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The Unison Store

Photography by Timothy H. Snyder

Prominently located at the junction of Unison and Bloomfield Roads, the Unison Store is the only surviving late-nineteenth-century store in the district and is a fine example of commercial architecture from that era. Constructed ca. 1880 by Lycergus E. Hutchison, the two-story, three-bay, gable-end frame store rests on a stone foundation. To the side is a one-bay, two-story frame addition with parapet. A four-bay porch with square posts and sawn brackets extends across the front of the entire store uniting the two sections.

The store gained local notoriety when it was the site of a 1937 robbery/murder of its 83-year-old owner, Henry Saffel, but that was about as much excitement as the store would ever see again. The building continued to operate as a country store for the next half century, later adding a gas pump (Phillips 66), for the growing number of cars now traveling the local roads, and a pool table in the back room for some of the "local boys" who wanted an evening's diversion.

However, in early 1990, due to a failing economy and the influx of paved roads out of town that now carried traffic away to bigger towns such as Purcellville, the struggling store finally closed. It remained vacant and deteriorating for several years, its fate finally taken in hand when a committee of locals decided to form an organization to protect and preserve the store, and the village. The store was purchased by Coe & Maria Eldridge who They renovated the old building and converted it to a private office.

Sadly, do to the economic recession in the mid 2000's the offices were closed, and a year or so later the store was put on the market for sale. The UPS once again rallied to find a buyer that would continue to preserve the store, and also began to explore the idea of purchasing the store through the society for use as a community center. A number of benefactors came forward to help fund the purchase, but without the intervention of a local resident, Dr. Betsee Parker, the road to acquiring the store would have been long and difficult.

When Dr. Betsee Parker, a preservationist and owner of the historic Huntland estate, less than a mile from Unison, first learned the store was for sale, she began to quietly work towards her end goal of purchasing the store as a gift for the Unison Preservation Society.

Dr. Parker, a PhD in theology, philanthropist and patron of the arts, bought and restored Huntland and its stables, kennels and buildings and put them under conservation easement to protect them permanently. She is an avid competitor in hunter jumper shows and last fall she broke the record for the number of horse show championships won by a single owner at Pennsylvania’s prestigious Devon Horse Show. Her Huntland team of hunter jumpers then won Junior Hunter championships at both the Pennsylvania National Horse Show and six championships at the Upperville Colt and Horse Show.

The connection between Unison, the Unison Store and Huntland goes back a century to a meeting around the store’s pot-bellied stove by the area’s avid foxhunters, members of the historic Piedmont Hunt and the smaller Unison Farmers Hunt, which had a well known pack of foxhounds. The two joined forces and Unison’s hounds joined the Piedmont Hounds at the newly built Huntland and its kennels, owned by Joseph B. Thomas, master of the Piedmont Hounds and president of the American Foxhound Club. After restoring those kennels in 2011, Dr. Parker, a strong supporter of the Piedmont Hounds, presided over the 100th anniversary celebration of their construction.

With her roots deep in the local history, and her childhood memories willed with happy days playing in the old Unison store, in early April 2013 Dr. Parker purchased the restored store, and at a special celebration filled with music, food, and friends on Sunday, April 21st, Dr. Parker handed over the store keys to the Unison Preservation Society which will make the store a village community/history center and the land around it a village green. As Dr. Parker took center stage to the beaming crowd, she delivered a wonderful little speech about her many times spent playing at the store as a child, and later as an adult, while deep into her theology studies, she would often seek out the store as an oasis of relaxation and peace, a gentle enclave in which to clear her mind between periods of heavy study. Her speech was met with great applause, and as the UPS Board president, Harry Bigley, presented Dr. Parker with a beautiful rose bouquet, the applause swelled enormously.

Dr. Betsee Parker with the Unison Preservation Society Board of Directors receiving the applause of the crowd at the Gifting of the Unison Store party/celebration on April 21st, 2013

With the purchase of the building by Dr. Parker, and her very generous gift of it to the UPS, the store is now forever protected.

Unison Preservation Society president Harry Bigley said "Dr. Parker’s generous gift will guarantee that the store and its half acre of open space will continue to be the center of village and area life and activity, as it has been for more than 140 years."

The store
Excerpt from the National Park Service OMB No. 1024-0018

All photographs by Flora Hillman. All Rights Reserved.