Laura Dean Bennett
If you frequent Route 219 through the little community of Buckeye, 3.5 miles southwest of Marlinton, you will not have failed to notice that something new has been added.
There, across from the Buckeye Home, Farm, Lawn and Garden Center, sits a large attractive rock featuring these words:
“Welcome to Buckeye, WV, formerly Buckeye Cove, VA. Home of Walter (Skinny) Graham.”
The rock is the brainchild of Buckeye resident and businessman Roger Pritt.
Pritt commissioned his “roadside rock” and placed it along the road in honor of the man who literally built Buckeye.
It was installed on property owned by Walter Graham’s grandson, Bill Graham, who helped Pritt build the foundation, using old lumber taken from the dismantled blue bridge which crossed the Greenbrier River at Buckeye.
The rock, fashioned by the Natural Stone Sign Company in Pickaway, has only been in place for about two weeks now, but it’s already proven to be quite the conversation piece.
“We’ve heard there have been quite a few comments about it,” Pritt said.
“And every once in a while, you’ll see somebody pulling over on the side of the road to take a picture of it.
“We purposely put it where there’s space to pull over and look at it.
“I wanted something that would welcome people to Buckeye, and I wanted it to be a memorial to the man who really built Buckeye, back in the day,” Pritt explained.
Buckeye was once a booming little village, boasting a restaurant, a gas station, a motel and a drive-in theater – all built by Walter Graham.
A very young Roger Pritt arrived in Buckeye in1970, and it’s been his stomping ground ever since.
“I first came to Buckeye when I was ten years old when my mother moved me and my brother here,” he said.
“I’ve lived here since – between Swago and Seneca Drive.
“This is just about the best place anybody could live,” Pritt added, with pride.
Pritt wasn’t happy when his mom, Beulah Pritt, moved him and his brother, Curtis, from Marlinton to Buckeye.
“I hated leaving my friends in Marlinton,” Pritt remembered.
But, as it turned out, Buckeye would be just the right place for him.
The youngster was a natural entrepreneur – even at the age of 10.
Accompanied by his trusty sidekick, an Australian dingo look-a-like named “Blondie,” Pritt had a bicycle route, selling Grit newspapers.
Interestingly enough, Gene Autry was known to have said he got his start along the road to success the same way – by selling the Grit.
Pritt answered an ad looking for peddlers for the national weekly newspaper, and went to work selling copies door to door, for seven cents each.
“The Grit newspapers were sent to me every Thursday through the post office,” Pritt recalled.
“They started me out with 25 papers – whatever I ordered I had to sell.
“I had Grit customers from Marlinton to Buckeye.
“I even went a mile up to Wayne Jackson’s house – but it was worth it. Mr. Jackson paid me a whole dollar to bring him the Grit!
“My dog, Blondie, was with me on my very first Grit route.
“She lived to be 14 years old. I had her all through my growing-up years.
“She got hit by a car twice over the years and as she got older, she couldn’t keep up, so I put her in my bike basket and carried her.”
Such was his bond with Blondie, that he’s never had another dog since.
“I guess losing her just broke my heart,” he said.
The paper route was the first step toward what would become Roger Pritt’s entrepreneurial dream.
Pritt took his next step in the business world when he was 12.
He walked over to the Buckeye Drive-In one evening and asked for a job.
“I was barefoot,” Pritt remembered, with a chuckle.
“That was when Jaynell was working the concession, her husband, Ronnie, was taking tickets and Jaynell’s dad, J.B. [Graham], was running the projector.
“I got a job – I started out mowing yards for the Tibbs and the Buckley families.”
And it was the start of a beautiful relationship.
“J.B. and all the Grahams gave me an opportunity, and I made the most of it,” he said, remembering all those years ago.
“I also did a lot of work for the Tibbs family in the hayfields over the years, and I was thirteen when I started cleaning the drive-in for eight dollars a week.
“If I found anything that patrons had left behind – I’d turn it in. But if it was unclaimed after 30 days – I got to keep it.
“When I turned sixteen, I was old enough to go to work for R.S. Burruss Lumber Company on what is called the green chain.
“I quit school but got my GED while I was working there.
“When I turned eighteen, The Vepco Dam was hiring over in Bath County, and I got a job working in concrete over there.
“I worked at the dam for three years, then came back to the sawmill – it was Cramer Lumber Company then.
“I went to work in the mill that time – and I got lucky again,” Pritt said.
“They needed a lumber grader and they paid to send me to school to learn how to do the job. It was very interesting work. I really enjoyed it.
“The lumber came out of the mill at a pretty good rate, and graders have to make instant decisions so you have to be sharp and watch everything to do that job.
“I graded lumber for the next ten years.
“Eventually I was taught to run everything at the mill, and I became foreman,” Pritt said.
“In 2005 I left the mill to open my own business – that’s when I bought the gas station from the McNeills.”
Pritt went right to work, improving the business wherever he could.
“We gradually added inventory and remodeled the gas station and we added a greenhouse. But I kept getting requests for items we didn’t carry, so we expanded.
“My brother, Curtis, and I built another building five years ago – what we call the Lawn and Garden building.
“Then we added what we call the “dog food room” and now we have another building behind that.
“When this property came up for sale in 2007, I said, ‘I’ve got to have it,” Pritt remembered.
“I didn’t have any schooling for or experience in a business like this, I just decided it was what I wanted to do.
“When I went to the bank to buy the gas station, they turned me down.
“They said no way could I make it here and make the payments.
“But I don’t like to take no for an answer.
“When somebody tells me I can’t do something, I get real determined to do it,” he said, shaking his head.
“That would be my advice to young people – you can do anything you want to do – if you’re willing to work for it.”
To what does Pritt attribute his success in business?
“Well, every dollar I’ve made, I’ve reinvested in the business,” Pritt explained and then quickly added something else.
“But I tell you – nothing I’ve done here would have been possible without the friendship and trust of my neighbors, the help of my family and friends and the loyalty of my customers and my employees,” he said, sincerely.
“I owe a debt of thanks to all of them.”
He married his wife, Joy, in 2007. Each has a grown child.
“We make a good team,” he said.
Joy has a son – Rob, who lives in Pennsylvania with his family, and Roger’s daughter, Lana, whom her dad says “has been a big help with the paperwork in the store,” lives in Lewisburg.
Joy works at the store, and drives the company van to pick up hard to find supplies- like the old fashioned candy they carry.
“Yeah, we like to carry a lot of the old fashioned stuff,” Pritt said. “I like to think of Buckeye Country Mart as an old country store. We carry a little bit of everything here.
“We sell something different for every season.
“In the spring, we have baby chicks at the Lawn and Garden Center, and over at the greenhouse, a nice selection of plants, herbs, shrubs and trees.
“For the Fourth of July, we carry fireworks and in the fall we always have nice pumpkins and real pretty mums.
“At Christmastime, we sell fresh White Pine and Spruce trees from Snyder’s Tree Farm.”
They’re also in the U-Haul business, the storage unit business and they sell propane tanks and propane.
If you don’t see what you need at either location, just ask. Chances are, they can order it for you.
Getting back to the rock that greets Buckeye passersby.
“You know, when tourists come into Buckeye by way of Kennison Mountain, they often stumble into Buckeye Country Mart like they’ve just crossed a vast wilderness and they’re so relieved to see civilization.
“And a gas station,” he said with a smile.
“We’re probably the first contact they have with anyone in Pocahontas County, so I’m glad we’re here to answer their questions and get them what they need.
“And I’m glad that folks are looking at that rock, and maybe getting an idea of how we value our history here.
“I put that rock out by the road to honor the man who built Buckeye – I just continued what Mr. Graham started all those years ago.
“I’d like to think that “Skinny” Graham and his family know what an inspiration they all were to me.
“I was lucky to land here.
“If you’d told me thirty years ago that I’d have all this,” Pritt said, waving his arm around to encompass the businesses he’s built and built up in Buckeye, “I’d have said you were crazy.”
“I’m just grateful, that’s all.”