The Dismal Swamp and Lake Drummond, Early recollections Vivid portrayal of Amusing Scenes by Robert Arnold 1888
CHAPTER IX.SUFFOLK AND EARLY DAYS.
I will take the above railroad and return to Suffolk, when I will say something of my early recollections of that place. It was in the year 1830 that my father, with his family, moved to it. I was quite small at that time, but I recollect the time well. Suffolk was then a small village, situated on the Nansemond River, with a population of about five hundred, and increased very slowly in population until after the surrender, which was in April, 1865. Since that it has increased very rapidly in population and growth. It was in Suffolk that Henry Herman commenced his business career; moved to Norfolk in 1832; and became one of her successful merchants. At his death his remains were brought to Suffolk, and now quietly rest in Cedar Hill Cemetery. I could mention many instances of successful business men of that town were it necessary. I will now write of things of more recent date--something within the recollection of many persons yet living. It will be recollected that a fire broke out in June, 1837, that destroyed the lower part of the town. There were no engines in the place and the flames raged with great fury. The Allen residence, at Rose Hill, about one half mile distant, was set on fire several times by the flying debris, and it was with difficulty that the house was saved. It was at Rose Hill that a large mercantile business was carried on, and no doubt a large quantity of juniper lumber was shipped from that point belonging to private individuals. A wharf was built at the mouth of Shingle creek (I imagine long before the Jericho canal was dug), and large quantities of lumber was hauled to it by persons living on the edge of the Dismal Swamp. I knew of several persons who owned large juniper glades on the edge of Dismal Swamp one in particular. His name was Thomas Swepston and lived not far from Suffolk, on the line of the Seaboard railroad, which divides his farm. He was agent of the Dismal Swamp Land Company for several years, and may have been the first after the Jericho canal was opened. The last agent, of whom I have any knowledge, was W. S. Riddick, Esq., who died several years ago. The last inspector of lumber was J. E. Bonnewell, of whom it is my pleasure to notice particularly. Perhaps no man was more generally known and respected in Suffolk than he. He was a true friend, benevolent and kind, never refusing to bestow charity when called upon. He succeeded Mr. Joseph Hill as inspector for the company, which office he held until his death. It was during his term of office that it was made so pleasant to visit the Lake. By giving timely notice he would always give the parties the best boats and the most trusty hands as drivers, and would always be present when the boat left its landing and when it returned, and was anxious to know if any mishaps had occurred to any of the party. And if it should be reported that some lady had fallen into the canal, he would always very politely ask that she be carried into his house to be made more comfortable. Capt. Babel Ions, of Philadelphia, was his bosom friend. When the Captain was in Suffolk, they could always be found together. They both have passed away, and a generous people will do justice to their memory. Captain Connewell died leaving a rich heritage behind--a name that will live as long as it is called. But few have lived and died who was so much beloved and respected as he. He was proud but not haughty, and flexible to kind impulses. He was the soul of honor, and no one can say that he even failed to accord to everyone their just dues. I knew him from my boyhood up and never knew a better man. He left an interesting family--Mrs. H. R. Culley being his eldest daughter. I could write many noble traits in the character of that good man, but it is not necessary. There are but few of his compeers now living, and soon they will all have passed away. Such is the march of time.
Nothing very important transpired in Suffolk from 1837 until after the close of the late war, when she awoke from her slumbering condition; her watchword being progress. She brushed the dust from her eyes, and her advancement in every branch of industry can be seen in her rapid growth. She stands second to no town in a commercial point of view. Her manufacturing interests are considerable, and being a railroad centre she must prosper and grow. The disastrous fire which occurred June 7th, 1885, impeded business for a few months, but our men of capital at once commenced to repair the breach, and she is again on the road to fame and wealth. And it is to the Suffolk and Carolina or Short Line railroad that Suffolk is mostly indebted for her present prosperous condition. Penetrating as it does a country that is rich and fertile, she has already felt its influence and it should be fostered as one of the main arteries to her prosperity.
The Gay Manufacturing Company, before noticed, is perhaps the most gigantic enterprise ever projected at Suffolk. It has extended its operations as far South as Chowan County, N. C., and the amount of capital invested is no doubt the largest investment of its kind in Virginia, if not in the entire South. It has made large purchases of land in and around Suffolk and has bought all the timbered lands on the Suffolk and Carolina Short Line or Grand Trunk railroad, giving employment to hundreds of hands, at fair wages, that would otherwise eke out a miserable existence. It also enables the landowners, from the sale of their timber, to free themselves from debt and otherwise improve their condition. Under the direction of President W. N. Camp, it has had erected near Suffolk, on the line of the S. & C. R. R., one of the most extensive saw mills in Eastern Virginia, and with the aid of the Atlantic and Danville railroad penetrating the primeval forests of Southampton, Greensville and other counties of Virginia. Millions of logs will be brought on that road and manufactured for shipment to Northern markets. The company consists principally of Baltimoreans, who will reap a harvest commensurate with the capital invested. And in many instances it is owing to the mature judgment of President Camp that the efforts to establish this great enterprise has been crowned with such signal success. The advantages this company possesses, by its intimate connections with the S. & C. R. R., and A. & D. R. R., cannot be estimated, but it can be truly said that their intimate and close relations with each other, while each is a separate and distinct corporation, forms one of the grandest and far-reaching enterprises of its kind in the South.
The Gay Manufacturing Company consists of William N. Camp, president; Charles F. Pitt, Jr., Chauncy Brooks, S. P. Ryland, John M. Denison and William N. Camp, directors; George L. Barton, treasurer; Charles F. Pitt, Jr., secretary.
The A. & D. R. R. has made great internal improvement under the management of Major Charles B. Peck, of New York, and has progressed more rapidly than any road of which we have any knowledge. Its starting point is at West Norfolk, on the Elizabeth river, at the mouth of its western branch, the great trucking region of the State of Virginia which will supply it with thousands of dollars worth of freight annually. It runs diagonally across the Norfolk and Western and Seaboard and Roanoke, railroads, both of which have already felt its effects, and when it shall have reached Danville the Richmond and Danville will then feel its withering influence, for this being the shortest and most speedy route to deep water, in one of the finest harbors in the world, it is natural that all produce will seek such a route and such a favorable shipping point.
An artist rendition (above) and an actual picture (below) of the Halfway House (Lake Drummond Hotel), built in 1829, which was located originally on the NC/VA line. The line was later moved 555 ft to the south. It is rumored to be a site where one could “step over the line” and immediately be out of reach of local law.
Chronology of the Great Dismal Swamp
1665 Lake discovered by William Drummond
1728 Dismal Swamp Canal proposed by William Byrd
1763 Lake Drummond charted by George Washington's surveyor
1764 Dismal swamp Land Company chartered
1787 Dismal Swamp Canal authorized by Virginia Legislature
1790 Dismal Swamp Canal authorized by North Carolina Legislature
1793 Work on the Dismal Swamp Canal began
1802 William Farange builds first hostelry in Camden County, N.C.
1803 Thomas Moore wrote "THE LAKE OF THE DISMAL SWAMP"
1805 Dismal Swamp Canal began limited through navigation for flat boats
1810 Jericho Canal completed
1812 Feeder Ditch completed
1814 First recorded passage of a vessel other than a shingle flat
1818 President James Monroe visited the Dismal Swamp
1819 First Lottery held to raise funds for improving the Canal
1820 Second Lottery held
1822 Cross Canal completed
1823 First passage of completely loaded schooner "Rebecca Edwards"
1825 Erie Canal completed
1826 U.S.Congress purchased 600 shares of Dismal Swamp Company
1826 Dismal Swamp Canal enlarged as a shoal draft ship canal
1829 Third Lottery held
1829 Lake Drummond Hotel built
1829 President Andrew Jackson visited the Dismal Swamp Canal
1829 Federal Government purchased 200 additional shares of stock
1830 "Lady of the Lake" first steamer designed to ply the canal
1830 North West Canal completed
1867 State of Virginia's 600 share holdings sold at auction
1871 North West Canal closed by dam built to conserve water
1878 Congress sold its shares in the Dismal Swamp Canal
1890 Emma K - Dismal Swamp's favorite vessel - was built
1899 Dismal Swamp Canal enlarged in substantially its present form
1929 United States Government purchased the Lake Drummond Company
1974 Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge created