Sharing the Music and the Memories

Published 3:23 pm Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Jon Hartley’s vinyl record collection tops 6,000

Story by Phyllis Speidell

Photos by John H. Sheally II

Bob Seger and his Silver Bullet Band may have been ahead of their time 45 years ago when they sang “Take those old records off the shelf – I’ll sit and listen to ‘em by myself.”

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Today collectors – and casual music fans – still seek out vintage 78 and 33 rpm records in an array of genres, including old time rock and roll.

Jon Hartley has seen recorded music progress from those old shellac or vinyl discs through audio tapes, CDs, and streaming via computers, MP3 players and cell phones. In an era when almost any music is instantly available, there is something special and nostalgic about those old records and the music that, for many, as Seger sang, “just soothes the soul.”

Hartley can attest to the popularity of those old records. He has more than 6,000 albums in his private collection in addition to the hundreds he sells in his boutique in the Hamtown Mercantile in downtown Smithfield. He and his wife, Maggie, also travel to record shows and meets where he circulates, visiting among the other vendors, many of whom have become friends, while Maggie, as she says with a laugh, tends his booth and chats with the customers.

“Jon comes alive at those shows,” she said.

“One of the thrills of a record show is finding an album you’ve spent years searching for, ” Hartley said, “It’s the thrill of the hunt – like finding a first pressing of the ‘Dark Side of the Moon’.”

That Pink Floyd album, released by Capitol 50 years ago, remains one of the most sought after among collectors.

“You can also find oddball stuff like the Harpo Marx album, featuring Harpo playing the harp, that I had priced at $30 for five years and never sold,” he said. He thought, reluctantly, of lowering the price, but before he could bring himself to do that, the album sold for $30 at a show in Greensboro, North Carolina.

The Hartleys seem to come naturally to their respect and appreciation for history of any kind. Their Smithfield home, which they constantly restore and renew, is an 1815 farmhouse with 11 outbuildings.

A pair of magnificent magnolia trees frame the entry to their 10-acre property where they raise fruit and nuts. Drive onto their property and you will likely be greeted by Zeus, their energetic half bird dog/half pit bull, while their shy beagle, Daisy, watches from a distance.

One of their additions to the house included a den/office for Hartley that houses some of his collection.

Record albums, all shelved by genre and neatly alphabetized, fill the walls while the overflow of albums is stored in several of the restored outbuildings including the small hay barn.

Growing up in Albany, New York, Hartley spent two years in Pakistan in the 1970s when his father accepted a job to come and set up a student affairs and counseling office at Lahore University in Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan. Although Hartley was only 7 years old when the family arrived in Pakistan, his time there was memorably impactful.

“You cannot understand the world from inside the U.S.,” he said. “You cannot understand the plight of the people who can be happy even living in lesser conditions and always ready to flee drought, violence or other threats.”

The Pakistan experience led him to major in geography and planning at the State University of New York College at Geneseo (SUNY Geneseo.) a decade later.

The Hartleys were a musical family and he played guitar and a little keyboard with a band in high school. When he got to college, he also DJ’d at the university radio station.

Shortly after Jon and Maggie married, they embarked, with a pup tent and $2,000, on a year-long cross-country tour that ended in Roanoke, where Maggie’s father had retired. They arrived just in time for Jon to attend a conference of professional planners in nearby Natural Bridge – and land a job that day.

His career in planning took John from ten years in Roanoke to Isle of Wight in 1997 as director of planning.

“I had always been a country boy – always like rural areas – and always enjoyed architectural history, ” he said. “I was a history buff and already familiar with St. Luke’s church and Bacon’s Castle.”

Even the name of his vintage record business, Deerfield, has historical connections. In old English, “hart” referred to a male deer and “ley” referred to an arable field.

Hartley also has a long history as a collector – of coins, stamps and even stones.

“Sort of a packrat,” he admitted.

In Roanoke, however, he turned his collecting hobby toward records, soon accumulating 300 albums and still looking. He credits record collecting with giving him a wealth of information that spans a broad gamut. He became enamored with jazz while in college, so much so that he lost track of most rock music. His favorite album, however, remains one by King Crimson, a 1960s British progressive rock band that drew their inspiration from a wide range of musical genres – much the way Hartley’s interests run.

As Isle of Wight’s planning director, Hartley was involved with International Paper as it worked

through environmental concerns, He worked with developers who were eager to create mixed-use communities, including the vast Eagle Harbor on 567 acres zoned for up to 1,510 residential units. Then he dealt with the developers of Founders Pointe, zoned for 340 single-family homes. It was a challenge in many directions, including sewer and water connection disputes. Along the way Hartley advised on speed limits, road signage, wetlands construction violations, septic systems and multiple other concerns.

“People worry about overdevelopment of the area,” he said. “But growth is incremental, and planning is the closest thing we have to managing growth. We don’t focus enough on a diversity of options in planning.”

When Hartley resigned from his position of Isle of Wight, he took a similar job as manager of current planning in Portsmouth, where he stayed until retiring in 2019.

Wherever he worked, music has remained part of his life and he is happy to share his knowledge and joy in collecting.

“I was raised as a Quaker and I still carry a Quaker ethic with me,” Hartley said, adding that he’s not out to make a fortune dealing in vintage records – he just wants to share the music.

“Music transcends time and stays in your memory,” he said. “‘Henry VIII, I Am’ by Herman’s Hermits was popular when I was a teenager having fun in a wood Chris Craft on Lake George and singing ‘I’m Henry the Eighth, I am’ at the top of my voice. Still brings those memories.”