Thursday, August 17, 2017  

Northumberland County
Historic Garden Week  

Reedville, a Virginia and National Historic Landmark, is no stranger to Historic Garden Week. It was first featured in 1971 and again in 1980, but 28 years have passed since this event last introduced large numbers of visitors to the village Captain Elijah Reed founded in 1874.

Sponsored by the Garden Club of the Northern Neck, this year’s tour ‘Historic Reedville: Legacy of Sea Captains’ will take place on Wednesday April 22, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with five of the captains’ homes open to visitors. These intrepid sailors and businessmen brought fame and prosperity to Reedville when they established a lucrative fishing industry on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in the final decades of the nineteenth century. By 1911, Reedville reputedly had the highest per capita income of any town in the United States. Its wealth was based upon menhaden, a small, boney fish, valued for oil, bait and fertilizer and even today Reedville has the second highest commercial fishing catch in the U.S.

At the far end of Main Street, where Route 360 meets the Chesapeake Bay shoreline, a quartet of historic homes awaits the day’s visitors. On the north side of the street stands the imposing brick home, The Gables. Completed in 1914, this Victorian mansion was built by Capt. James Fisher, one of the founders of Reedville’s fishing industry. Its five stories are capped by eight gables aligned to the points of the compass, and its many unusual architectural features reflect Capt. Fisher’s desire to create a home that would both recreate the feel of being on a ship and incorporate elements of his schooner the ‘John D. Adams.’

A brick arcadia wraps around three sides of the house, opening into marble-floored vestibules at each end of the wide center hall. Throughout the mansion the superb woodwork demonstrates the craftsmanship of Capt. Fisher’s shipwrights. The first floor parlors, separated by massive oak pocket doors, are furnished with turn-of-the-century antiques.  A grand quarter-sawn oak staircase, with hand carved ‘waves of the sea’ and ‘sunrise’ parquet landings, sweeps upwards. Three bedrooms with period furnishings are located on the second floor, together with a splendid Victorian cypress-floored bathroom.

The third floor was the original billiard room and features a single octagonal space surrounded by small bell-shaped rooms located on the cardinal points of the compass. The steeply angled slate roof is hung on beams supported by
the central cabin mast from Captain Fisher’s schooner.

Opposite the Gables lies the Morris House, intimately linked to its neighbor by family and business ties. It was built in 1895 by Capt. Albert Morris, menhaden fishing pioneer and partner to Capt. Fisher, whose wife was sister to Mrs. Morris. But whereas the massive brick façade of ‘The Gables’ is austerely masculine, this elaborately detailed Queen Anne home displays all the lavish richness of the Victorian era. Its spindle-worked ornamentation, delicately turned porch supports and scalloped shingles were originally painted in a variety of colors to bring out the exquisite details: the current owner has brought the exterior back to life with a color scheme using five distinct shades. The extensive first story porch invites every passerby to relax and enjoy the splendors of the building.

A few steps up Main Street bring the visitor to the Reed House. This stately Victorian home, with its iconic red roof and chimneys, epitomizes Reedville’s history. It was built for Elijah Reed, the founder of the menhaden fishing industry, by his son George Reed, who as the first postmaster named the town for his father. Today, the house is still owned by his descendants and is filled with family treasurers linking the five generations who have lived here.

The three-story frame house offers a distinctive exterior and an elegant interior, furnished with many personal family heirlooms. Among these is the original hand-drawn map of Reedville, showing the division into lots of the 33 acres along Main Street that Elijah Reed purchased for $1,000 in 1867. The den and living room contain numerous items of furniture that belonged to George Reed, while the dining room has a fine collection of family china, including items brought from England in the mid –nineteenth century. The garden, which enjoys commanding views of Cockerell’s Creek, includes two dependencies and a charming playhouse built by George Reed for his daughter.

Next door, the Bailey Cockrell House was constructed by Isaac Bailey, owner of the Reedville Marine Railway, in the early 1880s to house the workers for Elijah Reed’s fish processing factory. In 1899 he sold the house to Dr. L.E. Cockrell, who served as Reedville’s doctor until his death in 1955.

This charming Queen Anne style home, with its spindle frieze porch, multiple bays and gabled roof, still retains many reminders of Reedville’s doctor who lived here for so many years and provided medical services to the community. Today, the house showcases artifacts reflecting the town’s maritime heritage, including items from the menhaden fishing industry, local domestic life, and artwork recording the families that have lived here over the past 100 years.

At 726 Main Street another fine example of Reedville’s Bay Victorian homes demonstrates the continuing architectural changes of the past century. Built in 1892, the Captain J. Henry Haynie House had a wing added in the early 1900s, and recently the house has undergone a seven-year renovation at the hands of its present owners.  Due to the deterioration of the original plaster, the house had to be gutted down to the stud framing, and the rebuilding allowed the modernization of wiring, plumbing and insulation. It also gave the homeowners the opportunity to exercise their skills in carpentry and design and to indulge their passion for salvage and recycling. They have incorporated old doors, hardware, antique plumbing and lighting fixtures, claw foot tubs, stained glass and an eclectic array of furnishings and accessories into their home, from sources as varied as auctions, yard sales, e-Bay, and even curbside trash.

With a major addition in 2005, and the new house gradually emerged from protracted renovations, offering the perfect setting for an enchanted collection of wonderfully unlikely objects. The 1906 egg incubator serving as a kitchen island typifies the surprises awaiting visitors, while the combination of family memorabilia and objects recycled from every area of daily life make for a home of unparalleled individuality. Overlooking Cockerell’s Creek and surrounded by the vintage homes of the original fishing fleet captains, the Capt. J. Henry Haynie House reflects the diverse heritage of Reedville’s Main Street.

The tour also includes entrance to the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum. Founded by a group of local residents in 1986, the original museum was located in Reedville’s oldest existing home, the Walker House. It opened to the public in 1988. Today, the museum includes five buildings on its campus. The finely restored and furnished Walker House recreates a waterman’s home of the 1870s. The custom-built Covington Building is home to the permanent collection, special exhibits and the museum shop. The model shop contains an extensive model train layout of ‘The Railway that Never Was’, with its finely detailed recreations of the villages of Northumberland and Lancaster counties. A boat shop and pavilion are used in boat building programs, and the museum’s administrative headquarters is in the Butler House.

Behind the museum lies the dock with a collection of historic boats and displays related to fishing on the Chesapeake Bay. Largely operated by a dedicated core of volunteers, the Fishermen’s Museum has become the heart of the community and is an integral part of this year’s tour.

An additional attraction is offered by a one-day show and sale of local art presented by Northern Neck artists and artisans will be held at Festival Halle, the Information Center. This is not part of the Historic Garden Week event, and no ticket or entrance fee is required.

This year marks the Garden Club of Virginia’s 76th Historic Garden Week. Proceeds from tours across the state go towards the restoration of historic gardens. Both Christchurch in Lancaster County and Stratford Hall Plantation in Westmoreland have benefited from this funding.

Direction to The Information Center:

  • From Norfolk: I-64 to West Point Exit 220. Follow Rte 33 to Rte 17 to Rte 3 in Saluda. Continue on Rte 3 across the Rappahannock River Bridge to White Stone and to Kilmarnock. In Kilmarnock, turn right on Rte 200 and continue north for 12 mi to Burgess. Turn right on Rte 360 and continue for 6 mi to Reedville. Festival Halle is on the left.
  • From Fredericksburg: Rte 17 to Tappahannock. Left at the second light onto Rte 360, cross the bridge over the Rappahannock and continue through Warsaw to Callao. Turn right at the traffic light and continue 14 mi. to Reedville.
  • From Richmond: Rte 360 through Tappahannock, where 360 turns right and crosses the Rappahannock River. Proceed as above.
  • Parking: Available at the Information Center. All houses are within walking distance on Main Street. A shuttle bus will be available for those not wishing to walk. Please note, these homes are not handicapped accessible.

Advance tickets $25 (until April 15): contact from Mrs. P. Kimball, P.O.Box 215, Reedville, 22539. Make checks payable to Garden Club of the Northern Neck.  For internet tickets, please access www.VAGardenweek.org. Tickets may be purchased on tour day ($30) at the Information Center at Festival Halle on Main Street.