Popular hunt club building burns

Published 11:00 am Wednesday, February 21, 2018

By John Edwards

Times Editor

An Isle of Wight cultural icon was destroyed by fire early Friday.

The Isle of Wight Hunt Club building, which in addition to deer hunters has hosted church picnics, family reunions, graduating high school classes and many other groups for more than 65 years, caught fire from an unknown cause at about midnight Thursday. 

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Peter Frank Crocker lives about a half mile from it across a field. He said he received a call from a motorist shortly after midnight alerting him to the fire. Crocker said he had been standing in the yard talking with an acquaintance at about 11 p.m. and there was nothing out of the ordinary visible across the field. When the motorist called, he looked out to see flames shooting from the building. 

“I could sure see what was happening then,” he said. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Firefighters from Windsor and Smithfield responded and by then, the building’s roof had collapsed. Windsor Fire Captain Dale Scott said the firefighters extinguished the worst of the fire within about 20 minutes, but spent several hours extinguishing smaller blazes. At midday Friday, smoke and a small amount of flame could still be seen in one burned-out corner. All that remained were the building’s cinderblock walls.

The cause of the fire was unknown, but Crocker suspects a faulty hot water heater, which was located in the back corner of the building where the fire appeared to have originated.

Crocker’s father built the first section of the hunt club building in about 1952 at the edge of a wooded area on his farm, Crocker said. Today, it is owned by Crocker and his brother, James Edward.

Crocker, who is 76, said the hunt club and the clubhouse have been a part of his life ever since he was a child. 

“It’s the only club I belong to,” he said.

The Crockers regularly allow churches to hold Sunday school picnics at the building. Other groups, including graduating classes from Eastern Virginia Medical School, trek to the country for a relaxed gathering in the rural setting that includes a farm pond and adjacent fields and pasture.

Crocker said he and his brother will rebuild the clubhouse.

“It will still be the Isle of Wight Hunt Club,” he said.

What they can’t replace, and what Crocker considers the greatest loss, is a large collection of photographs of county hunters from the 1950s era. Photographs of deer hunters including his father, as well as John Jenkins, Tom Dashiell, Jerry Stallings, Bernard Gale and many others stood as reminders of the club’s early roots. Most of the the photographs were taken with deer they had killed while hunting with the club. Many of those photos, Crocker said, were one of a kind and thus irreplaceable.

Oyster roast is on

The Isle of Wight Hunt Club is famous for oyster roasts, which it hosts several times a year to raise funds for the club. There is one scheduled this Saturday, Feb. 24, and club members said it will be held despite the fire. While the building was destroyed, an adjacent shelter was not damaged and it’s the focal point for the roasts.  {/mprestriction}