Route 58 author speaks at TCC

Published 10:34 pm Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Route 58 has seen its share of stories.

As the longest road in Virginia, the more than 300-mile highway stretches from the beaches of Tidewater to the mountains of the Cumberland Gap.

Intertwined with all that asphalt are dozens of cities and counties with interesting stories and histories to share, including some right here in Suffolk.

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Tuesday afternoon, Joe Tennis shared just a few of those stories as a presenter during Tidewater Community College’s annual Literary Festival.

Tennis is the author of “Beach to Bluegrass: Places to Brake on Virginia’s Longest Road.”

In his book, Tennis writes 58 stories that include how Mr. Peanut came to be from Suffolk, what the original surveyors thought of the Great Dismal Swamp and the tale of Riddick’s Folly.

“I look at it by trying to tell the history of Virginia by following its longest road,” Tennis told attendees. “I believe Highway 58 becomes an invisible character as I put together this book.”

Beginning in Virginia Beach, Tennis follows the road through Hampton Roads, the Piedmont region, the Blue Ridge and the Southwest part of the state. All the while, Tennis tells of different historical sites from each of the regions.

For example, in Southampton County, Tennis used a chapter to focus on Nat Turner’s Rebellion. Or, while driving through Danville, Tennis wrote about the “Wreck of the Old ‘97,” the deadly 1903 train wreck.

“When I look at how I set the book up, with the pictures, it makes it look like Highway 58 is this great, beautiful place to drive,” Tennis said. “Then you read about all the disasters.”

Tennis’s presentation Tuesday was not only meaningful because of his book’s connection with Hampton Roads, but more poignant because Tennis himself is a TCC alumnus.

In 1989, Tennis began writing for the school’s newspaper, “The Counterpoint,” while attending classes at the Virginia Beach campus. He graduated from TCC in three years with two associate degrees, and went on to receive his bachelor’s at Radford University.

While he originally thought he would pursue a career in marketing, he went back to his writing roots – working in the newspaper industry. Today, in addition to writing books, he is a feature writer for the Bristol Herald Courier, in Bristol.

“It all started by doing stuff at Tidewater at the Counterpoint,” Tennis said. “I think some of the biggest inspiration I had came from TCC.”