'Peninsula In Passage' tells the
rich history of North Suffolk through voices of
the locals who shaped
the area's past and present
By James Thomas Jr.
Memories of the Purple Lady, collecting souvenir
baseball bats from professional players off Sleepy
Hole Road, a marriage of local twin girls to the
famous P.T. Barnum Siamese Twins, iconic places,
socialites and visionaries are all part of the history
and lore that is North Suffolk.
These gems are found in "Peninsula In Passage,"
a chronicle of events from Driver, Bennett's Creek
and Harbour View, told through the voices of locals
that helped shaped the area's past and present.
Many of those featured attended a book-signing
party at the rustic 1929 Arthur's General Store
in Driver and took turns retelling some of their
could walk from our family house (on Bennett's Pasture
Road) all the way here (to the Driver crossroads),
to play with a buddy, Shirley Arthur, and no cars
would pass me on the road. And if they did I knew
them," recalled Hinton D. Hurff - to whom the
book is dedicated.
Eberwine came with two cracked baseball bats he
got when a Cleveland Indians farm team trained at
Monogram Field in 1948, the deactivated Naval air
base on Sleepy Hole Road. "Ballplayers gave
away broken bats to youngsters who came to watch
them practice," Eberwine said. To this day,
Eberwine treasures his Louisville Sluggers.
Other reflections came from Matt Hartman, who discussed
"glory days" at the Obici House, based
on reflections from his parents, Ryland and Marian
Hartman, who lived in the mansion for five years.
Cornell and wife, Phyllis, still live in the Eagle
Point home his parents bought in 1946. "We
do see eagles fly overhead" she says in the
book. She also mentioned "Esmeralda, the nice
ghost who lives in the main house."
Suffolk River Heritage, the former Crittenden-Eclipse-Hobson
Heritage Foundation, produced "Peninsula In
Passage." The nonprofit organization modified
its name and logo to reflect an expanded mission
that includes more North Suffolk communities, said
Karla Smith, the group's chairman.
Largely written and photographed by former Pilot
writer Phyllis Speidell and former Pilot photographer
John H. Sheally II, the hardcover, 224-page publication
follows their 2009 "The River Binds Us"
collaboration on Crittenden, Eclipse and Hobson.
It represents the team's fourth completed regional
"It's the voices of the people telling their
stories about their growing up and things that happened,"
Smith said. "They include old letters, family
history and memories all put together to make a
Several of the people featured are legends in the
communities where they lived or live - people like
The Purple Lady, aka Rachel Presha, who walked along
U.S. 17 in Belleville, cloaked in purple. She painted
telephone poles and other objects the same color.
Purple Lady sightings became part of local lore
and fueled longing curiosities about her. After
a long disappearance, Presha returned home in 2009
and lives with a daughter near her one-time home.
A purple figurine appears on the front cover of
the book in her honor.
Perhaps more lore than fact is a tale recounting
the double marriage of local twins Sal-lie and Adelaide
to conjoined twins Chang and Ang, natives of Siam.
The pairs purportedly produced 21 children before
the men ran off to join the circus and P.T. Barnum
dubbed them the Siamese Twins.
"Peninsula In Passage" covers a span
from the first English settlers' encounter with
Nansemond Indians to present-day development in
North Suffolk. It pays tribute to the philanthropy
of people like Amedeo Obici and Richard Bennett,
and the educational vision of Frederick Beazley
and John Yeates.
Yet plenty of space is given to the establishment
of local churches, schools and book clubs, as well
as Easter egg factories and the many locals who
still offer a good-natured smile and friendly welcome.
"Too many places are losing their sense of
community," said Gregory A. Parker, who hosted
the party at the general store bought by his grandfather
at the start of The Great Depression. In the book,
Parker notes Driver's own economic woes with the
closing of the Kings Highway Bridge, a tornado in
2008 and a deep recession ever since.
The passage continues as the book notes recent
government and commercial development, including
the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel and
the entire Harbour View commercial and retail corridor.
The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities has
invited Suffolk River Heritage to present "Peninsula
In Passage" at the Virginia Festival of the
Book, March 20-24 in Charlottesville.
James Thomas Jr., email@example.com
Photos by James Thomas, Jr.
Order the book on line.