Wombwell house a landmark?

Published 6:58 pm Tuesday, January 22, 2019

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

The Virginia Department of Historic Resources has urged the Town of Smithfield to preserve the Wombwell house, as it has state and national historic register potential.

Senior Architectural Historian Marc C. Wagner sent a letter to several town officials following a recent visit to the site. 

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“It is my opinion that the house has potential for state/national historic registers,” wrote Wagner in his Dec. 21 letter. 

The antebellum farmhouse is threatened due to its proximity to the newly constructed Joseph W. Luter Jr. sports complex. The town owns the property on which the house is located and wants to tear it down because it has been deemed a hazard to children using the complex. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

A few years ago, town officials offered the house for $1 to anyone who could haul it away and present a plan for its future, but no viable bids were submitted. 

One sticking point was the need to move utility lines along Route 258 before the house could be transported elsewhere — an expensive component of such an undertaking. 

Since then, Preserve Smithfield, and more recently, the Isle of Wight County Historical Society, have focused their efforts on preserving the house.

“The house may have had some role, for instance, in the Civil War activities that took place in Smithfield,” wrote Wagner of what he described as a Greek Revival-style farmhouse.

“We should not take these pre-1860 buildings for granted. The stock of these houses continue to diminish statewide, and as they disappear, we lose our touchstone with that era,” wrote Wagner.

Previously dated to 1842, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources have found evidence of an earlier construction date of 1820 for the Wombwell house, based on the house’s foundation, said Isle of Wight Historical Society President Carolyn Keen. 

Wagner reminded the town of its participation in the Certified Local Government program, whereas Smithfield is committed to promoting and preserving its historic sites and district, as well as having an ordinance that protects historic structures. 

The Wombwell house, however, sits outside the town’s historic district and is not directly affected by the ordinance. 

In addition to Wagner’s letter, the Isle of Wight County Historical Society made an appeal to the Smithfield Town Council at its January meeting to give the organization a year to find a solution for the house. 

Albert Burckard, representing the Historical Society, offered to share the cost of ground penetrating radar with the town to locate a purported graveyard near the Wombwell house. 

Burckard also presented the Town Council with a petition with 123 signatures to save the house. 

Smithfield Town Council member Randy Pack asked if the Wombwell house could return to the committee level for further discussion. 

“It’s worth our time,” he said, adding that if someone wants to save the house, it’s worth exploring. 

About the Wombwell house

Historian Helen Haverty King listed the Wombwell house in her book, “Historic Isle of Wight.” 

Originally published in 1983, the book was updated and reprinted in color in 2007 by the Isle of Wight County Historical Society. The house is officially called the Dr. Jordan Wombwell house.

In his will, Dr. Wombwell hoped one of his sons would buy the plantation so that he could remain resting undisturbed next to his little ones. The location of the cemetery is said to be in the back of the house near the Westside Elementary schoolyard. 

Westside Elementary is located next to the property.

One of Wombwell’s descendants, George Wombwell, has been following the conflict over his ancestor’s house. 

George, now in his 80s and living in Kentucky, has provided some history concerning the family, with the first Wombwell arriving in Isle of Wight in the 1640s. He was Thomas Wombwell, who served as clerk of court from 1645-1662. 

He is the 10th generation of Wombwells, with some having changed the spelling over the years to Womble. 

George believes the cemetery consists of one adult and two to three children. There are no tombstones as the area was simply bricked over, he said in 2016.  {/mprestriction}