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.