Monday, November 7, 2011

We Have Music in Our History

By Lenelle Janis
Virginians have inspired many kinds of good music like the bluegrass group which will be the entertainment at our December banquet. Otto Shelor’s Bluegrass America is from Chesapeake and has a loyal following locally for this traditional folk based music. It is music for the present day, coming entirely from Americas heritage out of Virginias mountains. A popular style of country music, it remains closest to the traditions of the mountains that border Virginia and Kentucky, its roots with the intrepid Scots, English and Irish who settled there. They brought the Irish jig and the English ballads and from them created a distinctive and unique American sound.

Country music came to general notice in 1916 when Cecil Sharp published folk songs of the Appalachian Mountains and Texas fiddler Eck Robertson cut the first record of "old-time music" in 1922. Radio broadcasts soon followed, reaching the rural area with cowboy songs and barn dance programs. In 1925, the first radio station in Nashville broadcast the barn dances that soon took the name Grand Ole Opry. Country music steamed ahead and a recording industry was formed.

Different styles of country have developed still adhering to the essential characteristics; its content, instrumentation and singing style. The story comes first in importance, telling about practical things of home, real life experiences and work (Tennessee Ernie Ford
s "Fifteen Tons") and always deeply personal (Coal Miners Daughter). More rhythmic than melodic, the instrumentation always centered around the banjo, fiddle and guitar accompanying a solo or duet sung with a high tenor voice. The fiddle was the poor mans violin, simplified and held differently so that they could also sing. The early stars of the hillbilly style were the members of the Virginia based Carter family, who were basically a vocal trio first recorded in 1926. The "down home" characteristic of dress and manner has stayed proudly cowboy/country to the present as country spread out from its rural beginning.

Bluegrass stayed at home in the mountains, fast virtuoso and sometimes instrumental-only "mountain music." The banjo, fiddle and mandolin led the melody, and backed by guitar and string bass, it made spirited music devoted to domestic themes, American values and a positive outlook. It had its documented beginning in the Kentucky/Virginia border area around Bristol and has now spread all the way to a bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.

Bill Monroe is acknowledged as the in blue grass when his Blue Grass Boys first appeared at the Grand Ole Opry in 1939. The band was different from traditional county because of its hard-driving and powerful sound utilizing traditional acoustic instruments, highly distinctive vocal harmonies, and the innovation of the mandolin. Mandolin, banjo, fiddle, guitar and bass formed the format for the band. Songs and rhythms from string bands, gospel (black and white), work songs and country and blues were in solo, duet and quartet harmony. Monroe was noted for his "high lonesome" solo lead singing and for his spectacular mandolin style as in "Rawhide" and now is acknowledged the "Father of Bluegrass music."

Classic bluegrass sound jelled in 1945 when Earl Scruggs introduced his innovative three-finger picking style on the banjo now known as the Scruggs style. Another member of Monroe
s band was Lester Flatt on guitar and lead vocal against Monroes tenor.

The Dobro or resophonic Guitar was introduced when Scruggs and Flatt formed their own band. We owe artists like these for music like "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," "Dueling Guitars" and the triple platinum sound track for "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" "Tennessee Waltz" is classic country that moved into the mainstream.

Pop music was adapted European music, but country was American and only American, its performers were American, its stories and sounds were American. The sound of country embodied the history of America and represented its basic heritage and character.

{This material can be found more fully on county and bluegrass websites. What I gathered here is notable for the excellent material I had to omit. I didn
t even mention "Your Cheatin Heart."}LJ

The above information on the history of Bluegrass was obtained by Mrs. Janis through www.Google.com sources, retrieved on 29 October, 2011.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Gilmerton Bridge


A page from Amerigo Vespucci's playbook


Matt Yeager
Wallace Room Volunteer

Who was Henry G. Gilmerton and why was the Gilmerton Bridge named after him?

-- This question has come up twice in the last six months so it begs setting the record straight.–The correct name of the bridge that crosses the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River on South Military Hwy is the Gilmerton Bridge and not the Henry G. Gilmerton Bridge as it is currently listed on some maps.  The Gilmerton Bridge, completed in 1938, was named after the area it is located near - what was then the town of Gilmerton, now a community in the City of Chesapeake.

History - The town of Gilmerton was named after Thomas Walker Gilmer, 22nd Governor of Virginia, who was born in 1802, near Charlottesville at the “Gilmerton” homestead - not to be confused with the village of Gilmerton in Norfolk County, Virginia.  Governor Gilmer actually visited the area in 1840 while the Gilmerton Cut and Gilmerton locks were under construction.

The following is a quote from the February 1938 Virginia Highway Bulletin - "On Route 299 there is being constructed a bridge over the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River, known locally as the Gilmerton Bridge." -  Note - Route 299 is now that section of Route 13/South Military Hwy that runs from Route 58 to Bainbridge Blvd in Chesapeake, VA. –

(The Virginia Highway Bulletins were monthly news bulletins that exchanged information among the 8 highway construction districts in Virginia.)

So now you are probably looking in your ADC map book or at some other map and you see the name Henry G. Gilmerton Bridge where the Gilmerton Bridge is located.  It is listed that way, too, in my ADC Hampton Roads map book (21st edition).  If you go to earlier editions of the ADC map book (such as the 18th), the bridge is referred to correctly as simply the Gilmerton Bridge.

I can assure you that Henry G. Gilmerton is as real as the Easter Bunny. -- But, where did the name Henry G. Gilmerton come from?  My conclusion is that someone merged the name of the Gilmerton Bridge with a real person by the name of Henry G. Gilmer and came up with the name Henry G. Gilmerton and the maps started listing the bridge with that name.

More History - Prior to the existing Campostella Bridge that currently crosses the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River there was an earlier Campostella Bridge, a draw bridge that was completed in 1935. Although that bridge was commonly known as the Campostella Bridge, its official name was the Henry G. Gilmer Bridge.  Mr. Henry G. Gilmer in the early 1930's was a member of the State Highway Commission from the Bristol District, and was instrumental in getting $400,000 of Federal Highway funds toward the needed $535,000 to construct that bridge in 1935.  For his efforts they named the Campostella Bridge The Henry G. Gilmer Bridge.

Friday, May 27, 2011

How I Got Into An "Oily" Business

The Wallace Memorial Room is located on the first floor of the Chesapeake Central Library. It houses a collection of materials for use in historical and genealogical research. It does not have a formal research service in place, but is staffed by volunteers from the Norfolk County Historical Society of Chesapeake.

HOURS OF OPERATION
Monday - Thursday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Friday - Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday - 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

MAIL REFERENCE QUESTIONS TO:
Chesapeake Public Library
Wallace Memorial Room
298 Cedar Rd
Chesapeake, VA 23322
Please include a self-addressed stamped envelope with your request.

A personal story by one of our staff members regarding genealogy and her family’s search is shared below:


How I Got Into An “Oily” Business
By Alice Marie HUMPHREY Dyer

It all started when my Uncle Winston Humphrey in Utah called my father in New Mexico and screamed into the phone, “Earl, we’re rich, RICH, Rich!”

What follows, is my attempt to record for posterity the events that developed from that phone call.  (Posterity = Future generations taken collectively; All of one’s descendants.)

For, you see, it is my family’s CONCERN with its descendants and with its progenitors which is the root of this story.

My Uncle Winston and my mother, Mary (his sister-in-law), and my Uncle Alvin Russell (my mother’s brother ---who, alas, does not come into THIS particular tale) have all, over the years, taken a keen interest in the subject of GENEALOGY.

Although some people become involved in this field because they want to prove (or improve) their pedigrees – my mother and uncles take DELIGHT in digging up information, that was better left buried, on the weird and unsavory peculiarities of our clan.  Luckily for them, our ancestors have been pretty obliging in this respect.

It was while in the middle of shaking his family tree that my Uncle Winston came across a newspaper article that said, “MISSING LINK TO SPINDLETOP FORTUNE FOUND”, and the name  of this “missing link”?---William Humphrey!  Now, since my uncle’s father (also my father’s father – my paternal grandfather) was named William Humphrey, and since we were all born in a part of East Texas where “Spindletop” is well known, my uncle’s interest was immediately grabbed!

After reading this newspaper article several times, my uncle placed a long distance call to the “Humphrey Heirs Association” to see if he could find out any more information (chiefly, if we were related and how much money we were getting if we were).  What they told him was that there were already 7,500 OTHER Humphrey’s asking the same questions ---but, no matter.

What the newspaper article stated was this:  That in 1901, in southeast Texas, a man named Pelham Humphrey was killed in a bar room brawl.  After Pelham died, his oil well hit a gusher, but, ALAS---he had never married and left no heirs.

So, the oil company invested the money, put it into an account, and there it has sat for over eighty years drawing interest.  Meanwhile, the lawyers for the oil company have been diligently searching for a Humphrey heir to give Pelham’s fortune to.

Think of it!  An oil company wanting to give away TWO HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS!  Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?  (If you say “Yes”, then you are obviously NOT a Humphrey – and we don’t have to share any of our money with you!)

Throwing this paper down, my Uncle Winston frantically ran his finger over his LDS approved genealogy chart and ----THERE IT WAS---- William Johnson Humphrey, Pelham’s long lost brother.  Let’s see, William Johnson Humphrey begot George Hezekiah Humphrey, and George Hezekiah Humphrey begot William Jepthane Humphrey ---“THERE’S DADDY! cried my uncle!  And William Jepthane Humphrey begot both Earl Wright Humphrey (my father) and Winston Bruin Humphrey (my uncle), not to mention Mary Ethel Humphrey (Hopkins) - my aunt and their sister!

EUREKA!  “The whole family is rich and ---best of all---most of them are DEAD!”
It was, at this point, that my father received his phone call.
-----
I must mention that, heretofore, whenever my mother or uncles became engaged in a discussion of lineage, my father turned to them his deaf ear, and would mutter such things as “Genealogy %#$@!”

In fact, he had ridiculed my mother by bringing up the touchy point of how her Aunt Virgie was born with webbed feet --- thereby proving that the Russell’s (her relations) were not descended from apes like the rest of us humans, but from DUCKS  ---which also explained why all the Russell’s were short, fat, and waddled when they walked.

However, when my father learned that in digging through his family’s past, he was apt to be digging for GOLD – he became a bonafide prospector.
---
Since my mother, THE LEVEL-HEAD, was away on a business trip at this time, my father seized the opportunity and drove to my uncle’s house with their mother (my Granny).  Along the way [from New Mexico to Utah] figuring their luck had changed, they stopped in Wendover, Nevada for a little serious gambling at the slot machines.

When they got to my uncle’s house, the three of them, along with my cousin Bruin (who is not a Humphrey, but his mother – my Aunt Mary Ethel – is), sat down at the kitchen table and they figured furiously on the backs of old envelopes and on folded paper napkins.  What they concluded was this:
    
That IF all the 7,500 Humphreys that were in the Humphrey Heirs Association, plus another 500 Humphreys that they “might not know about yet” (thereby rounding the figure off to 8,000 – easier to divide) were ENTITLED to the 200 Billion Dollar fortune; that their share, after taxes, would come to 2.5 million dollars apiece!

My father magnanimously declared then and there that of his 2-1/2 million, he was going to give one million to his oldest daughter, Marie (that’s me!) and one million to his baby girl, Susan (my sister) and would keep the half-million for himself.  “Shoot”, he said, “I can live on half a million.”

The rest of the visit with my Uncle Winston was spent in discussing what each would buy with his portion of the family fortune.

Knowing that my mother was still unaware of what was taking place, my father and Granny then hot-footed it to my sister’s house (in nearby Montana) to spread the good news.

My sister has inherited several good Humphrey genes herself, and when she heard that some of the 7,500 Humphreys laying claim to the money spelled their name with an “I E S” on the end, she threw up her hands and declared, “Well, all those “I E S’s” can go to blazes, they’re not getting any!”

Shortly after my father and Granny got back home to New Mexico, my mother came in from her business trip.  She heard this tale, and promptly poured the oil of logic upon the churning waters that they had stirred up.

Now, I live in Virginia – and THIS is where I came into the picture.

My mother called me on the phone to tell me about her business trip, and during the course of the conversation she casually asked, “Well, did you hear about the Humphrey Inheritance?”  When I said, “No”, she proceeded to tell me about it in a calm, orderly fashion.

I knew that my father was nearby, because I could hear him in the background correcting my mother on the finer points of the story.  He interrupted her about seven times, so finally in disgust, my mother did what she should have done in the first place – she handed the phone to my father.

He proceeded to re-tell the whole story, and there was a DIFFERENCE in the telling.  While listening to my mother, this was just another amusing and interesting chapter in the family history.  It was as though I was viewing this epic from some higher, loftier plane – some place where I could see the antics of my tribe, love them, and still laugh at their folly.

BUT, when my father got on the phone the story became a saga!  I could SEE my father’s eyes mist, FEEL his heart pumping, and HEAR the intake of breath, as he told the tragic tale of poor Uncle Pelham – a lonely old bachelor who had worked hard all his life, “shot by mistake” in a bar room where he had gone to seek solace from his worries ---dying alone, never knowing that he had made his fortune.

By the time my father finished talking, something strange had happened to me.   MY eyes were misty, MY heart was pumping, ---and I was sucking wind!

It had previously been assumed (by the members of my family, at least) that when my chromosomes were split, the LEVEL-HEADED Russell genes were dominant.  I can only attribute my actions to a recessive “flighty” Humphrey gene that was lurking inside.

I was still in a trancelike state when I hung up the phone.  I then calmly walked into the living room and turned to my husband and said, “John, we’re rich, RICH, RICH!”
---
It took John several minutes to get anything coherent out of me, but when I finally began to blurt out the story, he kept laughing and interrupting me saying such things as  “Oh, come on!” and “Where did you hear that %$#!” and “That CAN’T be right!”  All the while he was exchanging little “knowing” looks with our fourteen-year-old nephew, Jonathan McCracken, who was visiting.  It was most annoying!

Yes, it was plain that John didn’t believe that he was living with an heiress, but I think that little Jonathan had doubts.  I know this because when I got ready to take him home later, he got my coat for me, held the door, and flashed me a smile so big I could see his tonsils.

The next day I had a hard time at work.  Several times I found my mind wandering.

Now, I don’t know for sure, but I think John’s mind was wandering a little too, because that night at home he made me go over the whole story again – several times – just so he could “get the facts all straight” in his mind.  Not only was he NOT laughing anymore, he was also beginning to join me in little “discussions”.  See example below:
    
ALICE MARIE – “What if it’s true and I get about $10,000? Wouldn’t that be nice?
JOHN – “Yes, it would.”
ALICE MARIE – “I’d give you half.”
JOHN – “Thank you.”
--------long pause------
JOHN – “Well, if it’s $10,000 or less you can have it all.  You don’t have to give me any.”
ALICE  MARIE – Why? Don’t you like money?”
JOHN – “Yes, but $10,000 is such a piddling amount, it’s not worth messing with.”

(This last statement comes from a man who does most of his shopping at Goodwill and who thinks “eating out” means a trip through the drive-up window of Taco Bell.)

More conversation:

ALICE MARIE – “Well, I dreamed last night that what I actually got was $16,000.”
                                 I then proceed to list all the things I want to buy with that money.
JOHN – “That sounds good, but you won’t have enough money to do all that. You’ll only have $8,000 because you said you’d give me half.”
ALICE MARIE – “Wait a minute.  You said that if it was less than $10,000 you didn’t want it.  $8,000 is less than $10,000.”
JOHN – “Yes, BUT you said $16,000.  Half of $16,000 is $8,000.”
---
John is normally a pretty nice guy anyway, but over the next couple of days, whenever he said or did anything nice, I would accuse him “You just want my money!”  He would then say, “Alice, for gosh sakes, you don’t HAVE any money!”  I would reply to that by calling him “Pauper!” – and he would call me “Queenie!”   Things were going downhill fast.

So, later that night, we called my parents so that John could hear for himself exactly what my parents had told me.  (I hoped he would THEN show me the proper respect!)

But, during the phone call it became apparent that my father was having trouble with insubordination at his house too!  At one point, we could clearly hear my Granny saying in the background, “Well, when we get our money….”   My father interrupted her with “Mama, where do you get this WE stuff?  You’re not a Humphrey! You were only married to one!”

“Oh, no!”, said John, and then he and my mother got tickled and started laughing.  John then sealed his fate by blabbing to my mother that I had been so busy counting my “money” that I had forgotten to make out checks for both the house payment and the truck payment until he reminded me.  My mother cackled and then instructed John not to “let her buy anything on credit!” Ha! Ha! Ha! ---but I didn’t laugh.

The next several weeks at our house were kind of hectic!  John spent his lunch hours at the downtown library in their genealogy department and he found out that we Humphreys named a large percentage of our sons William, thereby making it difficult to find out if OUR William was the right one.  I spent most of my time on the telephone.  I talked to relatives I hadn’t spoken with in years.  The only thing I learned was that that ALL the Humphreys were doing the same thing! 

When my Uncle Winston called my father, you see, he then called my Aunt Mary and – as he said to me – “Telling her about money is like throwing blood on ‘Jaws’!”  My uncle called my aunt, she called my father, and he called Cousin Pauline.  My uncle called London, England and my sister called everyone!  When this mess is over, we will need a fortune just to pay the phone bills.

During all this hullabaloo, one night when our nephew Jonathan was over, he began to talk about “When I get my money…”  I interrupted him with the question as to how exactly did he think HE was getting any money?  His name wasn’t Humphrey and he wasn’t blood related.  Well, it was simple.  He was getting his half out of the half I was giving to his Uncle John (my husband).

When John heard this, he said, “Well for goodness sake Johnny, don’t you think I ought to give some of my money to [the matriarch] Great-Grandma?”  Well, Jonathan conceded that it was only fair, because if Uncle John gave half of his half that Aunt Alice Marie gave him to Great-Grandma – she was sure to give him (Jonathan) some. 

“Well, “said my John, “don’t you think she will give half of it to her daughter, your Grandma?”  “Yes”, said Jonathan.  “And”, my John continued “don’t you think that Grandma will want to give some of hers to her daughter, your mother?”  “Yes, “said Jonathan, “and then my mother can give me half of hers!”

He thought a minute, and then grabbed a piece of paper and began to figure.  In a little while he cried out, “Wait a minute!  If Alice’s father gives her a million dollars and she gives half of  that to Uncle John, then he only gets one-fourth!

And…..if Uncle John gives half of his one-fourth  to Great-grandma, and she gives half to Grandma, and Grandma gives half to my Mother and my Mother gives me half of hers….Hey!  I’ll only get one hundred and twenty-eight of a million!” 
---
Probably not enough to buy a decent car!  Life is just not fair.


More LINKS on the Pelham Humphrey “Fortune”

Spindletop Scam





                          Oil Heirs Determined

Monday, May 9, 2011

He Wore the Uniform

World War I Uniform and Other Artifacts
from the Wallace Room
Just this past March, a World War I officer’s uniform hung proudly on the wall at the Chesapeake Central Library.  Norfolk County Historical Society volunteers found it in a box in the Wallace Room while assembling items for a display -- a historical timeline we called “A Look at Norfolk County.”

There were many other items in our timeline – a replica Revolutionary War musket we affectionately call “Big Bess,” a pair of binoculars used in the Civil War, maps, some old photographs and daguerreotypes, even a stovepipe hat -- but the uniform commanded the most attention.

Library patrons seemed to gravitate to it. Some patrons recognized it. Some patrons asked questions about it. Some just stood in front of it…staring at it…contemplating its significance.  Who wore the uniform?

World War I Officer's Uniform Donated by
the Estate of A. Otto Lynch
Arundah Otto Lynch was born in Camden County, North Carolina in 1888 and was the son of Willoughby and Mary DeLena (Knight) Lynch. Otto grew up on the family farm on Ballahack Road, not too far from the Wallaces at Glencoe and the Stewarts at Beechwood.  He spent much of his adult life serving his country and his community…he wore the uniform.

Lieutenant Lynch was a 30-year-old school teacher in 1917 when he enlisted as a private in the Army.  He was first stationed at Fort McPherson, Georgia, where the German crews of two captured surface raiders, the Kronprinz Wilhelm and the Prinz Eitel Friederich were held as prisoners of war.

He quickly rose through the ranks during his first years of service. By May 1918, he was promoted to second lieutenant and was ordered to Fort Lee in Virginia to help organize the 320th Service Battalion, Quartermaster Corps which would feed, clothe, and arm U.S. troops in Europe. His battalion left for Brest, France in July 1918 as part of the American Expeditionary Forces.

In Brest, he served as a quartermaster officer in the Service of Supply (SoS). By the fall of 1918, the SoS supplied food, clothing, arms, ammunition, as well as personal and housekeeping equipment. In addition, the SoS provided support services such as paying soldiers, doing laundry, performing salvage operations, supplying areas for bathing and disinfection (ridding troops of lice, or “cooties”), and even identifying and caring for the dead (carried out by the Graves Registration Service).

Members of the SoS in WWI were assigned to one of three duty areas: base operations (huge, central supply depots near major ports that distributed materiel forward), intermediate sections (where supplies were stored for distribution to combat zones), or advanced sections (located directly behind the combat zones). Lynch served in one of the advanced sections, which shipped daily supplies and rations directly to the front.  

By August 1919, he was back on U.S. soil after an honorable discharge as a second lieutenant. He immediately passed the Virginia State Bar exam that month and began to practice law, spent 9 years as a title examiner, married Viola Lena Walter of Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1922, and was appointed commonwealth attorney in 1928. He remained in that position until 1954 when he became county treasurer for Norfolk County. He served as treasurer until he retired in 1963 when Norfolk County and the city of South Norfolk merged to become the city of Chesapeake, Virginia. 

Faithful and skillful service to his fellow citizens reflects Mr. Lynch’s dedication to community and country, both in and out of uniform.  The Norfolk County Historical Society wishes to thank the Lynch family for their donation of historical mementos and artifacts to the Wallace Room. 

Do you have items that may be of significance to your area's history? Have you done research on your family history or genealogy? Consider donating these items to your local historical or genealogical society. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

In Search of Captain Morgan...

I’m doing a bit of sleuthing these days. It’s one of my favorite things about the Wallace Room. So many mysteries…each one waiting to be solved…too many for me to solve alone. A single page from a box of old papers can so easily become a mystery…and the mystery leads to a quest for answers…and the quest becomes an obsession with the past.

Weeks ago, while sorting through some boxes of old Norfolk County court records, I found a single, undated page. It’s an old piece of paper – made of cotton rag -- with four handwritten paragraphs in black-faded-to-brown ink.

Four separate paragraphs all pertain to a certain Captain Morgan -- no, not THAT Captain Morgan, not the swashbuckler on the rum bottle, but a Captain William Morgan -- and his sloop The Privateer Polly. Intriguing…Privateers! Pirates, maybe! And so begins our mystery…

As a major colonial port, we certainly have had our share of pirates and privateers. The most famous was William Teach, Blackbeard, who frequented our waters in the early 1700s before he was captured and executed not far from here. (By the way…Legend has it that Teach buried some of his treasure on a sandbar island in the Lynnhaven Inlet, not 20 miles from the Wallace Room.) So stories of one more pirate, or privateer, wouldn’t be unheard of.

The writing on the page is difficult to read. Some words I can’t read at all. But the document appears to be from a court case concerning the alleged misdeeds of our mysterious Captain Morgan. According to these four paragraphs – these four depositions – it seems that our elusive Captain Morgan grounded his merchant-ship-turned-privateer named The Polly and absconded with the prize money before the owner could catch him! Aha! Our mystery deepens…

In our first deposition, Mr. William Crain describes his involvement in the case.

William Crain “sworn saith that he was sent for by the owner of the Privateer Polly to go and apprehend William Morgan who was late Master of the said Privateer and Commander of the said Privateer and that they the said owner had great reason to believe the said Morgan had willfully ran the said Privateer ashoar and carried away all the Prize Money that he had taken [about] 3500 or? 4500? 5000 belonging to the said Owner and that he proceeded with all speed to the Borough of Norfolk in Virginia where he [unknown] the said Morgan in custody.”

So William Crain must have been a deputy or agent hired by the owner of the Privateer Polly. Who was the owner? Where was the owner located? Where did William Crain come from?

Why did Captain Morgan run the Polly aground? Where did he run her aground? I looked at local shipwreck maps, particularly around the Outer Banks to find the Polly. No luck.

And 3500? or 4500? We can only assume that the witness meant British pounds sterling. In those days, that was a lot of swag!...or booty, in pirate-speak.

So now, I’m hooked (pun definitely intended).  I need to learn more about this cagey Captain Morgan and about what happened to the Polly. Who was he? Was he a real-life Captain Jack Sparrow? Was he a crafty pirate, or was he just an inept sailor? Did he run the Polly aground on purpose or by accident? Where was the prize money? Mystery becomes quest…

Mr. W. Wilmer, in our next deposition, testifies what he heard.

W. Wilmer “sworn saith it was generally [reported?] that Morgan had all the money which as a considerable sum but how much knoweth not belonging to [unknown] the owner of the Polly Privateer which was last reported willfully ran ashoar by the said Morgan and that the said Deputy was imployed by the said owner to follow & apprehend if possible the said Morgan and that the owner told his Deputy that the said Morgan [unknown] brought no money [unknown].”

Who is Mr. Wilmer? Why was his testimony important? Maybe he was corroborating the information provided by Mr. Crain.

Our next deposition is by an unknown witness. The word “Cripping” is written and then crossed out.

Cripping sworn saith, that [unknown] was thought that the said Morgan has run the sloop Polly ashoar & that he had thrown over [unknown] all the Guns Ammunition [unknown] and that he had [unknown] run away with the Owners of the said Privateers Money.”

Who made the statement? Was it a Mr. Cripping? Who was he? Why was his name stricken? The word Money is actually underscored twice in the statement. Why? Possibly for emphasis?

What prompted our shrewd Captain Morgan to throw the guns’ ammunition overboard?

Our final deposition by a Mr. Murray continues…

Murray “sworn saith that he mett with Captain Morgan who told him that he had cast away his Privateer & that [unknown] Mr. Barns informed him that the said Morgan [lost?] his Privateer and carried off all the Prized Money about 5000, the said Barns [unknown] this Deputy that if he would follow & apprehend the said Morgan [unknown] there was a reward of 150 Pistoles for the [unknown] him upon which this Deputy proceeded to Norfolk Borough and obtained a Warrant from the Mayor of the said Borough to apprehend him the said Morgan which was executed at the Great Bridge in the said county.”

This finally gives us some clues! Mr. Barns could be the owner of the Polly. And it appears from Mr. Murray’s deposition that Captain Morgan was apprehended at the Great Bridge in Norfolk County. But who is Mr. Murray, the sheriff maybe? Who obtained the warrant, Mr. Murray or Mr. Crain?

As to the age of the document, we also have a clue…150 Pistoles. Even though the Pistole, like Pieces of Eight, was Spanish currency, it was accepted in the American colonies as currency before the Revolutionary War, because it had not been devalued the way the British currency had. By the early 1700s, British currency had been so debased due to counterfeiting in the Caribbean Islands, West Africa, and the American colonies, that it was only rarely used in the New World. Most Americans didn’t trade in currency anyway, but rather by bartering, swapping one thing of value for another of similar value. Virginians traded mostly tobacco, grain, or hides for what they needed.

Can we conclude that the document is pre-Revolutionary? I think we can, but I’m only an amateur. I’m sure a more cunning sleuth would be able to coax more answers from this single, undated page.

And so many questions remain. Whatever happened to Captain Morgan? Was he ever convicted? If so, was he jailed here in Norfolk County or was he taken elsewhere (maybe back to England) for punishment? Whatever happened to the Polly? Did she ever sail again? There are just too many questions that I don’t have answers for. Quest becomes obsession…

My biggest question still remains unanswered: WHERE ARE THE OTHER PAGE OF THIS COURT CASE?!? So it’s back to the many boxes of loose papers for me.

As I go through them, maybe, just MAYBE, I’ll find out more about our mysterious Captain Morgan. You’ll be the first to know if I do!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Great Gusts! Terrible Tempests! and Historic Hurricanes! Part III

In my previous two posts, I provided descriptions and eyewitness accounts of hurricanes of Norfolk County’s earlier past.

The aggregate number of hurricanes continues to amaze me and yet I know from personal experience that, here, we take them in stride. We prepare for them…we watch for them…we track them, and when one hits…we deal with it.

Our latest hurricane of note, Hurricane Isabel in 2003, is a great example. Flooding, downed trees, power outages, roof damage, broken windows…it seems it’s part of living here.

So my final installment is…

Historic Hurricanes! --
Norfolk County Hurricanes From 1901 to Present

1903 – A “Freakish Vagabond Hurricane,” or so it was called, tracked north off the coast of southeast Virginia, but brought winds and rain strong enough to remind residents that the storm was no trifle.

And now for the freakish part…At Fort Monroe, just across the James River from Willoughby Spit in Norfolk County, it…rained…birds. Yes…birds! The birds were swept up and killed by the storm in the Caribbean, and were carried all the way to Hampton Roads. Thousands of dead, half-feathered birds, about the size of a wren, rained on streets and sidewalks, struck windows, and frightened local residents.

A second hurricane tracked closer to shore in October, bringing higher winds, moderate damage, and a storm surge that was 9 feet above mean low tide in Norfolk County. A number of ships ran aground off the coast of Virginia Beach, keeping the U.S. Life-Saving Service busy.

First Flight
MEANWHILE…after arriving at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on September 25th, two brothers named Orville and Wilbur impatiently waited for the weather to clear so they could resume test flights of their glider at Jockey’s Ridge. Not 10 weeks later, they would make history.

October 1923 – A storm came dangerously close to shore but provided only moderate coastal flooding and winds of about 56 mph. This one is noteworthy simply due to its longevity. It was one of the longest lasting hurricanes in history.

Many storms form, hang together for a few days, or even a week or so. They fizzle out when they encounter a landmass or when they are hit by upper-level wind shear. This storm formed near South America and tracked north through Cuba and the Bahamas before reaching the Virginia coast...9 days later! Still churning, the storm continued north through Pennsylvania and New York into Canada…but it didn’t stop there! The weather bureau finally stopped tracking the storm when it reached the Arctic Circle!

December 2, 1925 – What about a December Hurricane? That’s what I said…a hurricane…in…December! Right after Thanksgiving, a late -- very late -- season storm developed into a hurricane as it tracked over Florida. By the time it reached Norfolk County on December 2nd , it had diminished in strength to a tropical storm with 60-mph winds. This storm still holds the record for being the latest hurricane to make landfall in the United States.

Before 1925, hurricane season in the United States ended in October. But after 1925, the end of hurricane season was moved to November 30th.

1933 was the busiest year for storms on record with 21 storms. In Norfolk County, back-to-back hurricanes passed through the area, one in August and one in September. The Chesapeake and Potomac Hurricane made landfall in the Outer Banks of North Carolina and tracked northeast through Norfolk County on August 23. Norfolk Naval Air Station recorded gusts of almost 90 mph, and 70-foot waves were reported off the coast.

Flooding was widespread in Virginia Beach, as well as in downtown Norfolk and Portsmouth. A police officer was actually reported directing traffic in his bathing suit!

While the storm deposited 8 inches of rain in Norfolk County, it also caused one of the highest surges in the 20th century. Willoughby Spit was swamped by the surge, ruining houses and businesses along Ocean View. One casualty of the storm was the original Doumar’s at Ocean View Amusement Park. Abe Doumar was the inventor of the ice cream cone. Doumar’s reopened, but moved its location to downtown Norfolk.

Doumar's at Ocean View
Also at the Ocean View Amusement Park, flagpole sitter Rosa Le Darieux was attempting to remain atop her 55-foot flagpole from July 1 to Labor Day, a publicity stunt for the amusement park and a potential record for Rosa. But, as the storm bore down on the Amusement Park, she was finally brought down, under protest, by local firefighters just an hour short of breaking the record.

And that was just the first storm…Still reeling from the Chesapeake and Potomac Hurricane, the area was hit again three weeks later by an even more powerful storm. Landing a direct hit at Cape Hatteras on September 15th, the storm caused the most significant damage in the Outer Banks. Luckily for Norfolk County residents, it turned northeast and away from Norfolk County, leaving less wind damage than at Cape Hatteras. But the damage from flooding was still considerable.

September 5, 1935 -- The Great Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 was the most powerful hurricane to make landfall in the United States. This most decidedly Category 5 storm killed 400 out-of-work WWI veterans in the upper Florida Keys, who were sent to build the Overseas Highway (U.S. Highway 1).
As the storm approached, a train was sent to evacuate the workers and other residents before the storm made landfall, but it arrived at the worst possible time – right at the peak of the storm’s intensity. High winds and an immense storm surge swept the train full of evacuees right off the tracks. To make matters worse, communications were a shambles, holding up rescue and relief efforts.

You can see a short film of the destruction of the Florida Keys from the 1935 hurricane: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1lSVcYM2WE 

In Virginia, the storm is known as the Flood of ’35. The torrential rains caused the James River to flood, and the storm spawned tornadoes for two days. One tornado touched down in Norfolk County in the afternoon, killing three people.

September 17, 1936 – A Category 2 hurricane came within 25 miles of Virginia Beach and brought 84-mph winds, almost canceling Norfolk’s bicentennial celebration. The tide peaked at the second highest level in a century (the highest was during the storm of 1933). After the storm, the Weather Bureau took pride in its successful warning of the impending storm and its ability to minimize loss of life and property.

September 14, 1944 -- A hurricane passed within 45 miles of Norfolk County. The Weather Bureau, in an effort to warn the public of the impending storm, called it the Great Atlantic Hurricane.

On its way from the Bahamas toward the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the storm capsized a Navy destroyer, a minesweeper, and two Coast Cutters. Analysis suggests that the storm was a very strong Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane. Cape Henry clocked 134-mph winds and gusts as high as 150 mph.

Starting in 1953, the Weather Bureau began naming hurricanes…with women’s names. The bureau added men’s names to the list in 1979. Naming storms made it easier to distinguish between storms when reporting to the public, especially when multiple storms were tracking simultaneously.

August 14, 1953 – Hurricane Barbara made landfall in the Outer Banks of North Carolina with hurricane force winds and torrential rains. In the Outer Banks, a man was killed when he was swept off a pier by high surf. In Norfolk County, police officer Talbot Barrow was killed while on duty when he was electrocuted by submerged power lines that were downed by the storm. He was 42 years old.

Officer Talbot Barrow
October 15, 1954 – Three hurricanes struck Virginia in 1954 -- Carol, Edna, and Hazel. It would be Hurricane Hazel that everyone remembers for years to come. Hazel’s forward speed was an impressive 50 mph. Here in Norfolk County, sustained winds topped 100 mph, but very little rain fell because the storm moved so quickly. Norfolk received only a ½ inch of rain, while towns in the western part of Virginia received several inches. Across the James River in the city of Hampton, a 130-mph gust was recorded. Hazel’s path of devastation grew worse as she tracked north up the Atlantic Coast.

Déjà vu! -- Again in 1955, three hurricanes struck Virginia – Connie, Diane, and Ione.

September 13, 1960 – Hurricane Donna, a major storm, after passing through Florida, tracked north-northeast and made landfall again in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. In Norfolk County, winds reached 75 mph and gusts were as high as 90 mph. But on the Chesapeake Lightship moored almost 20 miles offshore, gusts were recorded as high as 138 mph. Three people were killed in the storm, and property damage was significant, with power being out for days after Hurricane Donna passed.

September 1964 – Now incorporated as the city of Chesapeake, Norfolk County was awash with back-to-back hurricanes in 1964 – Cleo and Dora. Both dropped a load of rain on the area, making it the wettest September in history with over 12 inches of rain.

September 11, 1967 – Hurricane Doria “blew in a wet kiss of death” to the city of Chesapeake’s first fair. The storm passed to the east of Hampton Roads off shore but dumped rain on the fairgrounds, creating a muddy mess and delaying the opening of the week-long celebration. After her first pass, the skies cleared and the fair opened. Then, “Dipsy Doria,” so she was called by the Chesapeake Post newspaper, looped around and headed back toward Hampton Roads a second time, closing the fair prematurely.

During the fair’s short duration, the Norfolk County Historical Society selected the winning entry for “Finest Historical Painting of a Chesapeake Scene” a painting of historic Oak Grove Methodist Church by Ernest Brownley. It now hangs in the Wallace Room. Here’s a timeline of Oak Grove Church’s history:
http://www.oakgroveumc.com/templates/System/details.asp?id=25911&PID=435766

August 20,1969 – Hurricane Camille exited…yes, exited…the United States over Hampton Roads. Normally, hurricanes make landfall here, but Camille did things her own way…in a big way.
After making landfall in the Gulf Coast on August 17th with 200-mph gusts, Camille barreled through Mississippi and Tennessee killing 140 people. She then made a sharp turn toward the east and drenched Kentucky. On her way back out to sea, she dumped 30 inches of rain – over 5 inches of rain per hour -- in Nelson County, Virginia, southwest of Charlottesville, Virginia. All that rain caused incredible flooding and disastrous mudslides, killing over 150 people in Virginia.

In Hampton Roads, downed trees and power outages were Camille’s parting shot as she followed the James River back out to sea. Swollen rivers in the western mountains of Virginia empty to the east into the Chesapeake Bay, and so Hampton Roads watched with awe and waited for the enormous amount of water to spill over riverbanks closer to home.

Google “Hurricane Camille” and you will find dozens of web sites and articles about the devastation she left in her wake.

June 21, 1972 – Hurricane Agnes made landfall in Florida and then crawled up the east coast through the Outer Banks and Hampton Roads. Her slow moment meant lots of rain in Virginia…only 3 years after Camille. The James River crested at over 36 feet and Richmond, Virginia’s capital, was flooded for days without potable water.

For Hampton Roads, Hurricane Agnes made her mark, but in areas north of here, her name is synonymous with the word “disaster.” Agnes went back out to sea at Hampton Roads but continued to dump rain as she tracked north, and then…she turned due west…yes west…through Delaware and Pennsylvania, where rainfall shattered records and towns flooded along rivers in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, and Delaware.

Like Camille, Hurricane Agnes, will be well remembered as one of the worst flooding disasters in history. For more information and some pretty awesome images, Google “Hurricane Agnes.”

September 27, 1985 – Hampton Roads was blessed with a near miss when Hurricane Gloria made a glancing blow off the Outer Banks, North Carolina. As residents boarded windows and prepared for Gloria’s worst, local rock radio stations played the 1966 Van Morrison song performed by the band Shadows of Night in an effort to make light of a very worrisome storm. You could hear, “G-L-O-R-I-A! GLO-RI-A!”

Hurricane Gloria, a Category 4 storm, was called the “killer storm of the century” by the local media, but she weakened as she approached land and after her eye passed over Cape Hatteras. By the time she brushed Hampton Roads to the east, she was a Category 1 storm. Damage was limited to downed trees and fences, minor local flooding, and power loss for no more than a day for most.

A Chesapeake Post editorial “Sic transit Gloria” reminded residents that the near-miss should be considered a “practice drill” for the big one.

1996 – Hurricane Bertha on July 13th and Hurricane Fran on September 6th both made landfall in North Carolina, and dumped rain on southeast of Virginia. “Big Bertha” spawned a number of tornadoes in southeast Virginia -- none in Chesapeake – and left part of Hampton Roads without power for a short period -- an inconvenience, but certainly no crisis.

Fearless Fran” was a powerful Category 1 hurricane when she made landfall, but was quickly downgraded to a tropical storm by the time she crossed into Virginia. Fran also left one of the largest power outages in the history of the state of Virginia, but she left more damage north of Hampton Roads.

July 24, 1997 – Hurricane Danny, the only hurricane to make landfall in 1997, wasn’t a particularly strong storm for this area, but Danny spawned a number of tornadoes. Hurricane Danny actually made landfall in Louisiana and traversed the southeast to exit over Hampton Roads. As a parting shot, Hurricane Danny produced several tornadoes in Chesapeake and Norfolk, damaging a car wash and a lumberyard, and throwing debris everywhere.

Here's weather animation of Hurricane Danny spawning tornadoes: http://cimss.ssec.wisc.edu/goes/misc/danny_ir_anim.html

September 16, 1999 – Hurricane Floyd was a Category 1 hurricane by the time the eye passed over Chesapeake, Virginia, but Floyd was a scary Category 4 before making landfall at the state line between South and North Carolina. This storm dumped over a foot of rain on top of an already saturated Hampton Roads from Hurricane Dennis a few weeks earlier. Rivers in Virginia and North Carolina reached their 500-year flood levels by the time it was all over.

June 16, 2001 – While Tropical Storm Allison wasn’t a huge storm in Virginia, it was one of the most destructive storms in American history. I lived in Houston when Allison drifted over Houston toward San Antonio and then back over Houston, delivering over 2 feet of rain in my neighborhood overnight. Yes, I said…2 FEET…of rain in a single night!

Amazingly, Tropical Storm Allison then took over a week to amble across the southeast and then drift a while longer over eastern North Carolina and Hampton Roads, dumping rain all along the way and spawning several tornadoes.

September 18, 2003 – Our most recent storm of significance, Hurricane Isabel, made landfall in North Carolina as a strong Category 2 storm…and we were actually somewhat relieved that she was only a Category 2! Hurricane Isabel had been a monster Category 5 storm, but the cooler waters off the Carolina coast took some of the fight out of her by the time she made landfall in North Carolina.

Measuring Isabel's Windspeed
Photo by Geoff Mackley
…However, she was still a formidable storm. Hurricane Isabel produced a storm surge that surpassed the surge from the Chesapeake and Potomac Hurricane of 1933. You know, the one that flooded Doumar’s at Ocean View and ruined Rosa Le Darieux’s chance at a world record? Well, Isabel left her mark on Ocean View too, by destroying Harrison’s Fishing Pier, which was built not long after the 1933 storm.

The storm surge also broke through the Midtown Tunnel floodgates in Portsmouth, closing the tunnel for a month. Flooding, downed trees, power outages, debris all over the streets…Hurricane Isabel was a messy, messy storm…and she left us here to clean up.

We’ve had a few brushes with storms since 2003, but we’ve been lucky that none have been significant…some might be considered menacing, but caused minor damage and localized flooding.

As the 2010 Hurricane Season comes to a close in Hampton Roads, we will continue to keep our fingers crossed and our eyes on the Weather Channel for the next month or so when Hurricane Season officially ends. And next year, we will do it all over again.

So we finish this discussion of Great Gusts! of the 17th and 18th centuries, Terrible Tempests! of the 19th century, and Historic Hurricanes! of the 20th century to the present.

May we be fortunate enough to avoid having to update this list anytime soon.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Great Gusts! Terrible Tempests! and Historic Hurricanes! -- Part II

Terrible Tempests! --
Norfolk County Hurricanes from 1801 to 1900


In my last blog post, I described some of the Great Gusts! to affect Norfolk County during the 17th and 18th centuries and I promised to provide two more installments: Terrible Tempests! and Historic Hurricanes! 

During the 19th century, predicting storms was still a “hit or miss” process, requiring an understanding of weather signs like the color of the sky, the shape of the clouds, or the behavior of animals. Sayings like, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky in morning, sailor take warning” were, and still are, common ways of predicting the weather. Here’s another saying from Hurricanes and the Middle Atlantic States by Rick Schwartz:

“The Glass [barometer] is down, the gulls flocked along the shore,
the clouds low’ring fast, soon the wind will roar.”

But this method of prediction was subjective, and accuracy depended on the experience and skill of the forecaster.

It wasn’t until well into the 19th century that weather measurements, other than barometric pressure, would be recorded regularly – and not until the end of the century until more accurate storm predictions would be made.

So here in Norfolk County, Virginia, at the opening of the 19th century, residents looked at the sky and guessed – intelligently – at the weather. But the occasional -- but inevitable -- hurricane continued to be a surprise.

As promised, here are some of the Terrible Tempests! to hit Norfolk County during the 19th century:

August 22, 1806 -- The Great Coastal Hurricane of 1806 made landfall at South Carolina and turned back out to sea off the coast of Virginia. The storm took a day and a half to pass through North Carolina, but the rain saved the corn crop from drought.

British and French ships, fighting off the coast of Virginia during the Napoleonic Wars, were buffeted by the storm and had to put into Norfolk for repairs. The storm continued its slow movement, causing serious erosion of the Carolina and Virginia coastlines and completing the creation of Willoughby Spit.

The Burning of Washington
courtesy of Library of Congress
August 1814 -- Burning of Washington, D.C. As Federal troops retreated from the Capitol and the British set fire to Washington, D. C., strong winds and a prolonged downpour enveloped the area. The rains inundated the area around Richmond, Virginia, bringing the James River to its highest levels. But the rains helped firefighters put out the fires in the Capitol. Historical accounts are inconclusive as to whether it was a slow moving thunderstorm or a hurricane.

September 1821 – Called by some the Norfolk & Long Island Hurricane, this storm was reported in the newspapers as one of the most violent and fast moving storms on record for the area. It traveled from Puerto Rico to Norfolk in just two days. It then traveled north past New York and New England leaving damaged towns and harbors in its wake.

Here, residents called it the Great September Gale of 1821. The storm made landfall near Wilmington, North Carolina and then passed between Ocracoke and Edenton. In Currituck, all but a few homes were destroyed and several people were killed. In Norfolk, Virginia, the front of the Episcopal Church was blown in, damaging the church’s pipe organ. The courthouse was partially unroofed. The surge traveled several hundred yards inland from the riverbanks, flooded warehouses along the wharf, and swept away the Norfolk Drawbridge.

T. C. Carrington’s poem “The Storm” seems to have been written with the Great September Gale of 1821 as the subject -- at least William Forrest thought so, when he included it in his description of the 1821 storm in Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Norfolk and Vicinity:

“The winds
Held oft a momentary pause,
As spent with their own fury; but they came
Again with added power – with shriek and cry,
Almost unearthly; as if on their wings
Passed by the spirit of the storm.”

William Redfield, in New England, plotted the direction of downed trees and cornstalks and documented the circular pattern of their direction. He surmised that the storm “…exhibited in the form of a great whirlwind.” His findings were published in the American Journal of Science and led to a better understanding of hurricane dynamics.

June 3, 1825 – This storm happened very early in the season. It moved slowly over Hampton Roads, punishing the area with “undiminished violence” for more than a day. Local newspapers compared the storm to the Great September Gale of 1821, saying that the 1821 storm was more violent. But that storm passed in only a few hours...this storm took 27 hours to pass!

Aerial Photo of Oregon Inlet
courtesy of National Geographic
September 1846 – While this hurricane caused flooding and damage to homes and waterfronts, the real damage was to railroads and telegraph equipment. Flooding disrupted rail traffic and winds knocked down telegraph poles and lines.
This storm created the new Hatteras Inlet (original Hatteras Inlet closed in 1764) and opened the Oregon Inlet in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

October 28 and November 2, 1861 – The Expedition Hurricane occurred during the first year of the Civil War. A Union Naval expedition by "the largest fleet of war ships and transports ever assembled" set sail from Fort Monroe at Hampton, Virginia. The ships of the Great Naval Expedition were buffeted by high winds in the Chesapeake Bay, making formation impossible.

After eventually setting sail, the fleet was hit again November 2 by another storm, and two vessels were sunk off the Carolina Capes. One of those ships was the steamer U.S.S. Union which ran aground off Cape Hatteras. Local Confederate militia captured the crew and discovered sealed orders indicating that the Great Expedition was headed to South Carolina. However, there was no Confederate army in the immediate vicinity of South Carolina, and the captured information proved useless. Harper's Weekly Newspapers provides lots of great detail on the Great Naval Expedition of 1861 .

October 23, 1878 – The Gale of '78 or the Great October Gale of ‘78 was one of the most severe hurricanes to hit Virginia in the late 1800s. This hurricane tracked at a forward speed of 40 to 50 mph from the Bahamas to strike the North Carolina coast. It then continued northward passing through east central Virginia, Maryland, and eastern Pennsylvania.

Roth and Cobb conducted some in-depth research on the Gale of ’78, including eyewitness accounts.

At Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, sustained winds measured 100-mph until the anemometer reportedly blew away.

Off Virginia Beach, the A.S. Davis sank with a loss 19 crewmembers, despite the efforts of the newly organized U.S. Life-Saving Service, the forerunner of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Freemason Street Baptist Church
courtesy of Virginia Dept of
Historic Resources
August 18, 1879 – Considered to be one of the most severe storms to strike coastal Virginia in many years, The August Storm tracked from Wilmington past Elizabeth City, N.C. and then southeast of Norfolk. The 100-mph winds destroyed the anemometer at Cape Henry. In Norfolk, the rainfall from the storm was 6.17 inches.

The storm blew off the steeple of the Freemason Street Baptist Church, the tallest structure in the city of Norfolk since 1850. When the storm finally passed, the weathervane from the steeple was found embedded upright in the middle of
Freemason Street, a considerable distance away from the church. According to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the replacement steeple for the church was “less lofty” than the original.

The Norfolk Virginian newspaper called the hurricane a “red-letter” storm reporting, “It was the occasion of one of the severest storms which have ever visited this section. The severity of the wind and the extent of the rains were such as have never been experienced in Virginia, and we doubt if the hurricanes of countries subject to such inflictions as visited Norfolk yesterday, have ever suffered to a greater extent from the ravings of the storm than did our city for a number of hours...”

The storm was described by the Norfolk-Portsmouth Herald as the “most terrific storm to have visited the area in many years...”

April 6, 1889 – Though technically not a “hurricane,” since it occurred in April, hurricane force winds in Virginia Beach exceeded 100 mph at the Signal Service station at Cape Henry. The south wall of the Cape Charles lighthouse was undermined by huge waves as the tidal surge surrounded the station.
Parts of Norfolk and Portsmouth flooded when tides exceeded 8 feet.

A fire on Water Street in Norfolk consumed an entire city block, and a fire in Portsmouth destroyed a lime and lumberyard. Roofs of the Opera House, Masonic Temple, and other dwellings were ripped from their structures. The U.S.S. Pensacola actually sank while in dry dock; the surge tides flooded the dock, and the ship filled with salt water.

In the western part of the state, strong winds blew down trees and rain turned to snow, as thunder and lightning frightened citizens – an unusual weather event known as “thundersnow”. The resulting blizzard delivered over a foot of snow.

September 29, 1894 – As the 19th century ended, two storms affected Norfolk County in September and October 1894.

The first storm struck Virginia with 80 to 90 mph sustained winds on September 29th. This hurricane, however, did not have the impact of previous storms. This was the first hurricane to be predicted by the National Weather Bureau. The accurate prediction of the storm and the warnings provided by the Weather Bureau allowed the shipping industry to prepare. After the storm passed, shipping agents in Virginia communicated their gratitude to the Weather Bureau, “Words inadequate to express saving of life and property by your warnings.”

1903 Seatack Life-Saving Station Crew
courtesy of Old Coast Guard Station
Museum & Store, Virginia Beach
The eye of the October Hurricane of 1894 passed to the west of Norfolk County and brought severe winds that downed trees and tore the roofs off of buildings. It continued up the coast, wreaking havoc as it passed through Maryland, New Jersey, and New England.

By the close of the 19th century, advances in science and technology improved the chances of Norfolk County residents and shipping traffic to survive “Great Gusts” and “Terrible Tempests.” More accurate weather prediction and a warning system for shipping traffic were very important to mariners and those whose livelihoods depended on shipping. But another key factor was the creation of the U.S. Life-Saving Service. Between 1878 and 1914 off the Virginia coast, over 600 incidents occurred, more than 7,000 lives were at risk, but only 102 lives were lost!