Constantia House remembered

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

The Constantia Chapter of the Nansemond Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) strives to maintain the history of the historic home that was the first house built in &uot;Suffolk Town&uot; in 1720. Working together, the society continues to dedicate their efforts to the preservation of the house that is an exact replica of the home built by one of Suffolk’s early businessmen.

Margie Moore, a member of the NSDAR, said the original &uot;Constantia House&uot; was the home built by John Constant, a merchant who helped develop Suffolk into a shipping port. His shipping business operated from Constant’s Wharf on the Nansemond River. The docks were located just about where the Nansemond River Bridge crosses Main Street in Kimberly.

Email newsletter signup

In fact, in 1742, under the direction of King George the Second, Virginia Gov. Gooch signed a Legislative Act &uot;to establish a town at Constance (the English spelling) Warehouse on the Nansemond River, to be called Suffolk.&uot; In those days, the town thrived on &uot;wooden money,&uot; the timber trade and pine logs, tar and turpentine were some of the hundred’s of items shipped from John Constant’s Warehouse. Suffolk, back then, was famous as a depot throughout the Seaboard States.

&uot;The original Constantia House had to be demolished because it had fallen into a state of disrepair and the city wanted to make room for Cedar Hill Cemetery where the house was originally located,&uot; said Moore. &uot;In 1926, the Constantia Chapter of the NSDAR built a replica of the main structure. For years, it was used for Memorial Day celebrations and other meetings and it was a favorite landmark in Suffolk.&uot;

Moore added that the house, which sat in a secluded spot at the cemetery, was often vandalized and it soon again was in great need of repair.

&uot;The city then passed the house to Robert Baker, who moved it board by board to its present site behind R.W. Baker Funeral Home, just off W. Washington St,&uot; said Moore. &uot;On Nov. 10, 1991, a multiple grandson of the builder, who was also named John Constant, dedicated the memorial marker of the site in the cemetery. Today, a huge redwood tree grows next to the John Constant home, still known as Constantia House. The parents of Robert and Roberta brought it back 50-years ago when they returned from a trip to California.&uot;

Roberta Baker, Robert’s sister, met with the NSDAR March 13 to describe the actual reconstruction of the house on the back of the funeral home’s property. She also spoke about the furnishings and memorabilia inside the structure.

Marion Morgan, a member and co-chair of the state convention of DAR, also spoke on the history of the NSDAR and the replica of the Constantia House, which is now 79-years old.

NSDAR officers for 2003 include Mrs. Martin Shockley, regent; Mrs. Burton Bradshaw, vice-regent; Mrs. Carlton Cutchins, secretary; Mrs. John David Gray III, treasurer; and Mrs. William J. Pittman, registrar.

To be a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution a woman must have had a relative involved in that war, or one who helped with the war effort in any way. On local and state levels, DAR members participate in naturalization ceremonies around the nation.

In 1923, the DAR realized the importance of providing occupations for the immigrants at Ellis Island, near the Statue of Liberty, and Angel Island, on the Pacific Coast, while they waited, often for months (because of legal technicalities concerning passports) to be admitted to this country.

The DAR provided occupational therapists and supplies with which to make clothing, as well as a woodworking shop for the men.

After Ellis Island and Angel Island were closed, the DAR continued occupational therapy work for 28 years at the Marine Hospital on Ellis Island, at the request of the U.S. Public Health Service.

Since 1903, the Society, including the Constantia Chapter, has been helping children in remote mountain areas receive an education.

The DAR supports two schools in the Appalachian region- Kate Duncan Smith DAR School, Alabama, and Tamassee DAR School, South Carolina. The DAR also established Berry College in Georgia in 1902, Crossnore School, Inc. in North Carolina was founded in the early 1900s and Hillside School, Inc., of Massachusetts was founded in 1901.

The Hindman Settlement School in Kentucky was founded in 1902. The DAR, through its American Indians Committee, assists in the education of Indian youth through scholarships and support of Bacone College, Muskogee, Oklahoma, the oldest continuing institution of higher learning in Oklahoma, and Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Ore.