Attracting attention

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Suffolk News Herald

When Mills Riddick first built the avant-garde Greek Revival home that still stands on North Main Street, a lot of people began calling it &uot;Riddick’s Folly.&uot;

That name stuck because of the unusual architectural design and size of the house that not only outlasted its mocking name, but also has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. Now, the home has a new sign that brings greater attention than ever to the site.

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Riddick’s Folly is always changing inside with added dcor and period furnishings, and Robin Rountree, Director of the four story Greek Revival home, said the new signage that stands in front of the home, is highly visible.

&uot;The Historic Landmarks Commission approved the sign, and its striking burgundy and 23-karat gold lettering is brilliant against the landscape of the home,&uot; said Rountree. &uot;The sign states that the house was constructed in 1837, and that the Folly houses a museum, a gallery gift shop, and the Gov. Mills E. Godwin Museum.&uot;

Rountree added that two additional signs, smaller than the large one out front, will be added to the Riddick’s Folly landscape. One will direct visitors to the front entrance of the brick structure, and the other will provide information on the hours the home is open for visitors. As Rountree said, the sign is expected to draw attention and an even greater number of visitors to the historic site.

Riddick’s Folly is one of Suffolk’s most visited historic sites, with approximately 4,000 people a year visiting the home and exhibits.

Visitors to the home view all the rooms in the structure including the Civil War military period room where Union Soldiers under the command of Major General John J. Peck left their autographs and messages to loved ones back home. Those messages, &uot;left just in case,&uot; are still legible today.

Messages aren’t all that was left inside the stately old home. Following the close of the Civil War, the Riddick family and Riddick’s son, Nathaniel, returned to the house to find it had been looted, vandalized, and stripped of most of their family heirlooms and possessions. A few of those items have been recovered over the years and now rest inside the home.

Riddick’s decedents continued to reside in the home until 1967 when the house and grounds were sold to old Nansemond County for use as office space. Rountree said the structure was turned into a &uot;house museum&uot; in 1977, and many cultural events took place within its walls. During the 1980’s, Riddick’s Folly underwent extensive, privately funded restoration and currently, it serves as a center for the arts. It is also used to exhibit some of the rich history and heritage of the City of Suffolk and Nansemond County, said Rountree.

Visitors to the home will see the Riddick children’s bedrooms on the fourth floor, and the adult &uot;bedchambers&uot; on the third floor of the home. The main floor features the restored double parlors and a gentleman’s library. There is a basement to the house, and it held the dining room for the family and the laundry room. Currently, it serves as a gift shop and gallery to showcase local artisans.

The Folly is now governed by a non-profit organization with an all-volunteer board of directors.

As stated on the new sign, hours of operation are Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday from 10 to 4 p.m.; and in April there will be Sunday hours from 1 to 5 p.m.

Just in time for those April hours, there will be a Civil War Exhibit on display just in time for the &uot;Civil War Weekend&uot; beginning April 5. That display will focus on &uot;The Quiet Regiment,&uot; those who stayed behind in Suffolk during the Civil War. That exhibition is being created by the Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society.

For more information about Riddick’s Folly or its hours of operation, call 934-1390.