A Travellerspoint blog

Day 95 - Chesterfield County

Snowed today so we finally headed south. We got just past Richmond and pulled off for lunch and decided to stay the night in Chesterfield County.

snow 0 °F


Miles Driven - 110
Weather - Snowing at first, just overcast & cool later - we outran the storm!
Camped at - Chester Wal-mart (there's a story...)


(1) Mom was right, we should have headed south sooner. But there are still a lot of places I wanted to visit in VA and will miss (as with every state we've been in so far).
(2) I was finally able to get the short video uploaded of a cannon firing demo at Yorktown Victory Center. This is now in Day 90. You can also view any video's I've uploaded by going to Youtube and doing a search for jl98584.


A 'Clipper' is a storm system that comes in fast. These originate in Canada and swing through the NE, often bringing cold and snow. When I checked the weather forecast last night, we found out one was headed our way and to expect snow. Shortly after we got up and started getting ready to go, we saw a flake. Then another, then I checked the weather forecast again to see how bad it would get. Charlottesville, where we were at the moment, was expected to get hit worse then surrounding areas (maybe because it's close to the Blue Ridge Mountains?) Anyway, after some quick analysis of the options I decided to try to make it to the Richmond area, below the heavy snow (as forecast anyway). The storm was just getting started and I've always had good traction in the RV (it's kind of heavy and has 6 wheels on the ground), so we took off. I also decided to stay on the freeway today, figuring it would be the first one they'd sand or plow if it got bad (and has four lanes, so I could go a little slower and people could get around me). I definitely didn't want to take the curvy, hilly, lightly traveled back roads we'd taken to get to Charlottesville yesterday!

It continued to snow moderately, but wasn't cold enough to stick to the road bed. By the time we got to Richmond, it wasn't sticking anywhere else either. I knew we'd stayed in Virginia too long, so decided to skip Richmond, but was secretly harboring fantasies of at least seeing the Petersburg National Battlefield site. I had also found a campground south of Petersburg that was supposed to be open all year, based on the online guide (which has been incorrect on that point a few times).

Just south of Richmond I saw signs for a Cracker Barrel restaraunt at the next exit. We had been seeing these fairly often in the east but hadn't tried one yet and it was getting to be lunch time. We'd also driven pretty hard to get away from the deep snow, so I thought maybe we needed a break. Interesting restaurant chain. There was a fairly large gift shop when we first entered - I guess the theme is based on an old country store (but unfortunately the prices are very modern). A lot of folks must have decided to pull off about the same time, so we had to wait about 20 minutes or so to get seated. As we went in the restaurant, they had a pretty good fire going in a huge fireplace (a real one, not gas) and lots of antique stuff on all the walls (late 1800's), cream separators, sleds, butter churn, coffee grinder etc. Mom enjoyed trying to trip me up as to what some of the things were. I did correctly identify some of them, but missed a few.

The menu was southern style cooking. I ordered a slice of virginia ham with fried apples and hash brown casserole. Mom also had fried apples and steamed carrots (nice & soft) with her dinner. We had to skip dessert, we were both too full. Next time we visit one of these, I'll try the turnip greens & ham. (Fortunately, the food was better priced then the gift shop.)

When we went back outside after lunch the snow was continuing to come down in really big, soft flakes but still wasn't sticking. Since we'd had some false leads from the internet camping listing, I thought it might prudent to call the campground and make sure they were open. I tried several times, and failing to get an answer, decided to look for another campground. There was one just down the road we'd turned off onto to get to the restaurant. Pocahontas State Park had camping and was supposedly open year round (according to the web site). Since it was so close, I figured I'd just drive on down to it rather then call (dumb - maybe I inherited my map reading skills from my grandmother?). It was only 1 PM, but with the snow continuing I figured we accomplished enough just getting away from the worst of it - so maybe it would be a good idea to just hunker down and wait until tomorrow to proceed.

We headed west on Hwy 12 looking for the SP. Just as we got near the turn, Mom saw a brown sign on the right about a Museum. It was still kind of early to camp, so we decided to give it a try. It wasn't really clear where to turn, so I tried the most likely place and ended up in a very busy and full parking lot. It was the right place, the Museum is located right by the Chesterfield County Courthouse, with a lot of other civic buildings nearby. A very nice guy was raking leaves when I stopped to ask where the museum was, he dropped everything to help find an empty parking space. Well, they may make it easy for tourists to find the museum or parking, but at least they try really hard once you get stuck in their lot.

The museum is located in a replica of the 1750's courthouse.


They didn't feel comfortable having me upload any pictures from inside, so I'll try to describe it a bit. There was a very well done video about the early history of the county. They also had some nice brochures, I think they won an award for them. It was a small museum and didn't have too many 'artifact' type exhibits, but had lots of good signage - boards on the walls explaining how things developed, who did what, etc.

The county organized in 1749 and named for Lord Chesterfield, a British statesman and essayist. It was home to the second European town in America in 1611 when Sir Thomas Dale, deputy Gov. of Virginia Colony decided to establish a new town, Henricus, that would have better living conditions then the swampy Jamestown. John Rolfe met, courted and married Pocahontas in Henricus. The town didn't survive past 1622, but by then there were other settlements and farms in the area so the county still developed.

Other firsts for the county include the first incorporated town (Bermuda Hundred), the first iron furnace in America (at Falling Creek), the first hospital in America (Mount Malady), the first commercial coal mine (Midlothian) and in 1882 the first black college, now VA State University.

As with most of this area, there are several Civil War sites in the county. Several columns of Lee's Army of Virginia retreated through the county, pausing to spend the night at the county courthouse. The Union Army had just broked through Confederate defenses at Petersburg, prompting the evacuation of Richmond and the final surrender the following week in Appomattix. Things were pretty gloomy for the Confederacy at this point, one soldier with the 12th Virginia Infantry later wrote: "I'll never see the calm moon again without remembering this sad night."

Another interesting thing we learned, when the Civil War came through towns in the South, county courthouses were often burned, destroying valuable records (unfortunately for genealogists). In Chesterfield County, the county clerk took the records home and buried them until the war was over, so they didn't loose their vital records.

While reviewing the exhibits, I noticed one that described Pocahontas SP as being closed for camping Nov 30th as opposed to being open year round as the web site had said. The museum staff was very friendly and helpful and insisted on helping me resolve this. After a few false starts, they were able to locate the phone number and found out that it was closed for camping. So that's two false campground leads so far, anybody counting?

At this news, I got a little concerned about our plan for the night, so skipped the rest of the exhibits to get out and look for another campground. However, by the time I got back to the RV, I'd decided to give up on campgrounds and just stop in the Walmart we'd passed on that same Hwy. So we didn't need to rush afterall. At least I stopped to take a picture of their 1892 jail, it's not open right now anyway, but you can visit the outside. Notice the stocks on the front right side?


So having decided that rushing wasn't needed afterall, I tried to get out of the parking lot. Hm. The direction I tried first had no outlet, with no open public parking spaces, I had to try backing into a "Reserved for Official Police Vehicles" spot to try to get turned around. Of course, who should I find sitting behind me while I tried to maneuver? A police car. He seemed more amused then mad however and didn't pull me over. I got turned around finally and drove across the street.

On the map, Mom had noticed a red dot (for something to see possibly, like brown signs) marking a "Magnolia Grange". In the museum, they had told us this was actually a restored 1822 plantation house and said it was worth the visit. Mom decided to stay in the RV as she'd already had a pretty busy day by that point, so I went on in.


The house was built by William Winfrey, who owned 700 acres. He had married a woman with money, so was able to afford to build such a grand house. He also owned a tavern near the courthouse (a ready source of income as the only place to stay when in town to do business with the county) and a gristmill. I'm not sure if these are from his gristmill (I think they are), but are typical of the stones used to grind corn or wheat into flour. The power to turn these came from a water wheel on Falling Creek.


All of the operations were supported by the labor of about 100 slaves. It gives me pause to wonder. I've read several places about how the plantation owners were proud of their hard work in building or managing successful farms. Thomas Jefferson felt very strongly about the moral 'rightness' of farms and farming over industry and banking. So much of the quality of life and success however came from the unpaid labor of slaves, and even then many of these early farmers or plantation owners were not able to sustain the family fortunes. Hmm, I wonder if any forensic accountants have studied plantation operations?

Anyway, back to the tour. When I got to the front door, it turned out some group was hosting a tea in the house at the time (Red Hat Society I'd guess from their outfits). I politely apologized for intruding and decided to back out quietly (afterall, they didn't have a closed sign on the door, how was I to know?) However, a very nice and helpful docent insisted she could at least show me the upstairs (the tea was being held downstairs). I tried to back out, but these Virginia folks can be very persistent at being helpful!

The house had changed hands several times during it's long life and as each family moved out, they took their belongings with them. Therefore, the restorer's have set up each bedroom using period appropriate furniture for different era's - an 1830's bedroom, an 1850's, etc. It was interesting to see the evolution in styles from room to room like this (nice touch). They do allow photography, but prefer it not be overdone. Since they were being kind enough to let me look around, I restrained my usual shutter bug finger and tried to take only a few, subdued shots. (Oh how I wish I'd taken just a couple more!)

Before we get to the bedrooms however, I do need to show you the entry way. This is a federal style house (they have moved beyond the Georgian style we'd seen in earlier homes). The entry hall used wall paper from France. The exact pattern isn't known, so the restoration attempted to use something that was typical of the time from the same factory (Zubar?). I was just blown away by the entry way - very lovely. BTW - the woodwork is pine, but was painted to look like more expensive mahogony. It looked nice however.


Below is the 1830's bedroom, the mirror had candlestands for light (the house was built long before electricity of course). This room was actually fairly plain and simple compared to the later rooms. The babies were kept in the parents bedroom the first couple of years (probably to try to reduce infant mortality, which was quite high then). All of the chests had key locks, virtually everything was locked up (linens, dishes, etc) and the lady of the house kept a leather Key Basket with her at all times. I remember my great grandmother, who was a white women raised in the south, saying that blacks couldn't be trusted, they would steal anything. I suspect further evidence of the dark side of these privileged plantation owners lives - that they had to lock everything up from their own household staff. Of course, if I had to work without pay from dawn to dusk and were treated like a piece of property, I'd probably steal everything I could get my hands on also. Anyway, I digress again, little wonder I have trouble keeping the blog up to date.

The docent also showed me a hat box. Travelling by horse or by buggy was very dusty business, men carried their hat in a case when riding to keep the dust off. When they got to their destination, they took it out and could wear a clean hat about their business.


I did not take pictures of the 1850's or 1860's bedroom (was still trying not to intrude too much or take advantage of my host's hospitality). The 1850's owners were Huguenot's. They would have used a nice Wardrobe to store their cloths (many homes of this era did not have closets, as we have found elsewhere). Boys wore dresses until they were about 6.

In the 1860's it was more Victorian, which was all the rage at that time. There were considerably more childrens toys. The docent pointed out one device I couldn't identify, it was a button hook. At that time, shoes often had buttons and loops (womens shoes especially I think). The button hook was used to grab the loop and stretch it over the button. Mom knew immediately what a button hook was and thinks she might have even used one as a child.


By this time the tea was over and several of the ladies from the tea had wandered upstairs to tour the house also, so we went ahead downstairs where I could see a couple of the main rooms. The kitchen had been in a separate outside building. Besides protecting from fires, this would have helped keep the house cooler in summer (NC is very hot and muggy in summer and of course this was long before A/C was invented). The parlor was interesting, the woodwork had been painted to look like marble. This reminds me of some of the fancy treatments available nowdays to paint things - I remember using 'antiquing' kits on the bedroom furniture when I was a kid! I guess some things never change (completely anyway). It was very well done anyway.


So we managed to do some sightseeing afterall, in spite of my plan just to outrun the storm then hunker down for the night. The snow had stopped before we got to the museum and hadn't stuck (not here anyway, maybe in Charlottesville where we were this morning). We pulled into WM and called it a night (except for writing the blog of course).

Posted by jl98584 20:39 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

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