Folly dedicates law office

Published 8:04 pm Saturday, May 19, 2018

About 20 people gathered to celebrate the dedication of the law office at Riddick’s Folly on Wednesday.

The North Main Street house museum has been painstakingly restoring the law office for 14 years. Originally the office of a Holland-area physician, Dr. Robert Copeland Everett, the 1830s-era office was moved to Riddick’s Folly in 2004 to commemorate the law office that originally stood on the site. It originally stood near the intersection of Vicksburg Road and Longstreet Lane.

Both professionals would have been using their offices, which were similar in size and detail, at around the same time, so it was an appropriate recognition.

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The office has been completely restored, repainted and furnished in a style similar to how it would have appeared when Nathaniel Riddick used his original law office on the site.

“We’re trying to preserve the history of Suffolk and Nansemond County,” said Larry Riddick, president of the board of directors of Riddick’s Folly and a distant cousin of the family. “If we don’t, who will?”

Mary Austin Darden, a descendant of Nathaniel Riddick, was present on Wednesday and said the restoration of the law office and all of Riddick’s Folly means a lot to her.

“It’s been an integral part of my family for eons and ages, to say the least,” she said. “I love it.”

After living in various places around the world with her family, it made sense to come home to Suffolk, she said — especially for her children.

“It was wonderful for them, because they had never lived in a place where they had history,” she said.

The work on the law office was funded by the Birdsong Trust, Suffolk Foundation and Pruden Foundation.

“I’m extremely proud,” said Kermit Hobbs of the board of the Suffolk Foundation. “I’ve always felt this is the best-kept secret in Suffolk, and it keeps getting better. This is an example.”

John Harrell of the board of the Birdsong Trust also said he appreciated the project.

“We’ve always supported Riddick’s Folly,” said Harrell, whose construction company renovated the main house.

Riddick’s Folly was built by Mills Riddick after a fire in early 1837 destroyed dozens of homes, including his. The insurance payment helped build what came to be called the Folly because of its size.

All three of his lawyer sons had respected careers and are honored in the newly dedicated law office.

The oldest of all of Mills Riddick’s 14 children, Richard Henry was born in 1806. He was an attorney in both the county and circuit courts of Nansemond County and inherited part ownership in the Albemarle Swamp Land Company from his father. He moved to Pantego, N.C., to help operate the business, which shipped lumber and wood shingles all over the East Coast. While there, he served as judge and postmaster. He married Mary Ann Green of Isle of Wight County, and they had seven children.

The youngest of the three lawyers, Washington Lafayette Riddick, was the 13th child and was educated at the College of William & Mary. He had a lucrative law practice, was the editor of a Portsmouth newspaper and served in the Confederate Army. Following the war, he returned to his law practice and was elected to the Virginia Senate in 1869. He was married to Frances Marion Blount of Southampton County and had five children.

Last but not least, Nathaniel Riddick, the 10th child, who used the building as his law office, graduated from Randolph-Macon College and was a member of the Virginia legislature for 17 years, mayor of Suffolk and a judge in the Nansemond County Court.

It was Nathaniel Riddick who purchased his siblings’ shares of Riddick’s Folly following their father’s 1844 death and lived in the home with his wife, Missouri Ann Jones Kilby, and their children. He died in the law office, and it was torn down soon afterward.

Descendants continued to live in the home until 1966.