Column – Short Rows, always a ‘must read,’ has a forever home

Published 4:59 pm Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Isle of Wight County is blessed to have a few walking, talking encyclopedias of local history and institutional knowledge.

One of them, Times Publisher Emeritus John Edwards, writes for us weekly. 

When John sold me the newspaper in 2019, it was as simple a contractual agreement as you’ll find in the world of business transactions. It could easily have been sealed with a handshake. One of its few “clauses” — at my insistence, not John’s — was that he’d continue to write his Short Rows column for as long as he was willing and his health allowed.

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We just surpassed three years of that arrangement, and I’m reminded anew each week of the value John’s commentary brings to the newspaper. Conservative readers grouse about his liberal views, which, in my mind, he’s earned the right to espouse on occasion. Skip over those as you wish, but you’ll be a more knowledgeable citizen if you read John’s fascinating takes on local history and how events of yesteryear reverberate today.

In this issue, he wraps up a fantastic three-part series on regional sewer development and its three-decade role in the residential growth that is this community’s single most pressing challenge in 2024. If you missed the first two installments, you can find them online at If you’re not a computer person, let me know and I will mail you the two prior columns. Suffice it to say the pending residential boom in northern Isle of Wight was not a happenstance.

But even John’s memory has its limitations, as he’d be quick to acknowledge. Which brings me to another treasure chest of historical information, and the Edwards family’s role in enhancing it.

Virginia Chronicle, a project of the Library of Virginia, has amassed a searchable archive of more than 700 newspaper titles, most of them defunct, but many still publishing. Visit and follow a series of logical links to the available newspapers, which are organized alphabetically, and their archived editions, organized chronologically. Click on an edition and you’ll see digital images of the actual printed newspaper page. Best of all, if you don’t know the publication date of what you’re looking for, as is usually the case for those of us doing research, you can search the entire archive by keyword.

It’s an amazing database. Be forewarned, though: You’ll go looking for something very specific and get sucked into reading much more. Happens to me at least once a week.

John, who uses the resource often when doing research for his columns, had the foresight to be one of the early embracers of Virginia Chronicle, contributing to the database more than 4,000 editions of The Smithfield Times dating to 1928. There were very few gaps from 1928 to 2013, where John left off.

His wife, Anne, reached out to me in late 2022 with exciting news. The Isle of Wight County Museum Foundation, on whose board she served, had some grant money available and was interested in helping fund an extension of Times archives in the Virginia Chronicle database. With the help of since-retired Errol Somay, director of the Virginia Newspaper Program for the Library of Virginia, the foundation’s generous grant of $2,500 allowed us to add five more years of Times archives, through 2018, to Virginia Chronicle.

Candidly, such an expense would have been prohibitive during these challenging financial times for community journalism. The Times is deeply appreciative of the museum foundation for the support.

John won’t write Short Rows forever, but thanks to Virginia Chronicle, his invaluable reflections on Isle of Wight and Surry history are forever preserved. 


Steve Stewart is publisher of The Smithfield Times. His email address is