News & Politics

Gas, Grub & Gossip: Tales of the Old Days

Country stores are good places to get what you need and to see everything from friendly faces to ghosts.

John McElheney and employee Becky Lamb in front of Wolftown Mercantile Country Store in Wolftown, Virginia.

Wolftown, Virginia, was named for the wolves that once lapped at the town’s freshwater spring. In 1995, record rains fell on Madison County. Blankets of mud slid down the slopes of the Blue Ridge, and floods erased roads and bridges. Civil War–era shacks were shaken from their foundations by the rushing Rapidan River. When distraught residents streamed to Wolftown Mercantile Country Store, just east of Shenandoah National Park, owner John McElheney gave out thousands of gallons of water. These days, old men—and a few young ones—sit in rocking chairs around a Swedish wood stove. Between bites of fried chicken and country-ham biscuits, they swap stories about the storm and the old days.

Photograph by David Deal