King receives Watson award

Published 10:32 pm Tuesday, November 26, 2013

By Allison T. Williams

Special to the News-Herald

Lee King is the face of Riddick’s Folly House Museum.

Email newsletter signup

But his wife, Henrietta, is equally passionate and involved in Riddick’s Folly, the majestic 21-room house in downtown Suffolk built by Mills Riddick in 1837.

On Monday, the couple received the Tom Smith Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ 19th annual Marion Joyner Watson award. The award, named in memory of the former Suffolk historian, is given annually to someone who has worked to preserve the heritage of Suffolk and the old Nansemond County.

“More than any other couple, this is a case of the sum being greater than the individuals,” said Kermit Hobbs Jr., 1997 recipient of the award. “Together, they are a tremendous force and talent for Suffolk.

“Lee is energetic, passionate and knows the story of every piece of furniture in the museum,” Hobbs said. “Henry is Lee’s silent partner; her strength is in research and digging up new information.

“It’s almost magic the way the two of them fit together and enhance each other.”

When Lee King became the museum’s curator and executive director in 1991, Riddick’s Folly had only 11 pieces of furniture. Today, the museum has between 2,000 and 3,000 pieces of circa-1840s furniture and accessories, King said. All but one room is fully furnished and open to the public.

Recently, several Riddick descendants, some from as far away as Florida and California, have called King about donating clothing, books and furniture that were original to the Riddick home. Also, several locals who attended the 1967 estate auction at the Riddick house are making donations of items that once belonged to the Riddick family.

Mills Riddick’s 14 children were born in the house. His granddaughter, Anna Mary Riddick, lived in the house until she was 95, except when the Union Army occupied the house between 1862 and 1865.

Anna Mary Riddick never married, but local lore and letters indicate she may have been secretly engaged to her tutor, Jonathan R. Smith. Smith, who died in 1862 while fighting for the Confederacy, is buried in Blandford Cemetery, in Petersburg.

Several letters between Riddick and Smith are among the more than 8,000 pieces of correspondence acquired by Riddick’s Folly, King said.

Lee Hart, former commander of Tom Smith Camp and 2001 winner of the Watson award, said Henrietta was crucial to helping local historians find Smith’s marked grave in Blandford Cemetery several years ago. Until then, most had assumed he was buried in an unmarked grave around Petersburg.

“Henrietta was the driving force to make sure Jonathan’s grave was properly marked (with a veteran’s stone) several years ago,” Hart said.

Lee and Henrietta have cataloged all of the acquisitions by Riddick’s Folly, said Jay Butler, chairman of Riddick’s Folly Board of Directors. The two also organize one of the museum’s most successful fundraisers, Hidden Treasures, a program loosely based on the wildly popular television program, “Antiques Roadshow,” Butler said.

Although his wife is the computer user in the family, Lee King is using technology to make Riddick’s Folly accessible to all Suffolk elementary schools. Since schools have cut back on field trips, students can watch a recorded video tour of the mansion and then ask King questions through videoconferences.

Receiving the Watson award is an honor, Lee King said.

“Marion Watson was a dear friend and her love of history was inspiring and contagious,” King said. “We were not sure we deserved this award.”