Over the years, lifelong Chester resident Otha Lee Taylor, 73, has witnessed many changes on a one-mile stretch of road that included his family’s 9.3 acres and home, which faced the road known to the locals as “the Pike” or the 301(Jefferson Davis Highway). The homestead on the highway is where the bachelor closed a chapter of his life in 2002, ending more than 60 years in a home he referred to as a “shack” by giving way to progress and development.
The son of George and Isabelle Taylor, Otha Taylor was born Dec. 28, 1936, with the help of a mid-wife, Magnolia West. Growing up, he said, he led a sheltered life and was not allowed to roam far from home as a child or young man. He said the 301 was a two-lane gravel road at one time. Around age 9 or 10, he would pick berries near a gravel pile on Route 10 where the state stored gravel for the roads across from the cemetery, and hardly a car would pass during the course of the day, he said.
“Today you are barely able to cross Route 10 alive,” he said. Taylor attended Kingsland Elementary School and Carver High School.
When Taylor was 13, he got a job as a dishwasher at the Crown Diner and Truck Stop. Greyline Auto Parts sits on the property today. During the school year, he would work after school until 11:30 p.m. before walking the mile home. It was either work or school and, being from a poor family and needing to fend for himself, he took work. Taylor did earn his GED and is quite proud of it.
On his hike back and forth to work, he became acquainted with each household and business along the stretch. He has not forgotten a name. From the Crown Diner to Route 10, there were restaurants, motor courts and businesses that catered to tourists.
“[The] 301 was the hub of transportation,” he said. “If you were going to Florida, you traveled the 301.” This stretch had its share of motels and cottages. On the west side, coming south from Osborne Road, was Ms. Bartley’s restaurant and cottages formerly known as Parnell’s where the 7-Eleven is today. The Goyne family had a motor court with cottages known as the Robert E. Lee. Taylor later worked at the Robert E. Lee Restaurant after the owner of the Crown purchased the business. Clayton Mobile Homes, Auto Zone and Maaco sit there today.
On the east side was the Dutch Gap Tourist Court, where Wawa is today; Moore’s Cottages and Restaurant sat directly across from Taylor’s family’s property.
“When the business did pick up on 301, that [Moore’s] was the place; people came from all over stopping there,” he said. “They had valets in white coats that delivered food to the cottages. That was big time. That place stayed full all of the time.” Just south of his parents’ place and owned by the Friend family was the two-story motel restaurant and cottages for traveling black families.
Where Pietro’s and Chester Floors sit today was Felter’s, a grocery store owned by the Felter family. The pottery building, which was a booming business for tourists, sat on the east side. The building later became a feed and seed store, but sits empty today. Another tourist attraction was the Copeland’s Antique Store owned by the W.C. Skyes family, which sat on the west side next to Taylor’s family’s property.
“It was a musty, smelling place, but it had the good stuff in it. Antiques of all kinds. He had cottages, as well. People came from all over. He had a booming business,” Taylor said.
The Boones lived next to the antique shop; after the Friend Motel was the Pryor family home, and then Goyne Chevrolet, which is now Heritage Chevrolet.
Across the road where Enterprise sits today was the Dunlevy Service Station. The property Hardee’s sits on was owned by the Goyne family, and beside that property to the south was the airport hangar.
“I did go to see them a couple of times to fly off,” he said. “Whoever the man was would take neighborhood people around who wanted to fly for $1.25.”
Across the street from the antique store was the Clarks’, then the Wilders’ farm. Wilder farmed 4-to-5 acres of his land and on the corner of his property was Pedersen’s lumberyard. That property runs from where the auto auction sits today to the Jiffy Lube property.
One of the last remaining historical structures to disappear on the stretch was Zion Hill Holiness Church. The church was founded by Taylor’s grandfather, Albert Taylor, and sat on the Taylors’ property. In 1998, folks may have witnessed huge sweet potato drops where the vegetables were given away for free to passersby. The church was scheduled to be razed just prior to its 100th birthday in 1999.
He remembered going into Chester to visit his grandmother, who lived on Shop Street.
“We would walk most of the time, but Mr. Graves, who had a taxi service, would take you back and forth for 50 or 75 cents at that time,” he said. “But we always did walk up there for Easter.”
Most of the homes on the left side were always there. He remembers LaGrande Martin’s home vividly. “That man had all kinds of stuff in his house from all over the world,” he said.
He also knew the Gay family. “I worked for old man Gay,” he said. “I don’t know the years, but I know every time somebody died he came to get me to dig the grave. $10 a grave.”
In the late 90s, negotiations began to purchase land on the west side of Jefferson Davis Highway for a major shopping center that included a commitment from Home Depot.
Taylor’s land was part of what was to become the Home Depot property. Though he was one of the last holdouts, he had no choice but to leave the property and the “shack” he called home.
“If I didn’t sell, then the county would just come and condemn the property and I would be left with nothing,” he said. Today, he calls the land that overlooks the backside of the Home Depot home.
Memories of gatherings of neighbors, including food deliveries to take care of the sick, the once-a-year hog killing and construction projects, were all a part of the activity within the one-mile stretch.
“Considering it was hard, it wasn’t easy, but we survived it,” he said. Taylor worked for the Chesterfield County Wastewater Treatment Department for 23 years. He retired in 2002. When Khol’s opened, he worked part-time to supplement his income until heart and kidney failure in 2009 forced him to retire from work completely.
“I make the most of it,” he said of his life today. “One day at a time.”