Community will be officially recognized for the contributions of black watermen

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 1, 2005

Curtis Jones, 78, has vivid memories of tonging for oysters in the Chuckatuck Creek and Nansemond River with his father.

&uot;It was hard work,&uot; said the Hobson resident. &uot;But my father did it. His father did it and his father before him did it.

&uot;Back then, oystering was all we had to do,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s in my blood, it’s in the blood of most old folks in this community.&uot;

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Next month, hundreds of current and former residents of Hobson and surrounding communities are expected to turn out for the dedication of the first state historical highway marker recognizing contributions that black watermen have made to Virginia.

Virginia’s 2,100 official state markers are mini-roadside museums of sorts, said Scott Arnold, a spokesman for the state Department of Historic Resources. The Hobson marker will be the 23rd the city has received since the program started in 1927.

Timed to coincide with a Hobson neighborhood reunion, the Aug. 20 event is expected to draw visitors from as far away as North Dakota, Texas and New Jersey. The dedication ceremony starts at noon.

The Virginia Department of Transportation will be installing the $1,225 marker near the historic Masonic lodge on Crittenden Road within the next two weeks.

&uot;This is a big deal…and an important part of American history that has been overlooked for many years,&uot; said Mary Hill, a Hobson resident who has been working on applications to have the community named to state and federal historic registers.

&uot;This is a recognition of the significant contributions made by the men who worked so diligently out there on the river.

&uot;I hope people leave here that day with a sense of pride in their heritage.&uot;

But it’s equally important to Hill that people-residents and visitors alike-understand the challenges facing the Hobson community today.

There is a dire need for some buildings and homes in the village to undergo costly rehabilitations, said Hill. In years past, the city has intervened and torn down several dilapidated old homes.

Hill is hopeful that getting the historic recognition will open the door for grants and tax credits that will make it possible for more Hobson homes to be rehabbed.

The extensive application for this state historic designation is in the final review stages before going before state board, Hill said. But meanwhile, the historic marker is a good first move toward the long-sought-after historic designation.

&uot;It’s exciting…and we are grateful to the state,&uot; Hill said.

The village of Hobson is rolling out the welcome mat for the community, Hill said. After the dedication ceremony, reunion festivities will continue throughout the day with all sorts of special events and vendors: poetry readings, African arts, games for children and the like.

Seeing the historic marker is going to be particularly meaningful to older generations, Jones said.

&uot;It’s a beautiful thing,&uot; he said. &uot;I can’t wait to see it.&uot;

Sylvester Croaker, who grew up in Carrollton but many years working alongside Hobson watermen, agreed.

&uot;I think the designation is long overdue,&uot; he said. &uot;Black watermen in both Suffolk and Isle of Wight County played a great role in shaping local history.&uot;