Giving up its secrets

Published 9:13 pm Tuesday, May 28, 2013

In a city the size of Suffolk — and one with as many centuries of history under its belt as Suffolk has — a few historical surprises are bound to turn up here and there from time to time.

During the past couple of weeks, folks who keep up with the history of the communities that came together through the years to form the place we now know as Suffolk have been pleasantly surprised and intrigued by a couple of minor historical mysteries.

In downtown Suffolk, outside of Riddick’s Folly, one of the city’s iconic structures, workers excavating footers for a new porch and stairs at the entry to the grand old home have found potsherds museum curator Lee King believes date back to the home that stood on that site prior to construction of the outsized house Mills Riddick built at the edge of old Suffolk.

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About three feet down, small pieces of pottery began to turn up during the recent excavation, which also revealed the brownstone steps have had problems prior to the ones that sparked the current renovation. Some of the potsherds have ornate blue-and-white flower designs; others are blue-and-gray stoneware; another is simply gray with “Fox” or “Cox” imprinted in the piece.

Assuming King is right about the likely date of the pottery, the discoveries will help shed a little more light on how folks in Suffolk lived prior to 1837, when the original house was destroyed by fire.

Across the city, up in the North Suffolk area that was once encompassed by Nansemond County, a couple of residents of the Harbour Breeze Estates community are working to solve a historical riddle with a more recent origin that, nonetheless, has proved an elusive mystery.

While walking his dog one day recently, U.S. Navy operations specialist Ed Fallen came across a small cemetery in the woods, with about 10 markers and an unknown number of graves that had nearly been lost to nature. With the help of neighbor Joe Schipper, the men have tracked at least one of the tombstones back to a World War II veteran who might have been among the Americans who stormed the beaches at Normandy on June 6, 1944.

The men have been searching for whomever might own or be responsible for the cemetery, but they have been unsuccessful in their quest so far. Their hope is to find a way to give the remains the honor they deserve. At the very least, they hope to save the gravesites from being lost to time and the ravages of nature.

Suffolk still has its secrets. Every once in a while, though, the city surprises even its old-timers by giving up one or two of those secrets. That’s the kind of thing local historians live for.