Ye Ole Virginnie
What is: the abandoned Ye Old Virginnie, This property included a restaurant, gas station and motor court built in the 1930s on Highway 1, the main highway running from Maine to Florida.
What was: Hardy Zehmer was a farmer born into a well-landed farming family. He also was an educated businessman, briefly working for E. I. du Pont de Nemours as the foreman of a munitions plant during World War I. After the war, Zehmer returned to his native McKenney, VA, where he established a restaurant, service station, motel, and guest cabins. His businesses were so profitable that even during the depression, as neighboring farmers were losing their land, he had enough income to buy the nearby Ferguson farm. He also had a less than-sterling reputation among the locals being remembered a colorful character, known for his drinking -- even before that fateful December evening in 1952.
At the restaurant on this site, the week before Christmas 1952, Welford Lucy, a “lumberman and a farmer” got together with Zehmer for some drinking and banter leading to Zehmer writing an agreement on a restaurant bill to sell the Ferguson farm to Mr. Lucy for $50,000. Zehmer later insisted it was all a joke and that he was “high as a Georgia pine” and just trying to get Lucy to admit he didn’t have the $50,000.
Lucy v. Zehmer is a Virginia Supreme Court ruling that has become a staple in most contract law courses in American law schools. Upholding the contract, the court ruled that regardless of Zehmer’s intent, his outward behavior could reasonably be construed to suggest that he had been serious. The court thus invoked what is known as the “objective theory of contract formation.”
On the issue of whether Mr Lucy had the funds to pay for the land, in retrospect it appears he was more than a lumberman and farmer and his pockets were deep enough to hire one of the State’s most respected lawyers at the time (who was also hired by the State to make the last defense of segregation). He and his brothers made money buying undervalued forested properties and then sold the timber off the land at a profit, sometimes acting as middlemen for the lumber industry. A month after the sale was finalized, the Lucy Brothers executed a timber deed to a company that borrowed $85,000, suggesting the Lucy’s profitably handsomely. They sold another portion of the land to another lumber company and also rented out the farmland. By 1962, the Lucy’s had earned at least $142,000. Their descendants suggest that the family earned 4 times what they paid for it. See the Duke Law Journal for more.