Reprint from:  News:  July 16, 2001

Schuyler, Virginia (The REAL Walton's Mountain)

If you watched television during the 1970s like I did, the name "Blue Ridge Mountains" might ring a bell because it was the setting for The Waltons, one of the most popular shows of that decade.  The Waltons was a fictional show but was based on the life of author Earl Hamner, who grew up during the Great Depression in the town of Schuyler (pronounced "Sky-ler"), Virginia.  Hamner wrote a book about his upbringing in Virginia called Spencer's Mountain which, in 1963, was made into a movie starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara as Clay and Olivia Spencer, and James MacArthur as their son, Clay-Boy, the model for Earl Hamner himself.

 

Above:  The Waltons (plus Ike and Reckless) hanging out on their porch.

Hamner later wrote another book with a similar theme and setting called The Homecoming, which was based on an actual event in his family one year at Christmas during the Great Depression.  The Homecoming was made into a CBS TV movie in 1971, but since the name "The Spencers" was copyrighted, Earl Hamner decided to call the family "The Waltons."

 

The Homecoming aired on December 19, 1971 and was a huge ratings success, so CBS decided to turn it into a TV series, which debuted on September 14, 1972.   The CBS executives couldn't have picked a worse time slot for the show, though, because The Waltons squared off against two popular shows:  The Mod Squad on ABC and the #1 rated program in the country, The Flip Wilson Show over on NBC. 

 

During its first few weeks, and despite critical acclaim, The Waltons wallowed near the bottom of the TV ratings.  It seemed that the show, stressing homespun themes, was doomed from the start given its glitzy competition, and no one in the Waltons cast expected to stick around very long.  To help rescue the show, CBS mounted a PR campaign, which was how I first heard about it.  I remember as a kid seeing a full-page ad in Life Magazine (remember Life Magazine?) titled, "Help Save The Waltons," so the next Thursday evening I checked it out.

 

 

Here's the theme song from the 1970s TV series, The Waltons.

   

Their PR campaign worked because, through the ads and word-of-mouth, not only did I start watching The Waltons every Thursday night at 8 p.m., but so did millions of other Americans.  The show received a lot of critical acclaim, as well, with both Richard Thomas (John-Boy) and Michael Learned (Olivia) winning Best Actor Emmys that first year, along with Ellen Corby, who played the crusty-but-loving Grandma, the first of 19 Emmys the show would eventually win.  The show's family-oriented message was a welcome relief during that time of political upheaval, with the Vietnam war and the Watergate scandal dominating the news.

 

Above:  The Waltons House.  Gee, it looks suspiciously like the Dragonfly Inn from the TV show, "Gilmore Girls."  Hmmm...

The first few years of the The Waltons, when Ellen Corby and Will Geer (a.k.a., "You old fool") were both alive and well, were definitely the best.  After about five years, things started to fall apart and the show began going downhill.  Mary Ellen got married, Ellen Corby had a stroke, John-Boy headed off to New York, and Will Geer died.  The show became pretty pathetic towards the end, especially with Livvy shuffled off to a sanitarium and a reconstituted John-Boy working in New York City (does anyone even remember the second John-Boy?)   The final episode aired in 1981, although The Waltons probably should've said goodnight to America a few years earlier.  Nevertheless, the show has since thrived in syndication while endearing a whole new generation of viewers.

 

I had visited Earl Hamner's hometown of Schuyler, Virginia once before, back in 1985, but there were no signs or interpretive facilities then so I didn't know which was the actual Walton (oops, I mean Hamner) house.  I guess The Waltons have quite a following, though, because in the early 1990s the old Schuyler High School was converted into the "Walton's Mountain Museum." 

 

Above:  The high school that Earl Hamner attended (class of 1940) is now the Walton's Mountain Museum.  It costs $5 to get in and if you're a Waltons fan like me, it's well worth it.

It's easy to get lost amidst Schuyler's winding, hilly roads, as I proved during my trip here in 1985.  But the museum is easy to find.  It's located just up the road from the Hamner house, which is owned by the youngest Hamner child (the "Jim-Bob" character in the show), and a short ways from what was Ike Godsey's store.

 

I walked into the Walton's Mountain Museum and paid my $5 admission fee to a pretty blond girl at the door.  She kindly directed me to a back room, where a video describing the making of The Waltons, narrated by Earl Hamner, had just begun.  There were about 20 other Waltons fans in the museum, and after we watched the video, we all got a nice guided tour.  Altogether, I spent an enjoyable hour at the museum looking at all kinds of memorabilia that only a true Waltons fan would appreciate, including signed photographs, the original radio that was on the show, and a replica of the Baldwin sisters "recipe machine."

 

During my visit to Schuyler, I tried to imagine what life must have been like for the Hamner family while living here during the Depression.  No, there's no such thing as "Walton's Mountain" and there never was.  However, as I discovered, the town of Schuyler had its own special charm, and for that I was glad.

 

   

Above left:  Here's the Walton (er, Hamner) house in Schuyler, Virginia.  Earl Hamner's brother James ("Jim-Bob" from the show) still lives here.  He was probably inside watching "The Waltons."

Above right:  I took this picture of the original "Ike Godsey's Store" during my visit to Schuyler in 1985.  Known in real-life as the S & H Grocery Store, it unfortunately burned down a few years later.  However, a new grocery store has sprung up in its place.

 

   

Above left:  Inside the Walton's Mountain Museum.

Above right:  These are Earl Hamner's siblings the "Waltons" children from the TV series with Earl's parents in the middle.

 

 

Left:  I bought a coffee mug at the museum's well-stocked gift shop.

I should've bought "A Piece of Walton's Mountain" though.  It was soapstone, which was mined in this area. 

 

 

Note:  Inspired by my 2001 visit to Schuyler, I later decided to create a section of my website devoted to
The Waltons, which I've posted in Close Ups.  Here are the links:

 

Table of Contents:

The Waltons

My Home Page on The Waltons

The Story of The Waltons

The Cast of The Waltons

Introductions to The Waltons

Introduction:  First Season

Introduction:  Second Season

Introduction:  Third Season

My Favorite Episodes

"The Conflict" (#51 - 52)

List of Episodes

The Waltons Trivia

Earl Hamner's Acting Debut (#26)

The Story of Martha Corinne (#51 - 52)

That Beguiling Darlene Carr (#68)

The Waltons' Screen Doors

My Visits to Schuyler, Virginia (1985 and 2001)

The Rockfish Post Office

Links and Other Info on The Waltons