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 2022, First Quarter

President's Message

I like to jokingly say that I was born BC...before computers. When I first became president, the Henrico County Historical Society did not have an online presence. Records were researched at courthouses, libraries, and cemeteries. Information was shared upon request by way of phone and what we now call "snail mail." According to an online source, the first website was created in August 1991 by Tim Berners-Lee. The world wide web began to go public by 1994 and by 1995 was used commercially by many companies and organizations, continuing through today. The advent of social media, which actually developed at about the same time as the web, first was used as a tool for communicating with other people, later developing into a marketing tool. Information is now available at our fingertips.

I would be remiss if I did not mention at this time that our volunteer webmaster, Terri Trembeth, established our web presenence and has been with us ever since. Terri comes to my rescue with her assistance. We are grateful for her help.

I would also like to acknowledge other volunteer efforts and recent accomplishments. Our steadfast support of Henrico history is finally coming to fruition. The roof and walls are going up on the Meadow Farm 19th century interpretive kitchen. Many thinks to HCHS project manager, John Hoogakker, for his tireless support of this project and to all our volunteers who participated in the fundraising efforts.

For the past 10 years, the Richmond Times-Dispatch has bene marketing the great community efforts of central Virginians with an annual series called "Making a Difference." John Shuck, HCHS co-chair of the cemetery committee, was nominated and chosen in the recognition of his efforts to restore African American cemeteries in the region.

HCHS was also provided the opportunity to honor the life of Dr. Louis H. Manarin in a guest column in the "Opinions" section of the Richmond Times Dispatch. It was featured in the January 31, 2022 issue in recognition of Dr. Manarin's dedication to Henrico history.

Never being one to readily embrace change, I am happy to carry on comfortably with templates and materials that have been in use for years. At times, I am forced to accept change because the aforementioned technology is constantly changing and what I have previously used has now become obsolete.

A pause for thought is sometimes found unexpectedly, such as in the comic section of the RTD. (YES...I still subscribe to the print version!)

The exchange in the Frazz strip by Jeff Mallett went like this:

What if this isn't the "New Normal"...so much as the future's "Good Old Days."

Sarah Pace

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March Quarterly Meeting

Eastern Henrico County Recreation Center.

Our first quarterly meeting of the year will take place at the Eastern Henrico County Recreation Center, which is located at 1440 N Laburnum Avenue in Henrico, VA 23223. The meeting starts at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 6th.

Our speaker will be Lisa Denton; her title is Recreation Coordinator II with the History Programs that is part of Henrico County Recreation and Parks. Her topic will be "Henrico's Immigrants in the 1800s".

We'll see you there!

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It's Dues Time

To renew online, visit our Shopping page.

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In Memorium

The Henrico County Historical Society expresses its deepest sympathy to the family of WillieMae Williams.

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They'll Be Cooking Soon

The foundation is down, the building up and dried in, and the end is in sight for the kitchen project. We're looking forward to a spring completion!

Meadow Farm outdoor kitchen foundation. Meadow Farm buildings.

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Inventive Henricoans

Given the proliferation of plank roads in the mid-nineeenth century, it seems as if horses' traction must not have been a great problem. However, Robert Dwyer's invention, developed during the plank road period, might have provided a bit of insurance for a safer ride - at least for the horses.

Patent text for preventing horses in carriages from falling. Patent diagram for preventing horses in carriages from falling.

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The Westham Road was Muddy and So It was All Boarded Up

I remember as a boy hearing my dad refer to the "Petersburg Pike" and thinking that it was a strange term for a road. I realize now, of course, that it was a shortening of "turnpike", a term that seems just as odd. As it turns out, it derives from a 700-year-old term for a spiked barrier used to restrict access to a road and turned to allow access. By the late seventeenth century, the Oxford English Dictionary shows it being used to refer to a barrier to a toll road; and by the mid-eighteenth centry, it referred to the road itself.

Henrico County turnpikes had their origins in the early to mid-nineteenth century, and maps of the time show them radiating out from the City of Richmond: Osborne Turnpike to the east, Mechanicsville Turnpike to the northeast, Brook Turnpike (now Brook Road) to the north, and the Deep Run Turnpike later the Richmond Turnpike, then Route 250) to the west.

However, that list omits what we know as Cary Street Road, which once actually qualified as a turnpike. While the road is in the city today, it was originally known as the Westham road and ran West out of Richmond to the unincorporated town of Westham, which had been established on William Randolph II's Westham Plantation.

In 1851, this eighteenth century road became an opportunity for investors when the Virginia General Assembly passed an act to incorporate the Westham Plank Road and appointed four directors from the city (Bolling W. Haxall, Poitaux Robinson, Larkin W. Glazebrook and William W. Crump) and four from Henrico County (James C. Spotts, David W. Haxall, Alexander B. Hutcheson and Thomas Ritchie, Jr.). These men would receive "subscriptions to the amount of twenty thousand dollars, in shares of twenty-five dollars each, to constitute a joint capital stock for constructing a plank road from the city of Richmond along the Westham or river road, to the intersection of the Three Chopped road." (The incorporation would actually occur once the directors had sold four hundred shares or raised ten thousand dollars of the capital stock.) The act went on to allow the company directors to continue the plank road to Big Westham creek if they found it advisable.

Plank roads were a nineteenth century development that offered an improvement over dirt roads with their inevitable ruts and mud and over the expense of macadam (crushed gravel) roads. Relatively easy to construct, they usually consisted of heavy planks about three inches thick and eight feet long attached crosswise to heavy wooden stringers set into the railbed. For the Westham Plank Road, the General Assembly act specified that "the said road shall not be constructed less than fifteen feet wide, and that not less than eight feet therof shall be covered with plank." While plank roads often featured a side road for passing wagons, the Westham Plank Road Company was not required to make any summer (madacdam) or side road. Once half of the road was completed, the company would be allowed to collect tolls, thereby paying off the construction investments and eventually paying dividends to the subscribers.

Anticipating or possibly promoting the road's construction, the Richmond Daily Times of 26 April 1851 reminded the public of the day's meeting of subscribers to the Westham Plank Road Project, touted the planned road's benefits to "those who are fond of pleasant drives" and pointed out that "farmers near it will have a much readier access to market." It went on to reproduce an article from Hunt's Magazine citing New York's experience with plank roads, which allowed farmers to deliver much larger loads more easily and more often and to save money and labor by not having to clean their horses. It also accounted for an increase in surrounding farm land values from nine to fifteen dollars per acre.

In fact, later Richmond newspaper advertisements for property on the Westham Plank Road abounded after the completion of the road. And the Richmond Enquirer three days later wrote of a plank road meeting in Columbia, during which a letter from Petersburg engineer C. O. Sandford was presented. It listed specific construction expenses resulting in a $2,000 per mile cost for plank roads and suggested that plank roads would almost certainly result in a return on investment. The article concluded with the following note: "We expect certainly to see this year a plank road constructed on the Old Westham Road, running six miles from Richmond. It will be a delightful substitute for the present wretched road." It went on to praise D. W. Haxall as the driving force behind the enterprise.

Less than month later, the Westham Plank Road Company's commissioners announced in the 20 May 1851 Richmond Enquirer that the necessary stock had been subscribed to and called for proposals from contractors that would "specify the price for timber, bridges and culverts, grading, laying, and other expenses, also specifying the different prices for differnt kinds of timber, say oak, gum, pine, &s." And by February of 1852, the road, according to the 17 February Daily Dispatch, was nearly completed to the limits of the city." The brief announcement went on to lavish praise on the road, noting that "It may be travelled over in twenty minutes, and no turnpike in the vicinity, at any season of the year, can compare with it for delightful smoothness." Sounding like an advertisement as much as a newspaper article, it went on to recommend a trip on the plank road to "Invalids, or those persons suffering from sickness" as they would find that "this road furnishes a very pleasant and healthful drive."

In fact, the pleasures of that road and the area it traveled through were regularly pointed out. Bemoaning the apparent dearth of "suburban retreats and pleasure villas and gardens in Richmond," the 27 February Daily Dispatch recommended the vincinity of the Westham Plank Road to the "toiling masses of Richmond" as a source for respectable "surburban retreats adjacent to the city where they can spend a few hours of exemption from daily toil, in agreeable and hilarious reunions and excursions." And an ad in the Richmond Daily Times of 14 January 1852 for a farm on the road four miles from the city claimed that the neighborhood was "equal to any in the county" and that "The plank road running in front of the Farm, enables any one to ride in the city in half an hour - upon the most delighful road in the county.

Glowing endorsements continued to appear. The Daily Dispatch of 25 March 1854 suggested that those "who have leisure and can afford a "pleasant drive," will very naturally take the plank road route" where they might stop at a "cottage just above the toll gate" which J. W. Allen, the proprietor of the Arbour Hotel in Richmond, had stocked "with an abundance of delicacies." Whether or not the planned "omnibus line to the cottage" was established is not clear.

But financially, things apparently were not going so smoothly. The company earlier had to issue a notice in the 12 January 1852 Daily Dispatch advising delinquient stockholders that unless payment of the amount due on their stock was received, their stock would be sold publicly.

By 1854, finances seemed troubled. In the Daily Dispatch of 22 May of that year, the company announced that construction of the road had "cost $16,000 or a little more than $3000 per mile [time and a half what the earlier mentioned Petersburg engineer had estimated for plank road costs]." The company had borrowed $6,000 because subscriptions had only reached the $10,000 required to form the company. Tolls of "twenty five cents to and fro over the road" were going toward paying of the debt, but "pleasure parties and persons trying horses" regularly rode up as far as the toll gate and turned around. This contributed to "the injury of the road, but without contributing one cent toward its support." The company claimed that "the road was wearing out" and "that the area might be "deprived entirely of this valuable improvement" unless it was "treated more justly."

And in the following year, the Daily Dispatch reported on 15 May that to address that damage and wear, the company had petitioned the Richmond City Council "to make an appropriation to aid in relaying their road on suburbs of the city."

It seems that damage and wear to the road were not the only ways in which the company was not treated justly. In an ad in the 28 October 1856 Daily Dispatch, the Hollywood Nursery called attention to its new address "just above the toll-gate on the Westham Plank Road." So it seems, as early proponents of the plank road had hoped, that simply an address on the road would be a benefit. However, the owner went on to state that "Grove street, an excellent gravelled drive, leads directly to the place, which renders it unnecessary to pay toll.

Woes continued, and in 18 April 1859 Daily Dispatch, the company's Board of Directors announced the sale of the Westham Plank Road, specifying that "No proposal for a less sum than $3500 will be considered...One fourth in cash, and the residue at four, eight, and twelve months credit, bearing interest from time of sale." By 11 July , that minimum price had disappeared from an advertisement in the Daily Dispatch, and the offer included the "WESTHAM PLANK ROAD, including TOLL-HOUSE, and other works and property on the said road." Terms of payment would be made known on the day of the sale, July 12

Exactly what happened to the company is unclear but it seems that the road, an important route for troops in the Civil War, suffered from that conflict as did so many other roads. In volume 16 of The Confederate Veteran, Joseph R. Haw recounted his wartime march with troops out the Westham Plank road. He recalled, "The road was in a miserable condition, freezing and thawing of the winter, assisted by the rains, having made it almost impassable with the clay mud.

Even after the planks disappeared, the name remained until the Westham road eventually became Cary Street and Cary Street Road. It still bears traffic into and out of the city, though not for market-bound farmers or those looking for a bucolic country outing.

Joey Boehling

All the rage in roads. The 1840s through the 1850s saw a profusion of planked roads which were first constructed in Canada. The first U.S. plank road was in Syracuse, NY. Diagram from WM Gillespie's Manual of the Principles and Practice of Roadmaking, 1854.

Plank Road diagram.

The end of the road. This arrow marks end of the Westham Plank Road where it intersected with the Three Chopped Road going off to the right and the River road continuing on to Goochland and Beyond.

Paying to play. This arrow marks the toll gate at the beginning of the Westham Plank Road. It is apparently a bit west of the outer edge of the Carytown area. An early nineteenth century house on the north side of Cary Street at Nansemond Street was thought by many to be the toll collector's house, but that seems unlikely. At any rate, the building was razed in late 2019-early 2020.

Smith map of Westham Plank Road.

Getting to work. Once the state required subscribers had been secured, the Westham Plank Road Company ran this announcement in the 20 May 1851 dition of the Richmond Enquirer soliciting contractors and materials.

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Now You Know

Throwing a wrench in the works.

We congratulate Anne Jackson and Mary Jo and Haywood Wigglesworth, who correctly identified the "What Do You Know?" object from the last newsletter as a wagon wrench.

Wagon wrench bottom view. Wagon wrench top view.

As the photograph below shows, it was used to remove the nut securing the wheel to the axle of a farm wagon.

Wagon wrench removing nut securing wheel to axle of farm wagon.

The wagon could be raised with a wagon jack like any one of the four shown below. Those implements were also featured in the December 2008 HCHS Newsletter.

Wagon jack 1. Wagon jack 2. Wagon jack 3. Wagon jack 4.

This particular wrench served a dual purpose on the wagon to which it was once attached. Our wrench, when not in use, was stored in the reach plate shown at the left and circled in the photo of a farm wagon frame shown below.

Wagon frame.

The long center beam of the wagon was called the reach, and it passed through the reach plate. The two angled beams extending from the back axle assembly were attached to the reach plate and kept the rear axle in line. The pictured wrench would be passed through a hole in the reach to secure the rear axle to the frame.

Wagon and plate.

This wagon does not have its box; and since wagon boxes could differ in lengths, the reach had a number of holes to allow it to adapt to different boxes. One merely removed the wrench, slid the rear axle ahead or back, and secured it at its new length by replacing the wrench.

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What Do You Know?

This hinged wooden box is covered with some kind of worn leather-like material. It is 12" wide, 9.5" deep and 8" tall. The opened case shown at the top features a paper label. It contains the name of the item and instructions for its operation which have been blurred for this photograph but will be shown in the June newsletter.

What do you know object. What do you know object.

Do you know what it is?

Email your answers to:

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News 2022: First Quarter
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