Robert Baker honored for house preservation

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 12, 2002

Robert Newton Baker III received the eighth annual Marion Joyner Watson Award on Saturday, Nov. 9 at the Holiday Inn in ceremonies from the Tom Smith Camp 1702, Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Baker was particularly honored for his preservation work with the historic Constantia House, which he saved from destruction in 1993 and moved to its present location behind the Baker Funeral Home. Also mentioned were his works with his church, Main Street Methodist, his membership in Suffolk Rotary, as well as his involvement in scouting and in other community affairs.

The original Constantia House was the home of John Constant or Constance and much of the town of Suffolk began by growing up around it. The house had been built in the 1700s near Constance (Constant’s) Wharf and stood in what is now the present Cedar Hill Cemetery. In the 1920s the Constantia Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution built a replica of it on the original foundation and used it for meetings.

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Baker’s interest in the house began with his childhood.

&uot;My first memories of the Constantia House go back to when I was eight years old,&uot; said Baker. He used to march in Memorial Day parades as a cub scout and then go to the Constantia House for DAR celebrations with his mother, the DAR regent.

&uot;I was always just fascinated with the house,&uot; he added.

Then time passed. The Constantia House fell into disrepair and was vandalized. The members of the DAR became afraid to go there because of the difficulty of security. By 1990 the city of Suffolk was ready to demolish it. Negotiations were a time-consuming process but Baker was able work with them and to buy the house in 1993. Later that year he began the laborious task of disassembling and moving it to the present location behind the Funeral home. Since December 1994 when he finished the house, Baker has made it available to the public. Several groups meet there on a regular basis or on occasion. These include the Constantia Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Suffolk Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Nansemond Pilot Club and the Suffolk Pilot Club.

A plaque was given to Baker by F. Lee Hart III, past commander of the Tom Smith Camp 1702 SCV. A special presentation was given to Baker by Joan Johnson, president of the Suffolk Chapter of the UDC.

After the ceremonies, Billie Earnest presented a short program on the life of LaSalle Corbell Pickett, the wife of General George E. Pickett, CSA. Mrs. Pickett was a Chuckatuck native who was courted and married by General Pickett during the Siege of Suffolk in 1863.

The award was named in honor of Marion Joyner Watson, a Suffolkian who was quite knowledgeable of local history. The first award was given in 1995 to Watson herself. Other past honorees have been: Robert Hardy, 1996; Oliver Kermit Hobbs Jr., 1997; Governor Mills E. Godwin Jr., 1998; Mayor James F. Hope, 1999; Betsy Brothers, 2000; and F. Lee Hart III, 2001.