COLUMN: Colgate W. Darden Jr. — Part 1

Published 5:15 pm Thursday, November 16, 2023

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Editor’s note: This is part one of five in a series that will appear over the next few months.

By Bob Holt

The Franklin-Southampton County area has produced many citizens who have reached a high level of prominence at state and national levels. Many have been recognized as famous politicians, business leaders, military heroes, or educators. Perhaps, one of the most famous of these has to be Colgate W. Darden, Jr. Born in 1897, his accomplishments are well documented for his World War 1 military service, his political representation for us in both the Virginia General Assembly and U.S. Congress, his term as Governor of Virginia, and then a successful 12 years as President of the University of Virginia. Darden died in 1981 at the age of 84.

Because his life was full and rewarding and his accomplishments many, this will be the first of a series of five articles. His early years presented today will be followed by his college days, information on his representation in the Virginia General Assembly and U.S. Congress, his term as Virginia governor 1942-1946, and finally his administration at the University of Virginia 1947-1959.

Note: Much of the material present in these series of articles was gathered from discussions with his daughter Ms. Irene Field, a resident of Southampton County, and from the 1978 book “Colgate Darden: Conversations with Guy Friddell.” (Friddell was a retired editor of the Norfolk paper “The Virginian Pilot.”)

Part 1 The Early Years

Born in 1897, Darden’s early days were spent in the Franklin-Southampton County area exclusively. His boyhood home was Marle Hill, a rather large farm still there on Camp Parkway just beyond the Franklin city limits and in sight of Riverdale Elementary School. His father was a successful farmer whose ancestors had lived in the county for many generations. The Darden family came from England around 1635. The home was from his mother’s family. Farm crops included peanuts, cotton, and corn as well as hogs and cattle. There was a large vegetable garden and the family essentially “lived off the farm.” The only cash purchases at that time were for clothes, sugar, and coffee.

His mother was a lover of books and reading; she read to him almost every day. As he learned to read, he looked forward to receiving in the mail the magazines “The Youth’s Companion” and “American Boy.”

He attended Franklin schools when they were a part of Southampton County Schools and graduated from Franklin High School. In those days, public schools in Virginia were just coming into existence and students were frequently absent to work on the farms. He complimented his teachers then and his favorite subjects in school were English, geography, history, and arithmetic.

Next: Part 2 College Student Times

Robert N. “Bob” Holt, a Franklin native, is a retired professor of business management and real estate at Southwestern Community College in Sylva, North Carolina. He holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral studies degrees from Virginia Tech and was a member of the university’s Corps of Cadets. His email address is