Smithfield will torch Wombwell house

Published 11:20 am Wednesday, February 14, 2018

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

The historic Wombwell house will burn.

The Smithfield Town Council voted unanimously Tuesday, Feb. 6, to give the dilapidated circa 1840s structure over to the Smithfield Fire Department to torch and use as a training opportunity.

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The decision follows more than a year of attempting to purge the town of the house and its outbuildings, offering the buildings up for $1 and a plan to remove them from the property, which is right next to the upcoming Joseph W. Luter Jr. sports complex on West Main Street, which is aiming to open this fall.

The town authorized burning down a large barn structure in the back of the property late last month. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

“So since we’ve tried for a year now to give it away … I think we need to go ahead and move on,” said Council member Milton Cook, who made the motion at the meeting to have the building demolished.

The building will be set ablaze June 30 so that both the fire and police departments can utilize it for a few months to run training exercises.

Councilman Randy Pack made the recommendation to have the building demolished at an earlier Town Council committee meeting. He was not present for the vote Tuesday.

George Wombwell, a direct descendent of Dr. Jordan Wombwell, the original owner of the building, resides in Louisville, Kentucky and has expressed a desire to see the building restored by the town in the past.

“It is tragic that Smithfield and Isle of Wight have so little interest in preserving their unique history,” Wombwell said in reaction to the news that the building would be demolished.

At the meeting, Council members spoke about the rotted condition of the Tidewater cottage, which was abandoned when the town inherited it along with the land purchased for the sports complex. 

Council member Denise Tynes chuckled at the descriptions of the ramshackle building, however. 

All the disparaging words used to describe the Wombwell house, the same things were once said about the caretaker’s house at Windsor Castle, Tynes said.

An early 20th century structure, the caretaker’s house, which is located directly across from the 1750s Windsor Castle manor house, had long sat vacant and decrepit, and was also once eyed for demolition by the town.

However, at the urging of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the town included the building in its extensive restoration of the historic Windsor Castle site, and it is now completely rehabilitated and being leased to Smithfield VA Events as office space.

Due to the Wombwell house’s close proximity to the slated ball fields, however, it has long been a concern of the Council that mischievous youth would find a way to wreak havoc on the abandoned building or injure themselves.

“We have to look out for the youth,” concluded Tynes, and she seconded Cook’s motion to have it destroyed.

Mayor Carter Williams said there will be a lot of “rebuttal” with the decision to demolish the structure, but there are more opinions to get rid of it than to save it at this point.

“Throw enough money at it, and you can certainly fix it up,” said Williams. “But it’s really not cost effective to do that.”

At the time of its building, which Williams said could have been between 1840 and 1860, the house was built as “inexpensively” as possible, according to Williams, who called the workmanship “shoddy.”

“It’s in very poor shape,” said Williams.

Unlike the future of the building, the town’s $1 sales of the outbuilding structures on the land were not hot. Two structures, a smokehouse and a dairy house, were purchased and hauled away by Smithfield resident Thomas Mayes.  {/mprestriction}