Dugout canoe to be preserved

Published 9:54 pm Thursday, March 23, 2017

A dugout canoe discovered a few years ago on the banks of the Nansemond River now has a new home, just a few hundred yards away.

About a dozen local historians and conservationists turned up Thursday morning to help carry the deteriorated canoe out of the brush near the river behind the Walgreens on West Constance Road and transport it to the Riddick’s Folly House Museum, near the opposite corner on North Main Street.

Local tree expert Byron Carmean discovered the canoe when the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance asked him to do a tree survey to support its opposition to the Walgreens being built. The pharmacy was approved in 2012.

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“It was upside down,” Carmean said of his discovery. “It was in rather bad shape, but even so, a dugout canoe is a dugout canoe.”

He told a few local people about it, including Kermit Hobbs and Edward “Lee” King, the executive director at Riddick’s Folly.

About a week ago, Hobbs called Carmean and suggested they go rescue the canoe. It became a joint project of Riddick’s Folly and the Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society.

The group that gathered Thursday morning braved the cold to carry it out of the brush on a tarp. It was then loaded into a pickup truck and carefully transported to the Folly.

All along the way, various discoveries were made that had been difficult to see when it lay in the woods.

The canoe is made of heart pine and is distinguished by a large knot at its bow. It’s currently about 15 feet long but likely was 20 feet or more when it was made. It appears to have been cut and shaped with tools and features both wood and iron nails, meaning it’s likely from the colonial period rather than prior to the arrival of European settlers. A channel from the inside to the bow may have been used to drain water that got inside.

At least two patches and repairs indicate it was well used and well loved. It likely was buried in the mud for some time, Carmean said, which is what allowed it to be preserved. A storm likely uncovered it in recent years.

Theories varied Thursday among the rescuers as to who originally used the canoe, for what, and when.

Hobbs pointed out that John Cowper’s shipyard was located on the Nansemond River, within sight of where the canoe was discovered.

“I can’t help thinking there might be some connection there,” he said.

John Cross, also among the group of rescuers, said the groups will consult with experts on the best way of preserving the canoe and also in hopes to learn more about it. The canoe is currently making its home on the side porch of Riddick’s Folly.

“Now, it’s a puzzle,” said King, of Riddick’s Folly.