Reminiscence: Local man tells tales of years gone by in Chester

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Chester was a rural village for much of the 20th century. A two-lane road meandered from the Courthouse to Enon and on to Hopewell, with timber and small farm plots abutting what was almost a country lane, and it wasn’t until 1990 that the final section, through the Chester village itself, was widened to its current five lanes. Chester resident Jake Halder, Jr. had a lot to do with adding lanes and capacity to Route 10. His company was J.K. Halder Contractor.

Halder was raised right on Rt. 10 – or Hundred Road, as it was called back in the 1930s – not too far from some of the road projects he was involved in. Halder’s parents raised race horses on a 7-acre parcel on the western edge of the village.

“It was large enough to have a barn, some paddocks and a horse pasture,” Halder said during a recent interview. “Then we rented some land from the Bruces [now Bruce Farms] to raise hay on.”

 Halder said they also kept a couple of Guernsey cows. “I made good money at a nickel a pint and dime a quart, and when strawberries came in, the Guernseys had plenty of cream and I was almost rich by the time strawberry season went out,” he said. “But a lot of it I didn’t get paid for, because people didn’t have and mama said ‘Let ‘em have it, I’m sure if they can someday they will pay for it,’ and I’m sure some of them did.”

Halder remembers the Ford farm – the dairy barn served until recently as Superbodies Gym on Rt. 10 and Chalkley Road – and he said they had dairy cattle; the only other dairy he remembers was Filbert Netrow’s on Harrowgate Road. There is still a silo there today near Stoney Glen.

Jake Halder, Sr. and a Mr. Titmus (Titmus Optical) raced horses around in Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia. One of Jake Jr.’s jobs was to calm the horses after a race. There was an old wooden bridge that carried vehicles over the Seaboard rail track, which was replaced with a concrete version when Halder was 10 and completely removed when the rail line went and Rt. 10 was widened.

“I’d road hack him to get him relaxed,” he said. “I’d usually go down the barrier road, it’s called Chester Road now, but I decided to ride toward the courthouse and the damn horse I was riding, every time his hooves hit those planks he’d rear up and whirl. So Liz Cogbill took lunch to her husband at the courthouse everyday and I was holding her up from getting across the bridge. She blew the horn and that didn’t help things. She got out of the car and said, ‘Why don’t you lead him across?’ I said, in frustration, when you see a Halder leading a horse, he’s too young to ride. My daddy was coming cross country, realizing something was wrong, and when he heard me tell her that he wore [me] out.”

When Halder was a boy, his friends included a number of notable Chester residents, like A.B. Houchins, Jack Shoosmith and Clarence Curtis, although they have now passed away. He met his wife, Nancy, who is now deceased, at Moore’s Lake, the premiere swimming lake in Chester.

“My best friend was Joe Turrell; he pitched for the Richmond Colts for a while. We were riding down to Moore’s lake to go swimming and two girls were waiting out a [rain] shower under a tree so we gave ‘em a ride down to the lake.” Joe and Jake married the two girls.

Jake had seven children with Nancy: Jake III, Paul, Hunter, Mathew, Justin, Laura Buyolos and Barbara McCollum. Halder is 83 years old and genes for living a long life run in his family. “My mother had her 100th birthday, went to sleep and never woke up,” Halder said.

Halder loves to talk about what was the Chester catch phrase back in his early days. It was a saying, he said, that used only local surnames: Ketchum Cheatham Cummin(s) and Goyne. He said Herbert Ketchum drove a wrecker for Winfree Motors, now Haley Ford; Cheathams lived next to the Crump house on Harrowgate; Cummins drove a school bus; and Harold Goyne owned the Chevrolet dealership.

Halder recalls a conversation with Dick Shoosmith, Jack’s older brother, that took place during the 7 years he had worked for Shoosmith Bros.

“Dick said, ‘Jake, I was fox hunting down there and I found an old quarry where they made the rock work for the railroad bridge over Swift Creek, I wonder if it has any value.’” Halder told him he’d find out. Eventually, the quarry was leased by Southern Materials. At the time, the Richmond Petersburg Turnpike (Interstate 95) was being built and Southern Materials wanted to block the quarry from being used so they could supply sand and gravel for the turnpike from their quarry on the James River. It was the late 1950s and it would be 20 years before quarry operations took place on the Shoosmith property. Vulcan now runs a quarry operation at the location just off Rt. 10.

The Halder name is not new to the south. According to Jake’s son, who is considered Jake III, the Halders immigrated through New Orleans into Alabama and later Mississippi where they owned the Halder House Hotel and were confectioners. The Halders also have Civil War connections; one close relative named Peers was a courier and scout for Gen.

Robert E. Lee and another, whose name was Spears, was a captain in what could be called the Confederate guard. The Halders are also related to Mathew Fountaine Maury, whose statue is included on Monument Avenue.

In Jake Halder’s 83 years in Chester, he’s seen, heard and accomplished quite a bit and the stories about his life in Chester are endless. Stop and see him at Brock’s BBQ some time. He takes lunch there every day and sharing stories is his favorite pastime.

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