Washington column for July 23

A unique organization

Last week I wrote on the Confederate flag in our times. I want to thank everyone for the calls and emails regarding to my column.

This week, a report on a organization that really doesn’t get much credit for their long hours of dedicated work preserving our county history. Thank you, Judy Tole, director; Lee Tapp, Joan Hackett, Maureen Harris, volunteers; and Carolyn Green, administrative assistant, for all of your hard work in what you all do to educate our community. Keep up the good work, ladies.

This report comes from Eva Grimsley:

In December of 1964 a large group of interested people gathered to organize the Historical Society with emphasis on collecting, storing, and preserving records related to the county’s long history. The Society’s first meeting was in the courthouse; a permanent home was identified when the telephone company offered their old building that had to be moved to make way for a new facility. The brick edifice is one of the oldest structures in the county. It was originally used as an outbuilding for Thorn’s Tavern that sat next door and has served many purposes: first county Treasurer’s Office, law office, doctor’s office, girls’ school and telephone exchange. In 1974, restoration of the foundation, roof and floor helped to preserve the integrity of this wonderful old building. An addition was erected in 2000 to meet increasing need for space. A steady stream of visitors and research requests, such as historical property searches, keep the volunteer force quite busy. Library holdings include family files, birth, death, marriage, and will records for Rappahannock and surroundings counties where many of our residents found work, married and settled. The museum contains artifacts of the county, some of which are prehistoric, donated by descendants and generous benefactors.

This year the Rappahannock Historical Society celebrates its 50th anniversary. Over the past half-century the Society’s objective has been to become a complete repository of Rappahannock County’s history. To that end a huge amount of information on the county has been collected and preserved.

One of the basic tasks at the Society is assisting individuals doing genealogical research. Over the years volunteers have abstracted Rappahannock County birth records, marriage records, death records, chancery records and wills to have readily on hand. Also part of the collections are Rappahannock County censuses and a large amount of information on the surrounding counties.

When someone contacts the society looking for information on their Rappahannock County connections, the first thing that is done is to pull out one of the family files. Over the years material on about 1,000 Rappahannock County families has been gathered. These files may contain only a few sheets of paper up to multiple files on some families. Society staff assists those coming to do their own research and also accepts paid assignments to answer research questions for those who request it. The staff is well trained in doing deed searches and connecting the dots in family trees. Many obituaries are also contained in the family files. Most date from the 1960s forward, but a few go back to the 1890s. These come from scrapbook clippings taken from the “Blue Ridge Guide” the local paper at the time.

Some years ago the Society started the Cemetery Project. The project objective was to find every graveyard in the county and list those individuals buried there. Volunteers visited every known cemetery and took down the names. This project took years and is still being added to. In 2009 the society produced a CD with all of this information and produced the current one in 2015. Information is added every week to the database containing close to 15,000 names. Burials of Rappahannock residents in other counties are also to be found in the Cemetery Project. Many Rappahannock people are buried in surrounding counties and information on the cemeteries that are most often used in those localities is entered in the cemetery database. The family files are not the only collections available. There are also files on county churches, schools, houses, mills, businesses, wars, towns, etc. Call us to see if the Society has what you need!

Another service offered by the Society is paid property searches done by volunteers who have years of experience in this and can trace the owners of county properties back to when Rappahannock was still part of Culpeper County and before that Orange County. The memories of those who have lived in this county all their lives are a very important resource. The Society has been collecting oral histories from people for some years now. We know how important it is to gather this information while we can. To hear these reminiscences is fascinating. The transcribed interviews are available in our large library. Some of the other books contained in our library are reference books on Rappahannock and other Virginia counties, Revolutionary and Civil War reference guides, books containing genealogical information for other states, a large selection of books on the Shenandoah National Park, books on African –American history, copies of church minute books, books on the Germanna Colony, and books on local families. These books can be perused at the Society under the supervision of staff.

While keeping track of the myriad of projects, director Judy Tole, is also extremely knowledgeable on Civil War and Revolutionary War history and the soldiers from the county who served in the wars. She fields many questions on these subjects during the year. Upstairs at the Society is a museum with many items from Rappahannock’s history. The artifacts cover many time periods from the 1700s to clothes (circa 1930) from Hackleys’ Store in Amissville.

Guided tours of the museum are available during regular business hours: 11 to 5 Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. The Society is also proud to have a small store featuring a wide selection of Rappahannock County-related books and products made in the county. Some of our best sellers are “Facts, Fiction, & Foolishness” by C. E. & Elisabeth Johnson and the Eugene Scheel map of Rappahannock County.

Come by the Society to see the variety of items or visit our website at rappahannockhistsoc.org to see some of the things we sell.Another important project being undertaken is the online digitization of much of the Society’s collections. An interesting visual interface to the digitized information may be found under the Digital Archives button on the Society website. The records may be searched by keywords, collections, specific topics, dates, etc. This is a work in progress that will allow much broader access to the Society records and assist researchers in locating items in the collections for further study.

The Rappahannock Historical Society is very proud of the services it provides and the collections that have been amassed in the last fifty years. We hope to be able to keep our doors open for many years to come. To that aim we are starting a fundraising campaign: 50 for 50. We hope to raise $50,000 for our 50th anniversary so that we will be able to set up an endowment fund to ensure the survival of the Society. Please help us to continue to preserve and disseminate the history of Rappahannock County.

Speedy recovery

Best wishes go out to town resident (and first lady) Beverly Sullivan, who has had quite a week — receiving a pacemaker last Tuesday (July 14) and then a brand new knee this Monday (July 20). Both procedures were performed at Sibley Hospital in Washington D.C. Beverly hopes she will be home, walking about, next week. We wish her a speedy recovery.

Berry season

July is the month for berries. Blueberries come first, wineberries next, raspberries, than my favor, blackberries. I hope that I can find some before the bears get to them. I saw a huge bear late Saturday evening while sitting on the deck, watching some beautiful fireworks set off in the town by the Inn. It came wandering through my yard. I’m guessing he was looking for the delicious berries on Massies’s Mountain.

Dwyer reunion

The annual Dwyer family reunion begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 25, at the Washington fire hall. Please bring a dish and drink to share. For more information, call Wayne Baldwin at 540-547-3722.


Belated birthday wishes go out to Betty Crawford. She celebrated her special day on Tuesday (July 21). Also birthday wishes go out to Janet Burke, who will celebrate her day on Monday (July 27).

Welcome back

Welcome-back (as residents) wishes to longtime Main Street gallery and shop owners Robert and Joanie Ballard. “We’ve missed living here in town and are excited to be be back,” said Joanie.


Sympathy go out to the family of Ernest Fletcher, of Washington. Ernest passed away on Tuesday, June 30. For years Ernest work on Sunnyside Farm with my husband, Steve. Often, Steve would say that Ernest was a hard worker and a honest man and he would do anything for anyone.

Stay cool and have a wonderful week.