Nelson & Albemarle, Schuyler Mill Circa 1935

Garth Groff and Sally Sanford


Right now I'm scanning up the last of my photos and negatives from the Nelson & Albembarle Railway and its parent Virginia Soapstone / Alberene Stone Corporation. I thought you might enjoy this overhead view of their mill in Schuyler, Virginia (the Real Walton's Mountain, for fans of that TV program).

The photo in question is an aerial view taken at an unknown date. From the corporate history, balanced against the shapes of the autos, I would date this photo to 1935. That was the year Virginia Soapstone came out of bankruptcy as Alberene Stone Corporation. It seems fitting that as the new owners got production running again, they would hire an aerial photographer to document their factory. I was lucky to be given three views of the works from different directions, and this is the first I have scanned up.

What about freight cars? Well, there is a whole collection of boxcars here for you to mull over. At lower left we have a 40' wooden double-sheathed car. It is coupled to a Southern 36' double-sheathed car. Then two more double-sheathed cars on the other side of the loading shed. Moving to the right we have what I think is a single-sheathed box, followed by a double-sheathed car, then another Southern 36-footer. The rest of the rolling stock is five four-wheeled dump cars for quarry waste, followed by a two-truck dump. Surprisingly, there are no locomotives visible.

The quarries to the top of the photo are filled with water, though they were later drained and put back into production. At this time the active quarries were on the other side of the hill. The buildings on each side of the traveling crane are the gang saw sheds, where blocks were sliced into slabs. The buildings at the lower center contained the final cutting machines, surfacing equipment, and packing areas.

Virginia Soapstone was the largest producer of soapstone products in Virginia, possibly in the whole country. Although they sold a lot of specialized building stone, their bread and butter up to this time was the soapstone laundry tub. They also made specialized lab sinks. If it you took chemistry in high school or college, the lab dated to before the 1960s and had black or gray stone counters and sinks, they very likely came from this factory. The works are still going after numerous changes of ownership, though much reduced in size and workforce. The Nelson & Albemarle Railway, however, ran its last train on January 5, 1963.

Back in 1990 I published a book on the Nelson & Albemarle and its owners (sorry, no copies left). When I couldn't find a publisher, I chopped the text down to 52 half-sized pages, and self-published an abridged edition using the University of Virginia's high-speed photocopiers. Now that I am retired, and have time on my hands, I am contemplating a new print-on-demand edition to include all the stuff I had to leave out, and using many more photos in a reasonably large size. We will see.

Yours Aye,

Garth Groff  🦆