A Sunday drive down Memory Lane

Published 9:14 pm Saturday, August 13, 2011

Sunday drives have always been my thing. My wife and I have spent many hours exploring Suffolk and other parts of Southeast Virginia in the car. Our drives are relaxing and give us a chance to discover places we otherwise never would have known or had the chance to enjoy.

I suppose I learned to enjoy exploring by car as a child, when my family would travel long distances by car across Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia for vacations.

But our family explorations were not limited to those vacations. We lived in Portsmouth until I was 12, when we moved to North Suffolk. During those early years, especially, I can remember many Sunday afternoons heading out into the country in Dad’s big car.


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That was when a drive along Route 17 held the possibility of seeing the Purple Lady ambling alongside the road and wondering what drove her wardrobe choices and why she felt the need to paint the telephone poles near her home their famous purple hue.

And that was pretty much all there was to see along Route 17 at the time. There was a popular restaurant, George & Steve’s Steakhouse, where the Walgreen’s now sits at the corner of Bridge Road and Shoulders Hill. And there was Bennett’s Creek Farm Market. And mile upon mile of farm fields.

Perhaps there were other businesses or homes along the way, but in my memory, it was pretty much the Purple Lady’s house, lots of open space and woods, a couple of small bridges and, finally, the big one, the James River Bridge, which put us in the big city, Newport News.

I remember the James River Bridge having a certain rhythm to it as the car bounced along over the expansion joints. And I never realized how narrow the old version of the bridge really was until the first time I drove across it as a teenager, certain that a passing truck would knock our car over the low concrete rail. I recently walked along the remaining portion of that bridge, now used as a fishing pier, and was shocked at just how narrow it really was, compared to the roads and bridges we build today.

All those memories have come flooding back in recent weeks, as we’ve worked on a series of stories about the history of North Suffolk.

In a place where history stretches back for hundreds of years, it might seem odd to put together a group of stories about an area that’s been part of Suffolk since only 1974, a place without real geographic boundaries that is populated largely by people who have come here from somewhere else — and recently, at that.

But especially for people who are new to their community, it’s important to know a little bit about how a place came to be what it is. Connecting to a community’s past can help one understand the dynamics that inform life there in the present.

And understanding, in particular, the history of North Suffolk can help newbies and old-timers, alike, come to grasp the importance of this area to the future, both for Suffolk and for Hampton Roads in general.

I hope you’ve been enjoying our trip down Memory Lane. We’ll pick it up again next week. Meanwhile, watch for me on the road. I feel another afternoon of exploration coming on, and I’ve got a feeling that Suffolk still has some secrets to reveal.