Historical exhibit dedicated

Published 10:05 pm Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A downtown museum on Wednesday dedicated a new exhibit that was carefully excavated from the ground over the course of five years.

Riddick’s Folly House Museum, 510 N. Main St., hosted about 20 people to dedicate the water cistern, which a volunteer uncovered with nothing more than a small hand tool and plenty of care.

“When I started, I didn’t know what I was going to find,” said Dempse Burgess, a volunteer for the museum. “It’s a lot longer than I thought it was.”

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Mills Riddick, who originally built the home, lost his first home on the site, as well as two other buildings, in the fire of 1837. When Riddick, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, constructed his new Greek revival mansion later that same year, it’s likely he felt the need for a supply of water for fire protection. It also supplied water to the adjacent laundry room.

In 1845, his son, Nathaniel Riddick, a lawyer, Virginia House of Delegates member and later a judge, redesigned a new gutter system on their home to supply the cistern with rainwater.

The cistern is 20 feet long and eight feet wide. It’s six feet deep and held 6,000 to 7,000 gallons of water.

Larry Riddick, president of the board of Riddick’s Folly and distant relative of the Riddicks who built the home, said the cistern is rare in this area.

Volunteers and donors to the Riddick’s Folly water cistern excavation included, from left, Dempse Burgess, Win Winslow of the Suffolk Foundation, William Blair, Kermit Hobbs of the Suffolk Foundation, and Billy Chorey Sr. and John Harrell, both of the Birdsong Trust Fund.

“You don’t see many in Tidewater,” he said.

Burgess started working on excavating the cistern in 2012 after Folly curator Edward L. King mentioned its existence. At one time, the topmost bricks of the domed cistern were visible.

The Birdsong Trust and Suffolk Foundation helped fund the project. William Blair of Blair Bros. Inc. donated two caps that came off cisterns in Smithfield from around the same time period.

Blair said the caps came from the sites of the former Jamestown Hotel on Main Street and a mansion on North Church Street. His company had done work at both sites and he kept the caps.

Riddick said the project was important, because it helps open up another piece of Suffolk history to the public, both locals and visitors from around the world.

“A lot of history in Suffolk has been torn down, bulldozed, whatever,” he said. “We’re trying to keep part of the history of Suffolk and Nansemond County.

“We get a lot of people that come in. it’s nice to be able to show them part of Suffolk’s history.”