Westview Tearoom closes

Published 11:31 pm Wednesday, February 22, 2023

The Westview Tearoom was a grocery store-service station that was located on the Franklin-Courtland Highway (later called West Clay Street) from 1923 until 1973. Actually, it was much more than just a place to buy gas and groceries; it was a place for local residents, especially farmers, to gather together. It was closed in January of 1973 and everything on the premises was sold at public auction.

According to an article published in the Feb. 1, 1973 edition of The Tidewater News, a decision to demolish the Tearoom was made by its owner R. C. “Robbie” Councill, Sr. However, according to information provided by Jim Hart, instead, it was sold and moved to a location near South Quay, just off Route 189, and converted into a residence. It was destroyed by the 1999 flood,

“Mr. Robbie,” who had been proclaimed “mayor” of the Tearoom years earlier, was concerned that the continued operation of the store was going to be too difficult and felt he had no other choice but to close it down.

At the time of the closing, an interview with “Mr. Robbie’s” nephew Warren Councill revealed much of the early-day and more recent history of the establishment.

As a matter of fact, Warren Councill got his first job there, at age 11, working as a relief boy at the Tearoom when Herman Beale ran the store.

Some years before World War II, the Tearoom was remodeled, and a small dance hall was added.

“Mr. Beale had a monopoly on the young crowd of the area back then,” Councill recalled. “He ran the Airport Inn on the east side of Franklin and the Westview Tearoom on the west side.”

“Westview Tearoom was known as a night spot in those days, complete with a jukebox. For the teenagers, it was quite a place to go,” Councill stated. “When there were dances going on at the old Fourth Avenue Armory Hall, the kids would slip out to the Tearoom during intermissions for sandwiches and soft drinks… folks like Marion Whitfield J. P. Bradshaw, Robert Howell, and Jack Beale.”

As the clouds of World War II cast shadows over the nation, nobody much felt like dancing and the tearoom once again returned to its original grocery store-service station role.

In later years, during the late 1940s and right on up until the 1950s and 1960s, the store was a popular gathering place for local farmers. And with the advent of color television, on Saturday afternoons it was a popular place for people to come to watch baseball games — in color.

And, you could have a soft drink, or a beer, and choose among the many delicacies offered at the counter: pickled pig feet, Penrose sausages, boiled eggs, pickled eggs, sardines, crackers, and some good old fashioned hoop cheese. There was a select quantity of groceries: canned goods, bread, milk, etc.

But, according to Warren Councill, the Westview Tearoom was much much more than just a store. “It was a place where the farmers of the area gathered to boast about their crop yields at harvest time and to bemoan their hard luck,” Councill reflected. “Too, some residents of the West Clay Street neighborhood also gathered there. Anytime during the day when a man had some free time, he’d stop by the Tearoom for a chat with H. B. “Plug” Carr, manager of the store for 13 years. There were several regular ‘squatters’ always around to lend an ear to anybody with something to say.”

Councill defined “squatters” as the menfolk who just came by to visit with their neighbors and discuss the events of the day.  Others who dropped in for directions or just to buy a loaf of bread weren’t included in that special category.

Those earning the coveted “squatter” label included Harvey Cutchins, Robert Howell, J. P. Bradshaw, Pete Miller, Thomas Barnes, R. C. Councill, Robbie Councill, Herbert Councill, Jack Beale, Mike Beale, L. H. Howell, W. H. Howell, Irving Beale, and Robert Gardner (a former manager of the store). 

“Some of the wives of those men were a little less than pleased with the amount of time their menfolk spent at the Tearoom. W. H. Howell, Jr. nicknamed it ‘Clown’s Corner’.” 

And, according to Councill, nobody ever developed any hard feelings in the friendly atmosphere of the Tearoom.

“The only trouble we ever had out there was with ‘Plug’ Carr,” Councill laughed. “He always wanted to watch the soap operas on the television set and all the farmers fussed and fumed because they would rather watch the hog market report.” “I guess it was that air of friendship and the closeness of the Clay Street neighbors that we’ll miss the most when the tearoom closes down,” Council said at the time. “Every community needs a place like it and maybe one day the folks out here will have another place – another Westview Tearoom.”

CLYDE PARKER is a retired human resources manager for the former Franklin Equipment Co. and a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. His email address is magnolia101@charter.net.