Candlelight Tour to feature homes in Bennett’s Creek

Published 7:40pm Tuesday, November 19, 2013

By Kate Cross

Special to Suffolk Living

Some of Suffolk’s most iconic homes will be the stars of the show during the Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society’s 37th annual Candlelight Tour Dec. 7 and 8.

The theme for this year’s tour is “Between the River and the Creek,” and it will highlight homes in the historic Bennett’s Creek area.

Featured homes this year will include the Cornell Home, the Willis Home, the Northey Home and the Obici House.

The Nansemond River, like the James, was a superhighway for the early English settlers to this area. Capt. John Smith got his first look in 1608 at what would become modern-day Suffolk as he explored the area.

Richard Bennett — for whom both Bennett’s Creek and Bennett’s Pasture Road were named — came to the area in the 1620s. He was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1629 and was appointed to the Governor’s Council in 1642.

Over time, Bennett received a large land grant from the King of England, and all of the homes in this year’s tour stand on what used to be his land.

The Cornell Home

The Cornell Home. Drawing by Edward L. King
The Cornell Home. Drawing by Edward L. King

The Cornell Home, also known as Eagle Point Farm, is located at 5301 Bennett’s Pasture Road and is owned by Dr. and Mrs. George Cornell. The current owners’ parents bought the property in 1946.

The original farmhouse with grand views of the river was built in 1908. Members of the Cornell family have made additions and improvements to the house through the years, including larger windows to embrace the sweeping river views.

Treasured family furniture and portraits, as well as artwork done by the ladies of the house and artistic friends, adorn the home. Also of note are an original carbide gas light fixture and the gas house in the yard.

The Obici House

Obici House. Drawing by Edward L. King
Obici House. Drawing by Edward L. King

The Obici House, located at 4700 Sleepy Hole Road, was once the home of Amedeo Obici, founder of Planters Peanuts, and his wife Louise.

Amedeo Obici, an Italian immigrant, came to Suffolk in 1913 to build a plant for the business he and his brother had started in Pennsylvania.

In 1924, he and Louise bought more than 260 acres on the Nansemond River. They moved a circa 1870 farmhouse to the property and built around it, creating an Italian villa they called Bay Point Farm. They planted hundreds of trees on the property and accented the natural beauty of the place with statuary.

Louise Obici died in 1938, and her husband followed in 1947. After a period of private ownership, the property was sold to the city of Portsmouth in 1966. Eventually that city built Sleepy Hole Golf Course on the Obici land.

In 2002, the city of Suffolk bought the property and leased the entire site to Ronnie Rountree. Rountree oversaw a major renovation of the Obici Mansion, preserving many of its original fixtures, as well as beautiful stained glass windows. The house is now an events facility with a basement pro shop.

The Willis Home

The Willis Home. Drawing by Edward L. King.
The Willis Home. Drawing by Edward L. King

The Willis Home, also known as Town Point Farm, is owned by the Leonard Willis family and located at 2527 Bridge Road.

Town Point was the name given to the land early in the written history of the area. It was farmland for centuries but truly came into its own in the late 19th century under the hand of Confederate veteran Willis John Lee.

He engaged in truck farming, opened a store and built a cotton gin, and the name Town Point Farm came to stand for quality. In 1895, Lee and his wife Jennie built the large Victorian home that stands near the Nansemond River Bridge today.

They built a schoolhouse on the property for the children of the area, and provided the teacher, as well. The schoolhouse now has other uses but will also be open for the tour.

The Northey Home

The Northey Home. Drawing by Edward L. King.
The Northey Home. Drawing by Edward L. King

The Northey Home, owned by Mr. and Mrs. M.A. Northey, is located at 117 Riverside Drive in Bennett’s Creek Landing.

Like the other homes on the tour, this house enjoys amazing views of the Nansemond River, but it is much younger than the rest.

The traditional home, built in 1992, stands on original Town Point Farm land, not far from the site where archeologists found evidence of a substantial 17th-century dwelling. There has been speculation that it might have been the home of Richard Bennett.

Tickets for the tour can be purchased at the Suffolk Visitor Center, the Suffolk Seaboard Station Railroad Museum, A. Dodson’s, 18th Century Merchant and Bennett’s Creek Pharmacy. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 the day of the tour.

For more information, call 539-2781, check the historical society’s Facebook page or visit www.suffolkhistory.org.

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