Wombell rehab is win-win-win

Published 6:29 pm Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Editor, The Smithfield Times:

The Isle of Wight County Historical Society (IWCHS) is a nonprofit group whose mission is to collect and preserve local history and provide a place to store, display and access objects and records associated with that history. We would like to provide some information on our efforts to restore the Wombwell house for use as a meeting and exhibit space.

IWCHS entered discussions with the Town of Smithfield in 2019 on a future lease of the Wombwell house. Under an access agreement, IWCHS agreed to carry out emergency repairs and cleanup in preparation for future restoration.

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In 2019 and 2020, IWCHS members and volunteers patched the roof, replaced windows and removed debris from the building. We also narrowed down the search area for where the house’s namesake, Dr. Jordan Wombwell, is reported to be buried.

We obtained architectural assessments of the building from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Colonial Williamsburg and another independent firm. Those specialists have commented on the building’s remarkable structural integrity, unique interior details and great potential for restoration.

The house itself was likely built between 1820 and 1840. There are very few similar “Tidewater Cottages” left, and Wombwell is a great example of this now-rare building type. These aspects make a strong case for preserving the house.

Of additional local interest is Dr. Wombwell himself. He was an early physician in Smithfield and a direct descendent of Thomas Wombwell, who was the first Isle of Wight clerk of court from 1645-1656.

Given the importance of the house, we are hopeful for a positive conclusion to our discussions with the town. We intend to fully restore the building, beginning with the exterior walls, roof and weatherproofing. We have the funds to get started and will continue fundraising as we go along.

A fully developed public-private partnership between IWCHS and the town will be a benefit to all parties. The town’s property value will increase, IWCHS will have a headquarters and a piece of Smithfield’s history will be preserved for future generations.

This partnership would also be in line with Smithfield’s membership in the Virginia Certified Local Government (CLG) program. The CLG rewards member municipalities that preserve local historic resources and encourage participation in the stewardship of local heritage.

I am a member of the IWCHS with strong interest in preserving old buildings, and my wife and I have personally committed to restoring our own Smithfield home. IWCHS is happy to welcome new members to our team! Anyone interested is encouraged to contact us at P.O. Box 121, Smithfield, or at http://www.iwchs.com.


Nick Blevins