December 2005 Newsletter, Surry County, Virginia, Historical Society and Museums, Inc. Surry County Virginia Historical Society and Museums, Inc.
Surry County, Virginia, Historical Society and Museums, Inc.
P. O. Box 262, Surry, VA 23883   Phone (757) 294-0404
E-mail address: [email protected].
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Newsletter and December 2005 Meeting Notice.

Please note that the meeting will be Monday, December 12, 2005, at 7:00 P. M. at the Surry County, Va. Recreation Center.
Office open Tues. and Thurs. 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM, except holidays.

Our Speaker will be Chris Calkins of Petersburg, Virginia. He will talk about the homes and history of Petersburg and the Civil War. Petersburg was a major City then, and there were many ties with Surry County.

His biography:

Chris Calkins has been with the National Park Service for 30 years and has served at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, and as historian, and now Chief of Interpretation, at Petersburg National Battlefield since 1981.

He has authored twelve publications, numerous articles, and has spoken nationally to many Civil War and preservation groups. He is the author of the highly acclaimed "Lee's Retreat" driving tour (featured in Life and Southern Living magazines) which is now being used as a successful example of Heritage Tourism in the Commonwealth and nationwide.

Active in battlefield preservation efforts, he served on the board of directors for eight years with the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites, Inc. (now merged with the Civil War Preservation Trust) and helped broker the preservation of seven sites around Petersburg and Appomattox. These include: Five Forks, White Oak Road, Hatchers Run, Reams Station, The Sixth Corps Breakthrough (now Pamplin Park), Sailor's Creek and Lee's rearguard at Appomattox.

He has been interviewed on the History Channel, A & E, Discovery Channel, and HGTV. Calkins is a native of Detroit, Michigan, graduated from Longwood College (now University) in Farmville and is married to the former Miss Sarah Brown from Appomattox. They live in a restored National Register listed 18th century mansion in Petersburg's Old Town Historic District.

President's Report:

My last article detailed some of the general stores in the village of Surry during the late 1940's and early 1950's. There were also other businesses at Surry Courthouse that I loved to visit. Since my father did the driving, it was he who decided which service station we patronized. My father bought Amoco gas from Owen Gwaltney's service station, so this was the station I enjoyed the most. When I went into his service station, the first place I would go would be to the bins holding soft drinks in ice or ice cold water. It was in Surry that I began to collect caps of soft drink bottles. I had over twenty or thirty different caps from, not only the Big Three Colas (Coke, Pepsi, RC), but also such soft drinks as Tru-Ade Orange, Dr. Pepper, 7-Up, Nehi Grape, and a similar but smaller grape drink named Tiny. It probably had only six ounces but the flavor was good. On a hot summer day, I could easily down two Tru-Ade orange drinks with just a couple of swigs. Tru-Ades were noncarbonated and easy to swallow. It was bottle caps that later led to a lifetime of collecting. I later collected comics, trading cards, record albums, theatre posters, playbills, magazines, and many other examples of pop culture. However in 1950, I collected only soft drink caps. I didn't collect beer bottle caps, because most of them were yellow and looked the same to a ten-year-old boy.

Owen Gwaltney had the best hotdogs. My father would buy me two and a soft drink for thirty-five cents. His station was, not only a gas station, but it was also a Trailways Bus station connecting the Richmond area to the Tidewater Cities. Each Saturday, we would go there to pick up Frank Sims, who was a handy man who did yard work for Daddy in Petersburg. One Saturday he was not there. We returned to our Cottage near Crouches Creek, not understanding why Frank, a very reliable man, was not on the bus. About an hour later, Frank came to our cottage in a taxicab. He had missed the bus and did not want to disappoint my father, so he took a taxi from Petersburg to Surry. It cost Daddy twenty dollars plus his regular wages.

From the 1940s to the mid 1950s Gwaltney's Amoco was the place I would get candy and snacks and later, in my mid-teens, I bought my first pack of Lucky Strike Cigarettes. In those days, many boys began to smoke when they were beginning high school. I smoked Luckies and later Winstons until 1968 when my father was diagnosed with cancer. I stopped cold turkey.

The other service station we patronized was on the corner diagonally across from the Courthouse. This was Mack Brown's Texaco Station. Mack was a friendly man with a ready smile. His service station was smaller than Gwaltney's Amoco but he had a garage which repaired cars. About twelve years later, I again met Mack Brown. He had retired and he and his wife had an apartment next to my first apartment in Petersburg, the Woodmere Apartments. By this time Mack was in poor health, and he died about 1965.

I have not mentioned the famous Surrey House. It was built in 1954. I do not remember going there, since Mother Cooked most of our meals. Owen Gwaltney's first wife, Ruby, ran the restaurant. It earned its fine reputation in the late 1960's, when Owen's second wife, Helen, became manager and made it quite a success. I am sorry to report that earlier this fall, the Surrey House closed down. All people in Surry hope that it will soon re-open to its former caliber.


Captain John Smith.

On the back Cover of our last newsletter we showed a picture of the deckhouse of the ferry, Captain John Smith, as an abandoned cottage on pilings on the Western branch of the Nansemond River in Portsmouth before 2002. No further comments were made. However, the Society had just found that it might be offered to the Society.

To put this into perspective, the Captain John Smith was built in 1925 by Captain A. F. Jester. He then began, on October 26, 1925, the first scheduled automobile ferry between Scotland Wharf and Jamestown. For the first time since the settlement of Surry, Ca. 1609, citizens could live on one side of the James River and work on the other side. It was sixty-five feet, six inches long and would carry a maximum of sixteen of the small Cars in use in 1925. There being no James River bridges between Norfolk and Richmond, this was the only scheduled transportation across the tidal James River.

Captain Jester operated the ferry until October, 15, 1945, when the State of Virginia took over the ferry system. By that time, with much larger cars, it would only take approximately eight cars. The Captain John Smith was de-commissioned. The deckhouse was then taken to Portsmouth and became a cottage on pilings on the water. The hull was used as a work boat for some time after that. Society member Scott Wheeler secured title to the deckhouse in 2002. He planned to use it as part of a restaurant at Scotland Wharf. He arranged to have a boat crane pick it up off the pilings and place it on a barge. Taken to shore, it was cut into two pieces and delivered by tractor-trailer to his farm at Elberon in Surry County for storing.

The restaurant plans did not work out, and Scott Wheeler has graciously offered the deckhouse to the Society.

Much has happened since then.

Time was very short. At a specially called Historical Society board meeting on Oct. 20, 2005, the Society agreed to accept this gift and proceed with the project. We knew of a state grant program under which we should qualify for a grant for restoration. It is the Transportation Enhancement Program of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Department of Transportation. President Bo Bohannan and I attended a meeting in Suffolk to learn more. The County also must approve these grant requests, and the Board of Supervisors approved it at their meeting the next night on Oct. 21, 2005. An application was made to the state and entered on October 31, 2005. We have asked for $141,000.00. It will be many months before we know if it is granted. We definitely qualify, but it is competitive and there are no guarantees.

Of much help was the great amount of research on the ferry which has been done by Society member and Naval Architect, Bill Fox. Without it, it's not likely we could have made the application. Society member S. Wallace Edwards has offered and agreed to move and temporarily store the deckhouse adjacent to their business in Surry. He is extremely interested because Capt. A. F. Jester was his grandfather.

So, this is where the project stands at this time. This is a tough deckhouse to have survived seventy-five years on the water. This is a most important part of our history. It will be saved and must be made into a Ferry Museum for our citizens and visitors. More to come. JEA


New genealogy Information!

As most members know, our genealogical files continue to grow rapidly. Recently we saw an internet web page sponsored by Gene Harris. Attached was a large file of information on the Booth, Chappell, Goodrich, Hite, Home, West, and Westbrook families. This consists of ninety-seven pages, well indexed and footnoted. Many other families are included. With permission, the Society has a copy in our files. It is a great addition. Keep the genealogical information Coming. We want it all!

New information from England. The Society continues to receive information from many sources. This came from Bernard Russell via the internet from England. It is a printed form [1848] from Surry County, Va. The subject is the leasing out of a slave, Burrell Kelley, by William Gee, guardian of children, A. E. Gee, Mary A. Gee, Douglass M. Gee and E. J. Gee to Mary Mason [Mazon?]. Do any of our members know of these people? If so, please let us know. While this is distasteful, it adds to our history.




A group of Claremont citizens, some of whom are Society members, invited Bo Bohannan and me to a meeting on Nov. 16, 2005. These citizens of Claremont want to open a museum before 2007 in the old High School, now town offices. They would like this to be done under the auspices of the Surry Historical Society. Discussions centered on how a Claremont branch, division or group could be formed within the Society. Many possibilities were discussed. This was sort of a wild blue younder approach.

We agreed that each of us would put our ideas down in writing, and we would meet again very soon. This idea has real possibilities! It also could work for Rogers' Store at Carsley. JEA

1902-06 Newspaper article.

This article from Bo Bohannan, taken from his grandfather A. W. Bohannan's papers, consists of a preliminary revisions draft, a typed second copy on onion skin paper. We do not know who wrote it, or what publication it was done for. We do not know the exact date, except that events told date it between approximately 1902 and 1906. It tells of the upcoming 1907 celebration at Jamestown. It consists of about nine pages. Illustrations noted were missing and therefore are not included. We will run it as a continuing article as space is available in future newsletters.

If any member has the published article, or knows its origin, we would appreciate the information. For those who might believe we have made little progress in the last 100 years, this will enlighten you. Thanks to Dennis Hudgins for retyping it, so we can shape it to fit our newsletter. JEA



One of the Most interesting and Historic Counties in Tidewater Virginia.

Surry is one of the oldest counties in Virginia, being on the historic James river immediately opposite Jamestown, the cradle of the colony. Historically, it is one of the richest portions of America. John Smith and his travel-weary associates skirted its shores before effecting a permanent landing on the island at Jameston, and the hardy adventurers must have made frequent incursions into it to barter with the Indians.

From the wharf at Scotland, a point on the its northern border on the James, one may still see the famous old church tower across the river, and as he looks he feels as if that he is standing in the presence of America's most interesting monument.

All through the county are interesting relics of early Colonial days. Among those may be mentioned the picturesque old structure known as "Bacon's Castle", reported to be at one time the residence of Nathaniel Bacon, whose rebellion against the injustice of Gov. Berkley was one of the most stirring and most memorable episodes in the early Virginia history. "The Castle", which is still in good repair is a splendid specimen of old Colonial architecture. It is now in the possession of ____________, one of the most progressive and successful planters in the county, and one who has brought his broad acres to a high state of fertility.


It seems strange that tourists and sight-seers have so long neglected this richly historic spot. Every year thousands of intelligent Americans visit "Gallows Hill", in Salem Massachusetts, where women whose only crime was age and ugliness were burned at the stake as witches; or explore the Garden of the Gods, in Colorado, and try to imagine the feelings that overcame the early Spanish adventurers when they first clanked their bruised and broken armor in the shadow of those gigantic peaks, and look upward at the distant mountain pines, green-carved against the blue; or visit Yorktown and Appamattox, where the great questions that disturbed the world were forever settled, and settled right.

And yet in historic associations the section of which Surry is part is far richer than those spots. The first permanent English settlement colonists in America were familiar with this soil years before the Puritans landed at Plymouth Rock, and from these colonists have sprung the greatest figures in our later national history. And now that the attention of the whole world is being drawn to this section in connection with the proposed celebration of the Jamestown settlement thousands will be filled with a desire to tread the soil made sacred by history and tradition.

Surry County's Topography.

The natural beauty of Surry County is in keeping with the historic interest attaching to it. Its borders on the north on the beautiful entire northern shore line of the country, including its numerous promontories and indentations, is about 30 miles. In this distance are several streams navigable for small vessels, flowing into the James, and having their source in the interior of the country.

The shore line is marked by a succession of beautiful verdure-clad bluffs, here and there jutting out into the broad James and commanding sweeping views of that majestic stream. Some of these bluffs rise to a height of ____ feet, and in contour and natural features form ideal places for building of fine residences. It has been the good fortune of the writer of this article to have visited those streams and lakes which are bordered with America's most palatial homes- in the Hudson, the Potomac, the Brandywine, and the Ohio- and he can truthfully say that none of these streams are more picturesque or offer finer building sites than does the James where it le[a]ves Surry's shores.

In the extreme northwestern part of the county, at what is now the town of Claremont, is an illustration of what may be accomplished here by the union of art and nature. At his point the old Allen [p.3] estate, a magnificent tract of land which was originally entailed, and upon which the entailment lapsed -- years ago, was for generations one of the most significant and most famous estates of fertile land, much of which was clothed with primeval forests, while hundreds of acres were brought to a high state of cultivation. Nearly 1000 slaves were required to attend it. The Allen mansion was known throughout the whole United States for the princely hospitality dispensed there, and it is said that every President up to the time of Buchannan was at some time a guest beneath it[s] roof.

We mention what has been accomplished merely to illustrate what might be still accomplished. A home on the James in Surry County would be but sixty miles from Richmond, the capital of the State and the seat of its wealth and culture, and a shorter distance from Norfolk and Newport News. All of these points may be reached by daily steamers. Add to the beauty of the location the attractiveness of a mild climate, almost equally delightful at all the seasons of the year, and it would be difficult to conceive of a more desirable section for the establishment of either a summer or a winter home.

With the exception of those portions along the water courses the entire county is almost level, but with ample [i]nundation to secure proper drainage. Near the water courses the face of the country become much more rolling, that portion bordering the James river being in places almost precipitous. Running across it, from east to west, is a slight rise which forms a watershed of moderate declivity, the streams on the north flowing into the James, and those on the south flowing into the Black-water, which forms a portion of the sout[h]western border of the county.


The soil of Surry is principally a sandy loam, with clay and subsoil, and is easily tilled. Throughout the county are extensive beds of marl, which has proven to be the finest kind of fertilizer. This marl is very abundant and is easily accessible, and forms both a cheap and lasting dressing for the soil.

All of the staple farm products are grown in Surry with success. In some portions of the county a great deal of attention has been [p.4] given to the cultivation of fruits and many fine orchards have been planted. Near Surry Court House a Mr. W. H. Berryman has a splendid orchard of pear trees, comprising 30 acres, and Mr. G. R. Berryman has 20 acres in difference kinds of fruits. Grapes, also, thrive exceedingly well and considerable quantities are grown for shipment to the larger markets and for making wine. Berries and all kinds of garden products are grown with success and profit.

Surry's largest single product, however are is peanuts. These are grown in such abundance that last year 15000 gags, averaging four and one half bushels to the bag, were shipped from Surry Court House station along, while proportionate amounts were shipped from various other stations in the county. The soil is abundantly admirably adapted to the growth of this popular nut and the demand for it seems to increase rather than to diminish. Peanuts are not only valuable as a salable product, but the vines make an excellent hay when cured and good fertilizer when turned under, and fields from which the crops have been taken make the finest possible pasture for hogs. It should be mentioned by the way, that a large portion of the celebrated Smithfield hams, which have become famous throughout the world, are grown and fattened in Surry County and are cured in Smithfield.

The breeding of fine stock in an other industry which could be successfully carried on in Surry, and to which more attention should be given. There is now a stock farm near Spottsville, owned and managed my Mr. John Spratley, which shows what might be accomplished in this direction. Nearly all of the horses raised on this farm are sent to New York, where they are sold at fancy prices. We present herewith an engraving of a $3000 animal, the photograph being taken specially for this article.


Surry county has a total landed area of 138,131 acres and of this all but an inconsiderable proportion is tillable. At present, however, not more than one half of the land is fully cultivated. Good unimproved land may be obtained at from $__, , to $__. an acres, and for the money invested-no [b]etter agricultural lands can be obtained any where.
Timber Resources.

[p.5] About one half of Surry is still clothed with forests, including a small area of swamp lands. The native woods include pine, poplar, oak, hickory, cypress and gum, all of these attain a size which make them valuable for timber.

The swamp lands, which to one not acquainted with them would seem to be useless, are in reality one of the counties richest possessions. They contain an almost unlimited supply of the finest cypress and gum and this timber will no doubt form the basis of profitable industries. There could be no better field for the manufacture of butter dishes, fruit and vegetable crates and packages, handles, spokes and various implements of wood. Parties interested in the manufacture of articles of this character would do well to investigate Surry's resources, and we can say without hesitation that all such will receive every courtesy assistance in the power of the citizens of the county.


As a result of the advantages Surry County offers she has already attracted to her borders a great deal of out side capital, and she has the distinction of possessing the largest lumber manufacturing plant in Virginia and North Carolina, and one of the largest in the United States. We refer to the enormous plant of the Surry Lumber Company, located at Dendron, in the south easte[r]n part of the county.

The company was organized in 1885 by Messrs. R. T. Waters, the president of the company, and John Salter Smith, first vice-president. the first named gentleman was well known Baltimore lumberman, and the latter is the present governor of Maryland. The company was organised with a capital of $1150,000, though this amount has since been largely increased. The company owns large tract of the finest timber in Surry, Sussex, Southampton, and Prince George counties.

While it will be impossible in the brief space allowed us to give any thing like an adequate description of the plant, the following facts may give some ideas of its extent. The entire place covers 30 acres of ground, with several acres under roof. The entire company owns and operates a railroad having __ miles of track, and requiring ten locomotives and hundreds of carts. The entire capacity if 200,000 feet of lumber a day, though in the course of the next few months this capacity will be doubled. The sheds have [p.6] a storage capacity of 14,000,000 feet, though as high as 20,000,000 feet have occasionally been stored in the sheds and yards. Five hundred men are employed in the plant and as many more in the woods and on the trains, and this number will be added to when the capacity of the plant is increased this coming spring.

All of the buildings comprising the plant are modern and are equipped with the latest and most improved machinery and appliances. Nothing has been left undone which could increase the output of lessen the cost of production, and of the saving thus effected the patron gets the benefit. A remarkable feature is the unusual cleanliness, order, and system that pervades the entire establishment- and it should be state, by the way, that such is the order and cleanliness of the plant, and so great the precautions taken against the dread element of fire, that the company has secured the lowest rate of insurance ever offered or allowed any similar plant in the United States.

The writer of this article is indebted to Mr. Ed. Rogers, the capable superintendent of the plant, for the information contained in the above paragraphs. Mr. Rogers is not only exceptionally well qualified to discharge the duties of his position, but he is, besides, a gentlemen of fine culture and pleasing address and one whom it is a privilege to know.

[To be continued]

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Watercolor of Captain John Smith by Tina Epps

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