Cumberland to Powhatan County

On Wednesday, after a good night's rest at Oakland Farm, I set out walking for Cartersville. It was a beautiful quiet morning after a rainy night. The six or so miles along Rt. 679 and Rt. 45 passed quickly as I ambled across the Willis River, by woods, front yards, and yes, Buckingham slate signs.  

It turns out they like Buckingham slate in Cumberland too.

Composting toilet?

Willis River, Rt. 679

I had been told to stop at Spanky's general store once I got into Cartersville. The official store name is Blanton and Pleasants, but Mr. Pleasants who has worked or owned the store for over 50 years goes by Spanky. Such nice people in such a neat old store. I knew this place was the real deal when a gentleman came in and asked Spanky for a haircut...general indeed.   
"Spanky"(in blue) has run his general store for 53 years.

While I took a load off and chatted with Spanky and his wife, June, I learned that the young woman at the register was their grandson's wife and one of the little girls playing in the aisles was their greatgrandaughter. What a fun place to grow up. June told me about some of the memorable floods that have turned the James River there into a torrent. Hurricane Agnes was the one that tore out the one lane bridge that connected the center of Cartersville to the south side of the river. I learned later that folks from the store set up a ferry service in the aftermath so that those living in the village could still come over the James to get provisions.  
The store has everything...


...even haircuts.

Spanky's great-granddaughter and her friends get to play together at the store.

Betty McCracken and Pam from the Monacan Soil and Water Conservation District in Goochland rolled up to Spanky's store around noon, with a canoe in the back of a pickup truck. Betty has gone out of her way to help me on my way through Powhatan and Goochland - the two counties she serves. In addition to arranging for several farms for me to visit as I pass through, she offered for us to canoe a stretch down the James River together. Pam dropped us off at the boat ramp and off we headed down river for a few miles. Betty told me about some of the work they do at the District, helping farmers design and pay for various conservation practices, such as putting up fences and alternative water supplies to keep cattle out of streams, rotational grazing methods, etc. 

Getting on the James with the wonderful Betty McCracken, for a short paddle from Cartersville to the Belmead property.
We paddled together to Belmead, a mysterious old place on the river that is maintained and used by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.  As a neighbor, Betty knows the Sisters there well, and among other things has helped develop nutrient management plans for crops that are grown on the 2200-acre property.  Approximately half of the land has been put into a conservation easement for permanent protection.  The Sisters are very committed to environmental stewardship while also trying to preserve historical treasures on the property.  Two grandiose buildings look over the property, which formerly served as schools for African American and Native American students starting in the 1890s.  I've never seen any place like it...nor met anyone like the Sisters!

The mansion at Belmeade convent, formerly St. Emma school (boys school)
Sister Elena (left) and Sister Jean (right) were very excited to find this big turtle. The turtle was less excited.

Front of former St. Francis school (girls school) on Belmead property.