Saturday, September 14, 2013

Ghostly ruins on the Rappahannock

Since I was a little boy I had heard stories about the old homeplace of my grandmother's family.  It had a name -- perhaps Four Chimneys, or maybe it was Two Chimneys -- but most folks in my family called it Towles Point, not far from where the broad Rappahannock opened onto the Chesapeake Bay.
It had been the place where my great-grandmother, Margaret Delaney Towles, had been born in 1844 and where my grandmother, Mary Atkinson Monie Betts, had perhaps visited her grandparents sometime during her 103-year lifetime since her birth in 1876.

It had been, according to to an aging volume called Virginia Homes and Churches,  "not only one of the oldest houses in Virginia, but is remarkable for having continued for more than two hundred years in the possession of one family." Here's a page from the book that shows what the house looked like when it was still standing:
It was built in 1712 by Henry Towles, and it was occupied until 1933, when my grandmother would have been 57.  Sometime after that the house fell into disrepair, and eventually collapsed. The old ornamental iron gateway disappeared into someone's possession, and the property became overgrown and tangled with the encroaching forest.  My cousin Sid Paine and his brother Christopher had both visited the site decades ago and found a brick and a nail; they recalled there was little left of the place other than a chimney.  Martha B. and I had visited nearby in the 1990s and thought we had gotten to the right site, but all we could see was a jungle there on the banks of Towles Point, just inside Day Beacon 6 a few hundred yards out into the channel.


Then in June, while we were anchored on a sailing vessel with friends across the Rappahannock near Urbanna, I happened to notice on a nautical chart these words: "Towles Point -- submerged ruins" -- just about three miles east. That fired my imagination and made me want to look again. Maybe the foundation of the old house was underwater, or at least partially so.  So when my cousin Sid and his wife Elaine invited us to visit them in a time share at Williamsburg's Powhatan Resort last week, we agreed to make another visit. Towles Point appeared to be about a two-hour drive, give or take a dozen or so stoplights and stopsigns, from Williamsburg.

The ruins were not where we though they were, but they were right where they had been since the house was built 301 years ago.  Someone had bought the place, cleared the undergrowth, built a new house and garage nearby and, apparently, lovingly preserved the ruins, if that's the right phrase, to protect them for years ahead -- capping raggedy parts of the brick and mortar with new concrete, repointing some of the mortar and, I suspect, putting in one new mantle beam to help support what was left. The remaining ruins are well above the waterline and much of the northwest wall, with one standing chimney and at least three fireplaces, showing. Here's a view of the ruins as I first saw them across a wooden fence:



A placard on the bricks reads: "Towles Point Plantation.  Towles Family Home.  Occupied 1712-1933."  The place now belongs to a family from Richmond, according to records at the Lancaster County Courthouse.  I'm glad it's in their hands.  It is certainly better kept than we could have managed, and it still stands, at least in part, on a point of land in a region that has seen momentous events in American history occur on its waters and in its fields and forests. It remains a familiar landmark for the living and for the ghosts of the dead who first settled these parts more than three centuries ago.

16 comments:

  1. Great story! Thanks for being so good at tracking down and sharing your family stories!

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  2. My goodness Jack, what a treasure! I hope you got to read my blog on the old Home Place. Sounds like we have both been on a journey of sentiment. I loved reading this blog post! Keep up the good work.

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  3. I sail by Towles Point every weekend. Good to know the history of the Northern Neck is coming alive for you.

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  4. Enjoyed reading this, we are Towles living in Lancaster a few miles away on Beach Creek.

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  5. Wow, such roots! It's especially impressive to the grandson of Jewish immigrants to the New World whose ties & connections to/knowledge of family history before said grandparents is blocked due to the efforts of Hitler & his gang. BTW, Jack, if you could stomach more Gelblumian pickin' & grinnin', it's happenin' this evening at MOD's Crooked Road Café. Keep up the good words!

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  6. Loved your story...I am a Towles descendant living 2 homes from the "original ruins".

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  7. I loved this story, too! I am a Towles descendent living outside of Richmond, Va! LPHed@aol.com

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  8. I have some relatives that have just visited this point as well. We are all descendants too but our last name lost the W. I am not sure where it disappeared. This has been wonderful to read about family that has gone on for so long! I look forward to learning more!

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  9. It is true this property was purchased by Henry Towles, Jr., carpenter of Accomack County, Virginia shortly after his marriage to Hannah Therriott. But a close look at a brick in the chimney is stamped "1805"--not 1712.

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    1. One more thing. The bricks are laid in American bond style, which is late 1700s and forward.

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    2. I hit send too soon. Henry Towles, Jr. bought this property in April 1711, shortly after his marriage.

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  10. Do you have any pictures of Margaret Delaney Towles, either Margaret Delaney Moore Towles or her daughter, Margaret Delaney Towles (my great grandmother).

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  11. My grandfather was Toliver "Toe" Towles from Chambers County, Alabama. I am fascinated to find this info. Thanks so much!

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  12. I'm descended from Stokely Towles/Anne Vallott. This is so neat that ruins are being tended and that so many Towles are still in the Area!

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  13. I'm descended from Stokely Towles/Anne Vallott. This is so neat that ruins are being tended and that so many Towles are still in the Area!

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  14. Is it possible to visit ruins?

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