Zuni struggles to keep history alive

Published 12:17 pm Wednesday, July 17, 2013

ZUNI—Visitors driving through the tiny village of Zuni will notice the old brick bank building facing the railroad underpass with a notice attached to the front window.

Dusty Roads, member of Zuni Historical Society, maintains the old bank building. -- Merle Monahan | Tidewater News

Dusty Roads, member of Zuni Historical Society, maintains the old bank building. — Merle Monahan | Tidewater News

The sign states that this was the Bank of Zuni from 1917 until 1935, and later served as the Zuni Post Office until a new one was built on Route 460 sometime in the 1960s. The only building of the early business activity still standing has been preserved through the efforts of the Zuni Historical Society.

In observing this reminder, however, the casual visitor would have no idea of the trials and heartbreak this — one of the oldest settlements in Isle of Wight County — has faced and how it has struggled to survive.

Dating back to 1730, according to records, the settlement on the banks of the Blackwater River has survived two enormous fires, which nearly wiped out the village. Three floods, the latest in 2006, ruined nearly all the homes and businesses when the river overflowed its banks.

Each time, the residents reorganized and rebuilt. Some businesses did not continue, while others cleaned up and opened as usual months later. Many of the homes could not be saved, so residents just rebuilt, although rebuilding is becoming less and less obvious.

During the early years, the village lay quietly on the northern end of the county up until the 1800s. But it became a bustling settlement after the railroad was built in the mid-1800s, with stores, boarding houses, a school, pool halls, barber shops and numerous other businesses.

During the Civil War, more than 5,000 Confederate soldiers who successfully prevented Union soldiers from crossing the Blackwater, were stationed there. Artifacts from that time can still be found in and around the area.

“Oh, the history of this tiny settlement is impressive,” said Jane March, president of the Zuni Historical Society. Se wrote a book about the settlement titled “Zoo-Nye.”

“It should be called the little Village with Heart,” she added.

March, who plans to do additional research and write a sequel, does not want the history of Zuni to be forgotten.

“We’re trying to preserve as much of it as we can,” she said, adding that anyone interested in the history may contact her at 763-9015.

Today, Zuni has only about 50 residents, but said March, “almost any one of them can tell you about their town.

“It is their home.”