Tidewater has long history of luring tourists

Published 6:03 pm Tuesday, September 28, 2021

We tend to think of tourism promotion as a product of modern times, something that states and localities do to attract the excess dollars held by folks from afar who are eager to learn a bit of history, absorb how the “locals” live, and yes, do some shopping.

As with many of our modern notions, though, it turns out that only the methods and the tools used to achieve them are new, for the concept of tourism has been around for centuries.

A prominent feature of the 18th century Enlightenment Period was the “Grand Tour” of Europe that young men of wealth often undertook. The tour was carefully planned and aimed to educate those young tourists in classical history, upon which much Enlightenment thought was based.

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The leaders of the Virginia Company, which organized and funded the Jamestown colony, promoted their new venture in much the way that tourism — or retirement communities — are promoted today. They painted a rosy picture of a land just waiting for settlement by people looking for a better life.

Thomas Jefferson’s “Notes on the State of Virginia” is a window into the mind of Jefferson but is also the most comprehensive catalogue of Virginia’s geography, climate and economic state in the late 18th century, when it was published.

While it was likely not Jefferson’s intent, his “Notes” prompted travel during the 19th century by Americans and Europeans who clamored to visit Natural Bridge, the Virginia caverns and the Appalachian Warm Springs. It helped bring something like an American “Grand tour” to Virginia.

The 20th century quickly became the Automobile Age. Horseless carriages evolved quickly into more sophisticated machines, and roads were built to accommodate them. Together, those changes dramatically increased the ability of people to move about, and that gave rise to local and state efforts to entice visitors.

Much of Virginia’s early history lay in Virginia’s Tidewater region, the coastal plain east of the fall line that runs through Fredericksburg and Richmond. Thus, as road improvements were made, Virginia designated something called the Tidewater Trail. It began in Alexandria, ran south to Fredericksburg, then southeast along the south shore of the Rappahannock River, then south to Gloucester Point. It was, at first, a loosely connected group of local roads, but in time would be organized into U.S. 17.

The Tidewater Trail was promoted as connecting Washington and Norfolk, but the trip to Norfolk included a ferryboat ride across the York River and another across Hampton Roads.

Construction of the James River Bridge system in 1928 was viewed as a major development of the Tidewater Trail, making it possible to travel from Alexandria to Norfolk by automobile with only one ferry crossing at Yorktown.

Newspapers in Hampton Roads, Richmond the Northern Neck and Alexandria all promoted the Tidewater Trail as a modern avenue that placed the nation’s history within a motorist’s reach.

Northern Neck communities were so excited about their “trail” that they formed the “Tidewater Trail Association” to promote travel through the region.

Slowly, the old roads were connected, straightened and improved to form U.S. 17. In 1953, a group of Tidewater Virginia businessmen formed something called the Historyland Highways Association, which urged the State Highway Commission to designate State Route 3 and U.S. Route 17 as “Historyland Highways.” The intent was clearly to promote the Tidewater region to travelers, using a name that they hoped would more clearly define the region’s appeal.

The Historyland Highways promotion continued through the 20th century, and as late as 1998, a new organization named the Historyland Highways Association was formed to continue promoting travel through Virginia’s Tidewater region.

Shock Rows

When my son read the Short Rows about peanut sticks early last Wednesday morning, he decided to Google “shock rows” and see if he could get a definitive answer to how many peanut rows were included in one. He was immediately sent to The Smithfield Times to read the column he had just read, and which had been uploaded to the web earlier that morning. So now, the open question of “how many rows” is officially designated as an authoritative source. Now, that’s scary.

The column did produce several phone calls from county natives. One said there were absolutely 13 rows in a shock row and the other said that there were absolutely 15. I suspect they are both right, and that shock row counts depended on local farm practice. Fewer shock rows in a field just meant there had to be more shocks per row.


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is j.branchedwards@gmail.com.