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The Changing Face of Virginia: Peeling Back the Layers of History


Hello again from the Education Office! Here is the second installment in our “Changing Face of Virginia” blog series written by high school student William Chapman. The remaining blogs will be posted over the next few months, so keep checking back! Enjoy!

~Jennifer Rohrbaugh Nesossis, Outreach Educator

William receiving his 2010 Wyndham B. Blanton Scholars certificate.

On August 30, 1957, workers packed up their tools and left as the new Robert O. Norris Bridge was prepared for its opening.  It was well known to these workers, as well as the crowd that gathered on the shore of the Rappahannock River, that this bridge would change Virginia’s Northern Neck forever.  Forty-two years later, I crossed that bridge in the backseat of a gray minivan, and my life hasn’t been the same since.  From my limited vantage point, I couldn’t picture in my mind’s eye the crowd of people in pillbox hats and business suits, and I didn’t know that those people had more to do with me than I could ever imagine.

I was five years old at the time, and I was going with my mom and dad to visit a place that my dad had told me was important, which he called Enon Hall.  What we found was a house that had been built in the mid-eighteenth century and had been the family home of the Hathaways, my Grandmother’s family, for more than 200 years.  It was dilapidated, with vines choking what little of the facade was visible through the trees.  Over the next few years, I would not only discover my family’s story but also the story of a region that has seen quite a bit of change.

The Northern Neck that I entered was no longer the isolated region it was 100 years before.  With the construction of the bridge, hundreds of weekenders from Richmond and Washington, D.C., had flocked to the area.  They had bought most of the waterfront property, which once provided access for Chesapeake watermen to the once-plentiful waters of the bay.  Now, the bay was full of Jet Skis and motorboats, and almost all traces of what this area had been before were gone.

Young William pulling vines outside his family home.

As we began to peel back the layers of our family’s history—and chip away at the layers of vines, rust, and paint from our home—we began to discover more about what this place was like before the construction of the bridge.  There had been a robust industry on the Chesapeake Bay of steamboats that ran to Baltimore and Norfolk, bringing goods and people to the Neck.  This had been important to my family, who ran two hotels in the area, both of which catered to visitors who came to the Neck via steamboat.  Even with all of this outside influence, most people from the Northern Neck stayed close to home, becoming farmers, watermen, or dockworkers.  People stuck to the traditional lives that they had always known.

The last Chesapeake steamboat sailed in 1925, and shortly after, things began to change.  Farms, like the one at Enon Hall, became less important, and people’s traditional ideals changed.  At the same time, overfishing destroyed the watermens’ trade, which sent the economy of the Neck into a slump.  It took the construction of the bridge and the sudden influx of “come-heres” to revive the area, but it just wasn’t the same as it had been.

I am proud that I have had the opportunity to return to this place, and I am happy that I have had the opportunity to discover the story of this area which I now call home.  I now live here full-time, but I no longer consider myself a come-here.  This is where I belong.

Jennifer Nesossis is an outreach educator at the Virginia Historical Society.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Nancy Tileston permalink
    04/01/2011 9:07 pm

    Congratulations to William. I’m sure his parents are very proud. I happened to find Williams’ father’s blog which I read from the beginning and then it abruptly stopped in 2008. Any link would be appreciated if there’s more to the story!


  2. D. Streeter permalink
    06/20/2011 1:07 pm

    Wow, William is really growing up! Lovely article.

    I, too, followed the happenings at Enon Hall via William’s father’s blog and am curious to know what has happened since 2008. I occasionally revisit it hoping for an update. Alas, no new posts. I came across this post through a search of “what happened to enon hall” on blogger. I’d love to see what Enon Hall looks like now!


    • 05/28/2013 1:57 pm

      I feel the same way. When the blog was actively describing the day to day restoration, it was fascinating. That it seemed to end so abrubtly was a bit of an adjustment. Yes, William is getting to be a young man who will probably walk in his father’s footsteps to maintain the ancestral heritage of Enon Hall. We should be grateful for those who have the same ambition to restore the beauty of old homes and mansions all across America and close by in our own towns and cities.


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