By Mike Steely
If you are a fan of The Waltons you may know that Ralph Waite, who played the father in the beloved series, died this past February at the age of 85.
Before his long career in acting, Ralph Waite was a WWII Marine veteran, got a Master’s Degree from Yale, and was ordained a Presbyterian Minister. He was the religious editor at Harper and Row publishing but left the church for 50 years before rejoining before his death and attended the Desert Presbyterian Fellowship Church in Palm Desert, Ca.
Waite was a political activist, ran for Congress unsuccessfully three times, and also did voice recordings for movies. His many movie appearances included, to name a few, Cool Hand Luke, Five Easy Pieces, and Roots. His television appearances included NCIS, CSI, Days of Our Lives, Bones, Murder She Wrote, Cold Case and many, many others.
But, for most of us, Ralph Waite will always be Daddy Walton.
I thought of Waite as my wife Lettie and I toured the Walton’s Mountain Museum in Schuyler, Virginia recently. The museum is located in the childhood home of “The Waltons” creator and John-Boy’s alter-ego, Earl Hamner.
Schuyler is about as isolated as any rural Blue Ridge community can be. It’s a bit difficult to find if you take a wrong turn. Take 81 north to Highway 29, south to Route 6 and follow it to Route 800. It’s two miles more to Route 617 and the community is at the intersection. Don’t take the first road that simply says “Schuyler” or you’ll end up in Rockfish just as we did and you may have to double back or follow its winding path until you eventually get to the community.
At Schuyler you’ll see a gift show at the turn and the Hamner two-story home on the left, looking a bit like the Walton television home. The museum is just up on the left in the old school building. For the museum’s admission of $8, you’ll find just about everything you might imagine about the TV show, about Hamner’s many other books and movies, and even some local history and a collection of military uniforms and gear.
But of special interest are the reproductions of the Walton family living room and John Boy’s Room. Godsey’s Store there is actually a combination museum and gift shop, with Hamner’s books, DVDs and other items for sale.
I was a young adult when I started watching The Waltons. “The Homecoming” Christmas special was shown in 1971. Knoxville’s Patricia Neal played Olivia Walton in this holiday pilot but was replaced by Michael Learned for the regular series. All of the child actors from the pilot returned for the regular series, which began the following September.
The Waltons series ran for 10 years, with six more holiday and special shows in the 80s and 90s. The show is still in syndication today and most of the episodes are available on DVD.
The museum hasn’t been visited by former “Walton” cast members in many years but it continues to note the current status of the stars and tourists continue to find the place.
Each October the museum hosts an annual celebration. You can find more information at www.waltonmuseum.org or by calling them at 434-831-2000. The museum is open every day from 10 a.m. until 3:30 p.m.
So, where ever you may be headed up the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia take an hour or so and go by the Walton Mountain Museum. You’ll love it.