Suffolk Heritage: Connecting to the past

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 22, 2005

Tales passed down through generations of a family.

Transactions carefully recorded in sales logs of long-time Suffolk businesses.

Countless other sorts of artifacts:

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arrowheads found on the Nansemond River shoreline, old photographs and documents tucked between pages in the family Bible for decades.

All these little slivers of history have molded Suffolk into the city it is today, said Tom Powell, chairman of Suffolk Heritage, the offspring of the city’s Jamestown 2007 Suffolk Commission.

The group, appointed by the Suffolk City Council late last year, is charged with overseeing the city’s participation in events celebrating the 400th anniversary of the nation’s first permanent English-speaking settlement.

Suffolk is one of more than 100 certified localities planning celebrations through the state’s Virginia 2007 Community Program.

&uot;You can go to museums and learn little snippets of history,&uot; said Powell. &uot;But there is no one place where you can go to learn the whole history of Suffolk.&uot;

Suffolk Heritage is aiming to change that over the next two years by creating a website,, chronicling the city’s history as told by residents.

&uot;There are so many cool stories and curious things that have happened in Suffolk’s rich history,&uot; Powell said. &uot;These are the stories we want to find.

&uot;We know the city’s history is not all positive. We also want to hear the sad stories that affected life in Suffolk.&uot;

Patrick Evans-Hylton, publicity chairman for Suffolk Heritage, echoed his sentiments.

&uot;We’re not just talking about the rich and famous people who lived or came through Suffolk,&uot; he said. &uot;Everybody in Suffolk has connections to their own history.&uot;

Beginning June 1, the organization will begin soliciting input from citizens on their recollections of the people, events and milestones that shaped the city’s history.

People are invited to go the group’s website,, or call its toll-free telephone number, 1-866-275-6050, to share their stories, Powell said.

Anyone with documents or other artifacts to be shared can drop by the Suffolk Visitors Center on North Main Street, where staff members can take digital pictures or scan the information into the computer.

The website mostly will be geared to collecting information for the next year or so, Powell said. Then in April 2007, when the state’s 400th celebration kicks into high gear, Suffolk Heritage will unveil the website weaving together the entire city’s history from 1607 to today.

The website will be an on-line museum of sorts, where people around the world will be able to learn all about the city’s history, Powell said.

The electronic timeline of Suffolk’s history will live on long past 2007, he added.

&uot;We can continue adding to it forever,&uot; said Powell.

That makes the Suffolk Heritage project a legacy in the truest sense of the word, Powell said.

&uot;It means we are leaving something future generations can use to educate and enjoy,&uot; he said.

Besides being an educational resource, the online museum can also be used to help with tourism and economic development efforts, Powell said.

Suffolk Heritage will spend much of the next year raising money to foot the bill for its project.

The group will receive some seed money from the tourism department’s budget next year. But the bulk of the money will come in the shape of donations, grants and from various fundraisers, Powell said.

Perhaps the most potentially lucrative is an initiative for the sale of vanity license plates from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles that pay homage to the city’s peanut heritage. Early ideas for the plates include depictions of Mr. Peanut or the city seal.

That project would allow Suffolk Heritage to gain $15 from the sale of each license plate, all of which would be invested in the organization’s 2007 projects.

Other planned fundraisers include:

A limited edition reprinting of Kermit Hobbs’ book, &uot;Suffolk: A Pictorial History,&uot; which has long since been sold out. The book would include 16 additional pages devoted to the city’s history since the book’s original printing more than two decades ago.

The sale of commemorative prints showing highlights in Suffolk history, commissioned by a well-known Hampton Roads artist.

nBringing the Peanut Pals, a group of more than 800 people who collect Planters and Mr. Peanut memorabilia, to Suffolk for its international convention in 2007.

Participating in the state’s 400th anniversary is an opportunity for localities statewide to tap into the massive tourist dollars expected to flow into Virginia during 2007, said Martha Steger, spokeswoman for the Virginia Tourism Corp.

&uot;We really want all the communities in Virginia to take the opportunity to capitalize on 2007 to tell their history,&uot; Steger said.

&uot;It’s a great opportunity for all of us to share our local heritage and show how it links back to Jamestown and the country’s beginnings.&uot;