Place names offer stroll through IW, Surry history

Published 6:57 pm Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Among the tiny bits of rural history that are lost as generations come and go are numerous place names. They quite often were related to a country store proprietor or other property owner who had connections to the site. The names lived long after the demise of those people, but with time, they disappear as well.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve known precisely where Tommy Delk’s Store was. It served as a landmark whenever the fire department was called to a fire out in the Mill Swamp area.

“Turn left at Tommy Delk’s Store.”

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Interestingly, while I know the location, the store that stood there was long gone. The location remained, though, and was regularly referred to.

Most people today refer to the intersection of Burwell’s Bay and Mill Swamp roads as simply that — the intersection. They know nothing of Tommy Delk or his store.

I grew up knowing where Armistead Whitley’s Crossroads was located because my parents told me. It’s the intersection of Scott’s Factory Road, Turner Drive and Bowling Green.

Few folks today know who Armistead Whitley was, but in the first half of the 20th century, he owned the farm known as Cedar Fields, located at that intersection. He was a prominent farmer and longtime member of the Board of Supervisors.

For about as long I can remember, the Barlow family has owned the Whitley farm, and it’s rightly known as the Barlow farm today, but in more distant local history, it was once Armistead Whitley’s farm and crossroads.

Stott’s Crossroads is located where Four Square, Broadwater and Central Hill roads and Race Track meet. It was also known for many years as Lloyd Turner’s after the store owner who maintained an establishment there. No Stotts or Turners are associated with the crossroads today, but the Stott name seems to have stuck, at least for a while.

Over in Surry County, the intersection of Beechland and Golden Hill roads was known to an earlier generation as Dern’s (or perhaps Derring’s) Mill. That’s what my mother, a Surry native, called it, and her recollections dated to the early 1900s. I have no idea who Mr. Dern or Derring was, but there is a swamp there and it quite probably had a mill pond, as many flowing streams in Isle of Wight and Surry did. And Mr. Dern, whoever he was, must have been the miller.

The late Helen King made a valiant effort to preserve Isle of Wight place names. In her “Historical Notes on Isle of Wight County,” a book that every local resident interested in the county’s history should own, she listed many of the places throughout the county that had some reason for being and for local recognition.

Reading the chapter on place names is much like taking a tour of the county. Unfortunately, Mrs. King’s descriptions aren’t always easy to connect to a county map, but they are, nonetheless, a pleasant stroll through local history.

Some of the place names are easily traceable to individuals or even, in the case of Mathomank, back to Native Americans. Others are more obscure, and Mrs. King, ever the factual historian, was quick to point out those as well.

The origin of Moonlight, Orbit and Septa, she notes, has never been documented. Interestingly, the three names continue to be used. Perhaps the mystery of their origin makes them durable.

Another fascinating local name with no known origin is Tormentor’s Bay and Tormentor’s Creek. The bay is a prominent stretch of the Pagan River and the creek feeds into it. The name was in use as early as a 1746 deed, Mrs. King says, but where the name originated was never determined.

Thus, some place names survive and others disappear. It’s all a part of an evolving history.


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is