Dr. King Presented a Dream, One Woman Pursued it
This is part of the 'Milestone Monday' series.
Modern Day Pioneer Woman
The Boxwood House in Culpeper, Virginia.
Today the Boxwood House Complex in Culpeper sits by the side of US 29 as a rehabilitation facility. Few know its remarkable history as the fulfillment of a dream.
Ruby Beck was an African American woman who worked for other people most of her life. In the mid-1960's she dreamed of opening her own restaurant using old family recipies. When most people would have been planning retirement she was out looking for financing.
The local banks wouldn't touch her project. They'd listen politely and then politely brush her off. Mrs. Beck was not the kind of person to give up easily. Eventually she found her way to the offices of Burke and Herbert [click to read], a locally owned Alexandria bank. They listened politely to her business plan and gave her the initial financing to go ahead.
Mrs. Beck built a building that was described in this manner: "what Howard Johnson's would build if they had less money and more taste." She used E. A. Clore chairs [click to read], custom designed with low backs for ease of movement for the servers. It was configured just like a Howard Johnson's but guests always lingered at the tables and Mrs. Beck's glassware collection soon took over the counter. Her meals always featured homemade bread, her own preserves and pickels, and fine Southern recipies. To dine at Boxwood House was to partake of Southern cuisine as high art.
Her sister Lizzie joined her in the business and was probably the head chef for most of the establishment's existence. Lizzie had been my Aunt Molly's live-in caregiver prior to coming to Boxwood House. A vivacious woman who taught us how to catch tadpoles and smallmouth bass, Lizzie was also the best marksman we knew. Her good eye became a family legend after we witnessed her shoot a snake out of a tree in the darkening evening. We never feared for her or Aunt Molly's safety living alone in rural Madison County. We did fear for anyone foolish enough to sneak around their house at night.
In those difficult days of the mid-sixties, Ruby and Lizzie established themselves as people you had better not mess with. I think their dad taught them the fine points of marksmanship and endowed his daughters with the gift of confidence. They were great ladies!
This Blog began with the story of Dr. June McCarroll [click to read], the inventor of pavement markings. Her story is one of overcoming opposition and skepticism... and her amazing perserverance in doing so.
Back to Ruby Beck [click to read]. She was remarkable enough in that she concieved the idea of owning her own restaurant. OK, there was a problem. She was living in the mid-Twentieth Century and Massive Resistance was in full force. No banks would loan her the money but she persisted until she found lenders at Burke and herbert willing to take a risk along with her.
She built her Boxwood House Restaurant around family recipies and her sister Lizzie Harrison joined her in the business as chef. Lizzie's cooking was famous. She cared for my Aunt Molly in her later years as a live-in caregiver. When Aunt Molly threw a family dinner it was an experience! Homemade bread! Homemade Preserves! Cornbread! You get the picture. Lizzie took these fine recipes to the Boxwood House and, with her sister, made history! In 1971 Ruby Beck won the “Virginia Small Businessman of the Year Award.” Ruby was the first woman in Virginia, the 2nd woman nationally and the first minority business owner in the South to receive the prestigious award. Pretty impressive!
Lizzie was pretty impressive in her own right. She was a lady who found joy in taking us down to the little pond to catch tadpoles. She was kind and tough -- one of the best marksmen we ever knew. Once she shot a snake out of a tree and became the family's own version of Alvin York.
We never feared for the safety of Aunt Molly and Lizzie, though they lived along busy U.S. 29. Lizzie's rifle skills were such legend that no locals would have messed with her. Our standing family joke was that out of town troublemakers would have been met by the following sound: "BLAM!!!, Who WAS that?"
Here's an Article on Mrs. Beck [click to read] from The Tuscaloosa News.
Here's an Article on Mrs. Beck [click to read] from the Afro American.