Love, Virginia “Cupid’s Correspondence Capital”
By Lynn Coffey
Visitors and even locals who have lived in the vicinity their entire lives, have never been to the tiny mountain hamlet of Love or even know its exact location.
Those of us who live here, joke that the “Welcome to Love” and the “Come back soon” are printed back-to-back on the same sign. With a population of under a hundred, Love is easily missed by those hurrying to other destinations on busy highways.
About twelve miles south of Lyndhurst and paralleling the Blue Ridge Parkway at the junction of milepost 16 and Route 814, the uppermost village was once a bustling community. Encompassing a three mile stretch of road from the top of the mountain to the bottom, including the outlying areas of Chicken Holler and Campbell’s Mountain, Love has been inhabited by hearty Scots/Irish immigrants who settled in the Blue Ridge in the 1700s. Members of the Snead, Hewitt, Coffey, Everitt, Arnold, Hatter and Henderson families lived in rustic cabins dotting the perimeter of Love, which is located in both Nelson and Augusta Counties.
Older residents can remember their parents and grandparents buying and trading at several country stores that served the community. My husband’s mother, Annie Everitt Coffey, traded eggs and fresh churned butter for coffee, baking powder and anything else the family didn’t produce. The majority of Love residents were subsistence farmers, growing vegetables and fruit in the rocky mountain soil and keeping hogs and chickens for meat and eggs along with several cows for milk.
Vegetables and fruits were preserved for the winter by canning, drying and sometimes burying in the earth. Root cellars were dug out of steep mountainsides and lined with rock, housing the foodstuffs on wooden shelves and in bins. In the fall months, when apples were plentiful, folks got together and boiled them down into thick applebutter made in a large copper kettle over an open fire. The applebutter was then put in crocks, covered and kept in a cool place, such as a root cellar or spring house, where a portion could be dipped out anytime it was needed.
Before refrigeration, these spring houses or just a simple spring box served as a way of keeping milk and other perishables cold. They were constructed over the tops of springs, where water constantly flowed through. Milk, cream and hand-churned butter were kept in crocks or glass vessels submerged in the ice cold water for freshness. As a child, my husband Billy remembers loving nothing better than going to the family spring and upending a crock to drink clabbered milk for which he had a special fondness.
In years past, the community boasted several general merchandise stores where two former post offices were located, three churches (Christian, Dunkard, and Mennonite), two one-room schoolhouses (Snead and Ivy Hill), a blacksmith shop, sawmill, and a grist mill where people could get their grain ground into meal. Today, the village is sparsely populated compared to a hundred years ago, with just a few rental cabins as its only commerce. Mountain Top Christian Church, which has been in existence since the 1800s, continues to hold Sunday services with many faithful members. One lifetime member is Ruby Coffey, 98, who was born and raised in the Love community. As a child, Ruby attended Ivy Hill School in the holler where her family lived. She remembers walking to Henry Everitt’s home in Love to spend the night with his daughter, Annie. When Ruby bought her first car, she lovingly washed it in the shallow waters of Pannell Branch which flowed across the gravel road by her home. Ellis Everitt lived just beyond Pannell Branch and would walk down to talk to Ruby while she was washing her car and tell her, “That’s one fine machine you got there.”
The old Love Post Office building, 1987
Today, mail is delivered from the nearby Lyndhurst Post Office, but years ago, Love’s claim to fame was its own post office where people brought their letters and valentines for the coveted “Love” postmark on the envelope. More than once, Ruby walked out to the post office and blew the police whistle handing at the door to summon the postmaster in from the fields to get her mail.
Postmarks from the Love Post Office, 1894-1942
The hand-lettered post office sign
Established on April 24, 1894, the post office at Love was located in the heart of the village known as “Meadow Mountain,” possibly named for the flat fields that lie at the crest of the Blue Ridge at the topmost boundary of the hamlet. On May 15th of the same year, Hugh Coffey took the oath of office and was sworn in as the first postmaster by Wilson S. Bissell, the acting Postmaster General. Within a short time, however, the U. S. Postal Service was pushing for a shorter name, since Meadow Mountain required too much space on the postal stamp. Sometime that same year, Coffey’s young daughter, Lovey, died of typhoid fever; so, in her memory, the mountaintop village was renamed Love.
Originally the office was incorporated into the general store that Hugh Coffey owned and operated. Although the exact date is not known, this store later burned to the ground and was never rebuilt. Coffey retired after 25 years of service and on February 28, 1919, Gordon Everitt was appointed to the office of postmaster by Postmaster General, Albert S. Burleson. The new post office was then set up inside Everitt’s general store which was also his private residence, much like Hugh Coffey’s was before him.
Gordon and Pearl Everitt, Postmasters
The mill stones from Gordon’s gristmill
In the late 1920s, fifty-five-year-old Gordon married Pearl Allen, a much-respected school teacher in the area, and she became not only his wife but his postal assistant as well. One of Gordon’s relatives asked him what it was like to be married for the first time at his age, to which Gordon replied, “Son, it’s like a leap in the dark!” In addition to their postal duties, the Everitt’s were farmers, storekeeps, and operated both a sawmill and gristmill. Many times, they were outside when folks came by to pick up their mail but they found a simple solution to this problem by hanging a police whistle on a long chain outside the store. One shrill blast on the whistle told the postmaster he had a customer waiting.
The post office itself was a humble affair. It consisted of one corner of the store that had wooden slats built around it, with a small slot to pass the mail through. Pigeonholes housed each resident’s mail, but no box numbers or names were printed on them. Gordon and Pearl knew everyone by name so they had their own system of sorting, all done by heart.
The Love office served folks in the village as well as the surrounding areas of Campbell’s Mountain, Chicken Holler, and Reed’s Gap. A simple hand-lettered sign announced that this, indeed, was the Love branch of the United States Postal Service.
In its 50 years of existence, Hugh Coffey and Gordon Everitt were Love’s only postmasters and there was also only a handful of rural route carriers who served during that time frame. The carriers, in the order they worked were; Peter Coffey, F. E. Campbell, Columbus “Lum” Hatter, Andy Arnold, and at the end, Reginald Hatter. Of these men, Andy Arnold carried the mail the longest. For 37 years, Arnold made the long trip to the Lyndhurst station for the incoming mail pickup.
Since he lived in the Love area, he would take the outgoing mail from Love to Lyndhurst at six o’clock in the morning and return to the Love office around noon with the incoming mail. When the winter weather turned sour, he left his Model A Ford at home and rode his horse or just walked up the last steep grade to the post office. The old phrase, “Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow can keep the postman from making his appointed rounds,” was probably dedicated to the hearty souls like Andy Arnold who carried the early mail.
The Love Post Office was classified as a fourth-class letter office and the postmaster was paid by the number of cancellations that went under his rubber stamp. Around February 14th, an influx of cards and letters arrived, many of them valentines going to sweethearts with the “Love” postmark stamped on them, lending a romantic air to mail going out that particular day.
In 1939, a big change occurred when construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway was underway and severed the tranquility of the quiet mountain people who had lived their lives isolated from the onslaught of progress and the eyes of the outside world.
Many did not believe a roadway could be carved out of the rocky mountainsides, but once the work began, a lot of men found employment that provided their families with a regular paycheck. This was a real boon for people who up to that time made their living by farming. But with the added income came a restlessness of spirit to be more connected to the outside world, and young people began leaving the mountains, seeking jobs elsewhere for a seemingly better life.
When the Parkway came through the Love community, the post office had a rush of new business as a delivery point for workers on the construction crews. But by the middle of the 1940s, the demand for rural post offices began to decline with the population, and in 1944 the Postmaster General came to Love one last time to collect the government stamp and postal scales that had served the small community for fifty years.
When he left, he closed the door on an era where a man could be called in from the fields with a whistle and folks could get their letters and their hearts filled… with LOVE.