward Groves on the job. Left is Hayward at the Little Swiss Oil and Gas Co's well on the Currence property on Bear Run. Center and Right show State Road work.

The Store Business

Over the decades several general stores operated at Peterson Siding. Traditionally, the first retail sales in a railroad community would begin with the work gangs which prepared the land and laid the tracks. The wokers' demand for milk, bakedgoods and pretty much anything edible, and other goods as well, would be met by the farmers in the area. The Keiths and the Groves family are known to have had stores at Peterson Siding.
Right: George I Groves (1870-1949) stands in the entrance of a store which was probably located at Peterson Siding in the early 1900s.
When Sylvia’s family came to the Oil Creek area in 1922 the only store in the area was owned by Hugh Keith. It was situated along the B & O railroad tracks, below the curve of the present road through Peterson Siding. Hugh was the son of Albert and Rosella Keith and the husband of the former Maggie Perrine. During the early 1920’s, Walter Foster bought the store from Keith who moved to Clarksburg. But, shortly after, the store burned.
Foster re-built it and continued serving the upper Oil Creek area. From time to time, Frank Groves helped out in Foster’s Store and learned the store trade. Around 1932, Frank decided to go into the store business. He borrowed money from a nephew who was in the United States Navy and built a small building, about twenty feet wide and thirty feet long, abutting the Roanoke -Orlando Road. Part of the building extended over a small branch coming off the hill behind the building. At this time, Frank was around sixty years of age. For the next twenty seven years, Frank served the upper Oil Creek valley as a merchant and was occasionally helped by his son Hayward and daughter-in-law Sylvia. Late in his life as he became feeble, Hayward and Sylvia moved into the house located adjacent to the store building and Hayward's parents Frank and Leah. Leah died in 1954 and Frank in 1959.

When Frank Groves died in 1959, his will provided his store business, known as Groves Store, would go to his son Hayward Groves. Since Sylvia and Hayward had been operating the store anyway, the operation barely skipped a beat. For the next twenty five years, Groves Store became synonymous with Sylvia and Hayward Groves.
Left above: Sylvia and Haward in front of their store.
Right: Hayward's dad Frank with his great grandson.
Left: Sylvia at the Veterans' Hospital.

The Oil Creek Auction
Another sideline business in which Sylvia and Hayward became involved in their later years was the auction business in the former Walnut Grove schoolhouse at the mouth of Red Lick on Oil Creek. Hayward served as auctioneer and Sylvia served delicious hot dogs to the auction clientele.

End of an Era
By 1984, many of the residents of Oil Creek were passing by Groves Store at Peterson Siding on their way to the Kroger Store in Weston. Many of the customers coming to Groves Store were those who needed credit or some items too few to justify a trip to Weston. Late night customers who needed gasoline knew all they had to do, regardless how late, was to blow the horn and a sleeping Hayward would get out of bed, put on his trousers, and pump gasoline for the appreciative customer.

In December 1984 Hayward Groves passed away. Sylvia sold what she could of the store inventory and closed the store a few months later. Today, Sylvia sits in her easy chair and recalls with vivid memory all of the Oil Creek residents who are buried in the cemetery above her home, or those who chose to be buried in Orlando. She remembers the children who came to her store and bought candy, grew to adulthood and then moved away. Many people have come and gone during Sylvia’s almost ninety-eight years. She sits in her easy chair each day and thinks of them fondly.
. . . . .

Note- The Mr. McCord who tried to help young Lawrence Peterson would have been David McCord 1868-1947. He was a track foreman for the B & O. This was the McCord farm near Peterson. His daughter Virginia mentions her dad as she tells about her marriage to Luther Mitchell at Virginia McCord of Peterson's Siding

Comment by Tom Jeffries:
My dad, Coleman Jeffries, was a friend of Hayward Groves and frequently visited the Groves Store at Peterson Siding. When I was a boy growing up on Oil Creek, I usually went along because I was interested in listening to the conversations of the adults. Hayward was very colorful and used a lot of interesting expressions which I have never forgotten. An expression I remember Hayward using in referring to a particular person was that “he could lay down in the shade of a corkscrew and never be sunburned.” Another expression I heard Hayward use was that someone was “so crooked that he would have to be corkscrewed into the ground.” I attended Walnut Grove School and would visit the Groves Store to buy penny candy. Sylvia and Hayward were always very nice and I enjoyed visiting their store.


  1. On May 22, 2010 Sylvia Groves left this world to spend eternity in Heaven! I am so grateful that not all of her stories will be lost! You will be missed! I love you Aunt Sylvia!

  2. I don't have a profile for this website, but I stumbled across this when looking for information about my Aunt Sylvia. I had heard recently she had passed away and was hoping to find out more information about her passing. After reading this article, it brought back a flood of memories when my mom and dad would take us to visit Uncle Hayward and Aunt Sylvia in the 1960s and early 70s. I can still remember one time Uncle Hayward driving up the mountain behind the store and house to the cemetery to look at where many of our ancestors were buried. I remember the store especially. Uncle Hayward would let each of us kids get one treat when we would visit. We would then go over to the house where my aunt and uncle would talk with mom and dad, reminiscing about past times. How I wish I would have been older to remember those conversations.
    In 2002, after my grandmother passed away, I drove to the cemetary from St. Louis to visit her gravesite. Aunt Sylvia was there, I think I startled her a bit, but when I told her I was Eugene's boy, her eyes lit up. I didn't spend much time there with her, looking back I wish I had spent the entire day there.
    In 2010, I found out I lost 3 loved ones. My Aunt Madeline Puffenbarger, Aunt Sylvia Groves, and father, Eugene McCord. I miss them all so much. I know each of you are with God in Heaven.
    Dan McCord