THE ANTIQUES JOURNAL, March, 1971, Pages
15 & 16
DRUMMER'S wagon outside Historic Stoner's Store in
Fredericksburg is stocked and ready for a trip to the countryside.
THE PAST RECREATED
By BARBARA CROOKSHANKS
SIXTY-THREE years ago Santa Claus carried the little mechanical bank
named Bill E. Grinn over the Virginia Blue Ridge to the Rockbridge County
Community of Natural Bridge.
To six-year-old Letcher Stoner, the merry
iron man had all the charms of the fabled Nutcracker. But the boy never
dreamed his new friend would be the start of a collection of items from
days gone by which is now reported to be the largest of its kind under one
roof in the United States.
Each year thousands of visitors come to Stoner's Store in
Fredericksburg, Va., to view more than 13,000 pieces of authentic
Americana ranging from delicate bisque dolls to ponderous blacksmith
equipment. The exhibit is displayed in the atmosphere of a 19th century
"The day of the country store when luxuries were few and people were
natural savers," is the way Mr. Stoner describes his own boyhood in
His future wife, Violette, who came to share his love and reverence
for the past, recalls how young Letcher was constantly aware of the
contrast between the sameness of his beloved Natural Bridge and the
changing of things round about. More and more people came to the big hotel
on the hill in automobiles; the livery stable was not so busy; the door to
the village blacksmith shop was sometimes closed.
Saddened, the boy felt that God's bridge would stand there, as an
eternal inspiration, while man-made things which are an integral part of
our American heritage would soon be forgotten unless someone made an
effort to preserve them.
He began collecting every obsolete item he possibly could. Even his
meeting with the future Mrs. Stoner came as the result of a collector's
search for a wanted item. She remembers:
"I was using a nice new jumping rope on my grandfather's sidewalk
when my future husband came to deliver to my grandmother some delicacy his
sister had sent. He stopped when he saw my old jumping rope against the
fence, explained the unusual way it was woven, and said it should be
"I, thinking he was interested in me,
gladly gave him the rope and made it a point to direct my walks around the
block in which he lived. It was not until about five years later that I
was able to convince him that I, too, was worth saving."
Their courtship was spent collecting small items such as buttons and
stamps and exchanging coins with friends for old or unusual ones.
After five years of marriage, Mr. Stoner came in one evening and
lovingly placed an armful of what appeared to be scrap metal on the dining
room table. "It's a typewriter," he explained happily, "for our museum!"
Drives in the country around Fredericksburg became treasure hunts at
wayside junk shops. When he suddenly put on the brakes, it was to rush in
among the trash and pull out a huge dirty kettle or an equally massive
pitchfork. They traveled on with the kettle, half in, half out of the
trunk, and the long handled fork on the seat between them.
Mrs. Stoner had had enough — or so she thought — and told her husband
there was no room in the attic, basement or garage for the new finds. But
he just smiled and partitioned off a large portion of his Fredericksburg
Hardware warehouse as a new home for the kettle and fork. (Mr. Stoner had
become associated with a hardware business in 1918.)
As his hardware business expanded, he bought out a total of 10 old
local stores, always finding treasurers among
"In the old days," he explains, "if an item didn't sell, they just
put it back in the corner instead of getting rid of it. We found such
things as churns, buttons,
typewriters, and add-
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MR. STONER and some of the
old mechanical and still banks in the collection
in his country store (top), and the re-created country postoffice (below).
THE ANTIQUES JOURNAL — MARCH
1971 — page 15 and 16...... additional page/pages
page dated 2001.
1200 Prince Edward St.
At one time a
sign over the door read "Stoner's Store General
Merchandise". The building was originally part of the old Fredericksburg
College in the 1700's. In more Modern times, Mr. D. Letcher Stoner planned
a museum to show a typical nineteenth century village general store. The
museum contained merchandise which today is obsolete. Today the building
is a private residence. Large concrete fixtures can still be seen outside
the front of the building.