Peninsula In Passage

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John H. Sheally II

Cotton - Oysters & Mussels - Wheat

Professional journalists, photographer John H. Sheally II and writer Phyllis Speidell, and veteran educator Karla Smith, combined their talents to produce Peninsula in Passage . Their shared familiarity with and love for the community initiated the project but it is the stories of residents and friends that bring the book to life. Sheally, Speidell and Smith also collaborated on The River Binds Us and Chuckatuck: Crossroads in Time . The three books each reflect the voice of the communities they document with the goal of preserving and promoting the unique heritage and history of North Suffolk.

Blessed with a history second only to Jamestown, the Driver/Bennett’s Creek/Harbour View area of North Suffolk has changed dramatically in the last 20 years and continues to evolve. Peninsula in Passage documents that early history and explores the recent development that has drawn thousands of new residents. The Crittenden, Eclipse and Hobson Heritage Foundation, also evolving to meet the future, has grown into Suffolk River Heritage and expanded its range to include Driver/Bennett’s Creek/Harbour View. The foundation presents Peninsula in Passage with the hope of uniting residents in the knowledge and pride of their shared heritage.

ISBN 978-1-57864-798-9

9 781578 647989

John H. Sheally II

Photography by John H. Sheally II Narrative by Phyllis Speidell, Karla Smith

Copyright © 2012 by Crittenden-Eclipse-Hobson Heritage Foundation All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work in any form whatsoever without permission in writing from the publisher, except for brief passages in connection with a review. For information, please write:

The Donning Company Publishers 184 Business Park Drive, Suite 206 Virginia Beach, VA 23462 Steve Mull, General Manager Barbara Buchanan, Office Manager Pamela Koch, Senior Editor Chad H. Casey, Graphic Designer Kathy Adams, Imaging Artist Tonya Washam, Research and Marketing Supervisor Pamela Engelhard, Marketing Coordinator Lori Porter, Project Research Coordinator Dennis N. Walton, Project Director

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

[CIP data available from the Library of Congress]

Printed in the United States of America at Walsworth Publishing Company


Acknowledgments Dedication Introduction Timeline Family Tree Community Icons Did You Know The Passage Begins . . . People Churches Schools Community Services Communities The Passage Continues . . .

4 6 7 8

10 12 34 49 79

105 111 117 124 197

Acknowledgments Residents and friends of the North Suffolk peninsula have been generous with support and encouragement for the publication of Peninsula in Passage . The Crittenden, Eclipse, Hobson Heritage Foundation appreciates their backing in its outreach to help preserve the heritage of Driver, Bennett’s Creek and Harbour View. CE & H Heritage has changed its name and logo to reflect its expanded mission to cover more villiages in Northern Suffolk. Suffolk River Heritage will continue to preserve our history and retain our unique sense of place.

Lt. Col. Samuel Littleton Jones, USAF(Ret.) Annette Montgomery, Assistant Archivist, Norfolk State University Charles & Margaret Parkerson The Richard Bennett Trust

Carolyn & Richard Barry The Beazley Foundation, Inc. Joyce Carter Parker & Annah Cross John & Cynthia Eberwine Mandy Eberwine Heather E. Whitman

W.W. Ritter, Jr. Ward Robinett Eric Sasser

James & Martha Shirley Sydney & Mack Tabor The Suffolk Foundation Towne Bank James & Elizabeth Turner Robert T. Williams William Wooldridge

John Eberwine Jr. Vernon Eberwine Robert B. Hitchings, Head of Local History and Genealogy, Norfolk Public Libraries

Jean Hodges Hinton Hurff Del. S. Chris Jones


Our Sources The Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society archives provided publications and photographs that were invaluable primary and secondary source materials. Local newspapers, including The Virginian-Pilot, the Daily Press, the Suffolk News-Herald and the New Journal and Guide were also helpful sources. The Richard Bennett Trust made available several unpublished documents that helped tell Bennett’s story. Our most powerful sources, however, were the storytellers who delved into their memories, albums and attics to share their recollections, family photos and documents that might otherwise never have been published.

Luccketti, Nicholas (2010) Nansemond Pallizado an essay published by Eric Klingelhofer in First Forts-Essays on the Archaeology of Proto colonial Fortifications, Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands McClenny, W.E. (19__) These Twain, Greensboro, N.C.: Jos. J. Stone & Company McClenny, W.E. (1930) Outline History of Nansemond County, Suffolk, VA: Suffolk News Herald Pollack, Edward (1886) Sketch Book of Suffolk, VA., Suffolk, Virginia: reprint Suffolk Nansemond Historical Society 1991 Rountree, Helen C. (1990) Pocahontas’s People, Norman Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press The Dictionary of Virginia Biography (2012, January 18). Richard Bennett (bap.1609-ca. 1675). Retrieved February 5, 2012, from Encyclopedia Virginia: Richard_bap_1609-ca1675> Map Sources are in Map Credits below maps John White Map – Courtesy of the British Museum

Caminita, Ludwig, Jr. (1946–47) Obici, A Biography, Reprint The Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society, 2005 Church of God and Saints of Christ (1996) Remembering, The History of the Church of God and Saints of Christ, Volume II, 1908–1996 Evans, Cerinda W. (1957) Some Notes On Shipbuilding and Shipping in Colonial Virginia. Williamsburg, VA: Jamestown 350th Anniversary Historical Corporation Flanders, Alan B., Editor (1998) Memoirs of E.A. Jack-Steam Engineer-CSS Virginia, White Stone, Virginia: Brandylane Publishers Public Records Office, London, England Haile, Edward Wright (1998) Jamestown Narratives-Eyewitness Accounts of the Virginia Colony, Champlain, Virginia: RoundHouse Hobbs, Kermit, and William A. Paquette, Suffolk: A Pictorial History. Norfolk and Virginia Beach: The Donning Company, 1987. Jordan, William Turner M.D., A Record of Farms and Their Owners In Lower Parish of Nansemond County, Virginia, Suffolk, Virginia: Suffolk- Nansemond Historical Society 1968 Keene, Carolyn A., C. M. P., freelance historian.


Dedication “Peninsula in Passage” is dedicated to Hinton D. Hurff “Peninsula in Passage,” the story of Driver, Bennett’s Creek and Harbour View, has been a labor of love. We’ve been dazzled by the enthusiasm and generosity of the community in sharing their stories and support. No one, however, has outdone Hinton D. Hurff. Besides offering his tireless encouragement and unfailing support, Hinton has spent countless hours gathering and verifying information, sharing his contacts and opening doors to sources we might have missed. He’s raised funds and guided us through the maze of family connections that wove the fabric of the community. He is, we’ve learned, related to just about every family with roots here. He’s read through our stories, dug out old photos and taken us places we never knew existed. Above all else, Hinton is a gentleman with wisdom, humor, heart and charm, a pure joy to have on our team. Thank you, Hinton, with love - Phyllis, John & Karla

John H. Sheally II


Introduction Family trees sprout and grow like the crops that thrived in this once rural community. Natives of the area easily recall generations of family ties and connections. Recent residents, however, may wonder who was Bennett of Bennett’s Creek or Eberwine of Eberwine Lane. They may not know what “running truck” means, why there is a cow on the roof of the Bennett’s Creek Market, or who grew watermelons on what is now their front yard. “Peninsula in Passage” follows the evolution of North Suffolk from a colonial history second only to Captain John Smith’s Jamestown to life as it is in 2012. Residents and friends reminisce here about the area’s history, legends and lore. Vintage photos as well as contemporary images and maps help define the community and convey a sense of place. We also document the more recent development of North Suffolk into a thriving suburb with an ever growing range of amenities and services. The basic chronological facts are here – the events and people who shaped the early history from the Nansemond Indians forward – but to highlight the area’s heritage we rely on story tellers. These are the ones that saw the places and lived the events, or heard about them from their grandparents over Sunday dinner. We’ve lost some of the storytellers recently including John Holland and Virginia Harlow. In April 2012, we lost a renowned storyteller, Judson “Juddy” Rodman, the guru of barbecue who presided over Rodman’s Bar-b que on Shoulder’s Hill Road. His obituary read “He was always one to have

the latest joke, never at a loss for words and always had a double brown bag of warm Suffolk peanuts…the consummate Virginia gentleman who never learned to say no.” Fortunately many surviving storytellers opened their memories, searched old family albums and shared their life adventures to help us capture, in their words, the essence of the community. The stories we’ve collected may vary slightly from person to person or from documented data but the individual perspectives of our story tellers add color, insight and humor to the bare bones of history. The enthusiasm of the community generated more material and stories than we possibly could fit into this book. The Crittenden, Eclipse and Hobson Heritage Foundation, which has expanded its coverage to include Driver, Bennett’s Creek and Harbour View, will set up an archive at its website ( Photos, interviews and other primary sources collected for this project will be available there to teachers, students, genealogists, journalists and others. “Peninsula in Passage” is not intended to be an academic or complete history of North Suffolk, but rather an introduction to the community’s heritage – flavored with a few recipes for favorite local dishes. Enjoy.

John H. Sheally II




Virginia Nurney Harlow and John Harlow devoted their lives to the betterment of the Bennett’s Creek/Driver community. After Judge James Godwin appointed John Harlow to the board of the Richard Bennett Trust he served 25 years before he retired at the end of 2011. John and Virginia were married in 1951 and celebrated 61 years together before she died on August 14, 2012. Virginia was a third generation president of both the Nansemond River Garden Club and the Driver Book Club.

John H. Sheally II


Community Icons

The Purple Lady Anyone who saw her was unlikely to forget Rachel Presha, The Purple Lady. Swathed in shades of purple and a wooly violet cloak, The Purple Lady walked for miles along US 17, Bridge Road and, unknowingly, into a legend that transcends geography, age and race. Children craned their necks from the back seat, hoping for a glimpse of The Purple Lady. They counted the purple utility poles, Rachel’s handiwork, lining the highway and watched for her purple house, not far from the entrance to Harbour View. They ran up to her at any of her usual resting places along the way, hoping for a word or a smile. They were never disappointed. Adults gave her rides and were as happy as children when she thanked them with a Biblical verse or a philosophical thought. “I picked her up years ago on a winter day when it was just beginning to snow,” Cindy Eberwine says. “I asked her how she liked the snow and she answered, “The snow is to the earth like cold cream to a woman’s face,” and I’ve never forgotten that.” For 20 years a Purple Lady sighting was a highlight of the day and a topic of conversation for months afterward. Robert T. Williams, developer of Harbour View, remembers being in Atlanta, mentioning he was from North Suffolk and a business acquaintance there asking “Home of the Purple Lady?” Ward Robinett, President of Towne Bank, Portsmouth, and his wife, chatting with strangers aboard a flight home, said they were from the area and immediately were asked “Have you seen the Purple Lady?” In the late 1980s Presha suddenly disappeared and the community wondered. Then a news report from the Toledo Blade confirmed a sighting there. Presha apparently had decided to settle in “Holy Toledo.” Little more was heard about her until 2010 when her daughter, Delzorra Presha, brought Rachel back to a white, not purple, house in Pughsville and threw a community celebration for her 85th birthday. The Purple Lady was home. And still smiling. And still especially fond of children. “I’m a child myself,” she says. If The Purple Lady has been a mystery to the community, she has, at times, been a bigger mystery to herself. Her parents Sarah Marie Roberts Presha and Samuel Lester Presha moved from Cleveland, Ohio, to Bennett’s Creek about 1920 to help Bishop William H. Plummer develop Belleville, the self-sustaining community of Temple Beth El, The Church of God and Saints of Christ, on Bridge Road. Samuel Presha was a hard worker and the

John H. Sheally II


John H. Sheally II

The Purple Lady, Rachel Presha and her daughter Delzorra Presha.

strongest man in Belleville, Delzorra says. He carried logs single-handedly from the sawmill to build the original church in just 30 days. Rachel was born in Belleville July 1, 1925, and raised there on a farm. She had two daughters, Pearl and Delzorra, but never married. “In those days that was a problem,” Delzorra says. Rachel was in her 30’s when after years, she says, of “going along with everyone else” she sought her own identity, peace and happiness. She dressed all in white, then black, before settling on purple as a serene, Biblical color. “There are certain things you love,” Rachel says.


She walked miles along US 17, sometimes pushing a lawnmower. She took her purple to the roadside, painting utility poles purple as high as she could reach. The power company’s linemen, surprised to find the purple poles, repainted them but after Rachel painted them purple again, they gave up. “She’s tenacious and people seem to love her,” Delzorra says. One man saw the purple poles re-appearing and volunteered to paint her house purple. “She loved it,” Delzorra says. “I was always proud of her celebrity.” And she was a celebrity. Beverly Outlaw remembers when her daughter was in high school her English teacher promised an A to any student who, over the summer, could find and interview The Purple Lady. Since Rachel occasionally walked as far as the Outlaw farmhouse on Nansemond Parkway and stopped there for a rest and cool drink, Kristen Outlaw easily earned that A grade.

One of the many local Purple Lady stories recalls that the farm she lived on was sold to developers years ago with the provision that she would be allowed to remain in her house. But later the developers decided to sell the property and approached Rachel about moving. She threatened to put a hex on both of them that would leave them penniless in 10 years. They never sold the land. The Purple Lady, now quietly living in Belleville and still wearing purple, remains a legend, unique to North Suffolk. A spiritual woman, who was also known as The Purple Prophetess, Rachel prays often and, through a veil of early dementia, can still quote a myriad of Bible verses. When Kurt Hofelich, President of Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, was running the Sentara BelleHarbour facility that opened in 2008 he heard stories about The Purple Lady. “I asked about her and got 15 different stories,” he says. He remembered those stories when it was time to erect the facility’s entrance sign on US 17. Quietly he deviated from Sentara’s usually closely regulated branding policy to have the word BelleHarbour set in purple. “The purple honors the Purple Lady and her ability to transcend race and age with her celebrity,” he says. “No one noticed but they will after this book comes out.” Left to right: Mary Priscilla Presha Gaines, Samuel Lester Presha, Howard Presha, Rachel Amelia Presha.


The Cannon It’s difficult to miss the cannon facing westbound traffic on Nansemond Parkway. The full size 1894 Krupp cannon is a landmark in front of Beverly Outlaw’s farmhouse. “Without it no one would know where to turn to find us,” says Outlaw and her sister-in-law, Brenda Outlaw Duke, who lives next door. The late Marvin Outlaw – husband to Beverly, brother to Brenda – spotted the cannon in a Portsmouth junkyard about 50 years ago when he was 15. He and his father were scouting for spare parts for their farm machinery and Marvin knew he had to have that cannon. He’d been saving for years to buy his first car but the cannon blew all thoughts of a car out of his mind. Fortunately the senior Outlaw “was able to wrangle a good deal,” according to Beverly, the cannon came home to the family farmhouse Driver and Marvin still got his car. There are stories that cannons were mounted on islands in the Nansemond River during the Civil War and are on the bottom of the river now, she added, but this was not one of those. “At least once a month,” she says. “Someone will knock on the door and want to know about the cannon or get a closer look.”

John H. Sheally II


River Houses Two cottages perched on pilings in the Nansemond River, one on each side of the Godwin Bridge and accessible only by boat, have piqued curiosity since the early 1900s. “People thought they were oyster house or dens of iniquity,” Dorothy Davis says. The cottages, the only two remaining of several that dotted the river, were early 1900s summer retreats for families from Suffolk and Nansemond County. “Spending time out there was like you’d left the county,” says Davis, who with her husband, Richard, owned the cottage on the west side of the bridge. “Before daylight you’d hear the crab men come by and their search lights would wake you.” She fell in love with the river houses when she was 15 and first visited one – but never dreamed that 25 years later she would own Nix Club (also known as Nix’s Club), the oldest one in the Nansemond. Built in 1914 near Nix Wharf, the cottage was an early time-share with several local families dividing ownership. “It had two bathrooms and an artesian well with fresh water but no hot water,” Davis says. “Water in a barrel was warmed by the sun and those showers were so great that people would row out from the land just to take one.” The 1933 hurricane destroyed most of the river cottages. But after repairs Nix Club continued as a lively get away until the World War II shortage of materials left the house dilapidated with swallows and barn owls the only guests. After the war Davis’s brother bought Nix Club and added electrical power and a hot water heater – but the roof still leaked when he sold it to the Davises about 1958.

John H. Sheally II


She remembers - We didn’t have the money so we traded cattle for it. During the summer we were out there most of the time. It was too nice a place not to share so we had lots of company. The river house was quite the gathering place for old Suffolk, even storms were wonderful out there - thunder and lightning, rain coming from the roof, everyone soaked – they were wonderful parties. Hinton Hurff remembers - The North Suffolk Rotary had a shrimp and crab feast at Nix’s clubhouse and the planning was not the best. The tide was not accounted for and when it was time to leave, it was low tide. The only thing to do was keep on drinking until the tide came in. Somewhat of a problem, several members had a little too much to drink and when it was time to leave they were a little unsteady. When getting out of the bateau missed their step and stepped in the mud rather deep. In 2003 Hurricane Isabel obscured the cottage in a cloud of fog and when the fog lifted, the structure was gone. But the river house rebounded, rebuilt a few years later and sold to a new owner. Alonzo Wood (A.W.) Ballard built the other river house, about 1000 feet east of the bridge, in August of 1930 after drawing the plans on a grocery bag. Capt. Lip Johnson of Crittenden drove the pilings. The house was built in 30 days. Robert Hall Ballard, A.W.’s son, often saw squalls come down the river but even without weather alerts his mother sensed that the Hurricane of 1933 was no mere squall. She led 11-year-old Robert, barefoot and carrying his canary, from the cottage at slack tide. Fifty mile per hour winds blew the gates off the drawbridge and buffeted the bird against the sides of its cage. The river rose to the top of the table holding the wind-up Victrola but left the house standing. The next day the Ballards read in the Suffolk newspaper that they had been “rescued” from their cottage in the storm. In 1948 Robert Ballard acquired the cottage and installed electricity and a well. “We used to all go to the river house, sit back and tell tales,” he says. Ballard turned over the cottage to the Nansemond River Power Squadron in 2001, just two years before Hurricane Isabel tore apart the building. After more storms and more repairs, current owners Jackie and Bonnie Sims set new pilings and restored the river cottage.

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The other river cottages didn’t fare as well. The Newport Club, built about 1915 near the Nansemond River lighthouse, was off the Tidewater Community College campus. A. W. Ballard was one of half a dozen men who built and shared the cottage until he pulled out to build his own. The Newport Club fell victim to the 1933 hurricane.

John H. Sheally II

John H. Sheally II


That storm also claimed the Nansemond Club House, built about 1920 near a watch house on the Nansemond bar off Cedar Point County Club, and the Holland Club House. The Holland river house, not far from the Ballard house, was completed in August 1933. Owner Reginald Holland managed to spend a single night there before the hurricane swept the cottage from its pilings and sent it crashing into the bridge.

John H. Sheally II

Top left: Robert Hall Ballard’s boat at the Ballard/Sims river house

Far bottom left: Robert Hall Ballard

Bottom middle left: Bonnie and John Sims

Left: Party time at the Ballard river house.

Above: Dorothy Davis with a painting of her river house.


Betsy, the Bennett’s Creek Market Cow Betsy, a full size black and white Holstein, fiberglass breed, has been part of the Bridge Road landscape since the early 1950s when the Matthews family ran the Bennett’s Creek Restaurant on the corner of US 17 and Shoulder’s Hill Road. The family also ran a dairy and featured ice cream and dairy products on their menu. Betsy was a perfect mascot even though she was almost knocked off her brick pedestal a couple times when cars, including a police squad car, backed into her. In the 1960s J. C. Matthews opened a farm stand to sell the family farm’s extra produce. With the road upgrades of 1968, Matthews upgraded his produce stand to a market to serve the greater number of travelers using Bridge Road. Shortly afterward the family sold the restaurant to Portsmouth bar-b-que guru Juddy Rodman who ran it for several years before

John H. Sheally II



selling to George and Steve Ikonomou in 1975. The brothers Ikonomou changed the menu and changed the name to George & Steve’s Steak & Seafood House. They flourished until they retired 20 years later and sold the land to Walgreens to build a drugstore. The cow, however, had long since moved with the Matthews and found a home atop the market from where she was once kidnapped but recovered. When J. C. Matthews sold the market to Jim Shirley in 1997 the two debated whether Betsy was part of the deal. But after a year of observing how Shirley kept the spirit of the country market intact, Matthews relented and Betsy remains a rooftop icon.

Painting: Karla Smith


Driver Book Club Imagine a book club that becomes a century old tradition and club membership, a cherished honor. The Driver Book Club celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2003 and is still going strong. “It was a very important thing in community,” says Joyce Carter, former president and historian. “If you had a doctor’s appointment that conflicted with book club, you cancelled the doctor.” The club was born in 1903 when 10 women met at the Grange Hall in Driver to form a social-study club for the “enjoyment and enlightenment of members.”The 21 charter members, two men and 19 women, represent some of the most familiar names in the community – the Ames, Carrs, Dardens, Hargroves, Wilroys, Eberwines, Williamsons, Williams, Drivers, and Savages.

Dues were 10 cents a month. Club membership was by invitation only and remains limited to 25 so the group can meet comfortably in members’ homes. “They were educated people not just dirt farmers,” Carter said, remembering a preacher who only lasted a year in the community because he underestimated the community and talked down to the people. When Carter joined in the early 1970s she was following a family tradition. Her grandmother, three great aunts, mother, aunt and sister were all members. “Back then we always wore hats and gloves and brought out our best linens, china, silver and crystal,” she says. From 1922 to 1952 the club belonged to the General Federation of Women’s Clubs but changed little except to limit the meeting refreshments to a mere two courses. Book Club may have been a misnomer. “This club was different in that we didn’t have to read a book and books were not discussed,” Carter says. “We had programs that were

assigned to members and we discussed an author, theme and every other kind of topic except politics. Each meeting a member prepared a research paper and I remember my mother doing a paper on “Elizabeth: the Future Queen.” The club has evolved beyond the immediate Driver neighborhood to include members from Chesapeake, Portsmouth and other areas of Suffolk but still rotates meetings among the members’ homes. “But now very few members do research anymore - you just come up with your own program and/or

invite a speaker,” Carter said “I guess we just may have gotten intellectually lazy.”


John H. Sheally II

Driver Days As the leaves turn color and pumpkins ripen at the end of October the normally sleepy Driver crossroads awakens to a down home mix of music, food and fun – and thousands of visitors. For over two decades the Driver Days weekend festival has featured country rock bands, craft shows, cake walks, motorcycle and vintage car shows, Wild West gunfighters, Renaissance knights and re-enactors from almost every war the country has fought. The local merchants launched Driver Days in the 1992 to lure families to the crossroads and introduce them to the charm of the village and the variety of goods found in the shops there. A mercantile center for generations, Driver and its merchants were struggling to hold their own against the retail outlets popping up in malls and shopping centers. The festival started small – with local crafters, homemade cakes as the cakewalk prizes and the Driver Volunteer Fire Department serving hamburgers and hotdogs - and crawfish one adventurous year. Shop owner Gregory Parker and his band performed. His older brother, Craig Parker, - also a shop owner – cavorted in a gorilla suit. Ronnie and Jason Gould of Rio Grande Trader sponsored a car show and sold fest T-shirts. Holly Parker Hoffler organized a motorcycle show and ride. Over the years the festival spilled onto yards along Driver Lane and Kings Highway. Funnel cake trucks came in, more vendors and crafters signed up and the crowds grew. People from all over Hampton Roads learned that they could shop for fine antiques and hand crafted furniture to hunting gear, Mexican pottery, and life size metal palm trees. Proceeds from the festival benefit local non-profits including the Driver Volunteer Fire Department. The exposure benefits the local businesses that still struggle for survival as more chain stores open all around the crossroads. Holly Parker Hoffler


Easter Egg Factory The aroma of delectable chocolate confections signals spring in Driver and the opening of the Easter Egg factory at Beech Grove United Methodist Church. Since 1979 dozens of volunteers have spent the month before Easter crafting chocolate dipped eggs with hand-made fillings – peanut butter, coconut, butter cream, fruit and nut, all the traditional favorites. Each egg leaves the factory frosted with a blossom and carefully nestled into its packaging. The factory began as a fundraiser for the church. Word spread about the eggs. More customers found the little factory set up in the church social hall. Gourmet shops across Hampton Roads stocked up on the eggs. The

volunteers raised enough money to refurbish the church sanctuary and support mission work and other outreach programs. And the eggs continue to be an annual community tradition. Shoreline Salute The Stars and Stripes fluttering on the rocky southern shore of the James, a landmark to travelers along the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel, mysteriously appeared sometime after September 11, 2001. The flag puzzled Tidewater Community College officials who were unaware of its presence on a remote point of the campus until 2003 when journalists John Sheally and Phyllis Speidell asked the question – who put up the flag? A few news stories later, the tale unfolded. An anonymous patriot had braved a half-mile of dense undergrowth, snakes and ticks to plant - and maintain - the flag. Michael Beebe, a Portsmouth native working at NASA-Langley, admired the flag every day as he exited the bridge-tunnel. Then he noticed the flag looking tattered. He replaced it. As Operation Iraqi Freedom began, that flag disappeared. Beebe, who had accepted a yearlong job in Qatar, put up yet another flag before he left. “Everyone in the family knew how happy I was about that darn flag being there,” Beebe, an Army veteran and cancer survivor, said. “It was one of the proudest things I had ever done.” But the flag was unlit, technically illegal, and the safety of flag raisers trespassing on old ordinance depot grounds was an issue. TCC removed the flag but soon installed a solar-powered light to illuminate a new flag on a 15-foot pole. Truck drivers on the bridge sounded air horn salutes when they saw workers unfurling the new flag. In 2008 the weather or vandals, Frank Dunn, TCC vice president, speculates, snatched the pole. But some landmarks just don’t die. Before the college could respond, another phantom patriot erected a new pole and flag. Salute! Jesse Riggs, manager TCC District Office Facilities Management


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Trainland Mike’s Trainland and the Lancaster Train and Old Toy Museum charmed children and adults from 1979 until 1998. Mike Twiford and Junie Lancaster drew them all to Bennett’s Creek with a collection of trains and toys that earned the shop a national reputation – and an interstate highway sign. Twiford was a teenager when he helped A. J. “Junie” Lancaster start the train, toy and hobby shop in 1968 at Lancaster’s Coleman’s Nursery in Churchland. Just 11 years later Twiford bought the Trainland business. In the early 1980s Trainland outgrew the garden center location and moved to Bennett’s Creek. When a 1982 fire severely damaged Coleman’s Nursery, Lancaster moved his vast personal collection of trains and vintage toys to Trainland to create the museum. “Junie and I partnered in the venture and pulled people in on a nostalgia trip,” Twiford said. “We tried to offer wholesome family entertainment and had a remote control race track in front of the store.”

Lancaster dreamed of a big train layout but by 1992 his battle with Parkinson’s disease was taking its toll. Twiford worked with the South East Virginia Live Steamers, Inc. to create Lancaster’s dream - the Lancaster Short Line, a ride-on garden train that looped around a 1/8 mile landscaped circuit next to Trainland. “It was their labor and Junie’s money,” Twiford said. The first locomotive, a worn amusement ride from the Eastern Shore, was refurbished by the Live Steamers. Silver, detailed with red and yellow, the diesel locomotive recalled the 1940s Santa Fe Chief. After 200 people showed up for the initial run. Hundreds more continued to come to ride the train. After Lancaster’s death in February, 1996, his collection of toys and trains were given to the Children’s Museum of Virginia in downtown Portsmouth. The loss of the museum and intense competition from the Internet forced Twiford to close Trainland in 1998. “There is a season for everything and I fell back on the nursery,” says Twiford, now Vice President of Purchasing at Bennett’s Creek Nursery, adjacent to where Trainland once stood. Skip Novak is the exhibit and train curator of Lancaster Antique Toy and Train collection at the Children’s Museum of Virginia and designed the layout on which many of Junie Lancaster’s trains run. The vast layout highlights three cities – Roanoke, Richmond and Portsmouth and is a visitor favorite. “We have people come from all over the world to see these unique trains,” Novak says. “Junie’s gift of the trains came just in time for phase two of the museum and they’re a huge draw.”


Millstones in Pughsville A row of large, wheel shaped stones lined along Towne Point Road near a tidy white bungalow in Pughsville hark back to when the community was primarily farmland. Anita Brabson says that her father, Jasper Lee Brabson, ran a gristmill in Pughsville from 1948 to 1959. “He made bran and meal which he sold to area supermarkets and housewives,” she says. “His trade name for the product was “Pilgrims’ Progress” because he was working by himself and felt like a pilgrim”. “The product, he declared was delicious and profitable, he made it so. At first, he gave it away to housewives. They enjoyed it and about a week later, he had more than enough customers. The corn he used came from his 350 acre farm.” Phyllis Taylor, Anita Brabson’s sister, remembers that in the mid-80s her father sold some of the mill equipment to the owner of a store called “The Grist Mill” in North Carolina. “The owner bought what he wanted from my father’s grist mill and a crane was used to pull the mill stones out of the mill,” she says. “The crane operator placed the mill stones where my father requested in the location facing Town Point Road, about 30 feet from where the mill had been. There are scripture references that were painted on little signs and placed in a visible setting on the millstones where travelers passing through on Town Point Road could read. We have the scriptures, but the signs would have to be repainted” According to Brabson, one of those scriptures was Luke 17:1& 2 – “Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.”

John H. Sheally II


Obici House When Amedeo and Louise Obici moved to Suffolk to build his career in peanuts they also built their new life on the riverfront Bay Point Farm in Sleepy Hole. In December 1924, Obici purchased the 260+ acre estate from Leila A. Wagner, a widow who had inherited the farm from her late husband. Obici moved the circa 1870 farm house to its current setting and built a 7000 square foot Italian inspired mansion around the original structure. An elegant staircase sized to Obici’s diminutive stature, stained glass panels (one depicting a peanut plant in bloom), fluted columns and large windows enhanced the house’s Italian flair. The Obicis decorated with sculpture and paintings collected on trips to Italy and added amenities, then hi-tech, such as central heat and air conditioning and a fire alarm system. A winding tree lined lane led to the main entrance, flanked by brick pedestals and a pair of cast concrete lions. It was a beautiful place to entertain and a home to enjoy. The Obicis did both. They had no children but Louise’s niece, Louise, visited often from Pennsylvania. “Even though she was two years younger than me, I was invited to play,” says Frances Jones Cleveland who grew up in Driver. “The chauffeur picked me up to go to the mansion. I remember that Obici kept two pet goats in the kitchen and had one bear in the barn.” Louise Obici enjoyed an extensive garden of exotic plants. In 1936 Obici registered the Bay Point Dairy Farm and marketed milk from his herd of Guernseys. Their world was shattered when Louise Obici died in 1938 and Amedeo, broken-hearted, locked the door and moved into the Hotel Elliot. When he died in 1947 the estate went to his brother in-law Mario Peruzzi with instructions to sell the contents of the house, cows, and anything else he wished. John H. Sheally II


Peruzzi kept the estate until 1952 when he sold it to Pern and Marian Hartman. A Norfolk businessman, Hartman, like numerous other city residents, longed to be a gentleman farmer. Ryland Hartman was 9 years old when his parents bought the property, fully furnished. “We moved from a two bedroom bungalow in Ward’s Corner,” Hartman says. “The Obici kitchen was bigger than our house had been. When we moved in we used everything – even used Obici’s monogrammed flatware to eat breakfast.” He was fascinated by the ornate furnishings, the servant call button in the dining room floor – and by the bear rug in the living room under a marble table. Could that have been the same black bear rumored to ride to the post office every day with Obici in his Model T? The rug was the first thing his mother discarded. Hartman remembers hearing that Obici would park the Model T on a cattle loading ramp at the barn, where the bear supposedly was kept in a pipe cage, and coast down the ramp to start the car. “We lived in glory for five years with a cook and a yard man who put on a white coat and served meals,” he says. “We had a maid who used to iron and babysit us once in a while.”

“There was a still on the property when we bought it and the basement was like a speakeasy. Behind heavy doors with electric locks was a wine vault with basketed bottles of home made Chianti. But someone thought the bottles should be turned upright, so the corks had dried out, termites ate the baskets and the wine turned to vinegar.” Life on the farm was a new experience. The farm’s big, mean red bull with no name tossed the neighbor Nelms’ goat over the fence. “I don’t know what the goat was doing in the pasture but I saw him flying through the air, taking his last breath,” Hartman says. Marian Hartman made butter and the family drank raw milk from the farm. They also entertained, enjoying a house and pool full of company every summer. The pool was unfiltered so when the algae bloomed the Hartman children drained, scrubbed and refilled it, inadvertently draining the farm’s water tank. Marian Hartman tried to chase stubborn poachers from the estate oyster grounds.


“I got a gun and threatened them and they still didn’t move but when I slung the gun over my shoulder it went off and those two men pushed that dead rise off the oyster bed like their lives depended on it,” she says. “The boat had gotten stuck when the tide went out.” Ryland Hartman remembers when a fire started in the milk shed in the mid-1950s and spread to the other barns and the milk house. “It was the dead of winter, must have been 10 below, coldest night I’ve ever seen,” he says. “My father and I got all the cows out of the barn and into the holding pen. One fire truck came in the lane so fast it missed the turn by the lions and ended up in the cornfield.” “We had no insurance and all the milking equipment was roasted so we borrowed equipment and coolers and kept on going while we built a new milk handling building.” Then Hurricane Hazel roared through in 1958 tearing away the boathouse. “There were so many fallen trees that it took a week with chain saws and tractors to get from the house to the road,” Hartman says. “I enjoyed the house, the farm, and the hard work – set my life style from then on. I used to plow fields until midnight and get up for school in the morning. Before I left that farm in 1962 I could weld, rebuild tractors and skin coons, squirrels and ducks.”

Pern Hartman’s health was failing so in 1963 they sold to a developer who in turn sold to the City of Portsmouth in 1966. Portsmouth developed a golf course and used the house as a reception center. In 2002 the City of Suffolk bought the house and golf course. The house ended up on the Preservation Virginia’s 2009 list of most endangered historic sites. Then the Ronnie Rountree family took over managing both the house and surrounding Sleepy Hole Golf Course from the City of Suffolk. The Rountrees poured money, effort and love into restoring the house as dramatically as they had the golf course. Now the home, restored to a contemporary version of its former glory, is once again open for receptions and other special events. After Pern Hartman died in 1976 Ryland and Marian Hartman each settled on the Eastern Shore where they live with a few mementoes and many memories of their “glory days” in the Obici House.

Left to right: Sharon, Ryland, and Marian Hartman


John H. Sheally II John H. Sheally II

Jolyne Dalzell, great niece of the Obicis

John H. Sheally II


Farm Family Cemeteries Family cemeteries dot the North Suffolk landscape like notes from the past discovered in unexpected places. Some are a few tilted, worn headstones in a weedy patch while others rest, well tended, behind iron fences. And many more are flat, forgotten stone markers barely visible under encroaching greenery. Once the norm, especially in the South, family cemeteries have become a rarity. With fewer families owning farms or larger properties, burials generally have moved to church graveyards or public cemeteries. When families move from the farm or sell off property to developers, cemeteries can get lost in the transition. Ian W. Brown, an anthropology professor at the University of Alabama, describes family cemeteries as “outdoor museums” that are threatened throughout the South. “People are concerned with them in a general fashion,” he says. “But unless it’s your family, no one’s tending them.” In North Suffolk family cemeteries are found in the middle of housing developments such as Brittany Farms where the Jones family cemetery sits among homes of strangers. The Ames family cemetery, unfenced but intact, is on an open stretch of Knott’s Neck Road. On the corner of Bennett’s Pasture Road and Nansemond Parkway, a small cemetery lies just off the road. Faded silk flowers tucked near the leaf-strewn gravestones indicate that people still visit this African American cemetery that holds the remains of the Smith family. Harrison Smith, who died in 1896, is the oldest cemetery resident with a marked tombstone. He may have been born a slave in 1811 but in the 1870 census he was listed as a farmer in the Sleepy Hole area. Smith’s descendants rest in the 20 or so other graves, including his great grandson, James A. Eason, a World War II Army veteran. The more recent visible graves, one in 2003, indicate the cemetery is still in use. Virginia and John P. Harlow lived in the old farmhouse overlooking the river at the end of Lee Farm Lane. Their friend Hinton Hurff remembers, “Some of my fondest memories were staying there with Jack (Jack Nurney, Virginia’s brother) and Gin. We used to rock on the porch and listen to the wind in the pine trees – that’s why I planted pines at my place.” Also overlooking the river is the Gaskins family cemetery that the Harlows tended carefully for years. The manicured cemetery, surrounded by an ornate iron fence, offers a glimpse into local history chiseled in stone.


“Hurricane Isabel took down five tall old trees that crashed onto the wrought iron fence and some of the monuments,” Virginia Harlow said. “John replaced the fence and had the monuments repaired.” She grew accustomed to people occasionally stopping by to visit the cemetery, usually trying to trace a long gone relative. Harlow walked among the graves, talking about those buried there as she would about dear friends. One larger monument lists the names of James and Dollner Lee Gray. Harlow said that James Gray was a meteorologist of some kind and, local lore adds, was on duty in Norfolk to receive the message that the Wright brothers had made their famous flight on the Outer Banks. The Wright family has a well-tended cemetery on its former farm property that fronts Bennett’s Creek. The cemetery, with 14 marked graves, sits not far from where the barn used to be. The property, no longer in the family, is now the site of a new community of 177 homes, The Waterfront at Parkside. Fortunately The Waterfront was planned to work with the idyllic setting and each new home has a water or marsh view. Developer and custom builder Eric Sasser honored the site’s heritage as well and now, freshly graveled, landscaped and surrounded by an iron fence, the family cemetery is secure and preserved. Appropriately, perhaps, there may be a ghost on the land. John Wright tells the story of his ancestor, William Joseph Wright (1820 – 1876), a tall man who walked the farm wearing a top hat and using a cane. Years after he died the hired hands begged the foremen to let them leave before dark because that’s when, they were sure, Wright’s ghost could be seen walking the property.

John H. Sheally II

John H. Sheally II

John H. Sheally II

John H. Sheally II


Did You Know?

Spring Training In 1948 Emil Bossard and George Toma, the two inaugural inductees to the Major League Baseball Groundskeeper Hall of Fame, came to Driver, at the request of the Cleveland Indians, to build two minor league training fields at Monogram Field, the deactivated Naval air base. Toma has more recently found fame as the grounds keeping guru of the Super Bowl. When the field was complete, the Indians sent their AAA farm team (named the Baltimore Orioles) there for spring training for at least one year. John Eberwine, then about 12, was one of numerous youngsters who hung around the training camp and he’s got the lumber to prove it. According to Eberwine the players and staff gave the broken or cracked wooden bats to the kids watching the practices and he still treasures those Louisville Sluggers.

John Eberwine


City of Nansemond - Shortest Lived Independent City in Virginia History In the 1950s residents of Nansemond County knew that the neighboring cities of Portsmouth and Suffolk were both looking with interest at the county’s 400+ square miles of land as a means of expanding the cities’ somewhat landlocked positions. Both Portsmouth and Suffolk each posed an annexation threat in the post-World War II era when a wave of consolidations swept through southeast Virginia. Judge James C. Godwin, retired senior circuit court judge, was intimately involved with the city/county questions and doubts that Portsmouth could have been successful in annexing Nansemond County. He saw Suffolk and Nansemond County sharing a rural life style while Portsmouth and its residents were more urban. In addition the Nansemond County courthouse and governing offices were already located within the 10 square mile City of Suffolk. Cities then were legally prohibited from annexing other cities and Godwin says that the county board of supervisors realized that unless they incorporated, they could lose the northern end of Nansemond County in an annexation. In 1966 voters rejected a referendum to merge the City of Suffolk and Nansemond County, combine many governing services and allow the city to annex enough county land to double its size. But the pressure wasn’t off as two years later the City of Suffolk filed an annexation suit to gain 17 square miles of Nansemond County, including the town of Holland. Portsmouth might renew its interest in the northern part of the county as well. “The county could not afford to lose that area,” Godwin says. “They knew the value of it and had already taken steps to create a county police department with John Eberwine as one of the commissioners.” In 1972 Godwin ruled that all the legalities had been satisfied for the county and its two towns, Holland and Whaleyville, to become an

independent city on July 1 of that year without the need for a charter granted by the General Assembly. DeWitte “D. J.” Mangum, the former chairman of the county board of supervisors, became the first mayor of the new City of Nansemond. His tenure would be record setting as the only mayor of the shortest lived independent city in Virginia history. Moses Riddick was the vice-mayor and Howard L. Munford, John W. Nelms, Jr., and Joseph A. Savage were councilmen. As Nansemond City was organizing, the City of Suffolk was still in court pushing for annexation. The court gave the two cities 45 days to work out a consolidation compromise. A score of citizens from each city met, often working, locals remember, around the clock to hammer out an agreement to meet the August, 1972, court deadline. They designated taxing districts, merged school systems and developed a joint budget. “It was controversial,” Godwin remembers. “Nansemond and Suffolk, while they worked together, always had a little bit of a rivalry.”

In November, voters in both cities passed the merger agreement and the cities officially merged at midnight, January 1, 1974 as the current City of Suffolk, and geographically the largest city in Virginia. Mangum became vice-mayor and James Hope of Suffolk became mayor of the newly combined city. “I thought it was inevitable that the area would be merged with Suffolk and North Suffolk would grow,” Godwin says. “People from Portsmouth and Norfolk were moving our way and businesses would follow.”


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