Mahone was big influence in South

Published 10:18 am Wednesday, December 28, 2011

By Greg Bell

Following Appomattox, Billy Mahone decided to return to the railroad business and was re-elected to president of the Norfolk & Petersburg Railroad. Within a year, he was also elected president of the Southside Railroad. Since he was president of both companies, Mahone tried to consolidate the two companies and also combine the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad all into one company.

He successfully merged the companies and formed the Atlantic, Mississippi and Ohio Railroad Co. earning an annual salary of $25,000. He had quickly become one of the most successful and influential men in the post-war South.

Following his rise to fame in the army and railroad industry, he turned to politics in 1878 and unsuccessfully ran for governor of Virginia. He became very powerful and influential in Virginia politics and helped found the Readjuster party, which controlled the state for several years.

Mahone was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1881. He eventually joined the Republican party, which alienated many of his old friends and supporters as the vast majority of southerners were Democrats.

Mahone was a born leader and successful in nearly everything he did throughout his life starting in his early days at his father’s tavern.

In 1882, General Mahone explained his philosophy on his post-war actions to his friend General Thomas Munford stating, “I have thought it wise to live for the future and not the dead past and, while cherishing honorable memory of its glories, I have thought that we should look to the future for life, power and prosperity.”

Mahone was born in an ordinary family with very limited means and yet propelled himself to the top of every thing he tried by his sheer will, grit and determination.

Today, Mahone’s Tavern, which was built in 1796, stands across from the courthouse in present day Courtland. The three-story structure with a basement was built as a tavern originally and became a residence in the early 1900s with an addition being added in the 1920s.

The general’s parents are buried in a cemetery 300 yards from the tavern. There is a Civil War Trails marker out front, and the Virginia flag flies over the front porch.

In 2008, the Urquhart-Gillette Camp No. 1471 of Courtland launched a massive fundraising campaign and purchased Mahone’s Tavern in December of that year. The camp raised money by having auctions, fish fries and selling barbeque and Brunswick stew.

The camp has also been very fortunate to have some local donors give to help pay for the historic building.

There have been several projects within the tavern to help fix it up including one by Boy Scout Troop 17.

The Urquhart-Gillette Camp 1471 holds its monthly meetings on the second Wednesday in the tavern, and the long-term plan is to fully restore it to its 1840 condition. It will be a museum and open to the public for all to see filled with relics, old pictures and other period items on display — some once belonging to the Mahone family.

It is very significant to the history not only of Southampton County but Virginia and our country. Future generations will indeed be better served when this building is brought back to its former condition and prominence within the community.

There is a wonderful story to be told about this good man Mahone and his contributions that is not being taught in today’s schools. Preserving this national and state historic landmark is an opportunity that this SCV Camp feels will become something positive for all the public to reflect upon while being taught about Billy Mahone.

Presently, the camp has paid nearly half of the mortgage and will continue to have several fundraisers each year to pay the balance.

I can tell you that when sitting in the tavern during one of the monthly SCV meetings, you can feel the history coming out of the walls. We are very proud to have been able to preserve such a historic place and help to promote the true Southern history through purchasing Little Billy Mahone’s boyhood home.

For more information, check out the Urquhart-Gillette camp’s website or the tavern’s website which is www.mahonestavern.ora.

We also welcome any tax-deductible donations to help us pay for the tavern and preserve our Southern heritage. The mailing address is P.O. Box 565, Courtland, Va., 23837.

Please come visit the tavern.