HISTORICAL ROOTS OF THE NORTHERN NECK
Historical residents of the Northern Neck
Along the paths of the Northern Neck, near Rt. 3, the following historical people, changed the direction of America: George Washington, James Madison, James Monroe, Frances Lightfoot Lee, Richard Henry Lee, Robert E. Lee, Colonel Nicholas Spencer, Thomas Cole, Robert Carter I, Robert Carter III, John Taylor I, John Taylor II, Francis Lightfoot Lee, John Taylor III, John Taylor IV, Benjamin Ogle Tayloe, William Henry Tayloe, and George Plater Tayloe.
King George families
Family traditions at King George County Courthouse on Rt. 3 have taken on the form of the county clerk for three generations of Masons. Current Clerk of King George County, Charles “Vic” Mason succeeded his father V. Elwood Mason in 1994, who replaced his father L.B. Mason in 1960.
The year 2020 marked the 300th anniversary for King George (1720). With the addition of new highway systems and a robust population of over 26,000 citizens, King George is the most historical area on Rt. 3. King George named after King George I of Great Britain, is the gateway to the Northern Neck. It is bounded in the north by the Potomac River, and in the south by the Rappahannock River.
King George is also the home of some of the most prominent families and citizens in Virginia. King George Historical Museum Director Elizabeth Lee is familiar with the bond that many families in King George share. “One of the distinctions given to King George is our families have been here for centuries,” Lee said. “One of my clients is the William Fitzhugh family of Eagles Nest. They came over in 1670 and others include the Grigsbys (arrived in 1600), Rollins, and Martins.” Lee’s husband’s family has been in King George since the 1600s.”
Lee also remembers the geographical changes that have taken place over the years. “When I was a child during the 50s there were small community post offices—wherever you lived there was a post office located in a store,” Lee added. “I get calls from people who are doing research and they will often ask what towns are near King George? I will reply there are no towns, unless you count King George or Dahlgren proper, and that’s a fly by.”
Connecting westward from King George
The lure of a country setting combined with the travel history associated with Rt. 3’s colonial history has embraced local historian Bob Baird throughout his life in King George. “Originally Rt. 3 was made up of pathways, farm wagon tracks, and undeveloped state roads that eventually developed into a single corridor,” Baird said. “Soon Jersey Rd. became a primary highway—in 1720 when the county was established as a formal entity for Richmond County.”
According to Baird, prior to the building of the Potomac River Bridge in 1941, travelers had to follow a western route to Fredericksburg. Many travelers used a ferry service that crossed the Rappahannock River to the town of Port Royal.”
Over the years, as far as commerce is concerned, Baird’s family has seen many changes on Rt. 3. “Originally there were country stores open for business, every five to six miles, and there were small farms,” Baird said. “During my family’s generation there were people on horseback and horse and buggy traveling on Rt. 3. When I was a child, we would travel to Fredericksburg once a month to do our shopping—it was an arduous trip up Rt. 3.”
Established in 1918, the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) was considered a hardship case. The employees, including engineers and scientists, that came into the county were forced to take weekly or monthly shopping trips to get supplies. The journey was considered hazardous to the point that NSWC travelers brought carrier pigeons with them, because their loved ones who lived at the NSWC base lodging would know that they had arrived safely.
Rather than travel by land, NSWC and Northern Neck travelers relied on the river for commerce exchange. “There were established steamboat terminals at Port Conway and Wilmont, and on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, steamboats would come from Washington and Baltimore to the point and index store down at the intersection at the end of Salem Church Rd.,” Baird said. “You could go there and have your items delivered within a week; whether it be a farm plow, Model-T, wedding gown, or anything else you could imagine. We were remote but connected in another way.”
As King George began to expand, the landscape changed. According to Baird, the original courthouse stood adjacent to Port Conway, and over time it moved to its current location in downtown King George, which made it a more direct route for Rt. 3.
Known for its historical heritage, the Northern Neck features a bounty of picturesque stops along Rt. 3 and surrounding communities. The following shops are some of the stops that travelers continue to patronize and sight see: Marmion House, King George; Belle Grove, King George; George Washington Birthplace National Monument, Westmoreland County; James Monroe Birthplace, Colonial Beach; King George Historical Museum, King George; Kinsale Museum; Lancaster Virginia Historical Society Museum & Library, Lancaster; Menokin, Warsaw; Morattico Waterfront Museum, Morattico; Northern Neck Farm Museum; Northern Neck of Virginia Historical Society; Northumberland County Historical Society; Reedville Fisherman’s Museum; Rice’s Hotel/Hughlett’s Tavern; Richmond County Museum; Steamboat Era Museum; Stratford Hall, Stratford; Westmoreland County Museum, Montross; Westmoreland Mercantile General Store and Montross Sods Shoppe, Montross; Yeocomico Episcopal Church, Kinsale.
The spirit of the Northern Neck
Acclaimed poet James S. Allen’s passion for rural life is felt in the poem, The Northern Neck: “Between the Yellow Rappahannock and the broad Potomac blue, there’s a lovely bit of country down in old Virginia true. Just a narrow strip of inland, on the map it’s scare a speck, but it’s home to everybody, in the good old Northern Neck.
You go sixty miles from nowhere down a winding country road, past a picturesque old millpond, and a patriot’s first abode. Yes, its rather isolated, but I know when you reflect you will surely want to linger in the good old Northern Neck.
You’ll find many stately mansions of the true colonial style tucked behind old-fashioned gardens filled with flowers all the while. River views with steamboat landings, everything you would expect of Virginia’s rich tradition in the good old Northern Neck.
The folks have a got a charming way of saying, “Come right in.” There’s smoke cured ham and batter-bread with potatoes in the bin. The people still believe in God, and home is not a wreck; and everybody’s “kith and kin” in the good old Northern Neck.
Sure I’ve heard them sing of heaven, guess ‘twas never meant for me. But sometimes I stop and wonder how the next world’s going to be. But St. Peter needn’t worry when I’m cashing in my check for my soul will stay forever in the good old Northern Neck.”