Congressman announces funding for historic building

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 19, 2005

The plan to restore the former Phoenix Bank of Nansemond building moved forward Friday as Congressman Randy Forbes announced the allocation of $200,000 for the East Washington Street building.

The Phoenix Banks was the first financial institution for the city’s black community.

Forbes requested funding from the House Appropriations Committee in order to restore the historic structure and convert it into an African-American history museum.


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“We have a lot of important stories to tell about the contributions of African-Americans in Suffolk, not only at the bank, but across the area,” said Forbes, who secured more than $98,000 for the project earlier this year through the National Park Service. “This funding will not only contribute to the continued restoration of historic Suffolk, but it will preserve these important stories for generations to come.”

The building, located in the Suffolk Historic District, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.

“We’re very excited,” said Jeryl Phillips, the Fairgrounds Revitalization Plan implementation manager. “This is a grant that we had been advised of earlier this year, but it wasn’t definite. This confirms that the money has been approved.”

The plan, estimated at a total cost of $4.9 million, began with $100,000, put up by the Suffolk City Council in its Fiscal Year 2005 budget. Since then, funding has come in on the city, state (the Virginia Department of Transportation awarded the group a grant) and federal levels, Phillips said.

“We still have more to go,” she said, “but every little bit helps.”

City spokesman Dennis Craff echoed her thoughts.

“We think it’s terrific, because it helps move this project along,” he said. “We think it’s very important for the community. We’ve been working on it for quite some time and we’re happy it came through.”

Opened in 1911, the bank was founded by Dr. W.T. Fuller to provide commercial banking for black laborers and farmers. Following Fuller’s death, John Richardson took over until the Great Depression forced the bank to close in 1937. The city bought the building a few years ago.

The museum will be designed to showcase contributions made by blacks in Suffolk and the former Nansemond County and will include various rotating exhibits to teach about the innovations blacks have made in areas such as education, architecture, medicine, trade and commerce.