“Yeeeeehaaaaw!” Welcome to Hazzard County, home of the General Lee, the legendary orange 1969 Dodge Charger, and actor Ben Jones, who played Cooter, the lovable mechanic on the 1980s CBS-TV show “The Dukes of Hazzard.” Cooter’s Place is a museum and gift shop located on 16 1/2 acres in Virginia near the village of Sperryville. The county – actually it’s Rappahannock – is at the foot of Shenandoah National Park, a 1 1/2-hour drive southwest of Washington, D.C.
Jones, an actor-turned-two-term-congressman from Atlanta, converted a roadside fruit stand to create Cooter’s Place, now open for the third season. Relics such as a “Dukes” lunchbox, original scripts, props, costumes, action figures, and now-very-collectible “Dukes of Hazzard” imprinted curtains and bedspreads (circa 1979) are displayed. The General Lee sits on the gravel in front. You’ll even find a “Cooter for Congress” poster here. Cast members John Schneider and Catherine Bach, who played cousins Bo and Daisy Duke, have been known to stop by.
Cooter’s has become a hangout for aging hippies, mountain folk, artists and children from the area, as well as a tourist attraction for “Dukes” enthusiasts from around the world. Hundreds of fans wander to Cooter’s on weekends to see Jones and his memorabilia. They inevitably end up taking something home from the gift shop, such as private-label jams and barbecue sauce, toy cars, autographed pictures, T-shirts, hats, or Daisy Duke shorts.
During my recent visit, Jones, wearing jeans, sweater and hat, struts over to a youngster inspecting the General Lee and says, “Hi, buddy, I’m Cooter. What’s your name?” Pointing to the boy’s parents, he tells him, “When they were your age, there was a show called ‘The Dukes of Hazzard.’ I played Cooter….Come on, man, hop in the car. Can you go through the winder?”
Highway 211, Sperryville, Virginia (70 miles from DC); 888-414-7714 or 540-987-8545;
Open daily, April through December – Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.; weekdays, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Free admission.
He picks the child up and sits on the General Lee for a photo op. He signs autographs and chats with visitors. “People show up with a smile,” Jones says. “This show is to this generation what the B-Western was to my generation. The good guys won. We were doing the B-Western with cars instead of horses. That’s why it was so popular. Hazzard County was an idyllic place, and we re-create that atmosphere for people.”Jones and his wife, Alma Viator, hang out at Cooter’s Place most weekends. During the week, she works in public relations and he pens a political/humor column called “Up in the Hollow” for the Rappahannock weekly newspaper. Jones sings on Saturday afternoons with Cooter’s Garage Band, which, you guessed it, is a country band; he also sings in various blue-grass bands on Sundays. “This is a wonderful stage for good times, humor and music,” says Jones, whose Garage Band has 20 engagements booked throughout New York and Pennsylvania this summer. He also writes songs – both lyrics and music. His second CD, titled End of the Line, is available now. To pick one up, try the Sperryville gift shop with the orang Dodge Charger out front.