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Memories of a Changing Pike

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He looks particularly sharp on a recent afternoon, wearing everything black, including shoes with spit-polish gloss and a broad-rimmed hat that can't contain his almost shoulder-length white hair. And Morris knows how to accessorize. He sports a colorful turquoise bolo around his neck and his hat is studded with dozens of commemorative pins, including a Confederate flag.

He is also a neighborhood raconteur and reminds anyone who'll listen that Jeff Davis Highway wasn't just for tourists headed north or south but a destination itself. "There was no other road back in the old days — there was no 95," he says, "For people driving from the north, this was the South, a warm climate," he says. Moore's Cottages attracted people for vacations. There were pavilions that surrounded Moore's Lake. Then there was Chester Lake. Everybody used to go there after school was out."

In the evenings, Morris says, the Bellwood Drive-in was popular for movies, Allen's Kitchen was the place to eat, and the Chuck Wagon was a Friday and Saturday destination for country, western and bluegrass music. "The Chuck Wagon also had shuffleboard — table shuffleboard," he says.

The Pike was also a critical stop for truckers hauling fresh produce from Florida to the Northeast, he says. "Trucks came through here in the days before refrigeration. They could get as far as Virginia before their ice melted. When they stopped at the Chester Ice Company, we'd load them up on ice. This would get them to New York."

By the 1980s, when Michael Crocker (a 24-year-old psychology major at Virginia Commonwealth University) was growing up, Chester Ice, like many other businesses on the Pike, had shifted gears. "They called it Chester Ice, but people didn't need huge quantities of ice anymore — at least not to supply tractor-trailers," he says. "It became a bait and tackle shop. I'd stop by there when I'd ride my bike to the river to fish."

As an infant, Crocker says, his crib was often a cardboard french-fry box in the kitchen of Allman's Bar-B-Q at 9130 Jefferson Davis Highway, a restaurant his grandfather J.C. King owned from 1969 to the mid-1980s. "It eventually closed because there was no business." — E.S.



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