Thursday, December 26, 2013

Jesse J. Parkerson

While Pheby Richards holds the title of Woodstock's first resident, it was Jesse J. Parkerson who transitioned much of Woodstock from woodland to neighborhood during World War II. From the mid-nineteenth century until 1940, most of the property east of Woodstock Road was just that -- wood stock; 150 acres of timberland [1]. Raymond DeFrees purchased this land from his brother-in-law Emmet Don Sheets in 1929, but lost the property to foreclosure during the economic turmoil of the 1930's [2]. Jesse J. Parkerson, a real-estate investor and president of the Merchants and Planters bank purchased the property out of foreclosure. He parceled it up into 4 and 8 acre lots which were then sold off over the next 8 years [3].

Princess Anne County Map Book 12 page 45. At this time, Woodstock Road is known simply as "Public Road" and Walker Road is "Private Road".


Parkerson called upon Burt Hunter, a tenant farmer who had been living in Woodstock for nearly 10 years, to meet with potential buyers and show property boundaries. In trade for his services, Mr. Parkerson conveyed a 1 acre plot of land at the corner of Woodstock and Walker Road to Burt and his wife Della.

The following is an excerpt from the 1959 book, The History of Lower Tidewater Virginia:

JESSE J. PARKERSON—Since 1929, Jesse J. Parkerson has been president of the Merchants and Planters Bank of Norfolk, and his experience in his profession dates from the early years of the century. He joined the staff of the bank in 1902 and has played a conspicuous part in its growth. Not only as a banker but as a progressive citizen and promoter of civic causes, he has proved his value to the area.

Born July 23, 1884, in Berkley, Virginia, now a part of the city of Norfolk, he is a son of the late W. T. J. and Cherry (Martin) Parkerson. After attending public and private schools and a business college, he began his career in Berkley as a runner for the Merchants and Planters Bank on January 2, 1902. Advancing through the positions of bookkeeper and teller, he was made cashier on December 31, 1909, and was elected president on January 16, 1929.

The Merchants and Planters Bank was the first financial institution to be established in that part of the city which lies across the eastern branch of the Elizabeth River. It opened its doors April 1, 1900. Founded through the efforts of Alvah H. Martin, Sr., and other progressive citizens, it began its existence with a capital of thirty thousand dollars. Foster Black was its first president, and he was succeeded by Alvah H. Martin, who saw the bank's capital increased to fifty thousand dollars. Following the death of Mr. Martin on July 5, 1918, Colonel S. L. Slover became its executive head. During his tenure of office, two branches were opened: the Campostella Branch, at Campostella Road and Springfield Avenue in 1924, and the South Norfolk Branch, Twenty-second and Liberty Avenue, in 1927.

Active in other business connections as well, Mr. Parkerson is treasurer and a director of the Chesapeake Building Association, and a director of the Security Insurance Agency, Inc. He is president and director of the South Norfolk Bridge Commission, a director of the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Virginia State Chamber of Commerce, and as a bank executive, belongs to the Virginia Bankers Association and the American Bankers Association. In his own city he is a member of the Norfolk Executives Club, the Norfolk Yacht and Country Club, and Doric Lodge No. 44, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons. In Masonry he is a member of the higher bodies including the Ionic Chapter of Royal Arch Masons. In civic and philanthropic fields, he serves on the board of directors of the Central Young Men's Christian Association, as treasurer of the Norfolk area of the Virginia Society for Crippled Children, as a member of the lay board of the DePaul Hospital, and of the Pension Bureau of the city of Norfolk. He has been active in the Norfolk Community Chest fund campaigns; and during the World War II period, did outstanding work for the Norfolk War Finance Committee on behalf of the United States Treasury Department. A communicant of the Memorial Methodist Church of Berkley, he formerly served on its board of stewards and as treasurer.

On October 31, 1906, Jesse J. Parkerson married Emma Clark Markham of Elizabeth City, North Carolina, daughter of the late James C. and Emiline (Purdy) Markham, both of whom were born in North Carolina. Mr. and Mrs. Parkerson are the parents of one daughter, Lois, a graduate of Randolph-Macon College at Lynchburg, Virginia. She married William E. Warren of Norfolk. Mr. Warren is vice president and director of the Merchants and Planters Bank of Norfolk, and is in charge of its Lafayette Boulevard Branch. Mr. and Mrs. Warren are the parents of one daughter, Ann Parkerson Warren. Mr. and Mrs. Parkerson make their home at 944 Larchmont Crescent, Norfolk. [4]


Jesse J. Parkerson died November 21, 1959, at the age of 75.

I was discussing the new Jordan Bridge with my wife. We were looking for pictures when I came across this one and thought, "Hey! I know that guy" -- in a historical figure sense, of course. [5]



[1] Woodstock's development can be broken down into 3 regions: north Woodstock, bordered by Walker Road, I-64 and the river was the first plot of Woodstock proper to have a residence. West Woodstock was not part of Edward Herbert's Woodstock, but was grafted in over time. East Woodstock, spoken of here, originally included the land between Woodstock Road and present day Rodney Lane, if Rodney Lane were extended from Providence Road to the river.
[2] The DeFrees family would keep their primary residence through the 1950's -- a dairy farm located at the historic Francis Land house on present-day Virginia Beach Blvd.
[3] Lot 17 was the exception, weighing in at about 43 acres. Frederick L. Hood purchased this land from Mr. Parkerson in May, 1942. The land was later purchased by Silas Harrison, brother of Walter Harrison (who lived on what is now the Woodstock Cove subdivision from 1934-1951). Silas' widow Mildred Harrison sold the land to developers in the mid-1960's, and it is now part of the Avalon Terrace subdivision.
[4] Wichard, Rogers Dey; History of Lower Tidewater Virginia, Vol. 3, p. 22 Lewis Historical Publishing Co. Inc., New York, NY 1959
[5] Photo source:


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Burt and Della Hunter

Deed records form the backbone for much of the research found in these posts. But there is so much that a deed does not say: were these people good neighbors, well liked in the community? Were the grantors friends of the grantees, or family; or did the transaction take place between anonymous persons who never met?

I really enjoy finding connections that extend beyond mere real-estate transactions. I was gratified to learn that the Olivers, Harrisons and Steeles were not merely neighbors, but family [1]. I received similar good news when I met recently with sisters Debbie Yancey and Ruth Barrett to look through their old photo albums. Debbie and Ruth are daughters of Perry and Helen Kight and former Walker Road residents. Debbie contacted me after reading this blog to let me know that Burt and Della Hunter were her grandparents.

My first introduction to Burt and Della, beyond the 1941 deed for their property on the south side of Walker Road, was from my interview with Mary Anne Harrison Smith. Della was the neighborhood gossip who kept Mary Oliver from her chores; Burt was the Jack-Sprat-ly fellow who was falsely accused of leaving Della's undergarments on the clothes line (they had actually been pranked by the Harrison children). Thanks to Debbie and Ruth, I learned much more about Burt and Della; and they passed along some photos of Woodstock from the 1930's to the 1970's that I am pleased to share with you now.

In the 1930's Burt and Della Hunter were tenant farmers on the Perdue (later Walker) farm along what is now Sterling Road. When Jesse Parkerson purchased the 150 acres of woodland along the east side of Woodstock Road in 1940, he enlisted Burt Hunter to show the 4 and 8 acre parcels to potential buyers; identifying plots and pointing out property boundaries. In exchange for his services, Mr. Parkerson conveyed a 1 acre plot along the south side of Walker Road to Burt. As a result, Burt and Della became the first homeowners on the east side of Woodstock Road.


This house, located in what is now the front yard of 501 Sterling Road, was first made known to me as the Perdue home from the 1920's. Burt and Della occupied this home as tenants of the "Walker house" (as it came to be known) in the 1930's. That's Burt and Della's daughter, Helen Kight. That's the river on the other side of the house.


Della, tending chickens on the Walker farm, pre-1941. She is probably standing about where 512 Sterling Road is now, and we are looking southwest, toward where Sterling Court is today.


That barn is behind what is now 524 Sterling Road, in the east-bound lane of I-64. Burt and Della were the last tenants to farm the land along Sterling Road. Subsequent owners kept cows and horses until the mid-1960's.


The Hunters' new home after 1941, at the corner of Woodstock and Walker Roads. The house was of modest rural construction, with some of the roof joists still covered in tree bark. Bathroom facilities were outside. The house was torn down in the mid-1970's, and today that plot of ground is 5881 Walker Road.

I date this photo prior to 1945 because the Jimmy Steele house (now 568 Woodstock Road) doesn't appear to have been built yet. It should be on the other side of the car. The farm beyond is the Oliver farm at this time, or the 500 block of Woodstock Road today.


This is Helen "Snookie" Kight (elder sister of Debbie and Ruth, daughter of Perry and Helen Kight). If we take a guess at her age (I'll say 3?) then this picture is ca. 1946. That is the Jimmy Steele house to the right, and the former Oliver farm beyond. The Olivers (in their late-60's by this time) sold their farm the year before and bought Jimmy Steele's house.

Snookie again, with Woodstock Road behind her and the former Hastings farm on the other side of the road (E.V. Williams Construction owned it at the time this picture was taken; ca. 1958). During the E.V. Williams years, this property was used as a borrow pit and a trash dump. Today the land in view here is 613 Woodstock Road, Woodstock Cove Park, and a lake.


Walker Road, ca. 1970. Note the vehicle travelling on I-64 in the distance. The Kight house is on the right, occupying the eastern half of the Hunter property. The Kight house was demolished in 2011 and 4 brand new homes occupy that land today.


Neighbors: Mary and John Oliver, with John surrounded by his grandchildren, Mary Craddock (on his left) Joan Craddock (on his right) and an unidentified little one in front of him; The Olivers' daughter Elsie Craddock is front row left, with Burt and Della Hunter on the right. That structure in the background is the garage for the Jimmy Steele house, which still faces Walker road today.



ENDNOTES:[1] I may be making references that newer readers are not familiar with. For a good overview of Woodstock's history, including notable names and dates, see my PowerPoint presentation.



Thursday, July 11, 2013

Before There Was Kemps Landing School

Today I found the Sargeant Memorial Room at the Norfolk Public Library. If you read any books on local history, there is a very good chance that several of the photos will have "Courtesy of the Sargeant Memorial Collection" noted somewhere nearby. I asked about their Princess Anne County photo collection, and the guy at the desk pulled four file folders out of a drawer and handed them to me! I spent the next 30 minutes or so sifting through old photos.

One set of photos caught my eye immediately, because they answered a nagging question that has occupied my mind since my interview with Mary Ann Harrison Smith. She said she attended Kempsville Elementary during her grammar school years (1942-) and that the building had "real pretty white columns in front". I attended Kempsville Elementary in 1978 & 1979, and there were no "real pretty white columns!" I also knew that my Kempsville Elementary only dated back to the 1960's, so she couldn't be referring to that building. I knew Kemps Landing School was older, but Kemps Landing doesn't have real pretty white columns either.

The Virginia Beach Public Schools website has a short history of the old Kempsville Elementary and it seems to indicate that the building that eventually came to be known as Kemps Landing, built in 1941, was the original Kempsville Elementary. But what about the pretty white columns? Mary Ann did say that her old school was torn down; so did they tear down a previous school with white columns when they built Kemps Landing? But if that is the case, it would have been torn down before Mary Ann was old enough to attend.

This is when the Sargeant Memorial Collection clarified everything for me:

Photo courtesy of the Sargeant Memorial Collection

There is an inscription on the back of this photo, "Kempsville Grammar and High School; 10-7-31". YES! There are COLUMNS! In fact, there are two buildings here, side by side, and they both have columns. Which one is the grammar school? Which one is the high school? The photo doesn't specify.

Photo courtesy of the Sargeant Memorial Collection

This is a photo of the building on the far left in the first photo. This photo is inscribed, "Kempsville Grammar and High; 10-9-31". Not much clarification there, but I did notice something: take careful note of the windows on the left...

Photo courtesy of the Sargeant Memorial Collection

Here is the building we are all familiar with, because it still exists today. The photo is inscribed, "Kempsville High School; 5-14-42". My generation knows it as Kemps Landing (not the magnet school; before the magnet school); but whatever you call it, there it is. Now, please note the building to the right of the new high school: see the windows? It looks like they did not tear down the old schools when they built the new one.

This photo has been floating around the Internet for a couple of years now, but I saw it most recently in a Facebook post:

It is a postcard of Kempsville High School, but there is no date. I was always under the impression that the two buildings to the right were the old jail and a municipal building -- but it is crystal clear now that all three buildings are school buildings. The two buildings on the right are the buildings in the photographs above.

With just a little more research, I found this photo on the Virginia Beach Public Library website:

Now we know which building was the grammar school and which was the high school! The last graduating class was in 1941, and the doors opened at the new high school later that year.

For the record, the grammar school is the oldest building here, constructed in 1910. Both the grammar school and the old high school would be demolished prior to 1953 to make room for a one-story addition to the new building. That addition survived until very recently, when it was torn down to accommodate the re-routing of Princess Anne Road.

While on the subject of additions, I noticed one more thing while studying these photos. Those of us who have lived in Kempsville for any length of time know about the one-story addition to the Kempsville High/Kemps Landing building; but these photos show that was not the first addition that was made:

The wall that faces the grammar school is the northernmost edge of the building in this 1942 photo.

By the time this picture was taken (before 1953) a new wing has appeared on the northwest corner of the building. That addition is still there.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Pheby Richards and the Craney Island Lighthouse

If you've watched my Woodstock History PowerPoint presentation, then you are already familiar with Pheby and Elisha Richards. Pheby's name is on the 1878 deed for Woodstock Farm, so the Richards are probably the first family to call Woodstock home. 1878-79 was a time of great transition for the Richards family, which may explain why Pheby ended up selling the farm just a few years later. Despite their abbreviated tenure, Elisha and Pheby are part of the Woodstock story -- a story that recently became a little more personal.

During a routine Googling session I found Pheby and Elisha Richards names on U.S. Treasury Department payroll documents from 1877 and 1879. They were listed as keepers of the Craney Island Light at the entrance to the Elizabeth River. I was astonished that someone at Google took the time to digitize the U.S. Treasury Department payrolls for 1877 and 1879, and make them available online! Those particular documents seem almost random in terms of historical significance, but they provided a fascinating historical connection between Woodstock and the larger Hampton Roads history.I started an e-mail campaign to locate any documentation that might be available for the Craney Island Light. Several Virginia and North Carolina lighthouses have survived to this day; but unfortunately, Craney Island is not one of them. Probably for this reason much of the documentation from that period has been lost to history, save one item: a hand-written letter from Pheby Richards to the Secretary of the Navy.


Photocopy courtesy of the National Archives


Craney Island LH

July 22nd 1879

Honorable Wm Sherman
Secretary of the Navy
Sir: I have been assistant keeper at this station for nearly six years my husband Elisha Richards being principal. But it has now pleased God to remove him by the hand of death. I still wish to retain my position here and I have a son (W.B. Wilder by name) 26 years old who is quite capable and with your permission will come to my assistance and fill the place now vacant. There are many applications already in & I come to you to say that if I can retain my position here it will be of great service to me and to ask you to favor me in this matter. This station is near Norfolk and not far from shore and for many years past (even before the war) one of the keepers has been a female. The next station to this also has a lady assistant.Very respectfully your obedient servant,
P.D. Richards


As lightkeepers at Craney Island from 1873-1879, Elisha and Pheby would have maintained a residence there. Lighthouse appointments were generally restricted to persons between the ages of 18 and 50; but by 1878, Elisha and Pheby were both well into their 50's, with Elisha 4 years her senior (this might also explain why she mentions her son-in-law's age). They may have been looking forward to their next stage in life when they purchased farm land in Princess Anne county; however, plans changed in July, 1879 when Elisha died suddenly of a probable stroke.

As if to compound the tragedy of the sudden loss of her husband, Pheby's request to keep her position at the lighthouse would arrive just a few days too late. Written on July 22nd, it was received by the lighthouse board on July 26th; on July 23rd, the board nominated Robert B. More as acting lightkeeper at Craney Island, with Marshall Sand taking over as acting assistant keeper a few months later.

Pheby sold Woodstock Farm in 1882, at a 10% loss. She lived with her daughter Fannie and son-in-law James W. Bacchus in Norfolk for many years after, and by 1910 (just before her death) she was living in Portsmouth with another daughter Ella and son-in-law William Wilder (the one mentioned in the letter).

In the years that followed, The Craney Island Light fell victim to severe structural decline. In 1884 the 25 year old square structure was replaced with an entirely new octagonal structure. This second lighthouse is the one usually represented in pictures of the Craney Island Light. That structure was replaced in 1936 by an automated beacon. Today, only a signal bouy marks the spot once occupied by the Craney Island Light.



R.B. More is listed as the keeper of the Cape Charles lighthouse in the same 1877 payroll document, but he is not on the 1879 payroll, probably because he retired by this time. An Infantry Captain in the Civil War, More was 65 years old when he (temporarily) took over duties at Craney Island.

The "next station" that Mrs. Richards refers to in her letter is probably the Lambert's Point lighthouse, staffed by William L. Clegg and Mrs. J. V. Clegg.

There is some incongruity in Mrs. Richards addressing a "Wm Sherman" as Secretary of the Navy. Richard W. Thompson was Secretary of the Navy from 1877-1880. However, the national network of lighthouses was under the oversight of the Department of the Treasury, not the Navy. John Sherman was Treasury Secretary from 1877-1881. John's brother was William Tecumseh Sherman, the famous Union general during the Civil War.

This research thread has led to one correction in the PowerPoint presentation: a couple of family record references state that Elisha Richards died in 1878. However, the U.S. Treasury Department records indicate that he remained on the payroll at least through the end of 1878, and he is on the 1879 roster. It seems unlikely that the lighthouse board would wait an entire year to fill the vacancy, and it also seems unlikely that Pheby would wait a year to defend her position to the lighthouse board. 1879 seems like the more likely year of Elisha Richard's death.


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Woodstock Road

If Woodstock Road isn't the oldest residential street in Kempsville, it certainly rates in the oldest 1% of residential streets in Kempsville; and possibly in all of Virginia Beach. I am making a distinction here between residential streets (roads that serve specific neighborhoods; Lord Dunmore Drive, Edwin Drive, Indian Lakes Blvd., etc.) and main roads (roads that interconnect municipalities like Norfolk, Kempsville or Great Bridge and are generally lined with businesses; Kempsville Road, Princess Anne Road, Indian River Road, etc.). I will grant that in Princess Anne County's rural years, farms lined the main roads; and even today Kempsville Road is lined with houses. But with the proliferation of suburban residential development beginning after World War II, and really gaining steam in the 1970's, Woodstock's 19th century origins set it apart from other Kempsville neighborhoods like Fairfield, Larkspur and Indian Lakes.


The Evidence


Plat of Woodstock, 1877. Note the road along the eastern border. This is not the present day Woodstock Road; in fact, this road no longer exists. The present day Woodstock Road is not depicted on this plat, which means it was probably constructed after 1877.


The first mention of the right-of-way that we now refer to as Woodstock Road occurs in the deed of sale between Samuel Kimberly and Pheby Richards in 1878. Mrs. Richards purchased a 65 acre riverfront plot from Kimberly; from present-day Walker Road north to the river, and from I-64 west to the creek. Her land was separated from the main road (Providence Road) by the rest of Kimberly's land to the southeast and the Whitehurst farm to the southwest. The construction of a new road between these two properties would be necessary to allow Mrs. Richards access to her purchase. The deed of sale grants "the said Kimberly ... the right of use of the road or lane running through the land of said Pheby D. Richards to the creek or river, and the said Samuel Kimberly agrees that the said P. D. Richards shall have the right of way to the main road 40 feet wide." (Princess Anne County deed book 54 page 227). A survey plat of Woodstock from 1877 does show a lane from the river to the main road, but it runs along the eastern border of Woodstock, not through Pheby Richards land; and so therefore cannot be the road spoken of here. In fact, Woodstock Road began in 1878 as Pheby Richard's driveway.


Plat of Woodstock Farm, 1914. This map runs north/south along the horizontal axis. Note how the road bends to the east shortly after entering the Chinn property.


Our next exhibit is a survey plat of Woodstock Farm from 1914 (Princess Anne County map book 8, page 76). The former Richards property is now under the ownership of young Cynthia Chinn, who has taken her neighbor to court for logging on her land. The 1914 plat which was entered as evidence in Cynthia Chinn v. Gimbert Brothers et. al., is both remarkably detailed and poorly preserved; but for our purposes it is legible where it needs to be. The plat shows the road that connects Woodstock Farm to the main road; but it is interesting to note that the road takes a noticeable eastward bend once it enters the farm, reaching the river closer to where Sterling Road does today.

In 1922, Woodstock Farm was purchased by John A. Anderson, who subdivided the property and sold the western 20+ acres to James Howe. A road provides an easy boundary for such purposes: but at this time the road probably still took an eastwardly bend, which would not have provided the boundary he was looking for. Anderson moved the road so that it continued in a straight line to the river, and then sold the land west of the road to Howe. In 1924 Anderson dedicated this new section of road for public use:

...a strip of land 40 feet wide, as would lie between the eastern and western sides of a certain road to the east of said W. Davis' land and marked on said plat "road," if prolonged or extended in the same straight line from the southern boundary of the property above described to the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River; which said strip of land 40 feet wide and extending from the southern to the northern boundary, of the said tract of land, the said grantors do nearby dedicate to the public, to and for their use as a public road. (Princess Anne County Deed Book 121, page 279; Emphasis added)

In 1940, Jesse Parkerson purchased the 150 acres of timberland to the east and south of Woodstock Farm, and subdivided it into multiple 4 and 8 acre lots along Woodstock and Providence Roads. Possibly anticipating the increased traffic, and possibly bending to the petitions of Annie Harrison, Princess Anne County purchased the road from each of the property owners along the right of way (Princess Anne County Deed Book 202, page 505) and then a short time later designated it Route 703, Woodstock Road.

Today, a drive along Woodstock Road gives one a vague sense of a rural past -- maybe because the road is a little narrower than it should be; maybe it's the lack of curbs along the eastern edge; maybe it's the utility poles. We do know this for sure: Woodstock developed gradually over more than a century, from Pheby Richards secluded 19th century farm house to the nearly 250 homes that exist today. As you take your next drive down Woodstock Road, remember that you're driving along the same ground Pheby Richards horse-drawn carriage did more than 130 years ago.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Original Woodstock sale listing from 1872

Just found this while Googling -- it's the text of the sale advertisement for Edward Herbert's land from 1872.  Woodstock is item #3 in the list.  If I can find an actual image of the newspaper listing I'll be sure and post that too.

This sale listing gives us some key details for establishing Woodstock's residential timeline. While houses and other structures are listed for Level Green and Whitehurst farm, there is no mention of a residence or current occupant for Woodstock. Instead, Woodstock is advertised as "well timbered" forest land with good farming potential.

Woodstock remained on the auction block for nearly 5 years. In March, 1877 Samuel Kimberly purchased the land for $2,000. Kimberly was a businessman, active in Norfolk society and politics: he was no farmer. In the following year he sold the waterfront property to Pheby Richards, and Elizabeth Addington secured the remaining 180 acres 5 months later. The rapid subdivision and resale by Kimberly bears the hallmark of a simple business transaction, so it is not likely that Samuel Kimberly took up residence here.

Pheby Richards and daughter Fannie were listed as Kempsville residents in the 1880 census (they were Norfolk residents in 1870). The census names Samuel Davis as a neighbor [1] and Abner T. Herbert as a neighbor [2], placing the Richards residence right on their Woodstock property. According to this evidence we can identify Pheby Richards as Woodstock's first permanant resident, ca. 1878. [3]

[1] the Davis farm was to the south, on the land that is now Woodstock Park, Providence Park and the Park-And-Ride.
[2] The Herbert's Sunnyside farm was to the west; now the Riverton neighborhood.
[3] My wife is quick to point out that Pheby Richards should be considered the first white resident of Anglo-European descent, since it is possible that native Americans lived here in pre-colonial times. While this is possible, I would counter that forest land would not be suitable for farming or livestock and would therefore not make for a hospitable dwelling of any permanence.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013



The property along Sterling Road, including the stretch of I-64 that runs parallel to Sterling Road was, for just a few years (1924-1928), home to Robert and Laura Perdue. Robert's "day" job was with the Pennsylvania Railroad, as Senior Purser aboard several ships that made the ferry run from Cape Charles to Norfolk. Robert wanted to try his hand at farming, so he moved to Princess Anne County from the eastern shore of Maryland and purchased the 34 acre Walker Farm.


Through (and the phone book) I was able to track down Robert and Laura's son, Robert Perdue Jr., who was actually born on the farm in 1924. I received an e-mail response from Robert's wife, Georgia Perdue, informing me of Robert's sudden passing in 2011. Since that time I've had the honor of learning a bit about the farm boy turned reluctant warrior turned scientist through the memoirs that he gathered together just a few years before he died. The life story of Robert E. Perdue, Jr. is wholly deserving of a separate post, which I hope to write at another time. Until then, you can check out some links that I've included at the end of this post.


Although he never knew me, Dr. Perdue did me a great service. A researcher by training and by nature, he retraced his childhood journey that started here in Woodstock, then continued on to Norfolk, and then Maryland, and then Holland (where he earned a Purple Heart), then Germany (where he earned another Purple Heart and a Bronze Star), then Harvard (where he earned a Ph.D. in Botany), Texas, Africa, and back to Maryland. He gathered and documented photographs from his childhood which Georgia has graciously passed on to me.


A 1928 map of Princess Anne County indicates the location of the Perdue farm. Note the triangle toward the bottom-left formed by Providence Road, Indian River Road, and not Reon Dr., but rather Centerville Turnpike, at its terminus prior to I-64.


Laura, Robert Sr. and Robert Jr. on the farm, ca. 1926


The Perdue farm house ca. 1926, located in what is now the front yard of 501 Sterling Road. The house faces west, with the river just beyond.


The Perdues on the left, Alison and Ella Parsons on the right; a 1925 Ford "New Model-T" Tudor sedan parked in front of their farm house, ca. 1926


The Roberts Perdue, ca. 1926. The house in the background belonged to the Williams family, who were relatives of the Perdues. It was located at the north end of what is now Sterling Rd. According to John Williams, who was born there in 1924 and still lives in Virginia Beach, the house was visible from I-64 until the mid-1970's when development began along Sterling Rd.


Looking west down the Elizabeth River, ca. 1926. I'm guessing that illuminated structure in the distance is probably Sunnyside, home of the Herbert family for nearly 150 years. Directly north, across the river, is the Bachus farm. Robert's memoirs indicate that since they did not own a telephone, calls for the Perdues would be made to the Bachus home. Mrs. Bachus would shout across the river, "Laura!" and Laura would pack Robert Jr. into a rowboat and cross the river to take the call.


The staff of the PRR Pennsylvania, one of several ferry boats that made the Cape Charles to Norfolk run for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Robert Perdue Sr., the ships Purser, is 5th from the left.


An exterior view of the Pennsylvania


The PRR Virginia Lee, another ferry boat traversing the Chesapeake Bay from Cape Charles to Norfolk. Because Robert Sr. was the ship's Purser, little Robert Jr. had run of the entire vessel and was treated like royalty -- including free ham sandwiches in the dining room.


The Virginia Lee, docked at Riverview Avenue, Norfolk


For additional reading on the life of Dr. Robert E. Perdue, Jr., check out these links:

Behind The Lines In Greece: The Story of Operational Group II

Speech at Ft. Stewart, GA

Washington Post Obituary


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Edward H. Herbert and Level Green Plantation


UPDATE! (4/11/13) Special thanks to Mark Schumann for the photographs. Mark is a descendant of the Herbert family, and forwarded these photos to me. I thought they warranted a re-publish of this article, originally published on 11/5/12.


Edward H. Herbert was born on the family farm in what is now the Berkeley section of Norfolk in 1806. The Herbert family has a long history in Hampton Roads, beginning with a land grant from the King of England to George Herbert in 1650. The Herberts were shipbuilders from their earliest days in the New World, but Edward would choose a life in farming. Moving just a few miles to the east, he purchased 200 acres of the former David Murray estate in Princess Anne County and established Level Green Plantation in 1833.

Riveredge, the home to several generations of Herberts in Berkeley. Riveredge would later serve as the childhood home of a young Douglas MacArthur. Photo courtesy of Mark Schumann.

Mr. Herbert would grow Level Green to nearly 600 acres over the next 25 years, and establish himself as a successful farmer in Princess Anne County. He continued to expand his property north to the banks of the Elizabeth River through additional land purchases, from present day Sunnyside Drive to Whitehurst Landing.

Edward H. Herbert. Undated photo courtesy of Mark Schumann.

Mr. Herbert died on December 4, 1862. In his will, he directed his land holdings be sold upon the death of his wife Margaret (she died in 1870), and it is at this time that the land between Providence Road and the Elizabeth River is first referred to as "Woodstock Farm" in court documents.

The area near the intersection of Providence Road and Indian River Road would be known as "Herberts" for the next hundred years; but today, the once prominent family name is nowhere to be found. The Level Green neighborhood offers one of the only remaining references to this areas pre-Civil War history.


In several documents, E. H. Herbert has the title "Colonel", though I have not found evidence of a military career. Several of Edwards children were active in the Civil War, but as far as I can tell he remained a farmer during the conflict. Union troops did occupy one of his houses during the war.

There is a land survey of Mr. Herbert's entire estate at the time of his death that presumably shows the borders of Level Green Plantation, though I cannot locate this document. It does not appear to exist at the Virginia Beach courthouse, and the records previously on file in the Norfolk Circuit Court also seem to have disappeared.

There is an 1871 land survey of Woodstock Farm and "Branchville" (Avalon Terrace and Whitehurst Landing today) at the Virginia Beach Courthouse. I have superimposed the survey over a modern-day Google Maps photo of the area, to clearly show the area covered by Woodstock Farm:



Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Elizabeth Mae "Lizzie" Sawyer Walker

Lizzie M. Walker purchased 34 acres of land along what is now Sterling Road and I-64 from Junius T. Sheets back in 1917. She sold the property to brothers Robert and Samuel Perdue in 1921, but she re-aquired it in 1938 when Robert moved his family back home to Maryland. The private drive that served that property became Walker Road in the 1940's, and so the Walker name is now permanently etched into the Woodstock landscape.

By 1917, Lizzie was a busy mother to 6 young children, ranging in age from 4 years to 15 years old. Her Husband, Pealedge P. "Pete" Walker was a tugboat captain. There is some question as to whether or not the Walkers actually maintained a residence on this property, or if it was held as an investment. What is certain is that their primary residence was in Norfolk.

Lizzie's grandson James Walker sent me this photo. The date is uncertain; but if Mrs. Walker was born in 1885, and we assume she is in her early 20's in this photo, that would date the photo around 1905-1910.

There is one bit of historical-geographical irony here: James built one of the houses on Woodgrove Court in the early 1980's and lived there for more than 20 years, unaware that his grandparents at one time owned land just down the street.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Henry Driskill -- The Mayor of Woodstock

George Henry Driskill was born May 15, 1900 and grew up just a few hours west, in Keysville, VA. He married his sweetheart Alice in his early 20's, and in his late 20's he moved to Norfolk to accept a job offer from the Ford Plant on Indian River Road. He and Alice rented a home on the river in the historic Oaklette neighborhood, but by the 1940's he wanted land of his own. In 1947 he purchased 8 acres of partly cleared, mostly wooded farm land on Providence Road in rural Kempsville, where spent his non-work hours bird hunting, then rabbit hunting, then drinking, then herding goats; all the while earning the admiration of his neighbors.

Henry retired from the Ford Plant in 1965; and by this time, Kempsville's transition from rural to residential was underway. I-64 construction would overtake his neighbor's property within the next couple of years; and by the late 1970's, most of the farm land around Henry's patch had given way to home construction.  Henry's neighbor Harry Davis donated part of his property on the other side of Providence Road to the city for the development of Woodstock Park. You can read some of Henry's thoughts on the changes in a Virginia Beach Beacon article from 1981 here -- page 1, page 2, page 3.

Henry Driskill died on May 23, 1988. His wife Alice died just a few years later, in December of 1991.   The Driskills had no children of their own, so the land was left to a good friend, a self-described "adopted grandson". Richard Spreder did the reasonable thing and sold the land for development, but he insisted that the new right-of-way that serviced the new homes be named in honor of Henry and Alice.

Henry and Alice, 1965. Henry is admiring his retirement present from the guys at the Ford Plant. I am told that one of their favorite married-couple activities was dynamiting tree stumps.

Before retiring, Henry purchased a car from the Ford Plant for Alice -- a 1964 Galaxy 500. He dubbed it "Miss Alice". It is in pristine condition, with just over 20K miles on it. It is currently under the care of the adopted grandson.

The Driskill residence on Old Providence Road, ca. 1980.  You can see "Miss Alice" in the garage.   The view from the overpass inspired Mr. Driskill to refer to his property as "Driskill Valley"

The same view from the same location in 2013. Trees have grown since then...

looking north, on the property line separating Driskill's property from Avalon Church of Christ.

Next door, neighbor Eloise Cesil's house was in the path of I-64 construction. Henry helped her move her home out of the construction zone and then provided a parcel of land for her to live on. When development began on Driskill Court, this house was moved to Pungo.