• Free Union Store is the Center of Activites in Rural Village

    February 24, 1960 | History News
  • Maupin Brothers Store in Free Union is located at the site of several older stores, two of which burned. One of the famous murders of the county occured in an early store. The country store acts as a clearing house fro news in the area,  as well as a post office, trading center and social center.

    by Vera Via

    The old country store which is as much an American institution as hot dogs and apple pie, may be on the way out, but at least one of them, the Maupin Brothers Srore, at Free Union, is likely to survive for some time to come.

    This firm, which is only about 27 years old, has managed to combine many features of the trading post of early times, with modern services and features of department stores. As trading post and Post Office, it is the nerve center of the village of Free Union and clearing house for most of the rumors that seem to appear from thin air, and which are common to every small rural village. And for the men of the village, it is also something of a scoial center, as the chairs and goods boxes around the stove are usually occupied on winter nights and a regular game of checkers is played there during winter time. 

    In case of emergency or disaster, the store is the first place to get the word, and its telephone is used to call the doctor or the law, as the case may be. These services, or features, belong to the past when villages were much closer knit units than they are today; but while serving as a community center and clearing house, the store also carries on a thriving business in general merchandise. The four partners, Cecil A. Maupin and his three sones, Kemper, Garland and Galen Maupin, serve  a wide area in northern Albemarle. Galen Maupin is at present running the store at Barboursville, which also serves a wide area. Aside from a general store line of dry goods, groceries, hardware and some drugs, they are affiliated with the Southern States Cooperative, and sell farm equipment, feeds and seeds. They have several lime and fertilizer spreaders, which serve the farmers of the community.

    Store Burned

    The site of the present building has an interesting history. SInce it is on the corner of the junction of the Old Buck Moutani and the Chatlotteville Roads, it has long been a store site, and has had at least two store buildings burned down on it. Originally on a corner of the Harris plantation it passed through many hands before its present owners, the estate of Dr. W. A. Kyger, acquired it, in 1928. 

    In the 1890’s one of the famous murder cases brought this site into public fame. Tom Thompson, who ran the store at that time for John A. Smith, owner of a number of stores in Albemarle, was murdered, and the store was robbed and then burned with his body in it. The case is still talked about around Free Union. 

    The murder took place in a Negro cabin a short distance down the road, where Thompson sometimes went. According to some local versions, he was knocked out but not killed, and then, according to plan, the Negros involved carried him to the store, having taken his keys. He came to while passing his mother’s house, which still stands, and he begged for his life. But when they got to the store he was killed, and it was said his head was cut off, as it was found some distance from the body, one of the first things to cause the authorites to suspect murder. Oil was poured over the body and set afire, and the whole building burned.

    Store Murder

    Not all the local versions agree with the official accounts, and there are people who believe today it was not murder, but only an accident in which Thompson lost his life by fire. However, several Negroes did confess. At least one was hung, and others served long terms for the crime. However, the stolen goods were never found. 

    For some years after this, there was not store on that site, but one a short way below on Charlottesville Road, and another said to be above it on the Buck Mountain Road. When A.M. Elliot acquired the property around 1914, he ran a store a short distance down the road, but later built the present building and later still added the small store down the road on the back of the present building. It was said that during the digging for the foundations, some old coins were found on the site, possibly from the fire in 1896, A large penny and some smaller ones were found.

    The Maupin Brothers firm has perhaps one distinction that no other country store in the county can acclaim. They ran a community newspaper for six years, and only discontinued it a year or two ago. It was written by Vera V. Via and was called “The Dope Sheet.” The feature article was on some bit of local history, and the rest were the store ads and news items and announcements of the community. It was rather popular during its life, and was sent to former residents in several states. “The Dope Sheet” sponsored some competitions among local farmers . For several years champion ears of corn were brought in by their proud porducers. There was also some keen competition amoung turnip growers, and in season, the store was well decorated with oversize turnips.

    No Snuff

    Cecil A. Maupin, senior partner, says however, that there are changes as time goes by. A few years ago they did a good business in selling snuff, but the no longer have any customers for this tobacco product. They do, however, still buy furs from local boys in season. This has fallen off, as some years ago the fur trade amounted to several thousand dollars a year. And they also still buy ginseng, which is already beginning to come in this season. Beds of this valuable plant grow in the Albemarle mountains, and a few moutnain people still harvest it. The trade in ginseng is mostly with China, or other countries of Asia, as it is not used to any great extent in the United States.

    They also buy walnut kernels, and find ready sale for all they can get. But few people take the time and pains to crack walnuts anymore, as it is a slow way to make money. They do deal in country cured hams, and soemtimes have them as old as two years.

    As long as the American village exists as a distinct unit, there will be a need for something coorisponding to the country store. It is more than just a shopping center, it is also an information center. If an ambulance goes through the village of Free Union, or a trooper’s car or anything out the the ordinary, Maupin Borthers Store is sure to get several calls from people wanting to know what’s up, and where, and who is involved. The doctor some times leaves medicine at the store to be picked up by the patient or his family, and notices are tacked up of meetings and entertainments. It is these services and features which will keep the country store around for awhile yet.