The community of Estes is in Rappahannock County, but the old store there is only a few hundred yards from the Culpeper County line.
The ties between Rappahannock and Culpeper counties go back more than 250 years because until 1833 they were one in the same.
Even after Rappahannock was split from Culpeper 180 years ago, the ties remain. Many people who live in Rappahannock, which is extremely rural, work in Culpeper and family bonds have existed through the generations.
Estes Store, built in 1934, was for more than half a century much more than just a general merchandise business. It was a gathering spot where men and women—from both Rappahannock and Culpeper counties—came on a daily and more often nightly basis to socialize and pass the time.
The store had two notable eras of prominence, first in the late 1930s and early 1940s when it was operated by Tom Utz (pronounced ootz), and again in the late 1960s and early 1970s under the ownership of Jim and Edna (Cloud) Mills.
The story of commerce in the community of Estes is a somewhat complicated one. The original Estes Store (the building still stands) was built by George “Chunk” Estes sometime around 1910.
Chunk couldn’t make a go of it, so he sold the business to his brother, Marshall “Shab” Estes, who ran it until 1924. During this time, Shab, a prominent Republican (and close friend of Culpeper businessman Tom Hand), acquired the Estes Post Office franchise through his political connections.
Enter Tom Utz, who had clerked in the Viewtown General Store before being drafted during World War I. Back from the military, Utz wanted his own business, so in 1924 he signed a 10-year lease agreement with Shab Estes to operate his store.
Why did Shab want out? Well, he had decided to become an inventor and was working on creating a better airplane, according to his nephew, Arley Estes.
Things went smoothly until a few years before Utz’s lease agreement expired. Then he and Shab had some kind of a disagreement and Estes made it clear that there would be no lease renewal.
So, Utz took the offensive and purchased land almost directly across the Richmond Road on which he planned to build a new store. That building was completed in early 1934 (George R. “Rand” Robson was the contractor), some nine months before the lease on the old store was to run out.
To protect his new business and get back at Shab, Utz locked up the old store and kept the key. Shab would not get it until the lease officially expired.
Estes was not to be outdone, so he hired carpenter Fess Hitt to build him a small store on property he owned not 50 yards from Utz’s new store.
His main purpose was to protect his mail contract, which he hoped to get back when Utz’s lease was up. By then, however, the political climate had changed and a Democrat, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was in the White House. Utz, a Democrat, kept the mail contract and Shab’s new store stayed open only about a year.
In the 1960s, Arley Estes, Shab’s nephew, turned the little store building into a home. Arley, who now lives on the Old Rixeyville Road, worked at the Culpeper National Bank (now Wells Fargo) for four decades.
So, at one time in the 1930s, the little community of Estes (that was the post office designation) had three stores, a blacksmith shop and a small feed mill.
Jim and Edna Mills bought the new store from Utz about 1957 and ran it until Edna’s death. All three of their sons, Tom Kitty, Bubba and Jerry Lee, still live on the place. Edna refinished and reupholstered furniture in the back of the store for years.
In the summer, the store opens on weekends as part of a flea market operation.
It was at this spot in June of 1863 that, according to the writings of John Roberts Moffett, a great crowd gathered to watch Gen. Robert E. Lee and his army trudge up the Richmond Road towards Gettysburg.
Moffett, a Baptist preacher, was shot and killed in Danville in 1892. His killer’s motive? Moffett’s anti-alcohol sermons.