POWHATAN – When Bucky Tilman talks about the building that once housed Crump’s Store in the Powhatan Village area, there is almost a reverence in his voice.
He can remember where signs hung in the store, recalls with laughter when he would eat the broken cookies and sneak slices of cheese to the annoyance of owner Judson Crump, and talks about listening to stories of the old men who gathered there regularly, including his grandfather, Zip Tilman.
“Occasionally they would tell a risqué story and Grandfather would tell them to ‘hush up around the boy,’” Buck Tilman says with a grin.
Although it has been more than five decades since the store closed and the building went on to serve other purposes, for Tilman, it will always be Crump’s Store.
So when he heard the old building situated next to the County Seat Restaurant and Gathering Place was set to be taken down, Tilman said he would do the removal. But instead of throwing everything in a dumpster, he is preserving as much of the salvageable original construction materials as possible in hopes of reconstructing the building and possibly restoring it to the place he spent so much of his childhood.
“I walked down here every morning before I went to school, and I would come down and see (Judson) every morning,” Tilman said standing on the steps of the old building. “When Mama couldn’t find me, this is the first place she called. She’d say, ‘Is Buck down there? Send him home!’”
Tilman hired a small crew to dismantle the building piece by piece. They started on May 23, marking the siding, boards, and metal walls as they go along, and were down to the wooden frame by Friday. Tilman has a notebook of graph paper filled with drawings and measurements so he knows where it all goes.
The floor is rotted through and will have to be replaced, but when the crew started dismantling the building, which dates to about 1920, he said he was surprised how many of the original materials were still in salvageable condition.
If possible, Tilman said he wants to keep the building in the Village, where it belongs, instead of taking it to Tilman Town, a property where he has restored and rebuilt many older buildings. He has open property down the street and wants to rebuild it there, getting it to looking as close to his boyhood haunt as he can remember. He already has found Coca-Cola and gumball machines similar to what he remembers and is looking for more items.
“I hope to set it up exactly like he had it,” Tilman said.
John Rothert, who owns the property, said he and Michael Potter intend to replace the old store with a building “totally appropriate for the Village.” The building was built in a very low depression in the ground, which caused the extensive moisture rot that was in the floor structure. He is glad that Tilman is going to rebuild and restore the old building since the structure is not repairable without total teardown and rebuild.
“Bucky thinks of the store as sacred because he grew up spending time there. He is doing a great job and has a good crew. Buck has taken apart and rebuilt multiple old buildings (‘Tilman Town’) and will save this one, too. I am pleased to donate it to him,” Rothert said in an email.
When Tilman talks about Crump’s Store, it is inextricably linked with the man who owned it during his childhood, Judson Crump. He was a unique individual, Tilman said, and he thought the world of the man.
“As kids, we hung around this store every chance we got. Most kids in the courthouse hung around here. I probably hung around here more than any of them,” Tilman said. “And when my grandfather was old, I used to walk him down here. Most of the elderly men, who, at that time, were my age now, came down here most every afternoon. I have often laughed and told people I’ve gotten several educations over my life: I got one at home, I got one (at the University of Georgia), and I got one here.”
Judson Crump, who ran the store after his father, Jamerson Crump, was an old bachelor, Tilman said. He was eccentric but likeable and was willing to help people.
“If they couldn’t get something they needed, he would help them do it, and I am sure some of the time he never was compensated for it. He was a character in the true sense of the word, especially when you were a kid,” Tilman said.
Tilman talked fondly about mowing the man’s lawn and getting a popsicle as a reward, the joy of having a nickel and being able to choose a soda from the cooler, and playing practical jokes on Judson Crump.
He still looks sad as he talks about returning from the University of Georgia in the summer of 1968 and wanting to go see Judson Crump immediately. Unfortunately, the older man had died the day before Tilman arrived home.
After being a store, the building served as the offices of the General District Court, which is what it was being used as when Rothert purchased it in May 1985. The court remained there until he finished the courthouse addition in 1992 and then it moved across the street. The building had several tenants before the Hair Court, which was the last business to call it home.
The Crump sisters, Maude and May, lived in their old homeplace right next to the store that would sit in the middle of the front dining room of the County Seat today, Rothert said. When he built the County Seat, he moved that house onto a lot behind the restaurant and restored it in about 2000.
“The Crump Sisters came out from their home in Chesterfield and lived at the old homeplace in the Village on weekends. They always made sure it was kept up. After they passed I bought the property,” Rothert said.
When Tilman talks about preserving the building, he says there have been people who questioned why, at his age, he would want to do this. For him, if the building is still alive, it means Judson Crump’s store is still alive in a way, too.
“It’s my last crazy project; I am pretty sure of that. I can’t see doing this again,” Tilman said with a grin.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.