September 2006 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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September 2006 Newsletter and Meeting Notice.

The Monday, September 11, 2006, meeting of the Society will be at 7:00 P.M. at the Surry County, Va. Recreation Center.

Our speaker will be Dr. Bruce M. Ventor. He will speak on Myths, Legends and Misconceptions and Mysteries of the Kirkpatrick-Dahlgren raid on Richmond Va. The Surry Light Artillery was part of this raid.

Dr. Venter lives on the Drewry farm in Surry County. We welcome him as our speaker.


President's Report

This is perhaps one of the most exciting times ever in the history of Surry County Virginia. We are very close to witnessing the celebration of our Nation's 40th anniversary of its founding at Jamestown in 1607. The beginning roots of this Jamestown experiment which became the first permanent English settlement in North America are interwoven with those of our county. We need to work earnestly to further this environment of historical appreciation, by continuing to collect items of historical significance, to preserve the same and to further interpret our county's history for each subsequent generation. These lines represent an expression of my appreciation to members of the society allowing me to serve in this capacity.

We are not devoid of challenges however. Just two months into my tenure we find ourselves temporarily displaced from the "Old Jail" which housed the Society's operations. The "Old Jail" was moved 300 feet fronting Colonial Trail because of the planned renovation of the Circuit Courthouse building. At this writing we are still displaced and we have requested the use of the "Academy Building" to house the Society's day-to-day operations. The County Administrator, Mr. Tyrone Franklin, has been very supportive in this transitional period. We hope to be operational again toward the end of September. We do apologize for any inconvenience this move may have caused anyone wishing to visit or research with us!

A second great challenge is the announcement of our embarking upon a Capital Fund Campaign to construct a building on Society's property in the Town of Surry. The goal of this campaign is $400,000 by the end of 2007. We have generated one tenth of this goal and we have before us a $100,000 challenge gift. We are very excited about the possibility of this gift. We feel certain that, with the generous support of our members and friends, we can meet this challenge in the near future. We must thank the County for the use of their facilities over the last 5-6 years. It has allowed us to grow, provide many services and positioned us to be prepared for the next step in our service to our members and Surry County.

Finally, please accept my thanks for all your support in these beginning months, and we welcome opportunities to visit, tour, and research with you.

James Harrison, President


The Future Home of The Surry County, Virginia Historical Society And Museums, Inc.

new building

by Gordon W. "Bo" Bohannan"

I asked the editor of this newsletter, Jim Atkins, if I could write a brief column from time to time about Surry County, "scribbling" about various facets of its history and people that I remember during the last fifty years. Surry-side, as many of you know, was used to describe land across from Jamestown Island. The settlers called this part of the Jamestown Colony Surry because Surrey, England, was located across the Thames River from London, and they thought of their colony as a miniature London.

We citizens of Surry had an eventful week last month. From August 8 to August 14 we Surridians (I coined that adjective to describe people on the Surry side) experienced two august events. First, on August 8, the Surrey House Restaurant re-opened. The Surrey House has been a renowned restaurant for over fifty years. Owen Gwaltney and his first wife Ruby managed it during the early years. Owen's second wife Helen made the Surrey House an eatery that was known statewide as a place for good home cooking. The restaurant was written up in many of the large state newspapers as well as in Southern Living magazine. After Owen died, Helen continued to run the restaurant expertly. She later married her high school beau and they continued to operate it until her retirement in the 1990s. Helen Gwaltney, in my humble opinion, was one of the most notable people in the last half of the twentieth century to contribute her talents to Surry County.

It was then sold to Mike Stevens who operated the restaurant until October 2005 when it closed. While it lay abandoned, rumors circulated among the populace concerning its fate. Finally in late spring it became obvious that the legendary restaurant would re-open. A large sign in the window stated that it would reopen in July. That sign was later changed to August. With no publicized "grand opening", it opened quietly August 8. Word of mouth advertisement quickly got around the community, however, and patrons rapidly arrived. The new owners, the Oakleys, have had over thirty years in restaurant experience. Our community welcomes them and knows they will be a positive part of our county.

Six days later, on Monday, August 14, another event was witnessed at Surry Courthouse. This was the moving of the Old Jail. It had been headquarters for the Surry County Historical Society for the last five or six years. The Old Jail was well built. Its four walls were made of steel and the walls were sixteen inches thick. Some old-timers did not believe it could be moved without collapsing or at least sustaining much damage. The plan was to move it a few hundred feet to a concrete slab next to Surry Baptist Church and across from St. Paul's Episcopal Church. This move was necessary to make room for the courthouse expansion soon to be underway. We have not given you notice of this move previously because we were not sure it would be moved or when. As our earlier members know, the plans for the Courthouse have been delayed, canceled and changed dramatically over the last five or six years. We apologize for the lack of notice. E-mail still works, and we hope our phone will be operational soon. The moving contractors had put the necessary steel girders under the building a couple of weeks earlier. While digging around the structure, they had broken a water line but that was soon fixed. So it was that on August 14, several Surridians began gathering around the Old Jail as early as 8:00. By 9:30 the crowd had grown. Most people had cameras. I came on the scene about this time. I was told that the move would begin at 10:30. The moving crew had supports under the building and put boards under the tires so the larger trailer would not get stuck in the sandy soil. The great moment began. We all held our breath. The truck began to pull the cables, which were connected to a trailer. I saw the building move a couple of feet. Then a "pop" sounded. The Mack truck universal joint burst. Water and steam came from the truck's engine. I thought that was it for the day. However, the construction manager said "no problem". They had another truck in New Kent County across the James River. It would take a couple of hours.

Some people stayed, but my wife and I went home until about 12:30. When we returned there was another truck plus a powerful compact tractor to help the new truck to pull the jail out of its hole. The August sun was hot and people stood around under the courthouse oaks, or sat in chairs in shady areas around the Baptist and Episcopal Churches. Finally the stage was set for another pull. The truck and the tractor pulled and pulled. There was little progress. The workers had to continue to place boards under the wheels to prevent it from getting stuck. Finally the building began its ascent from its pit. The building, which weighs about 158 tons, was pulled to Academy Street.

old jail

Sheriff Harold Brown and his deputies choreographed the traffic on Route 10 while this mammoth move was taking place. Even though the building was not traveling on the public road, there was much rubbernecking by all who drove by. The workers had to radically trim a couple of crepe myrtles in front of the Academy Building as well as inch the jail around some electric guide wires. At last the jail was situated over a concrete slab where it will stay until a foundation is built where this heavy, but stately edifice can rest.

For the first time, the current courthouse has no building in its backyard.

One bit of irony involving the two big events is that the Old Jail was moved on a Monday and the newly re-opened Surrey House, which is located diagonally across the street, is closed on Mondays. It would have had quite a large breakfast and lunch crowd that day.


New 2007 item for sale.
The Society is pleased to present and offer to our members a pin/pendant featuring one of the ships that came to Jamestown in 1607. In gold tone, it is close to the size in the photo. Beautifully done, it denotes the visit of the ship scheduled to be in Claremont, Surry County, on May 5, 2007.

$26.25 each, plus $1.25 shipping. Order with books below. You will love it!

ship pin


The Society has added two new reprints to its inventory of books for sale. The first is a reprint of a magazine article by A. W. Bohannan in 1949 entitled "The Old Town of Cobham". It is about 20 pages and sells for $7.00 plus $1.00 for shipping.

The second reprint is the 1963 book by Willis W. Bohannan, Surry County at War 1862-1865. In the decades before writing this book, A. W. Bohannan, his father, visited with many of the "Old Folks" in the county and took copious notes on the Civil War. His son, Willis W. used his valuable records of Surry County in the Civil War to write this book. Most are first-hand notes from those who participated in the war. It sells for $15.00 plus $1.00 for shipping.

Gordon Bohannan, our past president, donated these books to the Society with the stipulation that the proceeds be earmarked for the Society's building fund. Thus, three generations of the Bohannans are responsible for our having these books available. You can order on our order form below.
Books2 We have many Surry BOOKS for sale. Most of them cannot be gotten anywhere else! We also have the beautiful Surry Courthouse medallian and the new 1607-2007 ship pin/pendant. Take a look at them and
order with the BOOKS!


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