Tappahannock Historical Notes
On October 9, 1972 the Essex County Historic Society was informed by the Rappahannock Times of an official announcement sent to them by the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission. This announcement told of the creation of the Tappahannock Historic District by the State of Virginia as a part of its Historic Landmark Registry Program begun by act of the Virginia Legislature in 1966.
The Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission also proposed to the federal government that this district be placed on the National Historic Landmark Register. Thus, after four years of intensive effort on the local level for community support and on state level for recognition, the historic importance of Tappahannock to Virginia and perhaps the nation has become a fact of public record.
Several organizations were of great importance in making the Tappahannock Historic District a recognized fact as well as particular persons associated with them: The Essex County Women's Club, The Tappahannock-Essex County Chamber of Commerce, The Essex County Historical Society, The Essex County Improvement Council and the Tappahannock Town Council. Special mention should be made of Mrs. Gordon Lewis and Mrs. Charles N. DeShazo. Many letters were written, resolutions sent, historic materials supplied, a map of historic structures prepared and visits to the office of the Virginia Historic Landmark Commission in Richmond. The executive director, Mr. Junius R. Fishburne, gave leadership, advice and encouragement through all these years. We are greatly indebted to him and to his staff for preparing the final report which created the Historic District.
The creation of The Historic District as a Registered Virginia Landmark and possibly also as a National Registered Landmark will lead eventually to the preservation of 13 historic structures for future generations. Such is provided for by enactment of both the Virginia Legislature in 1966 and the United States Congress in 1935 and 1966. These acts laid the legal bases for the protection of historic structures in officially designated districts.
The Tappahannock Historic District contains more historic structures than most areas of similar size in the United States. A variety of buildings illustrate important phases of community life over a period of almost three centuries. There are public and governmental buildings, private residences of the grand and simple type, a former Customs House, two former taverns and two churches. Two well known schools have been associated with several of the houses as well as persons of historic importance with many of them.
Tappahannock had its full share of distinguished sons and daughters. Among them should be mentioned the following persons who either lived in these houses or were closely related to those who resided there:
John Brockenbrough - builder of what later became known as The White House of The Confederacy, President of the Bank of Virginia and member of the Essex Junto.
The Honorable Joseph William Chinn, Justice on the Supreme Court of Virginia. His connection is through the McCall - Brockenbrough House. His mother was a Brockenbrough who was born and raised in the McCall - Brockenbrough House, and Joseph William Chinn had a lifelong close association with the McCall - Brockenbrough House.
Thomas Croxton - member of the United States Congress.
Meriwether Lewis - renowned explorer of the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the Pacific.
Judith Brockenbrough McGuire wife of the Reverend John Peyton McGuire and authoress of Diary of a Southern Refugee During The War and General Robert E. Lee, the Christian Soldier.
The Rev. John Peyton McGuire Chief Clergyman responsible for the reestablishment of the Episcopal faith in Essex and King dc Queen counties after the Revolution.
Francis Meriwether - first Clerk of Essex County.
Thomas Ritchie - famous editor of the Richmond Enquirer and member of the Essex Junto.
Spencer Roane - Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, backed by Thomas Jefferson for Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and founder of States Rights political theory in the United States. He was also the founder of the Richmond Enquirer and of the political faction known as the "Essex Junto" from which Jefferson derived his leading state support.
Meriwether Smith - member of Congress and highly spoken of by Chief Justice Marshall.
George William Smith - Governor of Virginia.
William A. Wright - Chairman of the Virginia Conservation Commission and member of the Virginia Senate.
Thomas Roane Barnes Wright Judge of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit.
The account of The Tappahannock Historical District was written by the late Arnold Motley, former clerk of Essex County. He was an Essex County historian and the foremost authority on the historic buildings of Tappahannock.
Reprinted here with thanks to the author, Charles W.H. Warner.
Web page last updated:February 18, 2006
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