OXFORD: A History from England to America (continued)

A BRIEF HISTORY OF SOUTHAMPTON

 

Until 1910, the area called SOUTHAMPTON had changed very little since Captain Christopher Newport first viewed it over 400 years ago in 1610.The entire area was farmland, housing only one lone dairy farm. On May 32, 1910, Mr. George Gregory acquired 1,092 acres of land from Anne B. Hoas fronting the James River. The area consisted of two tracts known as “Rattle-snake” and “Locust Grove.” This small fact helps explain why the area features “Rattlesnake Creek,” which runs from BON AIR to the James River, but is not home to any rattlesnakes!

 

Mr. Gregory named his new purchase “SOUTHAMPTON ON THE JAMES.” In 1911 and 1912, Mr. Gregory purchased more acreage from a Mr. Blanton and a Mr. Pulliam (perhaps the same Pulliam after which that the street in OLD BON AIR is named.)  Mr. Gregory also acquired the Southampton Bridge Corporation on February 26, 1913. This consisted of a “triangular parcel of land in Chesterfield and Henrico Counties.” The parcel was described as “46 acres of land on Powhite Creek.” 

 

At the time, the only way to cross the James River was by a ferry barge. The building of the one lane wooden “Westham Bridge” was completed in 1912 by Mr. Gregory and other “interested parties” (no doubt some BON AIR residents).  A toll was first used to help defray the cost of construction, but proving insufficient, the bridge was sold to Chesterfield and Henrico Counties. There are many funny stories surrounding this fabled one lane bridge, on which one had to back up if you less than half way across to allow an oncoming car to pass. On warm summer nights with their windows open, neighbors could hear the clattering of the wooden boards as vehicles crossed. This bridge was still operating when the new Huguenot Memorial Bridge was opened in 1950. Remnants of the old Westham Bridge can still be found at the base of Southampton Road where it meets Riverside Drive at the Huguenot Woods portion of the James River Park.  The decision to name the bridge and Route 147 that crossed it was to honor the French Huguenots (French Protestants that fled France in 1700 because of religious persecution) who first settled this area of Chesterfield County, Powhatan and Manakin. There’s a house on Duryea Drive in the BON AIR that is built around one of these early 18th century Huguenot houses.

 

There was also a trolley line being built by a syndicate formed by Mr. Gregory and many BON AIR residents that would span the river from WESTHAMPTON to BON AIR. Tracks were laid, but, the group ran into “right of way” difficulties and the project was abandoned. The track that had been laid was torn up for scrap recycling during World War I.

 

Mr. Gregory lived in a large farmhouse named “Locust Grove” (located at 4235 Southampton Road) while he and his wife built their new home “Granite Hall,” the stone English country style home located in Cherokee Estates  off of Cherokee Road and built of locally quarried stone. It is said that Mr. Gregory, widened the road from “Locust Grove” to BON AIR by hand, and then cut the road down to the James River. In time, Chesterfield County finished the “Southampton Road” with convict labor. Tar and gravel evidence of this road could still be found on the banks of the current Huguenot Road until the 2007 development of James River Commons.

 

Mr. John Guy, a prominent Richmond attorney soon bought the parcel of land about a mile west of Mr. Gregory in 1911 (what is now being developed as James River Watch), and built the first part of his house, which he called “Cherokee.” The road that would traverse eastward to Southampton Road would eventually take up the name “Cherokee Road.”  Mr. Guy would travel across the James River by canoe to WESTHAMPTON, then commute downtown to his office. Forest Hill Avenue past Westover Hills was known as Granite Road up until about 1946.

 

Granite quarries abound in the area along the James River from the fall lines to nearby Riverside Drive.  Stone from these quarries was shipped to St. Louis to build the piers of the great bridge that crossed the Mississippi as well as the State War and Navy buildings that adjoin the White House grounds. Also, granite from these nearby quarries was used in the building of the steps and approach to the State Capitol, some downtown churches, and the Soldiers and Sailors monument on Libby Hill (next to Church Hill).  It was also from these hills along the James River that "Jefferson and General Von Stueben observed the British destruction of the Westham Laboratory” (an ammunition factory and depot during the Revolutionary War).

 

Water was provided by springs and wells. Mr. Gregory also founded a water company in the early 1920s and when he sold it to Chesterfield County in the late 1940s, it was serving 60 houses. Development continued until World War II and then halted until after the war. Expansion after the war was greatly accelerated by the new demand for housing and greater accessibility, due in great part to the new Huguenot Bridge.