Virginia Beach author revisits ‘Route 58’

Published 11:51 am Saturday, June 11, 2016

Western Tidewater residents are certainly familiar with Route 58 — at least the part that runs through Suffolk, Franklin and Southampton County. But on Saturday, June 18, they can learn so much more about Virginia’s longest road, which stretches from the sea to the mountains.

That’s when Virginia Beach native Joe Tennis will be one of two authors appearing at The Peanut Patch in Courtland. He’ll be coming to sign copies of his book, “Along Virginia’s Route 58: True Tales from Beach to Bluegrass.”

This is an updated version of his 2007 guide to people and places along the road.

“The first book was shaped as a square, 9 inches by 9 inches, and was extremely expensive to reproduce,” said Tennis, speaking from Brunswick County where he was to give another interview. In a rare move for a publisher, the rights to that book were given back to him with the suggestion he redo it.

Indeed, Tennis had thought of another book that would be a pictorial history of Route 58, which would include vintage photographs of Virginia Beach Boulevard, the Midtown Tunnel, Riddick’s Folly, etc.

“The great thing about 58 is that it is so long, 507 miles or 508, depending on who you ask,” he said. “Every 100 miles is different. There’s the urban corridor to the east. A breezy corridor in the foothills and flatlands, and more interesting with its curves and creeks.”

Now living in Bristol, Virginia, Tennis thinks that several years from now he’ll take another look at what he’s just done. Meanwhile, there were plenty of places and people to write about for this new edition.

“The collage [on the cover] tells you we’re going to interesting places. We’re going to tell some stories. Do a little hiking,” he said. “There are at least 4,000 more words in this book and 90 different photos.

Narrowing down 58 stories to just one favorite couldn’t be done, but Tennis did mention briefly several that have stood out, starting with the witch of old Princess Anne County, Grace Sherwood. Commodore James Barron of Portsmouth and Nat Turner of Southampton County were next.

“That’s a story so powerful, so gripping, it causes you to wonder,” Tennis said about the insurrectionist.

Also, Nathaniel Bacon of Clarksville, Patrick Henry, Eleanor Roosevelt, Robert Porterfield of the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Daniel Boone and Johnny and June Carter Cash.

Soon after they were married, Tennis and his wife, Mary, met the famous singer-songwriters.

“June took very first picture of us together,” he said, remembering that Johnny stood with the couple.

“All those personalities kind of jump out along the way, and there are so many intriguing places, such as the Dismal Swamp and Peak of Mt. Rogers, the highest in the state. There’s just a fantastic amount of stories,” he said.

Almost as an aside, Tennis said that the Beach to Bluegrass part of the title was inspired by his father, a native of Rescue in Isle of Wight County, who had come up with the quip, though he was originally referring from Virginia Beach to Kentucky.

“Always been my dream to see not only Beach to Bluegrass trail, but I would love to see a nickname and promotion: Virginia’s Beach to Bluegrass Highway.”

From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tennis will be at The Peanut Patch, 27478 Southampton Parkway. Call 653-2028 for more information.