Monday, March 24, 2014

Authentic Port Royal, Virginia

By: Carolyn Davis, Historic Port Royal, Inc. and
Sonja Ingram, Field Representative, Preservation Virginia

Catlett House  1760

Powers-Holloway House  1775

Town Hall Lyceum and Masonic Lodge

Port Royal, in Carolina County, Virginia has more authentic 18th century homes than Williamsburg, yet not many people know about it.  This small, historic town on the Rappahannock River is a dream for history and architecture buffs, but it is also in need of help because several of its most historic buildings are unoccupied and falling into disrepair. 
Port Royal Residence  1745

In February 2014, staff members of Preservation Virginia and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources visited Port Royal and were welcomed by Cleo Coleman, Phyllis Carpenter and Carolyn Davis, members of Historic Port Royal; Kathy Beard, the Caroline County Tourism Director and two other Port Royal residents.

Cleo Coleman, President of Historic Port Royal, gave the group a brief talk about the history and significance of Port Royal. Some of the interesting facts Cleo discussed included:

  • Port Royal was established in the 1650s along the Rappahannock River as a port for shipping goods to Scotland, England and Jamaica;
  • Dorothy Roy, the first woman to own and operate a tobacco warehouse in the colonies, lived at Port Royal.  Today, all that remains of her home are two tall chimneys on Route 201; however the chimneys have been stabilized and interpreted and can be seen by all who drive on Route 301;
  • Port Royal has the 2nd oldest Masonic Charter in Virginia;
  • John Wilkes Booth fled to Port Royal from Maryland on April 24, 1865 seeking shelter at the Brockenbrough-Peyton House after he assassinated President Lincoln.
Brockenbrough-Peyton House 1765

Our group was given a tour of the town as well as inside two of Port Royal’s houses-- the Powers-Holloway House (tour lead by Billy Booker, grandson of the current owner) and the Brockenbrough-Peyton House .  In 1865, after killing President Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth fled Washington D.C. to Maryland and then to Virginia where he crossed the Rappahannock River at Port Royal and sought refuge at the Brockenbrough-Peyton House. 

As the story goes, three confederate soldiers rode up to the house seeking overnight lodging for their friends Booth and Davy Herold; but Sarah Jane Peyton (1830-1907) wary of the strangers, denied their request. They then continued west of town to the Garrett Farm where Booth was later killed. 

Historic Port Royal, Inc. has done an enormous amount of work to protect and interpret Port Royal including installing interpretive kiosks around town and operating the local museum which has collections ranging from local Native American artifacts to White House China. The museum also has a fabulous Toleware collection. If that wasn’t enough, a fully restored Rosenwald School sits beside the museum on Route 301 which is used by students today for living history programs.

If you are driving on Route 301 make sure to turn at Dorothy Roy’s chimneys and visit this place full of authentic Virginia history.
Chimneys of Dorothy Roy's House

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