MATHEWS COUNTY
HISTORICAL SOCIETY
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P. O. Box 855
Mathews, Virginia  23109-0855
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New Point Comfort Lighthouse

For 200 years the New Point Comfort Lighthouse in Mathews County, Virginia has been the symbol of safety and home for watermen and mariners on the Chesapeake Bay.

During the early years of our country’s history, shipping on the Bay was a critical component for economic development and stability. With Thomas Jefferson in the White House, the second Congress authorized construction of the lighthouse on an island between the Chesapeake and Mobjack Bays. The lighthouse was built by Elzy Burroughs of sandstone from the Aquia quarry­—the same material used in construction of the White House, the Capitol, and other government buildings in Washington, D.C.

President Thomas Jefferson appointed Elzy Burroughs as the first Keeper and New Point Comfort Lighthouse was first lit on January 17, 1805. Since then its history has reflected that of the United States. The British Navy occupied it for several weeks during the War of 1812 before leaving it in shambles and burning the keeper’s house.

The house was rebuilt and the lighthouse repaired and then refitted with a Fresnel lens in 1855. In 1861, the Confederates extinguished the light as the Civil War raged up and down the Chesapeake Bay and across Virginia.

One of the few known officially appointed African-American keepers was a preacher, J. McHenry Farley, who served from 1871–1873.

new_point_comfort_lighthouse

In 1919 New Point light was automated and began using acetylene gas, which did not require a full-time keeper. It was first powered by electricity in 1960 and continued to shine across the waters of the Chesapeake and Mobjack until 1963 when it was decommissioned by the Coast Guard and became a day marker.

The property was acquired by Mathews County in 1975 and local volunteers raised funds for critical repairs and restoration. The County provided more maintenance in 1988 with funding from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

It is the tenth oldest American lighthouse still standing in the country and the third oldest on the Chesapeake Bay. It is listed on both the Virginia and National Registers of Historic Places.

Throughout its distinguished history, New Point Comfort Lighthouse has been a sentinel representing America’s proud tradition of navigation, commerce, craftsmanship, and perseverance through peace and war.

Originally built on a 200+ acre island, Nature has slowly but surely taken its toll. Coastal erosion has reduced the island to less than 1/4 of an acre. The future of this historic structure is in doubt.

The New Point Comfort Lighthouse Preservation Task Force is working with the Army Corps of Engineers, the Commonwealth of Virginia, Mathews County, and others to determine the best way to preserve and protect the lighthouse and the island that surrounds it for future generations.

In order to insure its long term survival, the Preservation Task Force is asking for donations to help pay for coastal erosion studies, security and public access plans, and to work on preserving the lighthouse itself.

Please send your donation to:

New Point Comfort Lighthouse Fund
County of Mathews
P.O. Box 839
Mathews, Virginia 23109

For more information

New Point Comfort Lighthouse Preservation Task Force
Melinda "Mindy" Moran
County Administrator
Mathews County Administrator's Office

P.O. Box 839

Mathews, Virginia 23109
804-725-7172, Office
804-725-7805, Fax





Fort Nonsense (Civil War Trail Markers)

The Society is committed to restoring and preserving this historic Civil War-era fortification as an educational attraction for residents and visitors. 

During the War Between the States, a number of small forts were built at strategic crossroads in Virginia to help in the defense of the Confederate capital. Usually, they were manned by local militia who would be summoned to the ramparts in the event of an emergency. One of these small forts is in Mathews County. It became known as "Fort Nonsense."


Several hundred men and slaves under the supervision of Mr. W. Dawson Soles built Fort Nonsense, which played a minor role in defending Gloucester Point’s Northern flank during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign. Its design and strategic position between the North and Piankatank Rivers guarded the main roads leading from Mathews County to Gloucester Point in an effort to defend the key Gloucester Point fortifications against any Federal flanking movement via Mathews County.  The fort failed to stop Union Brigadier General Issac Wister’s Mathews County Raid in October 1863 when his unit marched against the fort’s rear from Gloucester Courthouse—the very place it was designed to defend.  Fort Nonsense never witnessed any actual combat, but its remains offer an extremely well-preserved example of Civil-War earthen fortifications.   Mr. Soles, looking at the Fort later after Wister's soldiers had wrecked the fort, remarked, “My!  What a piece of nonsense!” —and the fort had a name.


fort_nonsense_1917Many of the ramparts still remain and are in excellent condition, according to a representative of the National Park Service who recently mapped the site. These well-preserved treasures lie in a wooded glade at the intersection of Routes 3 and 14 near the
Gloucester County line.  The property is owned by the Mathews County Historical Society (MCHS).


In 2004, MCHS and Mathews County applied for and received a Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) T-21 Intermodal Enhancement Grant to preserve and promote the site as a Civil War Historical Park. (Virtual Tour)


A MCHS committee, known as the “Fort Nonsense Irregulars” is working with VDOT and the County to make this dream a reality.  Anyone interested in “enlisting” in the Irregulars may call 804-725-2135 for more information.




Historic Homes and Properties of Mathews County Virginia – A Series of Five

lanes_hotel_windowSites and structures chosen for inclusion in the Historic Homes and Properties of Mathews County, Virginia series are those with pre-Civil War architectural and historical significance.  The year the Civil War started, 1861, was chosen as the end date.  We consulted county land tax records, deeds, plats and wills, and records of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, pre-published material, and hard evidence presented in private documents to establish the construction dates.

The county’s old churches, post offices, schools, and the people associated with them—while vitally important to the growth and development of the community—can best be told in another publication focused solely on their development, and they are not included in the series. 

From the beginning of this project, historic accuracy has been our main goal. We consulted primary sources, making the work a compilation of facts from archives, land records, account books, family Bibles, and many other documents.  Unfortunately, the deed records prior to 1865 were burned, and the plats in Land Book 1 in the county clerk's office only go back to 1817 and appear to be incomplete.  We conducted a complete search of files on Mathews County structures at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, resulting in a reciprocal sharing of information.

Critical analysis and secondary sources were also used to include as much information as might interest future researchers.  Hand-in-hand with the goal of historic accuracy was the equally important goal of using family folklore and traditions.  These remembrances, from the hearts and minds of county residents, remain an integral part of the history and lore of Mathews and offer compelling opportunities for reflection and further study.  Whenever undocumented material is used, it is so noted in the text, generally by the phrase, “according to family tradition.”

Because of the number of properties and the research involved, the Society made the decision in 2008 to publish a series of booklets with 10 properties per booklet instead of attempting to cover all the properties in one volume.  Current images by photographer Bruce Nelson are accompanied by older images collected from the archives of the historical society and others donated in part by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.  When completed, the series will highlight about 45 historic homes and properties, with the fifth edition containing endnotes and references for the entire series.  The Historic Homes and Properties of Mathews County, Virginia series, sponsored by Chesapeake Bank, is being published by The Donning Company.

The First Edition, published in October 2009, is available for sale and covers the following properties:

Carobian (Sibley Farm Palace Green (Francis Armistead House)
Fountain Green R-R Retreat Acres (Archibald Taylor Hudgins House)
Magnolia Seth Foster House
Milford II (William Penn Hudgins House) Whitfield Landing (Jesse Hudgins House)
Old Pine (John Warner Borum House) Williamsdale (Riverlawn)

We are currently working to publish the second book in the series by the 2011 holiday season, and the 10 historic homes and properties listed below will be featured:  

Bellevue Ransone House (Rebel Yell)
Brunson’s Landing (Jesse Thomas House) Springdale
Edwards’ Hall (Bohannon House/Hurricane Hall II) Sutherland (Shadecliff)
Pleasant View (Tynant) Watcombe Manor
Poplar Grove White Dog Inn (Lane’s Hotel/Bailey Hudgins’ House)

You are cordially invited to begin our tour of the unique and fascinating homes and properties that populate our county in the first edition, and anticipate continuing the tour in the second edition.

Stephen E. Wilson
Chair, Historic Homes and Properties of Mathews County, Virginia Editorial Committee



Old Thomas James Store

james_storeThe Thomas James Store in Mathews County, Virginia, encapsulated within the building you see here is a rare and excellent example of an early nineteenth-century rural commercial building. Although it has undergone some alterations and was almost certainly moved from its original location, the store retains much of its original fabric and is remarkably well preserved for its age. It dates to c.1810-1815, and appears to be the oldest building in the downtown commercial district. It is a registered National Historic Building.

Thomas James very likely built his store, a one-story vernacular A-frame wood structure, facing on Main Street. Its original floor plan measures approximately 375 square feet, with an attic above that has the same footprint. Shed-roof rectangular wings were a later addition on the east and west facades of the old building.

By 1835, it was one of four "mercantile stores" in the Mathews Courthouse area listed in Martin's Gazetteer. Ten years later, James' heirs sold the store and the land on which it stood. Soon after that, the new owners evidently moved the old store to the back of the site, to be replaced by a larger building.

This larger building was itself moved back about 1899, to make way for the even bigger store that still faces Main Street. This was built by Thomas James's grandchildren, Henry and Francis Joseph Sibley, who had recently acquired the property. Their descendants ran it until it was sold out of the family in 1989.

Thus this remarkably complete site was a center for retailing in the heart of Mathews County for almost two hundred years, most of that time being owned and operated by one family. It is now a Registered National Historic District.

The Thomas James Store has the distinction of being one of the best preserved stores in the entire South. It has recently been stabilized, and the Historical Society plans to open it to the public at a future date for display and interpretation. [VDHR Slide show] [Thomas James Store research]

Graham Hood


Mathews County history publication

Mathews County Historical Society is embarking on an ambitious project - a comprehensive history of Mathews County, from prehistoric times to the end of the twentieth century.

The society has contracted with Martha W. McCartney of Williamsburg and Mathews. She is an award-winning professional historian and the author of seven books. Among her works are With Reverence for the Past: Gloucester County, Virginia and Jamestown People to 1800: Landowners, Public Officials, Minorities and Native Leaders. We feel privileged to be working with Ms. McCartney over the next two years on this much-needed and long-overdue publication.

Local Mathews organizations involved in county history - Mathews Memorial Library, Gwynn's Island Museum, L.W. Wales Center of Antioch Church, Mathews Maritime Foundation, Middle Peninsula Chapter of the Archeology Society of Virginia, Mathews Land Conservancy and the Gloucester-Mathews Gazette-Journal - have been contacted and are committed to aiding the author in the research for this project.

The MCHS editorial board working with Ms. McCartney is composed of Graham Hood, Forrest Morgan, Reed Lawson and Earl Soles. For information about the book, call Mrs. Lawson at 804-725-3375.


 
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