Somerton makes National Register

Published 9:42 pm Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Just a few months after getting their community added to the Virginia Landmarks Register, Somerton residents got word this week that the village has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Somerton is the first rural community nominated for a historic listing in the city of Suffolk, according to city officials. It was added to the Virginia Landmarks Register in the fall.

The listings represent the culmination of work that began by community residents — assisted by the Suffolk Historic Landmarks Commission — in June 2007.

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“Somerton goes back to the mid-1600s,” Ed Roettger, the Suffolk City Attorney and a Somerton resident, said in October of the state designation. “We certainly think that the neighborhood … deserves recognition … because of its history.”

Although most county records were burned in several fires throughout the years, historical documents from Quaker missionary George Fox and boundary surveyor William Byrd show settlers were in Somerton as early as the mid-1600s, said Roettger, who has researched the village’s history.

The community retains much of its rural character, even today. While the streets are paved, many of the driveways and agricultural roads remain unpaved There are no curbs, gutters, stoplights or sidewalks.

Architectural styles within the 236-acre historic district range from Federal to Folk Victorian, and many of the wood-frame dwellings date to the 18th and 19th centuries.

The historic Washington Smith Ordinary, the Ellis General Store and the Somerton United Methodist Church, circa 1880, are all among the community’s historic structures.

During his tour of the United States, Marquis de Lafayette stopped in Somerton and visited the Ordinary, where a hastily arranged, but grand, banquet was held in his honor.

The graveyard at Somerton United Methodist Church, located on Whaleyville Boulevard, has gravestones dating from the 1800s. An inscription on one indicates Dempsey Odom and his wife, “Pattie” Riddick, gave the land for the church in 1881.

“In a city that is quickly urbanizing, the village of Somerton is a part of the rural heritage of the city,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said. “Its preservation through listings on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places will help to maintain its unique place in Suffolk’s history.”