Smithfield approves renaming Quail Street for former mayor James Chapman

Published 5:37 pm Thursday, May 9, 2024

It’s official. Quail Street will be renamed in honor of Smithfield’s first Black mayor, the late James Chapman.

Two months after proposing the idea, the Town Council voted unanimously on May 7 to make the change.

The town plans to add an honorary sign while keeping the official Quail Street designation to avoid impacting the 22 residences that would otherwise see their addresses change. The city of Newport News did the same in March when it unveiled an honorary sign designating the intersection of 16th and Walnut streets as “Allen Iverson Way” in honor of the Hampton Roads native and NBA star.

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Quail Street, located in Smithfield’s Lakeside Heights neighborhood off Great Spring Road, was among the first to be paved under an initiative Chapman had spearheaded with the help of state grants, according to The Smithfield Times archives.

Chapman died in 2022 at age 96. He was born in 1926 in a house that once stood where the Route 10 bypass now crosses through town, and lived much of his life on Hillcrest Drive, which intersects Quail Street.

Chapman served in the Navy during World War II and upon returning to the United States, completed mortuary school and rejoined Pretlow & Chapman Funeral Home on West Main Street, where he’d worked as a teenager. When the funeral home’s owner, Richard Pretlow, died in 1963, Chapman took over running the business with Pretlow’s widow while also working at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

Chapman made his town government debut in 1972 when he began serving on Smithfield’s Planning Commission. In 1978, he was elected as Smithfield’s first Black town councilman, and in 1990, became mayor by a 4-3 vote of his fellow council members.

His Town Council tenure spanned 31 years, 19 of them as mayor. The council chamber located in The Smithfield Center is also named in his honor.