Public to get first peek at Mahone’s Tavern

Published 4:04 pm Sunday, September 7, 2008

COURTLAND—Following its purchase by an undisclosed Virginia Beach benefactor, Mahone’s Tavern will be open for public tours for the first time later this month.

Members of the Urquhart-Gillette Camp No. 1471, Sons of Confederate Veterans, plan to open the antebellum mansion for public viewing during the Southampton Historical Society’s annual Heritage Day on Sept. 20.

It will be the first of many planned events that will help the organization raise the money it needs to pay back the debt associated with buying, maintaining and restoring the house, according to Tommy Simmons, local SCV commander.

Simmons said the organization expected to receive its incorporation papers this week, codifying its status as a nonprofit entity and then allowing a formal deal to be struck with the person who bought the building, which was the boyhood home of Confederate Gen. William Mahone.

“When the nonprofit entity becomes a reality, then we can in turn deal with the party that took the house off the market,” he explained. “I feel like we’re on the right path now.”

From the perspective of Simmons and other history buffs throughout the area, the current path is a much safer one for the building than the one it seemed to be on this spring, when a “For Sale” sign hung outside and the SCV worried that Realtors were getting calls from private citizens or developers with little or no interest in the home’s historic significance.

“We had worried that someone would want to do something else with it,” turning it into a bed-and-breakfast, tearing it down or interfering with its historic status in some other way, he said.

Although other parties had expressed an interest in buying the house to preserve it, sources said this week that they had been unable to raise the money to do so. Simmons’ group worked with the Virginia Beach buyer for about three months before the purchase finally went through.

That buyer had seen a newspaper article about the house and the SCV’s hopes for it and had called offering to help, Simmons said Wednesday.

Simmons and his group announced in May that they were looking for a way to take ownership of the home and use it as a meeting place and activity center for the SCV camp and the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

He also promised that it would be opened for tours, Civil War-type encampments and even some private events.

Heritage Day, he said Wednesday, offers a good first opportunity to do so.

The Camp will open the house for tours Sept. 20 during the Historical Society’s event at the Southampton Agriculture and Forestry Museum. Simmons said that Blair Bunn of Newsoms will run a mule-driven Amish wagon with up to 20 guests at a time to and from the Mahone Tavern.

Guests can board the wagon at the museum for a $2 fee, which includes a chance to win a historic portrait by nationally known artist and author Henry Kidd of Colonial Heights.

While at the Tavern, they will be able to see a mock encampment behind the antebellum mansion and interact with people wearing period dress.

For the night prior to Heritage Day, the Camp has planned a fish fry, catered by Nixon’s, from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. A limited number of seats are available, or food may be taken out. Tickets are $8 and are available from any local SCV member.

Proceeds from both events will help pay the $210,000 debt on the property, Simmons said.

Mahone’s Tavern was built as a residence in 1794 by Samuel Kello, Southampton County’s second Clerk of the Court.

William Mahone, who was born in Monroe and would later become a general in the Confederate Army, moved to the house with his parents in 1840, after the Nat Turner rebellion. They believed the town, known as Jerusalem at the time, would be a safer place to live and raise their family.

The Mahone family would later build a breezeway between the residence and the home next door, operating the two buildings as a bed-and-breakfast serving people who came to town with business at the courthouse across the street.

Eventually the building became known as Mahone’s Tavern.

Both homes still exist today, though the breezeway has been removed and the Town of Courtland owns the neighboring home.