Essex County

Essex County

Essex County

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Essex County and the town of Tappahannock have a very rich and fascinating history. The Rappahannock Tribe, allied with the Powhatan Confederacy, had inhabited the area for many generations, with much of their lives revolving around the bounty of the Rappahannock River. Dugout canoes would have been used to navigate the waters, harvest fish and oysters, and journey across the Chesapeake Bay. Englishman John Smith explored the area in the early 1600s, having first been brought to ‘Topahanocke’, or the ‘town on the rise and fall of water,’ to face charges of murder (for which he was acquitted). Settlers arrived in the mid-1600s, clearing the land to grow tobacco, and the main settlement in Essex took on the name of Hobbs Hole, later changed to the earlier Rappahannock name of ‘Tappahannock.’ It became a center for commerce on the Rappahannock River and would go on to play important roles in the 18th and 19th centuries. Today, Tappahannock and Essex County look towards the future, while keeping a respectful eye on the past.

This year will mark the 250th Anniversary of the Essex Resolutions, one of Virginia’s early steps on the road to the American Revolution. The event will be marked with a special celebration at the Essex Museum on Saturday, July 13th.

Essex County Museum – The best place to learn about the history of Essex County and Tappahannock is at the Essex County Museum. Founded in 1996, the Museum is located at 218 Water Lane in Tappahannock. The mission of the Museum is to preserve the rich heritage and history of the county; to educate citizens of Essex County and visitors through stimulating educational programs, publications and displays including historic memorabilia; and to inspire an interest in further research and appreciation of the unique traditions that a part of Essex County. The Museum features a variety of wonderful in-depth exhibits on the area’s history, along with a Research Room, a Gift Shop, and the beautiful Max Silver Memorial Courtyard. The Museum is free to the public, and open Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 10am to 3pm.

1710 Tavern – Just down the street from the Essex County Museum is the 1710 Tavern, located at 314 South Water Lane. One of the oldest buildings in the area, the original structure dates back to around 1710, and was one of many taverns that operated near Tappahannock’s docks. Later purchased by James Emerson, the building has often been referred to as ‘Emerson’s Ordinary’. An insurance policy from 1801 states that the building is “45 foot long wooden tavern with a wood wing, one-story Dutch roof, located to front of Lot 11 with a wood kitchen and smoke house to the rear.” Recently restored and reopened as a fine dining restaurant, it is the oldest active tavern in Virginia.

1728 Courthouse – Virginia Governor William Gooch, in order to quell a growing feud over the location of the county seat (Rappahannock County at the time), ordered that the Essex County Courthouse be located in Tappahannock. Construction began on a new courthouse shortly afterwards, located at the corner of Church Lane and Queen Street, and the result was a Flemish bond brick structure with arched windows. British troops sacked Tappahannock in 1815 and set fire to many buildings, including the courthouse. The walls survived, and the building was restored and continued to be used as the courthouse until a larger one was constructed nearby in 1848. In 1875 the building was converted into a church, and then in 2004 it was sold by Beale Street Baptist Church to Essex County.

Anderton House – Originally owned by the Coleman family and once a part of their plantation, the original part of the house dates to the 1760s. The house was purchased by the Brockenbrough family in 1803, then sold again in 1812. The house passed through many different families, with the Anderton family adding the south wing in the 1890s. The house was sold in 1947 to St. Margaret’s School, and in 1971 a balancing wing was added, and more recently, in 1988, the school added another wing to house faculty apartments and student accommodations.

Blandfield – The Blandfield mansion is situated on a hill approximately one mile from the Rappahannock River, not far from highway 17. Blandfield was a 3,500 plantation on the Rappahannock River, with the main house being built between 1769 and 1773 by Robert Beverley II. It remained in that family until 1983 when Mr. and Mrs. James C. Wheat, Jr. purchased the house. The home was named for Elizabeth Bland, wife of William Beverley, who built an earlier home on the property which is no longer standing. The plan for the house was adapted from specific plates in the influential 1728 Book of Architecture by English architect James Gibbs. One of several mid-Georgian Tidewater mansions characterized by the five-part plan that links flanking dependencies to the main house by one-story corridors, Blandfield was one of the largest houses in Virginia at the time it was built. Today it is listed in the Virginia Historic Landmark Register and the National Register of Historic Places, and in addition to being a private home, offers a hunting lodge and hosts special events.

Brockenbrough-McCall House – Located on a bluff overlooking the river in Tappahannock, wealthy Scottish merchant Archibald McCall built this Georgian style house around 1763 on the site of an earlier structure. McCall remained loyal to the king and supported the Stamp Act, which is said to have resulted in a mob attacking his house in May of 1766. There are some versions of this story that have McCall being tarred and feathered by the mob, but primary documentation supporting this has yet to be found. McCall later left for England, returning after the end of the war. In 1813 the home was purchased by Dr. Austin Brockenbrough, son of Dr. John Brockenbrough, who served in the Navy as a surgeon and was one of Tappahannock’s leading physicians. A black marble mantel in the drawing room was shattered by the shelling from a British squadron in the Rappahannock River during the war of 1812. It was later repaired and can still be found in the house. After the Civil War, Mrs. Judith Brockenbrough McGuire opened a girls’ school in the house. In 1927, the home was sold to St. Margaret’s School, where it is now being used as a reception center for Admission and Public Relations offices.

Brooke’s Bank – Located across the Rappahannock River from Leedstown, Sarah Taliaferro Brooke would complete construction on this plantation house sometime prior to 1751, after her husband’s death. An especially grand home for the period, Brooke’s Bank is an excellent example of Georgian architecture, featuring Flemish bond brickwork and two massive chimneys that feature a series of diamonds on three sides of each one. Much of the original interior detailing has survived, and it remains a private home today.

Bowlers – Built around 1669 in the style of a story-and-a-half English manor house by Thomas Bowler, the house sits several miles downriver from Tappahannock and overlooked Bowlers Wharf. In April of 1776 Bartlett Goodrich, a loyalist ally of royal governor Dunmore, decided to try his luck raiding on the Rappahannock and captured a vessel of corn not far from Tappahannock. Local militia pursued the vessel and recaptured it very near to Bowlers Wharf. During the War of 1812, British shelling of the shoreline blew the north porch off of the house. Bowlers Wharf continued to thrive through the steamship era, but fell into disuse by the early 20th century.

Cherry Walk – Located between Millers Tavern and Dunbrooke on the site of an earlier colonial dwelling, Cherry Walk was built in the late 1700s by Carter Croxton. Croxton enlisted in 1778 when only 17 years old, and fought in the battles of Cowpens, Guilford Courthouse, Camden, and Yorktown. When he died in 1836 he was buried on the property, but asked for no headstone to be placed, wishing for his work in life to be his earthly monument. The property today is an unusually complete example of an eastern Virginia plantation complex, consisting of the house, a four-bay brick dwelling with dormered steep gambrel roof, two dairies, a smokehouse, a summer kitchen, a privy, an early barn, a plank corncrib, and a late 19th century blacksmith’s shop. The entire property is listed on the Virginia Register and the National Register of Historic Places, and is privately owned today, though protected in perpetuity by an historic and open space easement.

The Custom’s House – Situated on Prince Street in Tappahannock on a spot overlooking the Rappahannock River, the Custom’s House was built sometime around 1750. A two-story brick structure with double porches facing the river, one of the earliest owners was Scottish merchant Archibald Ritchie. Ritchie, one of the richest merchants in the area, depended on trade and existing British infrastructure for his livelihood, and therefore made it known he intended to comply with the Stamp Act. Enraged, a group of locals led by Francis Waring and William Roane went to Ritchie’s house on February 21st, 1766, to try and dissuade him from continuing to support the Stamp Act. They were unsuccessful that night, but six days later, representatives met in Leedstown and drafted a document, “The Resolutions of the Westmoreland Association in Defiance of the Stamp Act, 27 February 1766,” which outlined their opposition to the Stamp Act. The next day, on February 28th, around 400 men gathered outside of Ritchie’s house. They called themselves The Sons of Liberty, a name that was taken from a speech given the previous year in Parliament by British politician Isaac Barre. The name had started to spread throughout the colonies for those who opposed British overreach. The 400 men stood in formation on Prince Street while a committee was sent to demand Ritchie’s oath supporting the Leedstown Resolutions and that he sign a formal apology that said he would no longer support the Stamp Act. Ritchie asked for time to consider their demands, but his request was denied. Ritchie eventually capitulated and signed the document, and in time would become an ardent supporter of the Patriot cause. The protest on Prince Street by The Sons of Liberty was the largest protest against the Stamp Act in Virginia. John Whitlock would later open an ordinary in the building, and after the Revolutionary War the building was bought by Lawrence Muse, Collector of Customs for the port of Tappahannock. It has changed hands several times during the 20th and 21st centuries and remains a private residence.

Debtor’s Prison – Built on Prince Street sometime prior to 1769, this is one of only three original debtor’s prisons still standing in the state of Virginia. Anyone unable to pay a court-ordered fine or judgement could be locked up in a debtor’s prison until they had worked off their debt, or until the necessary funds were paid to secure their release. Virginia outlawed debtor’s prisons in 1849. Interestingly, the building today houses the Essex County Treasurer’s Office. One of the more striking features on the exterior of the building is the very well-worn sandstone door sill.

Edenetta – Located about 13 miles north of Tappahannock, Edenetta was built around 1823 by Robert Payne Waring. A two-and-a-half story brick manor house with an English basement, the home features four massive sandstone Tuscan columns. The interior has original moldings and detail work, including black Egyptian and white Italian marble fireplaces. The grounds feature two original outbuildings, a brick smokehouse and a kitchen house that also served as slave quarters.

Elmwood – Located about 17 miles north of Tappahannock and overlooking the Rappahannock River valley, Elmwood was built about 1774 by Muscoe Garnett and remains in the same family today. A Georgian style house built in Flemish bond, it is 100 feet long, 30 feet wide, and has three stories over an English basement. The interior features an elaborately paneled ballroom that is believed to be the work of architect William Buckland.

Essex County Courthouse – Located on Prince Street, the courthouse was built in 1848 as a larger replacement of the original courthouse on Church Lane. The courthouse houses some of the oldest records in Virginia. A later addition to the building added a clock and bell tower. The bell was recently restored, and once again rings every hour.

Essex Inn – This Greek Revival structure was built around 1851 by Dr. Lawrence Roane. Composed of brick covered with white stucco, it sits over a high English basement. The home has twelve original rooms, and a two-story brick structure behind the main house would have housed enslaved men and women and was the location for the property’s original kitchen and laundry. Occupied by Union troops during the Civil War, today it is a bed and breakfast.

Fonthill – Fonthill was built in 1832 by Robert Mercer Taliaferro Hunter. The construction method is brick ‘nogging’, in which bricks are used to fill in the spaces of a wooden frame house. Covering the brick is clapboard siding. Taliaferro served as a United States senator, Confederate secretary of state, Confederate States senator, and as a member of the peace commission that met with Union representatives near Fort Monroe in February 1865. After the war, he served as treasurer of Virginia from 1874 to 1880.

Glebe House – The Glebe House of St. Anne’s Parish is a historic Episcopal glebe house located near Champlain in Essex County. One of the older surviving glebe houses in the state, it was built sometime prior to 1730, and is a two-story, three-bay, brick building with a gable roof. The Reverend Robert Rose was one of the building’s first occupants. It has been abandoned for many years and is today located on private property.

Greenway – One of the oldest structures in Essex County, the original part of this building is believed to date to the mid-1600s and was owned by the Rennolds family. A wooden frame home with very steep gable roof, it sits atop an English basement of brick. An addition to the home was added to the east end in 1827. The home contains original flooring and woodwork. Today it is still a private residence.

Harris Grill – One of only a few buildings still standing in Essex County that were listed in the Green Book, a guidebook published prior to the Civil Rights movement that helped African American tourists and travelers find safe places to stay and eat. Run by Thomas Harris in a building on Queen Street, the Harris Grill was a haven for travelers who could not dine at other establishments due to segregation. Today the building is a residential property.

McGuire Inn – Located on Marsh Street in Tappahannock, this building is one of only a few existing structures in Essex County that were listed in the Green Book. Lewis McGuire and his wife Ida operated the inn. Lewis was also a mailman, merchant, a volunteer fireman, was the first black policeman in Tappahannock, and a charter member of the Essex County branch of the NAACP. The building is still owned by the McGuire family, and today is a private residence.

Mahockney – Situated a little north and west of Tappahannock on Mount Landing Creek, the house that stands here today was built in stages, with the earliest section dating to the late 1600s. The property changed hands many times, and beginning in 1735 was run as an ordinary. William Roane purchased the home and about 950 acres of land around 1750. Roane served in the House of Burgesses with George Washington and Patrick Henry, both of whom are said to have spent time at Mahockney. Roane would go on to serve as a colonel in the Essex County militia during the Revolutionary War. Upon his death in 1785, his will records the disbursement of close to 100 enslaved men and women. William Roane’s son Spencer, a successful politician and judge, inherited the house. He would marry Patrick Henry’s daughter Anne in 1787. Owned at different times by the Latane, Crutchfield, and Taliaferro families, today it is still a private home.

Ritchie House – Located on the northeast corner of Prince and Cross Streets in Tappahannock, the Ritchie house was built sometime around 1706 by Thomas Meriwether. Thomas Heard purchased the property in 1742 and added a storehouse and tavern, along with elaborate interior wood paneling that was later removed and is now on display at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware. Scottish merchant Archibald Ritchie purchased the property in 1768. In 1811, the property was known as the Farmer’s Hotel, and shortly afterwards bore the name of Banks Tavern. The Dillard family purchased the home in 1975 and began a lengthy restoration. Today the building is used as offices.

Rockland – Believed to date to the 1690s and built by Thomas Sthreshley, Rockland is a two-bay frame house with a gable roof, and sits on an English basement. An addition was added, making the home into an L shape, in 1755 by Sthreshley Rennolds, Thomas Sthreshley’s grandson. Sthreshley Rennolds served as a captain in the American Revolution, and also participated in the War of 1812. Today it is still a private home.

Local Events

250th Anniversary Celebration of the Essex Resolutions250th Anniversary Celebration of the Essex Resolutions
July 13, 2024 - July 13, 2024
Essex County

This July will mark the 250th Anniversary of the Essex Resolutions, which were a bold declaration of the rights of Virginians as British citizens and ... Read More

The Historic Essex Resolutions of July 9th, 1774The Historic Essex Resolutions of July 9th, 1774
July 13, 2024 - July 13, 2024
Essex County

Join the Rappahannock Chapter of the Virginia Sons of the American Revolution at the Essex County Museum for this patriotic event to celebrate the Ess... Read More


Thomas Blackwell

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