Monday, December 17, 2012

The Dowdy Farm

I had a great Sunday afternoon conversation with the Rev. Dan Dowdy of the 600 block of Woodstock Road. Dan has been a Woodstock resident since 1951, when his father Joseph Dowdy purchased a 4 acre lot that stretched from Woodstock Road east to present-day Rodney Lane (the southern half of Parkerson lot #16). Dan shared a few great pictures of Woodstock from the early 1960's, and he has given me permission to share them with you.

April, 1960 -- Dan's father, Joseph Dowdy, farming the land that is now 614 thru 618 Woodstock Road. Facing east -- those trees in the distance will eventually give way to Interstate 64, which will cut the Dowdy farm right down the middle. Progress...


Dan's sister, Ellen. There is no date on the photo, but if we take a guess based on her apparent age, this picture is probably circa 1954. That house behind her is the Fentress residence at 604 Woodstock Road, though a different house occupies that property now.


July, 1961 -- Standing immediately east of the U-shaped driveway at 616 Woodstock Road, facing west. Today that distant field is Woodstock Cove park and lake; and 617 and 621 Woodstock Road are right across the street. That's Betsy, staring at the camera.


April, 1964 -- Dan's father purchased this house at auction for $300. The house originally occupied land on Oak Terrace Drive that was in the path of Interstate 64 construction. The house was moved from there to its current location just off Woodstock Road. According to the City Assessor's Office website, the house was built in 1941, which makes it the oldest (surviving) house in Woodstock. There is a hand-written note on the back of this photo that says, "Moving Day from Oak Drive -- on my 41st Birth[day]."


May, 1971 -- Standing on the Dowdy property, facing east. That truck in the background is travelling on I-64, which at this time is visible from Woodstock Road.


These photos are a great example of why this blog exists: to record the memories of those who lived here before us, and share them with those of us who are new to the community (like myself). If you have access to any old photos that you would like to share here, please e-mail me at


Thank you, Pastor Dan!


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Mystery Herbert House

I mentioned in an earlier post how appreciative I am of the Virginia Beach Central Library and the staff there. Early in my research I asked them for any information they had on Edward Herbert and Level Green Plantation. They produced several newspaper articles, some family tree info and also several old photographs of a house. There was a hand-written note in pencil next to one of the photos that simply said;
House in Kempsville
Think -- now gone
Herbert prop.

Other photos of the same house were similarly labelled, "Herbert house" with no additional information on where the house was located, when it was built, or when the photos were taken. This, of course, fired up the history detective in me: I had to learn more about this mystery house.
The house most often associated with the Herbert Family is probably Sunnyside, formerly located at 301 Riverton Point (the 19th century house was demolished in 1990). Sunnyside remained in the Herbert family for over 150 years, and was featured in a tour of historic homes in Virginia Beach.  However, a quick glance at the two homes shows that the mystery house is not Sunnyside.
Sunnyside probably wasn't the plantation house for Level Green anyway. Level Green was established in 1833, south of "the main road leading from Norfolk to Kempsville" (Providence Road). Edward Herbert didn't purchase the land around Sunnyside Drive until 1850. Edward's son, Arthur Herbert purchased several tracts of his father's land in 1882, including 100 acres "... of Level Green estate, on which all buildings stood" south of the Indian River Turnpike (Princess Anne County Deed Book 56, page 80). That particular parcel remained farm land until the early 1970's, so satellite imagery from proved helpful here. The 1963 imagery shows a plantation-style arrangement of a few structures and several large trees surrounded by farm land immediately west of what is now the intersection of Tradewinds Drive and Level Green Blvd.
the photo was labelled, in pencil, "Herbert house, Kempsville"
The structures were located at the end of a lane that began at the intersection of Providence and Indian River Roads. I will mention here that while Indian River Road was not constructed until after the Civil War, Providence Road did exist in 1833.
Unidentified photo, part of the "Herbert house" photo collection
I found the most recent piece of evidence while on a date night with my wife, Robby. Flipping through pages at the Barnes & Noble in Town Center, I was surprised by a photo in the book, Virginia Beach (Then & Now) by Amy Hayes Castleberry. In the chapter "Eastern Branch, Kempsville and Newtown" there is a photo of a house that is all-but-identical to the house in the mystery photo. The house is identified as "Level Green".
The quality of the satellite imagery is not good enough to compare to the house photos to confirm a match, so I wouldn't say that my research is conclusive; however, all of the evidence that I do have suggests that the house in the picture is, in fact, the Level Green plantation house, probably constructed some time around 1833 after Edward Herbert purchased that land; located at what is now the intersection of Tradewinds Drive and Level Green Blvd. According to USGS maps on, the plantation house probably survived right up until the construction of the Level Green neighborhood in the early-to-mid 1970's. Perhaps someone who has lived in this area longer than I have can offer some insight?