Henrico County Historical Society
PO Box 90775   Henrico, VA 23273   (804)501-5682   hchsinfo@yahoo.com
Open by appointment only

Henrico County Historical Society's motto, which is Preserving the Past in the Present for the FutureSkipwith Academy in Three Chopt District, Henrico County, Virginia.Log Cabin in Tuckahoe District, Henrico County, Virginia.Mankin Mansion in Fairfield District, Henrico County, Virginia.Dorey Barn in Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia.Bethlehem Church in Brookland District, Henrico County, Virginia.

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News 2012, Third Quarter

President's Message

The Cultsha Expo event held at the Science Museum of Virginia sponsored by CultureWorks as mentioned in the previous issue was a huge success again this year.

HCHS was honored to be included in the following list of cultural non-profit organizations represented at the event:

  • 1708 Gallery
  • African American Repertory Theatre of Virginia
  • American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar
  • American Youth Harp Ensemble - HARPS Foundation
  • ART 180
  • artspace
  • Billboard Art Project
  • Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia
  • C3: The Creative Change Center
  • Cadence Theatre Company
  • CAT Theatre
  • Chesterfield Historical Society of Virginia
  • City Singers Children's Chorus
  • Community Idea Stations
  • Concert Ballet of Virginia
  • The Conciliation Project
  • Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen
  • Edgar Allan Poe Museum
  • Elegba Folklore Society
  • Ezibu Muntu African Dance and Cultural Foundation
  • Firehouse Theatre Project
  • Friends of the Chesterfield County Library
  • Gallery5
  • Greater Richmond Children's Choir
  • Grater Richmond Chorus
  • HAT Theatre
  • Henley Street Theatre
  • Henrico County Historical Society
  • Historic Polegreen Church
  • James River Ringers
  • James River Writers
  • JAMinc
  • K Dance
  • Latin Ballet of Virginia
  • Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
  • Library of Virginia
  • Maymont Foundation
  • Monument City Music - Richmond
  • Men's Chorus & Richmond Women's Chorus
  • Museum of the Confederacy
  • Offering/Arts in the Alley
  • One Voice Chorus
  • Petersburg Area Art League
  • Podium Foundation
  • Richmond Ballet
  • Richmond CenterStage
  • Richmond Choral Society
  • Richmond Concert Band
  • Richmond Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Richmond Public Library Foundation
  • Richmond Shakespeare
  • Richmond Symphony
  • Richmond Triangle Players
  • Science Museum of Virginia
  • SPART - School fo the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community
  • St. John's Church Foundation
  • Stavna Ballet
  • Studio Two Three
  • Swift Creek Mill Theatre
  • Sycamore Rouge
  • Virginia Richmond History Center
  • Virginia Commission for the Arts
  • Virginia Historical Society
  • Virginia Opera
  • Virginia Repertory Theatre
  • Virginians for the Arts
  • Visual Arts Center of Richmond
  • WRIR-LP 97.3 FM Rich. Independent Radio

Many thanks to Debbie Shuck, Diane Brownie and Nicole Allen, who worked at the HCHS booth.

HCHS collected $199 in CultshaBucks. ONLY 6 signed up as new Cultsha members for which HCHS received $1 each.

CultsureWorks generously divided the CultshaBucks not redeemed among all of the organizations in the amount of $521 each.

The total collected for HCHS was $726.00, which has been earmarked for the HCHS Magazine/Journal fund.

If you did not participate at CultshaXPO or sign up to register as a new Cultsha member, all of which was free money to be donated to HCHS, we would appreciate your cosideration of individual support in donations to the Magazine/Joural fund.

Deepest sympathy is extended to the family of Patty Kruszewski, who lost her daughter, Lanie, as the result of a hit and run accident. Patty is the managing editor of the Henrico Citizen and has written many award winning articles relating to Henrico history.

Sarah Pace

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Speaking of Henrico History

Dr. Louis Manarin, historian/author, speaking at June HCHS meeting. Charles Peple, historic preservationist/graphic designer, who spoke at June HCHS meeting.

Dr. Louis Manarin, Historian/Author, and Charles Peple, Historic Preservationist/Graphic Designer, gave a presentation on "Vignettes of Henrico History" from the 400th Anniversary Edition of The History of Henrico County at the June meeting of the HCHS held at Sandston Presbyterian Church.

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2013 HCHS Calendar on Sale Now!

Our 2013 calendar edition features the Schools in Henrico County. Place your advance order now by calling 804-839-2407. The cost is $12.00 plus tax & shipping. An excellent suggestion for a gift and a great resource to learn the history of our Henrico schools.

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Let's Get the HCHS Magazine Printed

Dr. Louis Manarin has contributed much time, effort, and scholarship to illuminating Henrico County history, but an important part of his work remains unpublished. For too long, the second half of the Henrico County Historical Society Magazine containing his work has gone unpublished for lack of funds. It is now time to get it to the printer. The illustration above shows how much we have and the approximate total we need to bring out the magazine. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Henrico Cunty Historical Society to get this important publication out.

Make checks to:
The Henrico County Historical Society
P.O Box 90775
Henrico, VA 23273-0075
Make notation that it is for the magazine. Thank you!

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Arrayed in Period Attire

Sarah Pace and Diane Brownie in Civil War attire.

HCHS Recording Secretary Diane Brownie and President Sarah Pace host the society's booth at the Lee-Stuart re-enactment at Dabbs House.

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Congratulations to Henrico County Television

A feature program produced for Henrico County Television won a 2011 Emmy from the National Capital Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. The 29-minute program "Airwaves of Yesteryear: Early Television in Central Virginia," produced and directed by Geoff Weidele, received the award in the category of arts and entertainment program or special.

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Requests for Help

Fussell's Mill

Ben Brockenbrough and the Richmond Battlefields Association hopes to expand preservation efforts at this historic battlefield.

My name is Ben Brockenbrough and I serve on the board of Richmond Battlefields Association. At a meeting of the Association for the Preservation of Henrico Antiquities last January, I made a presentation about the RBA's holdings on the Fussell's Mill battlefield along Yahley Mill Road.

The reason for my presentation was that the RBA had been tentatively awarded a $100,000 grant from the American Battlefields Protection Program to further our preservation efforts at Fussell's Mill. The only unfulfilled condition of the grant is that a preservation easement be placed over the property. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources holds these easements and they are required to consult with the locality before granting any easement. In effect, the localities have a veto over state easements in their jurisdiction. Henrico County is currently exercising that veto, which has blocked our grant for the last two years. The county has informed us that they have no present plans to alter our property but they want to reserve the option to put a sewage collection/pumping station on the historic millpoind, run sewer trunk lines through the length of the property with over a dozen concrete manhole turrets sticking out of the ground, widen and straighten the road - thereby destroying the defensive features of the historic road which were key to the outcome of the battle - and install a water line through the property. I met with the Departments of Planning and Public Utilities, and a representative from the county manager's office to explain the damage these projects would cause to the battlefield. They were polite but unmoved. Our last chance appears to be an appeal to the Board of Supervisors.

Our extended deadline for complying with the ABPP deadline expires in October, and with it the funding that we would love to use to expand our holdings in the area. I would like to go before the Board of Supervisors with any documentation of local support. To that end, I hope that the Henrico Historical Soicety would be willing to support our effort, either through a letter of support directed to the board or to stand with us when we make our appeal. We have not yet scheduled an appearance but we cannot delay much longer.

I would be happy to provide the HHS with further information or to meet, show you around the sites, or to make a presentation similar to that made at the APHA meeting. Please feel free to contact me by any of the means listed below. I hope this will lead to opportunities where our organizations can support each other's preservation efforts.

Ben Brockenbrough
Home phone (804) 883-6513
Cell phone (804) 519-5090

Route 5

Nicole Anderson Ellis hopes for help in preventing the widening of historic Route 5. Here is her petition that can serve as a model for communication with your representative on the Board of Supervisors.

Dear __________________________________________________

I strongly oppose widening two-lane New Market Road (aka Route 5), America's second oldest roadway and a designated Virginia Scenic Byway, because...

We know widening historic New Market Road will cost taxpayers > $51 million.

We know adding more lanes results in worse traffic.

We know widening roads speeds the loss of farmland and with it, our agricultural industry.

We know agriculture is Virginia's largest industry - by far - supporting > 500,000 jobs

We know tourism is Virginia's second largest industry, generating > $19 billion in annual revenue.

We know the New Market Road Corridor was home to Pocahontas, John Smith, John Rolfe, and the site of critical revolutionary and Civil War battles...places tourists will come to see.

We know the entire region will profit from thoughtful, long-term development of this famous road.

Therefore, I _________________ (name), residing at ___________________ (address)

join the Church Hill Association, Marion Hill Neighborhood Association, Varina Beautification Committee, Coalition for Smarter Growth, Residents of Osborne Turnpike, Virginia Bicycling Federation, Envision Henrico, The Historic Richmond Foundation, Scenic Virginia, Preservation Virginia, Capital Region Land Conservancy, Partnership for Smarter Growth, Shockoe Bottom business owners, members of Mayor's Food Policy Task Force, elected directors on the Henricopolis Soil & Water Conservation District Board and Colonial Soil & Water Conservation District Board, representatives of Keep Henrico Beautiful, Historic Preservation Advisory Committee of Henrico, and more who...

...oppose widening New Market Road to a four-lane divided highway.

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Putting a Face on Poverty: York Family's Almshouse Experiences Illustrate Contradictory Attitudes Toward the Poor in the Early Twentieth Century

John and Mary York, and Mary's two sons.

The Dabbs House, now a museum and the Henrico Tourist & Information Center, has a rich history, serving as Robert E. Lee's field headquarters in 1862, and later as the home of the Henrico County police force for over fifty years. From 1883, when the county purchased the property, until about 1924, it served as the County Almshouse, giving shelter to the county's poor. If it is true that we can judge a society by how it treats its most vulnerable members, then perhaps the story of John and Mary York will tell us something about the early twentieth-century's seemingly contradictory compassion and insensitivity toward the community's neediest.

The story starts on the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch on December 19, 1908, which ran an article headlined "Man In Poorhouse To Wed Girl There". The man was the 48 year-old John York, the woman Mary Vest, and the location the Henrico County Almshouse, the Dabbs House.

With a tone of condescending humor, the article recounted briefly the poorhouse courtship, hardships, and wedding plans of these two longtime almshouse residents, who had even asked almshouse superintendent Branch W. Jones to serve as best man. Jones had apparently contacted the clerk of the court to ask that he prohibit the marriage, but the clerk did not have the legal authority to do so. The article, published on the day of the wedding, ended by saying, "Mr. Jones will officiate as best man. There will be no other attendant. Rice will be used sparingly, and there will be old shoes galore."

The couple left Richmond with Mary's children in tow, but soon returned, and the paper picked up the story again. The Associated Charities, located in Richmond in what had been the Exchange then the Ballard Hotel at 14th and Franklin Streets, had taken the York children while the couple looked for work. Both found work, but left the jobs abruptly and sought assistance again. The director of the Associated Charities turned the children over the Henrico County poorhouse, and soon the Associated Charities were caring for all four Yorks. The newpaper article's tone then changed from patronizing humor to condemnation and outrage and raised the issue of mental ability. Although there was no pofessional diagnosis was cited, Mary was referred to as "an idiot," and her older son was said to be "in the last stages of idiocy."

Most likely, it was the news coverage that brought the case to the attention of the State Board of Charities and Corrections, and the board included a lengthy section headed "The York Case" in its 1911 report. This report characterized the York's return to the area as follows: He was consequently soon in utter need. Then every agency for the relief of the poor in the city took his family in hand. The police court took up the case on the charge of vagrancy; the children were returned to almshouse; the man and woman were discharged. Finally Mr. and Mrs. York were found on the Capitol Square, hungry, ragged, sick and full of vermin, and were sent back to the alsmhouse."

Having visited the Henrico jail and almshouse in 1909, the board's report for that year had noted the almshouse, located on Seven Pines Electric Road, Station No. 9, comprised two houses (one frame, one brick) with eight rooms in each and each room capable of housing three paupers. It was heated by stoves, lit by kerosene lamps, had water arrangements that were "not adequate," and buildings that needed repair. This was a far cry from the jail at 22nd Street and Main, which featured a furnace, electricity and water for men's showers and women's baths. While the board had been assured that the shortcomings of the almshouse would be addressed, the 1911 report still recommended that electric lights be installed and a water tank be attached to the present pump. It was in this facility that John met Mary.

While the Henrico facility needed repair, it recognized the needs of the residents and provided services that other almshouses did not. For example, there was a nurse housed there. She was identified as a 65-year-old black woman named Bessie Dabney. She apparently helped care for 15 paupers, 8 black and 7 white, housed there in 1910, along with the superintendent, his wife, and three children, one laborer and a servant.

To say the least, John York knew his way around the poorhouse. He had first been admitted to the Richmond almshouse in May of 1888 at age of 28, the first of 29 confirmed stays over a 21-year period. If the newspaper accounts of the Yorks brought them to the attention of the Board of Charities and Corrections, it proably also accounted for the emphasis, without professional diagnosis, on mental abilities. The 1911 report said: "John York is fifty years old and has been an inmate of the almshouse periodically all of his life. It is on record that he has been admitted to the almshouse thirteen times since 1902. He has excellent physical health, can care for horses and is a good driver. He has frequently been given emloyment, has earned as much as $10 per month and board, but would soon quit work or become so trifling as to make it necessary to discharge him. In 1909 the superintendent of the Richmond almshouse discharged him, and he applied at the Henrico County almshouse for temporary shelter, stating that he had been working on a farm in Chesterfield County. He was admitted, but when the authorities found that he was a resident of Richmond, he was discharged. Meanwhile, he had decided to marry Mary Best [sic], an inmate of the Henrico institution, and more feeble-minded than himself."

According to "The York Case" in the 1911 report, Mary's mother and father married at Gayton in Henrico County and later moved to Illinois, where the mother died. The father returned to Virginia with his children, "one boy and two girls, all feeble-minded." In 1908, Mary, her father, her brother, and her two children were found living in an essentially unfurnished one-room hut, "their manner of living more like animals than human beings." The father, his daughter, and her two boys were committed to the almshouse. For the board, the children themselves presented a problem, as the report said, "This woman... has given birth to two idiotic children, thus multiplying herself by two as her contribution to the burdens of the community," and went on to say, "She has, by marrying an imbecile, put herself legally in position to become the mother of another set of idiotic children." Thus, the boarded shifted the focus away from their persistent state of poverty to their supposed mental condition."

The two Vest boys, never named in the report but identified in the 1910 census as Edward (age 8) and Joseph (age 7), disapper from the historical record. Had they been housed in the Richmond almshouse, they would have received at least some education, but the Henrico Almshouse offered no such services, so their future was grim at best. And using the very existence of the Vest children and the York family's situation, the State Board of Charities and Corrections argued for what we see today as a most inhumane policy: outlawing marriage between those with mental conditions and forced sterilization of the feeble-minded.

Noting that there wasn't a charity or institution in Virginia that was up to the task of providing for the feeble-minded, the report concluded that had the man and woman been given training with custodial care, they could have been self-supporting. Calling for an institution that would care, train and segregate the feeble-minded, the board concluded that "there should be a law forbidding the marriage of the feeble-minded; feeble-minded should be sterilized or given custodial care; the bearing of children by feeble-minded women should be prevented."

Although the Henrico Almshouse repeatedly offered them refuge and even a place to be married, no adequate institution, training program or treatment existed to aid the Yorks. Mary's fate, like that of her sons, remains unknown after the 1920 census, which lists her as a pauper in the Henrico County Almshouse. In counterpoint to the unverified suggestions of her mental condition, she was listed as able to read and write. John seems to have followed the course he was destined to travel. He was committed to the Colony for the Feeble-Minded in Lynchburg, where he died in 1931 at the age of 70. Clearly, the media and Board of Charities and Corrections shifted its focus from the persistent poverty of the family to their supposed mental deficiencies, which suggests that the shift offered an easier explanation for the situation and a seemingly simple, albeit inhumane, plan to prevent future similar situations.

For future consideration, Mary's condition before her wedding to John and after her commitment to the Lynchburg instituion leads us to ask what options were available to women of very limited means with children and no husband. And fleshing out the figure of Bessie Dabney, the nurse at the Henrico Almshouse, would provide a most interesting story and insight into the qualifications for carefigivers at public institutions of the time.

Green, Elna C. The Business of Relief Confronting Poverty in a Southern City, 1740-1940.University of Georgia Press, 2003.
Virginia State Board of Charities and Corrections.Annual Report of the State Board of Charities and Corrections to the Governor of Virginia. 1909 & 1911.

The article that started it all:

Man in Poorhouse to Wed Girl There

Pauper, Who Once Drove Dead Wagon, Falls Victim to Cupid's Dart.

No Honeymoon, says Jones

Superintendent Tells Him They'll Have to Move After Ceremony

John York, an inmate of the county almshouse, throw a jolt into those critical writers who have juggled the question, "Can a man marry on $10 a week?" by applying yesterday for a marriage license, the $1 fee being paid by his fiancee, Mary Vest, herself an inmate of the same institution.

This fact is of little importance, compared with subsequent events, for York not only asked permission to have Superintendent R. W. Jones act as best man at the ceremoney to be performed at the home, but he wanted to spend his honeymoon and the rest of his life in the poorhouse.

Here is fat matter for the literary ones - the query editors, and those quaint old ladies who offer advice to the loverlorn and who speak feelingly. Here is where the ten-dollar-a-week proposition is tossed sky high; here is the place for the fennyleis to stick a pin, and here is the moment when John York must quit the poorhouse, for the law will not take care of paupers who affect matrimony.

John's Greatest Problem.

Nobody can appreciate the serious problem which John York had to solve alone. On the one hand, there was a warm home where he could spend the remainder of his days; there was food and clothing, peace, good will and soup; there was freedom from the bill collector, the tax collector and the gas man. But against this he had to put down in the ledger one wife, the necessity of renting a home, fuel and food, and Easter bonnets, and the hard scuffle to make both ends meet. But as he sat in the glorious sunlight of the winter's day, as Beatrice Harraden would express it, York felt the lttle wings of a little Cupid flutter; love put its fingers on him and he cut the pins from under the bridge that led to the poorhouse.

When Mary Vest entered the institution, York saw here, and it was a case of love at first sight. Such things are said to have happened. Nobody gave any thought to the man as he cast soft, appealing glances toward the Vest girl. Nobody gave any thought to her as she caught them and sighed. They strolled about together; they did not hold hands, for York is not romantic. All the romance was driven out of his system while he was driving the dead wagon for the City Home but the love spark was kindled again in his breast and he proposed. Misery loves a companion, and his suit was won.

Marry? You Can't Tarry

But then came the real question. Superintendent Jones rubbed his eyes when he was called into conference. He did not know what to say when the news was softly broken that Mr. and Mrs. York desired to remain in the poorhouse. Their argument was that it would not cost the county any more, and that in the almanac of love one and one make one. Mr. Jones went in the courthouse to see if the county calculated from that book. Then he went back and informed York that if he married, he would have to take his bride and go away. It was mighty cold outside, but a man in love is foolish. So York decided to keep the faith. Besides, his fiance had spent her last son, her last markee, for that license, and he could not disappoint her.

The wedding is scheduled to take place to-day. Mr. Jones will officiate as best man. There will be no other attendants. Rice will be used sparingly, and there will old shoes galore.

"Can a man marry on $10 a week?"

The query editors will have to ask John York something easy.

A brief note on the terms used...

Henry Goddard, American Psychologist. Illustration of intelligence, 1913.

In 1910, American pyschologist, Henry Goddard proposed in a paper that intelligence could be measured and graded according to an "intelligence quotient," based on Alfred Binet's concept of mental age. He created a number of categories for the classification of mental retardation: a moron had an IQ of 51 to 70; an imbecile an IQ of 26-50 and an idiot an IQ of 0-25. Imbecile was actually a medical term used to describe a person with moderate to severe mental rtardation, as well as for a type of criminal. It derives from the Latin word imbecillus, meaning weak or weak-minded.Mary's literacy, as noted in the 1920 census would surely remove her from the category of idiot that was applied to her.

From "Goddard on IQ" at http://newlearningonline.com.

The illustration of their use is from http://www.all-about-psychology.com

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Making the Good Times Roll Smoothly

Wheelwright's tool. Wheelwright's tool.

Congratulations to Rox Axselle, who regularly identifies our "What do you know?" objects and correctly identified the 15-inch forged iron object at the top as a wheelwright's tool. Unfortunately, our example has lost its wooden handle, which should cover the bottom of the spike.

The implement was called a traveler, and it was used to measure the circumfernce of a wagon wheel in order to produce an iron rim or "tire" (like the one in the right picture). The wheelwright would roll the traveler around the rim of the wooden spoked wagon wheel to get the measurement then roll it off on the iron stock to determine how long to cut it.

Inside of tire.

This picture is an extreme close-up of the inside of the tire, and the small seam where the two edges were joined is visible, running at a slight angle across the center.

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What Do You Know?

Mystery object for this edition of What Do You Know.

This object is roughly 6 inches tall. The handle is wooden, the metal concave disc at the top is just under 3 inches in diameter, and the metal concave disc at the bottom is 4 inches in diameter.

Do you know what it is?

Email your answers to jboehling@verizon.net.

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News 2012: Third Quarter
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