Centreville-Fentress Historic District
The Centreville-Fentress Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The Centreville-Fentress Historic District is an example of a rural farming community that developed a small commercial core, which grew with the addition of a road linking the community to the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal, and the Norfolk and Elizabeth City Railroad in the 1880s. The community was established along a major 17th century north-south land route between Norfolk and Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The area remained primarily rural until the 1880s, when the addition of the railroad and link to the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal was established. The community grew with the sale of tracts of land concentrated along the convergence of the major transportation routes. Most dwellings and buildings are modest frame Colonial Revival and Craftsman inspired buildings, reflecting the vernacular quality of the craftsmanship. The core of the community at the juncture of the roadways and railroad is marked by more densely situated buildings surrounded by open fields. The addition of the railroad in the 1880s until its demise in the 1930s was the primary mode of transportation to the numerous truck farmers in the area. With the height of development at the turn of the 20th century, most of the single-family dwellings within the Centreville-Fentress Historic District use Colonial Revival, Queen Anne and Craftsman details. The few remaining mid-century farmhouses are similar in scale and massing and exhibit frame construction and setbacks farther than their modern counterparts.
The Centreville-Fentress Historic District encompasses 257 acres and contains 57 resources; 34 are contributing and 33 are noncontributing. Centreville-Fentress meets National Register criteria for its association with transportation and community planning and development.
Detailed Architectural Description
The Centreville-Fentress Historic District is defined by major transportation routes, and its residential and commercial core located at the convergence of the four major transportation corridors. The major routes include Fentress Road, formerly Great Road, which was the main land transportation route between Norfolk and Elizabeth City, NC dating to the 17th century. Added in 1878 was Centerville Turnpike, the roadway connecting Great Road north to the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal, which allowed the movement of agricultural goods to the canal for shipping to market. In addition, Blue Ridge Road was a route that led north to the Mt. Pleasant village located northeast near the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal. The convergence of these three roads made Centreville-Fentress what is termed a "crossroads community" where land travelers converged or stopped before continuing their journeys. The addition of the railroad in 1881 at the roads' junction is another important element to the development of the community. The tracks were placed to the west of Great Road and to the west of Centreville-Fentress.
The remaining significant buildings dating to the late 19th century in Centreville-Fentress are mostly single-family farmhouses. These farmhouses are two-story, frame construction and are located approximately 200 feet from the roadways in the agricultural fields. Examples of these types of houses are 1000 Centerville Turnpike, 1516 Blue Ridge Road, 1645 Blue Ridge Road, and 909 Centerville Turnpike. All of these dwellings are simplified in form and style.
The most prominent of this group is 1000 Centerville Turnpike, which was the house owned by William A. Jackson. Jackson was a wealthy truck farmer owning slaves before the Civil War and hiring numerous servants after the war. His house is located on an elevated mass of ground, believed to be "Centre Hill," the original estate of the Pritchard family. The house is similar in form to other houses, but has numerous additions to the rear.
Updating of mid-century dwellings was common in the late 19th century and is found in localities within the region. An example in Centreville-Fentress is 1516 Blue Ridge Road, which was originally constructed in the 1860s. In the late 19th century the dwelling was updated to include the addition of a projecting canted bay and hipped roof dormer.
By the late 19th century, the subdivision of family property is evident in the construction of 1036 Centerville Turnpike. This Queen Anne style house was owned by George Jackson, son of William A. Jackson. Though now missing its porch, this house is also setback from the roadway similar to the traditional houses from the mid-19th century.
The largest gain in housing construction is seen at the turn of the 20th century. The houses are mostly large-scale Queen Anne and Colonial Revival. Examples of these types of house are 1400 Fentress Road and 1412 Fentress Road. Located near the commercial core, these houses exemplify the high style of dwellings in the center of the village. To the east of Centerville Turnpike on Blue Ridge Road, numerous houses were constructed in the early years of the 20th century. Similar in form to the houses found on Fentress Road, they use various architectural details including Craftsman and Colonial Revival.
The only historic brick buildings in the Centreville-Fentress Historic District are the Centerville Baptist Church (912 Centerville Road) and New Burfoot House (916 Centerville Turnpike). The Burfoot House was constructed in 1925 by A.W. Burfoot. He had also owned a house on the opposite side of the road, which he bought in 1910. The church is a monumental addition to the community in the 1920s and is the largest building in the area today. It has a monumental portico and classical details.
The sole remaining commercial building (1429 Fentress Road) is typical of the frame "country store" found mostly in rural areas. It incorporates a gable roof and is dominated by a storefront on the facade. Located in the commercial core, it is a remnant of the vibrant commerce that once was located in the Centreville-Fentress community.
By the 1950s, new development was encroaching in the rural area with the updating of the roads and access to the area south of the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal. Modest Ranch-style houses are mostly clustered near the commercial core.
Newer residential development is encroaching into the area. Located to the west and north is modern suburban tract housing occupying the former rich farmland. To the south of the district, farmland has been reclaimed for a golf course.
The Centreville-Fentress Historic District is located on a 17th century road leading from Norfolk, Virginia via Great Bridge to Elizabeth City, North Carolina named Great Road. Great Road was the primary land route between the more populous Norfolk and Portsmouth urban area that developed during the mid-18th century and bisected Norfolk County. Until the early 1880s, Centreville-Fentress was rural and dominated by farms of 300 to 1,000 acres flanking the road. The area gained prominence in the mid-19th century with the opening of the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal in 1859. This facilitated the transportation of goods from the rural farms to market. In addition to the water-route, the arrival of the Norfolk and Elizabeth City Railroad in 1881 facilitated the growth of region with its formal naming and as a focal point for land and rail travel. Additions of a post office, church and commerce in the late 19th century also strengthened Centreville-Fentress's prominence in the region. Financial uncertainty of the 1930s coupled with the advent of the automobile and automobile trucking of goods to market led to the demise of the railroad, which terminated service in the 1940s. With the discontinuance of rail service and the increased mobility of the population, small commerce decreased at the town core. Like many rural railroad towns in Norfolk County, Centreville-Fentress declined and was redeveloped for residential and farming solely. It is today a remnant of a railroad boomtown of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which were common along the railroad lines connecting larger cities in southeastern Virginia.
The Centreville-Fentress Historic District meets National Register criteria for its association with community planning and development and also for its association with transportation during the period of significance from 1871 to 1940.
The area where Centreville-Fentress is located was once the 1350-acre farm of Joseph Pritchard. Pritchard died in 1858 and his will of 1849 outlines the division of his estate between his wife and children. His eldest sons who were of legal age inherited most of his land and slaves. Pritchard's wife inherited the "kitchen furniture" and a slave named, "Pete." A 300-acre tract was willed to his eldest daughters, Elizabeth and Mary, born 1840 and 1842 respectively, which included what Pritchard had called "Centre Hill."
In 1858, William A. Jackson, an adjoining landowner to the south purchased the approximately 300-acre farm from the two unmarried sisters, Elizabeth Luconde and Mary Susan Pritchard. The purchase price was $2,500.00. Jackson was also a farmer who had migrated north from North Carolina to Virginia. He was 30 years old upon purchasing the land from the Pritchard estate. His adjacent farm was small, but with the addition of the Pritchard land, his land holdings in the area became average for this time period. Jackson's land purchase would have a major impact on the development of the community.
Jackson had a large stake in the development of the Centreville-Fentress area during the late 19th century. He was involved in almost every aspect of its growth in the 19th century until his departure to the suburbs of Norfolk in 1900. By 1871, Jackson had dealt in the purchase of numerous parcels of real estate in Norfolk County. Throughout the remaining 30 years of the 19th century he purchased and sold numerous parcels in the area and was involved with many land transactions involving the local farming community. In 1880, he had become quite wealthy with 7 servants and a cook. His house dating to the 1870s was also quite large compared to surrounding houses. Located on Great Road, south of the church, it is a 2-story, center-hall Colonial with end chimneys and is two stories. There are perpendicular ells located to the rear. The house sits on a prominent elevated site at the junction of Great Road and Whittamore Road facing east to the farmland owned by Jackson. The site may have been what Pritchard referred to as "Centre Hill," but this cannot be confirmed.
In July 1871, William A. Jackson deeded a parcel of land for $1.00 to the Trustees of the Centre Hill Baptist Church to "build a Baptist Meeting House." The trustees listed of the property were William Wood, Gideon S. Hearing, William H. Old, Sassell Jackson and Jerome B. Fentress. All were residents of the Centre Hill vicinity.
A wood church was constructed in 1872 along Great Road and drew many farmers from the vicinity to Centreville-Fentress. The woos for the church's construction was barged on the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal to Old's Point. En route along the canal, the barge sank, but the wood was salvaged and used to build the church. The church was modest designed in the Gothic Revival style with a double-entrance framing two pointed-arch windows set inside typical rectangular double-hung sash windows. The church was removed from its location and replaced with an imposing 2-story, brick building with monumental, classical portico in 1925. The church was a branch of the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. Only begun with 41 members in 1872, by 1882 the membership had grown to 77.
The construction of the church marks the commencement of the formation of a community center in the Centreville-Fentress area. Until 1872, the nearest church and commercial buildings were located in the adjacent communities of Mt. Pleasant and Great Bridge, which were approximately 4 miles in opposite directions.
Centerville (Centreville) Turnpike was a project of local farm owners between Centreville and the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal. These farmers formed a corporation, which they filed with the Norfolk County court. It is noted that the owners built the road, but according to the State Corporation Commission records, the group never paid the $10.50 fee and the incorporation was never officially recorded. The original road was a single track of oyster shells not less than 10 feet wide. In addition to the turnpike the group also built the Centerville Turnpike Bridge. The bridge had a toll, which was collected by the owners or agent. The group operated the bridge until its consolidation in 1913 by the Consolidated Turnpike Company.
Jackson was involved with the creation of the Centreville Turnpike, now Centerville Turnpike, which led from Centreville-Fentress across the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal toward Washington Point. The creation of the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal would be a major development and economic factor for the Centreville-Fentress area. The canal linked the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River at Great Bridge and the North Landing River, which flowed to the Albemarle Sound, which facilitated travel between Hampton Roads and the Chesapeake Bay, and the Currituck Sound. At the midpoint of the canal there is Old's Point, which is just north of Centreville-Fentress.
The purpose of developing the road was to capitalize on the trucking of goods from the Centreville-Fentress area to the docks at Old's Point on the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal. The road preceded the construction of the railroad line, and was the only means of trucking goods to market other than traveling via the land route 4 miles to Great Bridge or Mt. Pleasant. The distance between Centreville-Fentress and the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal was only one mile, which was more economical and time saving than the road to Great Bridge or Mt. Pleasant. In addition, since the goods had to be shipped again from Great Bridge to market or by steamer to the north, additional travel would have solely been more time consuming.
Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal
Construction on the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal began in 1855. The Dismal Swamp Canal had provided the first water-related access between Virginia and North Carolina, but was limited to small skiffs until 1814. It was widened and accommodated steamers in 1829. The Dismal Swamp Canal had been dug by hand and a road was built alongside to accommodate mules or horses for the transport of the vehicles.
The plan for the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal dates to 1772 when the desire to connect the Elizabeth River with the Albemarle Sound was brought before the Virginia House of Burgesses. The purpose of the canal was to connect the headwaters of the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River and the head of the North Landing River. This would facilitate and increase the shipping trade between the Albemarle Sound and the Chesapeake Bay ports.
Steam dredges, referred to as "Iron Titans," dug the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal. The plan commenced at Great Bridge and ended at the head of the North Landing River. There was a single lock at Great Bridge. The first successful trip through the canal was on January 9, 1859 by the steamboat Calypso, owned by the canal company. Upon its opening in 1859, the canal attracted business away from the Dismal Swamp Canal. The opening of the canal is attributed with the growth and development of Great Bridge as a major shipping point and town.
In addition to development at Great Bridge, farms clustered along the waterway to take advantage of the ease of transporting goods. Docks were constructed on the canal for small boats, and small villages, such as Mt. Pleasant, developed nearby and served as shipping hubs. Old's Point is an example of a dock constructed for the shipping of farmers' products to market.
The farmers in the Centreville-Fentress area were "truck farmers," which designates farmers who "truck" or transport their goods to market. In the period before the Civil War, truck farmers transported their goods via the Great Road to Great Bridge or Elizabeth City, NC. From these locations, the goods could be transported via ship to other destinations on the Chesapeake Bay and Albemarle Sound. Upon the opening of the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal, truck farmers were able to move their goods to market much faster. The Centreville-Fentress farmers moved their goods to Old's Point just north on the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal for shipping. The produce could be transferred when it was fresher and spent less time on the road en route to market.
Norfolk County's farmers' prosperity is attributed to the means of trucking goods via waterway and the maturation of crops one to two months earlier than those planted in the farms near the northern cities of Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, and Boston. Via steamboat, the trip north was between 24 to 36 hours from farm to market in the northern cities. The earlier harvest times in Norfolk County created a balance between northern cities' local farmers and farmers in Norfolk County. Another advantage for Norfolk County farmers was the higher pricing of their goods in the northern markets. The prices were higher since goods were available earlier, which enabled farmers to retain level pricing with shipping.
Norfolk County was known as a "vast garden," along with surrounding counties in Virginia and North Carolina. The soil was very rich and provided a high yield for local farmers. In the 1890s, the magazine "Cornucopia" or "Southern Horn of Plenty" had attributed $5 million in the aggregate sale of market garden vegetables for one year. The magazine also noted that there was no other area in the United States that reflected such a high yield.
The transport of goods from the farm to the waterway was along the "shell roads," which were roadways lined with a bed of oyster shells. Farmers trucked their goods via horse or mule and cart to a shipping point on the waterway where boats docked to transport the goods. The transport along the numerous waterways was facilitated by a small fleet of boats of varying forms, from skills, sloops, schooners, rafts, canoes, bugeyes, and eventually steamboats. The small boats were used during the summer months to transport the goods from the small ports to the major ports such as Norfolk and Portsmouth. From Norfolk and Portsmouth, goods were shipped to their destinations. After harvest season, the boats served to harvest oysters from the plentiful oyster beds in the brackish waters of the rivers.
Upon the completion of the Elizabeth City and Norfolk Railroad in 1881, Centreville was the first stop en route to Elizabeth City from Norfolk. Farmers had a new way to truck produce to market, which was much quicker for goods that spoiled or ripened much faster. While the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal was still used as a source to transport goods, the addition of the railroad brought farmers to Centreville to deliver their crops for transport. In addition to farmers, area residents from Great Bridge and the farms along the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal also converged on Centreville for access to the railroad.
Both modes of transportation of goods coexisted until the 1920s when the automobile and trucking of goods via truck were employed more often. The automobile enabled farmers to be more flexible in harvesting their crops and transporting them to market. The flexibility of transportation of goods allowed farmers to harvest their crops at varying times. The produce was also moved directly from the harvest to market and did not require an intermediate stop for transport, which also cut out additional costs.
The manner of farming also changed in the 1920s with the employment of tractors versus traditional horse or mule for tilling the soil. Tractor manufacturers traveled the rural countryside demonstrating tractors to local farmers and the efficiency gained through the use of the tractor. The tractor coupled with the truck expedited the planting and harvest of crops and the transport of goods to market. Automotive advantages would change farming and the railroad and boat significance to the rural Norfolk County farmer.
In 1880, the Elizabeth City and Norfolk Railroad was formed with a route from Washington Point in Norfolk to Elizabeth City, NC. The function of the railroad was to connect Norfolk and Elizabeth City via rail, which provided an alternative to shipping goods via the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal.
Construction began in Berkley at Washington Point and was completed by December 1881, with a spur to Edenton, NC. Along the route stops were planned including Centreville and Hickory Ground near the North Carolina and Virginia border. Stations were constructed at these locations in Virginia to take advantage of the shipping trade for goods from the rich farmland, and to provide stations to the rural Norfolk County population.
In 1883, the railroad officially changed its name to Norfolk Southern Railroad and eventually consolidated with the Albemarle and Pantego Railroad and Steamboat. The Albemarle and Pantego Railroad and Steamboat was organized soon after the Civil War by John L. Roper of Norfolk. The railroad provided access to logging in the rich timberland in southeast Virginia and northeast North Carolina. Beset by financial problems and high bond indebtedness, the company was placed in receivership in 1889. Receivers held the railroad until 1891 when it merged with Norfolk and Southern Railroad.
Norfolk and Southern Railroad prospered in the 1890s until the early 1920s when World War I forced the railroad to cut costs. Changes in modes of transport forced additional changes in Norfolk and Southern Railroad's shipping policies in the 1920s, until financial disaster occurred during the Great Depression in 1932.
During Norfolk and Southern Railroad's prosperous years, trains traveled daily between Washington Point in Norfolk, and Elizabeth City and Edenton, NC. Passenger service began in the 1880s, which allowed residents of Centreville-Fentress to travel to Norfolk and Elizabeth City. Passenger and transport service continued until the 1930s.
Commerce in Centreville-Fentress
Centreville-Fentress was an important crossroads in Norfolk County. Centrally located within the county, it was on the main land road through the county from Great Bridge to Elizabeth City, NC. At the location of Centreville-Fentress, the Centerville Turnpike led north across the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal connecting with Indian River Turnpike, which connected Norfolk and points east in Princess Anne County. Great Road was a more direct land route to Norfolk and passed through more inhabited country in the 19th century.
Centreville-Fentress's first store was operated by Jetson Jett, and was known as Jett's Store or Jackson's Store. Jett's first appeared in the Centreville-Fentress area in a land sale from Jackson to Jett in 1871. By 1878, there are references to the store in the application for the creation of the Centerville Turnpike. According to deed records, the store was located at the intersection of Great Road and the railroad tracks near the intersecting roads. This is a prime location for a store as many 19th century stores are located in areas where people converge or at major shipping points.
In December 1888, an application was made to the United States Post Office to create a post office at the Centreville's railroad station. According to the application documents, the proposed post office was on a route from Norfolk to Edenton that traveled six times per week. The exact location of the proposed post office was 200 yards east of the railroad tracks. This would have placed the post office on the west side of the road leading from Great Bridge to Elizabeth City. The post office application listed that it served 500 persons within the general vicinity. The proposed postmaster was Jerome B. Fentress, and the name of the proposed office was Fentress. Fentress was the son of a Joshua Fentress who owned the farm east of the railroad station. Centreville was unavailable since it had been granted earlier to a village in northern Virginia near Washington, DC.
Changes in shop ownership and the postmaster forced the relocation of the post a number of times in the late 19th and early 20th century. Since the postmaster could dictate the location of the post office, it could be moved to a location deemed appropriate. In addition to the postmaster's choice in location, a shop owner had to concur in its placement in his store. The post office was a coveted business, since the rural population had to come to the post office to retrieve mail. The store in which it was located became a meeting place and usually increased business due to increased patronage.
The movement of the post office coincides with additional commerce that developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There appears to be a well-defined commercial core that had developed at the intersection of Fentress Road (Great Road), Blue Ridge Road and Centerville Turnpike. There are two stores documented on the site immediately to the east of the current store on Blue Ridge Road. They were modest one-story buildings constructed in the early 20th century.
In addition to stores, there was also a hotel in Centreville-Fentress located to the north of the current remaining commercial building on the site of 1421 Fentress Road. According to a report conducted by the History Store, the late 19th century hotel was located in the main commercial core of the town.
Additional commerce would develop in the early 20th century before the closure of the railroad terminal in Centreville-Fentress. The Great Depression took a monumental toll on the small community. In addition the rise of the automobile would contribute to the demise of small commerce due to the increased mobility of local residents.
1900-1930 Changes and the Expansion
William A. Jackson had grown quite old (72) by 1900 and relocated to the City of Norfolk, residing in the burgeoning suburb of Park Place. He sold his lands abandoning the town which he helped develop. After his departure the village continued to thrive reaching a development height in the early 20th century.
By 1910, a number of changes in the demographics of the population had occurred. The appearance of railroad personnel and professionals changed the make up of the largely agricultural community. A.W. Burfoot had purchase the house occupied by Joshua B. Fentress, who had died without a will. Burfoot's arrival in 1910 signified a change in the residential nature of Centreville-Fentress. Most inhabitants of Fentress village, as it was termed in 1920, were farmers or labors related to the farming of the parcels in the area. Though it is not known specifically why Burfoot moved to the village, the attraction of the country and accessibility might have been a factor.
By 1920, there was an auto-repair shop in Centreville-Fentress with three employees. This was coupled with a number of merchants and clerks residing in the immediate vicinity of the Centreville-Fentress community.
Also constructed at this time was a brick factory and additional commercial buildings east of Great Road and west of Centreville Turnpike on Blue Ridge Road. The expansion of the commercial core was reflective of a thriving community. The commercial buildings were modest and were primarily one-story.
The decline of the village of Centreville-Fentress as a commercial center can be defined by three major factors. The first was the rise of the automobile as a source of transportation. The ability and flexibility of farmers to move their produce to market bypassed the village center. The goods could be transported to the ports of Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Elizabeth City, NC without intermediate stops. The automobile also provided residents with the mobility to travel to adjacent towns, or the city for their shopping needs. This increased competition for the small commercial interests that had developed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They were unable to compete with cheaper markets in the cities.
The Great Depression affected the rural farming communities in the United States. Farmers' markets were cut short, which lessened their cash flow. The lack of local income proved to precipitate the demise of the commercial core. Store owners, whose businesses had thrived, saw losses since the farming community could not afford to purchase items with cash.
The major factor in the decline of the village was the troubled financial status of Norfolk and Southern Railroad between 1932 and 1940. Norfolk and Southern had filed for bankruptcy in 1932, which affected operations. With the uncertain future of the railroad and reduction in traffic, the reliability of the railroad lessened. Norfolk and Southern operated at a reduced schedule and by 1941, it had been reorganized and service was cut to meet changes in demand.
It was at the end of this period that passenger service to Norfolk ceased. The railroad station was demolished shortly thereafter and Centreville-Fentress as a shipping point and major transit point was defunct.
Today, Centreville-Fentress retains its post office, though limited in service. The post office is located in the last remaining store in the vicinity. Behind the store lies the original railroad line and remaining platform for the train station. The most cohesive grouping of buildings still remains at the core of the community at the juncture of the major transportation routes.
Though not serving as an agricultural village the area still retains its rural appearance. This is threatened with the encroaching suburban development. Many smaller farmers have sold their parcels, which have been planned as suburban communities or golf courses. The community is surrounded by such development, but maintains its rural and agricultural character.
Norfolk County also faced changes in the 20th century with the formation of the city of Chesapeake and numerous annexations of land by the city of Norfolk. Norfolk sought to increase its borders and systematically annexed portions of Norfolk County from the late-19th to mid-20th centuries. In 1963, the city of Chesapeake was formed from the remaining lands of Norfolk County.
The Centreville-Fentress Historic District meets National Register criteria due to its association to the growth of the rural, railroad town in the late 19th century. It is an example of the change in character of the rural farming culture in Norfolk County, Virginia.
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† Kimble A. David, Architectural Historian, Centreville-Fentress Historic District, City of Chesapeake, Virginia, nomination document, 2002, Nationa Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.