College Court has notable history

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 9, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Early in the 19th century, an innkeeper, James McGuire, sold the Central Hotel at the corner of North Main Street and Finney Avenue to Miss Sallie Finney and her sisters. Those enterprising young ladies established the Suffolk Female Institute in 1869 and ran it until they retired in 1908.

Along came a successful businessman, John B. Pinner, who purchased the property and put it to quite a different use. He removed the center section of the elongated hotel building and installed a large gate at the entrance to the property.

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That gate served as the main entrance to the bungalow court that Pinner constructed, &uot;College Court,&uot; named for the school that it had once been.

Suffolk was a beautiful old Southern city and the downtown area was a thriving location for doctors, druggists, the post office, good clothing stores, and all that was definitely an attraction to those in search of living quarters.

The property on the corner of Main Street and the street named for the Finney girls, College Court, was an instant hit with residents, some families spending 40 to 50 years in the six bungalows that surrounded the courtyard.

College Court, including the large cottage and the remains of the old Finney School, is part of a National Register district. The court is said to be unique in Virginia, if not on the entire East Coast. Also unique; the fact that the court was designed as a pedestrian court rather than a motor court.

Pinner hired Burwell Riddick to design the bungalows at College Court. The living spaces in the typical bungalow, which was at the apex of its popularity in the early 1900’s through the ’20’s, were dark with wood paneling and wall colors reflecting the deep greens, browns and golds of the forests. Those colors are reflected today in the renovated College Court bungalows.

The Pinner family maintained ownership of the Court and buildings along Main Street until 1987. In 2000, Preservation of Historic Suffolk purchased the property in hopes of finding a suitable buyer to renovate the cottages. In 2002, Garcia Development purchased the property and has since renovated the cottages and the main Finney School building.

At 310 North Main Street stands the large green bungalow that was built to serve as a honeymoon retreat for the builder’s son and his bride. On display for the Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society’s 27th Annual Candlelight Tour, this house holds a beautiful quilt exhibit, a display of period antiques, and an exhibit on the history of Suffolk Female Institute. It is also the site of the fabulous &uot;Sugar Plum Kitchen&uot; where visitors will surely want to take a memory home.

The bungalow at #2 College Court, the Meechan Residence, was the first to be renovated. The homeowners there will exhibit a small collection of tea pots in the cozy bungalow dining room.

An artist has taken the studio for his work space at #3 College Court, the Luther Residence. The owner, who is a fiber artist, is attempting to maintain the originality of the 1910 period residence as closely as possible.

Tickets for touring the bungalows are available at the Seaboard Station Railroad Museum and Gift Shop and they may be purchased at College Court the day of the tour.

The Candlelight Tour Weekend of events begins with a First Friday Concert at Main Street Church at noon, Dec. 5. The Downtown Illumination will take place at 5 p.m. at the Seaboard Station, followed Saturday with the 10 a.m. Holiday Parade in Downtown Suffolk. Even as the parade kicks off, festivities for the tour begin at 9 a.m. at Prentis House Visitor Center, Riddick’s Folly, and don’t forget the greenery and wreath demo and sale at the Seaboard Station. Complete the day with the tour of College Court.