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Founding farmers: Woman reflects on family's role in City Market history

With excitement building for this Saturday’s opening of the Charlottesville City Market, celebrating 50 years in operation, one woman reflected on her family’s special connection to the local farmers market: her seven brothers named Cason.

“They knew how to grow things because my daddy taught them,” Nancy Cason Roberts, told The Daily Progress. “On our land in the country we had had horses, cows, chickens, ducks, every kind of berries.”

Roberts, now 86, is the sole survivor of the eight Cason siblings.

Her brothers gained fame in the mid-20th century for each serving in the U.S. military during or shortly after World War II.

“They were good guys,” said Roberts. “They served their country.”

The family legacy would also include serving as founding merchants of the City Market.

The family tradition of bringing nature’s bounty to downtown Charlottesville started in the 1920s, Roberts said. Her parents lived on a farm on Stony Point Road near what is today Darden Towe Park. Her father Leonard Cason began selling holly, mistletoe and Christmas trees beside a haberdashery called Kaufman’s Sons in the 200 block of East Main Street, now part of the Downtown Mall.

“Other people were selling things also, and it was such a popular corner,” Roberts recalled. “A couple of my brothers would spend the night so they could sustain the corner. Then when my father would return in the morning, my brothers could come home so they could sleep.”

The location eventually became known as Cason’s Corner, said Roberts.

There was a push to create more space downtown for selling farm products to the public, and the City Market opened at the Jefferson School in the spring of 1973.

Before long, all eight siblings had a hand in the operation.

Although one brother, Lee, died of an aneurysm in 1982, the others continued to have a presence at the market. And over the years, thousands of market-goers have purchased wreaths, produce, walking sticks and other things made or grown by a Cason – or just browsed.

“It was just wonderful for the people to come there,” said Roberts as she peered at pictures of her brothers spread across her dining table at her Fluvanna County home near Fork Union.

After Lee’s death, the six surviving brothers lived well into the 21st century: Charles died in 2011, Ralph in 2014, Jack in 2016, Ezra in 2018, Billy in 2019 and George in 2021.

“Jack loved babies, so he was always giving out pieces of fruit to the children,” recalled Roberts’ daughter, Mary Alice Sipe, seated near her mother on a recent afternoon.

Beginning at 9 a.m. this Saturday, the Charlottesville City Market will open for its first full season without pandemic-based distancing measures. Roberts said she isn’t sure she’ll make the trek from Fluvanna, but she said the knowledge that thousands of people will stroll the City Market is its own reward.

“I’m just glad it’s being carried on,” she said.


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