Saving their history

Published 10:48 pm Saturday, September 26, 2009

It’s clear as Sammy Copeland sits against a wall at the Chuckatuck firehouse during that department’s big fish fry that he knows a lot about Chuckatuck and the people who call it home.

Every few minutes during a chat with a stranger, he stops to say hello to someone passing by with a plate of food.

They ask about his mother, and he inquires about their families. Chuckatuck really is a place with the feel of an old-fashioned small town. In a venue such as the fire department’s fish fry, it can seem that almost everybody knows almost everybody else.

But Copeland has come to realize he doesn’t know nearly as much as he once thought he did about the village where he has lived all his life.

“I grew up and lived here all my life,” he says between greeting old family friends. “I thought I had a wonderful knowledge of Chuckatuck, and I’m learning more every day as we work on this project. I’ve had some wonderful conversations about some things I didn’t know. It’s really become somewhat infectious.”

The project he refers to is the Greater Chuckatuck Historical Foundation’s plan for a book and historical archives focusing on the Chuckatuck, Oakland, Everets, Reid’s Ferry, Sandy Bottom, Longview and Wills Corner areas.

At one time, the Nansemond Indian tribe inhabited much of the area, and a group of Quakers occupied it during colonial times. Today, it’s a bustling village crossroads in North Suffolk, where many of the residents have moved in within the last generation or so, and many of the older families and people with knowledge of the community’s history have either moved away or died.

“When I was growing up … there were certain ones that held all the history,” he recalls. “Now, they’re gone. We looked around and said, ‘We’re losing our history.’”

That’s when area resident and amateur historian Lynn Rose began organizing a group dedicated to documenting that history before it’s lost forever.

“It’s late to be doing this,” Copeland says. “But it’s not too late.”

Rose formed the foundation, which has since been incorporated. She is the chairman, and Copeland is one of the directors.

Members have been meeting since February to make plans for the book and to begin the exhaustive research they hope will lead to a quality publication that will make the community proud.

On Sunday, members will gather at Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church on Kings Highway to collect memories and donations toward their cause. People are encouraged to bring old photos and documents to be scanned. And folks with personal memories they would like to share are asked to come and make appointments for interviews that will be taped and archived.

“The interviews are going to be a big part of it,” Copeland says. Interviewees will be asked “to share their experiences, to share their family histories … to gather their memories, to gather their thoughts, to tell what they want to tell.”

He describes the community support for the project as “wonderful,” but events like Sunday’s are intended to raise the level of participation even higher.

“We need volunteers,” Copeland says. “We need participation, and certainly contributions would be much appreciated.”

To that end, Copeland and others from the foundation are willing to speak to community groups about the project, and Sunday’s event will be replicated in October at Oakland Christian Church on Godwin Boulevard.

There’s a lot to be done if the group is to meet its goal of publishing the book within the next two and a half years or so, but a lot of work already has gone into the project, too.

“All of this is going on, and moving rapidly, right now,” he says.

“There’s a lot more work than anyone would have ever dreamed, and it’s a lot more important than a lot of people realize.”

For more information about the organization’s plans, or to schedule an appearance by one of its members, call Copeland at 286-9149 or Rose at 255-4663.