Development of Nat Turner trail, driving tour continues

Published 1:37 pm Saturday, August 25, 2012


COURTLAND—Recording, preserving and presenting local history remains the mission of the Southampton County Historical Society. Doing so requires money, patience and time.

An ongoing example is the group’s plan to establish a Nat Turner Rebellion trail, which would include a walking path and driving tour.

Historical Society President Lynda Updike said there is no deadline for completing any phases.

“We’re trying our best to make it happen sooner rather than later,” said Updike.

Committee member Rick Francis said, “We have to keep moving forward.”

The plan calls for restoring the Rebecca Vaughan House followed by the walking path in Courtland and then the driving tour.

“We still need some more local participation on the driving tour,” Francis said. “We’ve identified sites, and are working with local landowners for their support.”

Pull-offs are needed so motorists can read the signs.

“The walking tour is progressing very nicely,” he said. “Things are falling into place. There’s still some sidewalk repair to be done.”

The walking tour should be done in 18 months.

Francis said that information about Nat Turner’s insurrection is the most requested of the society.

On Aug. 21-22, 1831, Turner led 70-plus slaves and freed blacks to kill 55 white men, women and children. One of the places that Turner and his followers attacked was the home of Vaughan. She and her family were murdered.

Whites retaliated by killing many blacks even if they weren’t a part of the insurrection. Turner and his accomplices were captured, tried and executed.

The Rebecca Vaughan house, which is on state and national registers of historic places, was bought eight years ago by the historical society, and moved to the Southampton County Museum in Courtland. There have been some major renovations.

“By Nov. 20, the exterior will be restored as it might have looked in 1831,” Updike said. “We’ve gotten some private grants, and have also done 16 Here & Then spots.”

These 90-second segments were aired on WHRO-TV 15. These can also be streamed into schools, she added.

Updike would not elaborate on the contributors’ names or their donation amounts.

“We’re doing an RFP (request for proposal) to get an interactive map as well as signage,” Updike said. “We thought Civil War Trails was going to make signs, but they didn’t bid, so we had to start all over. There will be 14 signs similar to the CWT signage.”

These would be put at related historic sites such as Mahone’s Tavern and the county courthouse.

“We’ve got permission from owners,” said Updike. “The text is ready. We’re just waiting to get bids to get the signs manufactured.”

The Here & Thens will also be on the interactive map inside the house. Visitors will press a button to start this part of the tour.

“We’re also trying to get a Here & Then on the Albemarle Navigation Steam Co., which went to and from Edenton and Franklin, as well one about Poplar Grove, which is on the border of Southampton and Sussex,” she said.

Updike added that once everything is complete, visitors could buy an app for their smart phones at the Southampton History Museum.

“They’ll tell the 90-second text wherever they are,” she added.

The historical society is also finishing a brochure for visitors.

In addition to private donations, the society has benefited from a $420,000 grant provided from the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Updike said the society came up with the matching $105,000 through private grants and in-kind services.

“VDOT was very specific about what the grant could be used for,” said Updike.

Engineering and environmental impact studies, repairing sidewalks in Courtland for the walking tour and making the site accessible to handicapped are some examples.

Since 2010, the historical society has been unsuccessful in getting money from the General Assembly.

“We were in the budget (of this year) until 6 p.m. of the final day, but got scratched out,” Updike said. “We’ll try again. Financing is always the next problem down the road.”

“Money’s always an issue,” Francis said.

To learn more about this project, contact Updike at 654-6785.