The Jamestown Exposition and Virginia County Names

It is no part of my task to give an account of the Jamestown Exposition of 1907; but some of the interesting facts and exhibits connected with the Exposition have a direct bearing on persons or places referred to in this work. Of these facts and exhibits, therefore, some mention is not inappropriate.

Of course Norfolk county itself, rich in historic associations, takes pride in the fact that the Exposition was held within her borders; nor does James City County, within which are the ruins of old Jamestown, feel jealous that the better location of her sister county made Norfolk and not James City the seat of the Tercentennial Celebration of the first permanent settlement of the English in America.

Princess Anne County contains Cape Henry, at which are two lighthouses and a wireless telegraphy station. At the foot of the old lighthouse, which dates from 1690, a stone tablet now replaces the old wooden cross raised by the first settlers to mark the spot of their first landing on American soil, April 26, 1907 – seventeen days before the settlement of Jamestown. The old lighthouse is not now in use, being replaced by the somewhat taller one of recent date that stands about 200 yards distant and looks down upon her older sister from a height of 160 feet.

The Exposition grounds, about four hundred acres in extent, were located at Sewall’s Point, which borders on Hampton Roads at the mouth of the James, Elizabeth, and Nansemond rivers, and is six miles north of Norfolk. About two miles west of the grounds occurred the Merrimac-Monitor fight in Hampton Roads.

The architecture of the Tercentennial was entirely colonial, and the names of many of the places about the grounds commemorated colonial days. At the north of the grounds were the Government Twin-piers – 200 feet wide and 800 feet in length, – which, hung with electric lights on every part, presented a most beautiful spectacle at night. These piers and the landing between them were named Susan Constant Pier (on the west). Discovery Landing, and Godspeed Pier (on the east), thus commemorating the names of the three English vessels that brought the first settlers to Jamestown. The harbor within the piers was Smith Harbor.

Prominent among the streets of the Exposition grounds were Powhatan, Pocahontas, and Gilbert,1 running east and west, while Bacon Street ran north and south. Just south of the government piers was Raleigh Square, and on the eastern part of the grounds were “circles” – really only semi-circles – named after the Colonial governors, Bennet and Spotswood. “Lee’s Parade,” a thirty-acre field north of the main entrance” to the ground, was used for military maneuvers, and in its name honored the Southern military chieftain.

In the southeastern part of the grounds near Spotswood Circle was the Exposition Hospital, Pocahontas Hospital, in front of Pocahontas Spring, noted in history as the spring used by the Indian princess. Just east of Spotswood Circle, between where the Textile Building and the Silver and Copper Building stood, is the Powhatan Oak, a monster live oak that was a large tree when the first settlers landed there three hundred years ago.

Full of interest to lovers of history were the contents of some of the State buildings, and especially interesting was the interior of the History Building, where, as the guide-book told us, “there is shown the greatest collection of rare relics and heirlooms of colonial history ever brought together in this country.”

Within the Missouri Building there were on the walls two portraits, oil paintings, that were especially interesting to me: on the left, as you enter the building, was the portrait of “Meriwether Lewis, First Governor Missouri Territory, 1807-1809”; on the right was a portrait inscribed, “General William Clark, Governor Missouri Territory, 1809-1821.”

The Maryland Building was on the outside a reproduction of the house on the Harwood estate, built in 1802 for his son by Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Within the building was shown a large and handsome harpsichord formerly owned by Carroll, and in a frame with pictures of nine other Maryland men was Carroll’s picture also. Large portraits of Charles I and of his queen adorned the walls of the building, and the Pocahontas Memorial Association exhibited two separate portraits of Pocahontas, a picture of her marriage to Rolfe, and a facsimile of Rolfe’s request to the Governor of Virginia that he be allowed to marry her.

The Pennsylvania Building was a duplicate of Independence Hall, Philadelphia, and it was most fitting that the portraits of the signers of the Declaration of Independence should hang on the walls of one of the rooms. These portraits, only forty-seven in number, because the portraits of some of the signers were lacking, were taken from Philadelphia. There were excellent portraits of all the signers after whom Virginia named counties – Franklin, Carroll, Wythe, and Thomas Nelson, Jr., for counties within Virginia; and Carter Braxton, Hancock, Jefferson, and Benjamin Harrison for counties within the present State of West Virginia.

Just west of the Auditorium and between Pocahontas and Gilbert streets was the History Building, a permanent colonial structure of 124×129 feet. Many States contributed to make the historic exhibit both interesting and instructive, but Virginia’s exhibit was probably the most attractive of them all. To this success the Virginia State Library contributed much by the loan of valuable papers and documents.

The letters and papers were neatly arranged, with printed descriptive labels, in glass cases. Several cases were devoted to letters, etc., of Patrick Henry; in one case were autograph letters of the Virginia governors beginning with Berkeley and going through Dunmore; another case contained letters from all the Virginia signers of the Declaration of Independence – Richard Henry Lee, Francis Lightfoot Lee, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Carter Braxton, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Jefferson, and George Wythe. From George Rogers Clark – spelled without a final e -was a letter of October 22, 1782, to the governor of Virginia, and also a letter to the governor from Daniel Boone, August 30, 1782. From Richard Bland there was a letter of August 1, 1771, to Thomas Adams in England.

In one case there was an old newspaper giving a list of “toasts” offered by the House of Burgesses on May 16, 1769. Among those “toasted” were Governor Botetourt and the Duke of Richmond. A second case contained a portrait of the “Right Honorable Norberne Berkeley, Baron de Botetourt, late Governor of Virginia”; and in another case were three portraits – Sir Thomas Smith, Treasurer of the Colony, 1606-1619; Sir Edwin Sandys; and Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. “These three men,” said the printed description by the Virginia Historical Society, “more than any other were influential in the settlement of Virginia.”

West Virginia contributed to the History Building a painting of the Battle of Point Pleasant by Captain Joseph Faris.

Near the West Virginia State Building was an exhibit, unique and characteristic of the push and energy of what was until 1863 the western part of the Old Dominion – an obelisk of West Virginia coal, 40×40 feet at the base and 160 feet high. It is laid in obelisk form, a stratum for each county of the State, and illuminated by electric lights, forming an exhibit visible far out at sea.”

The Jamestown Exposition is now a thing of the past, and visitors to the grounds would probably find it hard to recognize the place. But the Exposition has not been in vain; it has, we believe, done much for Virginia’s one hundred counties, much for the State at large, much for the nation.

Source: Virginia Country Names: Two Hundred and Seventy Years of Virginia History, Charles M, Long, PH.D., New York and Washington, The Neale Publishing Company, 1908

  1. Named after Sir Humphrey Gilbert, who was drowned in 1583 in an unsuccessful attempt to establish an English settlement in North America. 

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