The Village of Sandy Bottom
Researched and written by Drex Bradshaw
Sandy Bottom is approximately one and one half miles northeast of Chuckatuck on the Crittenden Road. As one travels through Sandy Bottom you will find by population an African American community that was formed around what is now Diamond Grove Baptist Church. Initially many of these families were tenant farmers for the larger adjoining land owners. Over the years this part of Sandy Bottom has grown in size with many of the current residents being family of those who were there in the 1800s.
In 2011 there are 40 plus homes in the immediate area. The major farms,upon which many of the local residents worked were on both sides of the road and were located between the Nansemond River on the east side and the Chuckatuck Creek on the west side. These major farm home sites, unseen from the main road, were mostly on or near the waters’ edge.
Just like the village of Chuckatuck, Sandy Bottom has several variations of how it got its name. The most logical one is that on the corner near the new barber shop in Sandy Bottom there is currently a dip in the road which in the early days, before it was paved, was a fairly good size depression. Very close by is an active spring and it has been that way for centuries. It seems that a gentleman was traveling along this sandy road in a horse and buggy when he came upon this depression. Rumor has it that the horse, buggy and driver were swallowed up by the sand (quick sand) in that area never to be seen or heard from again. Several people have told us that the entire road from one end of Sandy Bottom to the other was deep sand and horses pulling carts and the early automobiles would slip slide into the ruts and get stuck without fail. Therefore one can only assume that the name Sandy Bottom is synonymous with the condition of the road en-route to Crittenden, Eclipse and Hobson and the tale of how it got its name. Those who lived in or traveled through Sandy Bottom in the early 1900s before paved roads will attest to the condition of the road. The naming of Sandy Bottom was reiterated in the history of Sandy Bottom by Mattie Rawls on file at GCHF.
Sandy Bottom was a logical place for a store in the 1700-1800s and as the population grew along with a diversity of occupations there was room for a second and third store. When reading the chapter on Stores you will find a pretty good description of the three main stores in this area. Each of these stores was unique in its association with the locals and the interviews obtained from a number of members of the community will attest to this. For example, Dailey’s Store was most likely the first to be built in the area and served the small number of farmers and tenants in the area. It was the link between land and sea so to speak in that a railway ran from the store all the way to the Chuckatuck Creek for movement of produce in a fairly rapid fashion. Some of the rail track is still visible today. In the late 1920s the second store, Chapman’s, was built and it expanded its wares in the 1940s to include items for the waterman. In the late 1940s the third store, Diamond Way Service Sta., was built to support the local African American population as a convenience store. Weekly groceries came from the two larger stores while the one item purchases were made at Diamond Way. You can find more data on these three stores in the Store section of this chapter.
There are a number of farms in the area and each will be listed initially and discussed later. It is extremely difficult and will take a lot of research to sort all of this out, but a broad statement is necessary before we start. In the area of Sandy Bottom it is estimated that in the mid to late 1800s a Mr. J.D. Corbell was a major land holder, possibly owning most of the land from Sandy Bottom to Hobson on both sides of the road. However, for some clarity (we hope), lets jump to around 1900 and try to identify as many farms as possible and who owned them.
Starting at the southern entrance to Sandy Bottom, you would find eight or nine homes on the right side of the road then on the left side the Pruden farms, Pitt farm (later Johnson and Bush), and the Brock farm. On the right would be the Sarick farm and Wilkerson farm. Then back on the left there was the Pope farm, the Corbell farm (later divided into the Cotten farm and Copeland farm) and then the Newman farm. Ferry Point farm and Briar farm are both reached from the road adjacent to Chapman’s Store, now Nansemond Marine. For more detailed information on the farms see Chapter on 20th Century under Agriculture and Commerce and later in this writing.
If you were not working as a tenant farmer you were most likely a waterman in the early years. Later on as the bridges were built members of the community started working at the local shipyards. We were informed by Sammy Copeland that many of those in the community had several vocations at the same time. For example Rev. Solomon Diggs was the preacher at Diamond Grove Baptist Church, worked as a farmer and in the shipyard, all at the same time. (pic of Rev. Diggs?)
The local Baptist church, Diamond Grove, built in 1921, was the religious center for the many tenants of the big farms in the area. Between the 1908 founding of the church community and 1921 when the church was built, meetings were held in local homes. The church is still going strong and has a great following that speaks well of this small community. In an interview with Mrs. Mann she showed me a picture of what she described as the “most prominent men in Sandy Bottom” listed as Emitt Hall, Irvey Long, Whitman Hicks, John Wesley Wilson, Jesse G. Pittman, Henry Chance, and Walter Jordon. These men were deacons in Diamond Grove of which Ida has been a member for over 70 years. In the history of Sandy Bottom there are other men who served as deacons including Ned Hicks, James Lee Diggs, Willie O. Diggs, Willie B. Fulgham, Robert Hargrave, Richard Jordan, George Odom, Marvin Thomas, Charles Brown, Richard Goodwin, David Wilson, Melvin Diggs and Thomas Godette. (pic of deacons)
Mrs. Mann, still a local resident, went to school through the 7th grade and then to work as a farm laborer first and ultimately to Planters Peanut Company in 1942. She would stay there for 47 years as a packer and retire as an operator. Her mode of transportation to and from Suffolk was a bus operated by Shadrack Brown from Chuckatuck. She was paid $11.00 per week and her cost of transportation was $2.50. One of her fondest memories was just being alive. “It was all they were use to and they made the best of it as they could. She said she would work all day for 50 cents, go get some white potatoes, bring them home and eat them.” Her father worked on a farm and on the water all of his life. This writer asked her if she could do her life over again what would she change. Her response was “Nothing, I have no regrets.”
The local Sandy Bottom grammar school was the educational center and was constructed circa 1900. This school, still standing, schooled the children of the community for their first six years of education and is currently the community center. Those that continued their education went to Oakland for the seventh grade and then to East Suffolk High School.
Mrs. Mattie Cowling Rawls, born in 1924, was the first girl from Sandy Bottom to graduate from high school. She produced a history of Sandy Bottom in 2007/2008 currently on file at the GCHF for your review. Mattie has her master’s degree and taught school for 40 years. Some of her fondest memories of growing up in Sandy Bottom were buying ice cream, canned peaches, and small cakes. She said that Walter Jordan had a significant impact on her life and that of the other children. He even built them a merry-go-round which she remembers so well. Her father started as a farmer, oysterman, and then moved on to the naval shipyard from where he retired. As noted by Mattie he was very instrumental in her getting an education.
Reverend Solomon Diggs, pastor at Diamond Grove for over 30 years, was revered by all of the members of the community. In the history written by Mattie she states that “Deacon Henry Chance of Macedonia Baptist Church, Hobson, was instrumental in establishing our church and Sunday school”.
This is a very interesting quote and is reiterated in a later interview with Mrs. Mary Diggs Brown noting that the children really did learn to read and write in Sunday School. Mary was born in 1945 in Sandy Bottom. She stated the grammar school was a large room, capable of being partitioned off into two rooms, but this partition was very seldom used as each row of benches was a particular grade and each student knew where they were to sit. Mary said that they were “Community Children” in that she was afraid not to speak to everyone because she knew her parents would find out very soon. Her father, Mr. James Diggs, was the owner of the Diamond Way Service Sta. (You can read more about the store, church and school in the 20th century part of the book). Mary said that after working as a share cropper and chopping peanuts one day she decided that there must be something better in life than this. Therefore she decided on an education as her ticket to that better life and after graduation from Shaw University in North Carolina with a degree in mathematics she became a school teacher in the local schools for 30 years. Mary also related to us that in September of every year there was a baptism service near the Rippey home at “Briar Farm”. The entire congregation would move to the farm and go down to the river where the baptisms were performed. Now they have a baptismal pool in the church for this purpose.
A local resident of Sandy Bottom for many years whose family has lived on “Crooked Creek” since the mid 1700s is Nancy Pruden. She has written an article on “The Old Kitchen on Crooked Creek Farm” which is quoted in its entirety for your reading pleasure. Although not the oldest building in the GCH area it is of significant importance. (Place a picture here of the Old Kitchen)
“At the end of a mile-long dirt lane off Crittenden Road stands a three story brick kitchen. From the front, the building appears to be only one story, a common construction practice used to reduce taxes on a structure during the era prior to the American Revolution. Built in 1760, the kitchen was constructed separately from the main house in case of fire, and when the main house did indeed burn down in the late 1800s, the old kitchen survived and has remained to the present day. I have always known this brick building as The Old Kitchen, named after my mother’s antique shop, The Old Kitchen Antiques. This humble structure has many tales to tell about the history of Crooked Creek Farm. (pic of old kitchen)
Land grants from the Library of Virginia note the property now known as Crooked Creek Farm may have been inherited by John Corbell from his father Thomas Corbell in 1695. The farm, then called Beartown, eventually went to John D. Corbell. A 1968 article in The Ledger Star newspaper featured The Old Kitchen Antiques and the historic building that housed it. After reading the article, a Portsmouth woman well into her nineties wrote to my mother identifying herself as a former “indentured servant” on the Corbell farm. She remembered Corbell as “the meanest man in the county” and recalled working long hours in the fields with other servants who chanted as they labored. She wrote of the Corbells’ adoption (in truth, forced servitude) of two British children, David Pippin and his sister Beth, who worked on the farm and lived in the third story room of The Old Kitchen. The elderly woman recounted that Beth never survived her brutal childhood, and in the final illness of her short life vomited violently from the top window of the kitchen. A Pruden family legend held that the stain visible on the exterior bricks under the third floor window was a reminder of Beth’s last illness and death. The stain remained until my parents restored the building’s exterior in the 1970s. David Pippin apparently stayed in the area after Corbell’s death and hosted oyster roasts on various farms for a living. Hanging on the wall of my home is an oil painting entitled “Beth’s Window,” which depicts a scene from an inside perspective of the kitchen. Kerry Kirkland, a childhood friend who painted it, said he felt Beth’s presence was with him while he worked on it.
In 1901, my great grandfather, Henry Pruden, bought the Corbell farm at auction on the steps of the courthouse for $2,525.00 after having previously purchased a farm from John Baker in 1882 that bordered the Corbell farm. After Henry’s death in 1902, his will provided that the two farms be divided among three of his children. My grandfather, Elwood Pruden, was given the parcel of land on which the Corbells had lived, which included the area where the kitchen stands. Because it is surrounded on three sides by the Chuckatuck Creek, the property has come to be known as Crooked Creek Farm.
When Elwood married Pearl Richardson of Eclipse in 1918, she began her new life by moving into a brand new home built from trees which had grown on the property. That structure still stands today after housing Prudens for ninety years. Elwood farmed with the help of Gordon Tynes and several other men from Sandy Bottom. Gordon and Carrie Lee Warren lived on the farm in a tenant house along with their children and Carrie Lee’s brother, Floyd. Floyd remembered that soybeans, corn, peanuts, and spinach were Mr. Pruden’s main crops. Floyd recalled that he and the other men would sing as they cut and busheled spinach, and Elwood would then transport it to the Eberwine’s cannery to be sold. Elwood also harvested fruit from his orchard and sold it from his truck to people in the community. Carrie Lee’s daughter, Jean Hargrove, recalls that cows and mules roamed freely on the farm and tells the story of just sitting down to a meal of fried chicken, fried corn and homemade biscuits when a mule poked its head through the window and snatched a biscuit off her plate. (pic of Prudens in field)
Elwood and Pearl’s only child, Marvin, married Leona Bracey of Windsor in 1945. They had a son, Terry, in 1946 and a daughter, Nancy, in 1958. Leona’s close friend, Ruth Pruden, who lived on the next farm, became pregnant with daughter Deborah while Leona was pregnant with Terry and later was pregnant with daughter Betsy while Leona was pregnant with Nancy. Deborah Pruden remembered Ruth saying that if Leona got pregnant again, she was leaving town.
After Marvin’s death, Leona married Woody Jones of Virginia Beach. They had many happy years living on Crooked Creek Farm until Leona’s death in 2004.
I am the last Pruden living on Crooked Creek Farm and will never leave it. Some nights I awake to faint sounds of people chanting. Maybe I’m dreaming, or maybe the spirits of former inhabitants of the land still live there, too. Surrounded by the peaceful Chuckatuck Creek, the farm and its old kitchen have survived it all and have many stories yet to tell.”
In the opening of this section on Sandy Bottom we mentioned the Pruden farms. In fact there were two, one with access by the first house on the left (built in 1901) as you come into Sandy Bottom from Chuckatuck and a second farm which had access just the other side of Dailey’s store and until recently was the home of Dr. Waters. What follows are a couple of comments from Deborah Pruden Powell who lived on the other farm. Nancy Pruden’s grandfather and Deborah’s grandmother were brother and sister.
“Henry Pruden bought the farm in 1882 from John Baker and built the house for his family of two adults and six children. It was a classic two on two house with a wide hall downstairs, two rooms and a small box room were upstairs. The kitchen was a separate building and sat to the side of the main house. There had been another house on the property, it was not in good shape so Henry Pruden built his house behind the original structure. That house was moved over to the side of the property where it remained for many years. The original house was torn down in the early fifties, I remember the foundation bricks were still in the front yard when I was a child.
In 1901 Henry Pruden bought the adjacent farm owned by John Corbell. Henry passed away in 1902, in his will he left his property to his children. At that time the oldest, Fletcher, was nineteen and soon left home to work on the railroad in North Carolina. That left the next two boys, Elwood, age 15, and Clifton, age 14, to help their mother with the farm. They did the best they could and prospered. Their mother died in 1915, by thisthe time youngest son, Colonna, worked for Norfolk and Western Railroad. In October 1916 the two daughters had a double wedding. Elethia married Tom Eley and moved to Portsmouth and Ethel married her second cousin, Stanley Pruden and they lived in the farmhouse and Stanley took over the home farm. I believe that Clifton and Elwood divided the land purchased in 1901. Clifton built his house near the road that ran through Sandy Bottom and Elwood built a house on the Chuckatuck Creek. A bend in the creek separated the old and new houses.
I remember Sunday dinners in the old kitchen, if I close my eyes I can see mama sewing in the corner. I can hear daddy calling upstairs to get me up on a Sunday morning. I remember going barefoot most of the summer and walking with mama to Dailey’s store to get groceries. I can hear mama and daddy talking on the porch on warm evenings. I can see the Christmas tree in the hall and remember the year mama nailed the stand to the floor because Betsy tried to climb it. I remember the night mama fell down the steps with Betsy in her arms, and I remember the day mama and daddy moved.
That old house has seen births and deaths, triumphs and tragedies, good times and bad. It has withstood storms and hurricanes and has sheltered four generations of Prudens”.
For more information on this house see the chapter on Old Houses in the Greater Chuckatuck Historical area.
Other long time residents of Sandy Bottom are members of the Pope family. Their farm adjoined the Pitt farm, which adjoined the Pruden farms and has since the early 1860s when it was purchased from the Cowlings. The farm continued across Crittenden Road, currently the location of the sand pit. This farm backed up to the Raine/Rippey farm off of Ferry Point Road. Leroy Pope and his brother James are fifth generation owners. James lives in the old home place on Chuckatuck Creek. This is possibly the oldest home, circa 1860, in the Sandy Bottom area as noted by Leroy. There were also tenant homes on the property that might have been homes for slaves. His grandfather ran a buy boat that took products to and from various ports.
Sally Corbell Cotten, future wife of General Pickett, was Leroy’s great,great aunt. She did not grow up on this farm, but one adjacent to it off of Cotton Farm Lane. Leroy tells a great story about the siege of Suffolk and the smuggling of Sally to Petersburg to get married. (listen to his oral interview for more details).
Those who worked on the farm as laborers would be paid at the rate of $5.00 per day for women and $6.00 per day for men. Like many older farmers now they cannot make enough off of the land when leased to pay the taxes and due to their age they cannot farm it. So goes the way of most farms in the area while some end up becoming housing developments.
Leroy tells another story about an elderly black man by the name of Albert Grandy who lived in a cave just off the road on what is now the Pope farm. Albert was well educated which was rare for that time period and was the local barber. He would buy used corset stays for a penny each from some of the ladies for springs on his sheers. Leroy says that his dad showed him several caves that had been used by this gentleman. Leroy is a real patriot, very active in the community and supporter of many civic organizations. For several years Leroy has ensured that every July 4th, Memorial Day and Veterans Day American flags would be lining highway 125 from the intersection to Gloversville and every grave site of a veteran at the four local cemeteries had a flag on it as well. Part of this service has now been taken on by a younger volunteer from the Chuckatuck Ruritan Club.
The next big farm on the opposite side of the road, on the Nansemond River, is that of Nick and Margaret Sarick. The entrance to this farm is very close to the depression (dip in the road) where the legend took place that gave Sandy Bottom its name. Nick’s father bought the farm of 111 acres, sight unseen, in 1933 for unpaid taxes. It was originally owned by Lewis Livermann in 1870, had been turned over to L.P. Holland and ultimately American Bank and Trust Company. The original house is still on the farm, but in a state of deterioration. There was a wharf on the Nansemond River for the shipment of produce from the farm which according to Nick had an orchard on most of the acreage. Near the wharf Nick found sawdust several feet down while digging that may have been used to cover the ice to keep it from melting while keeping the fruit cold before and during shipment to market. There was a house on the road leading to the farm built for a Mrs. Eure and Mrs. Annie Pippins and subsequently torn down. Nick and Margaret have purchased an additional lot of seven acres, adjacent to Crittenden Road, to increase the size to 118 acres. This was once the site of the Pippin home.
Interesting story about this farm is that during World War II Monogram airfield just across the Nansemond River was very active and during some type of maneuver a fighter plane crashed in the marsh in front of the Sarick house. The U.S. Government used the Ferry Point Road (next to Sam Chapman’s store) for a route to and from the aircraft for recovery. Not sure of the disposition of the pilot in this accident.
The next farm/large land holding on the Chuckatuck Creek was that of Mr. J. D. Corbell. This farm land originally ran from the Chuckatuck Creek across the road to the Nansemond River and possibly all the way to Hobson, but this has not been verified. As noted in the discussion of the Pruden farms by Nancy Pruden their farm was originally owned by a Mr. J. D. Corbell. It was his uncle, also named John David Corbell who owned the land around Cotton Farm Lane. In discussions with Sammy Copeland it seems that a portion of the Corbell farm became the Cotten farm. Mr. Copeland bought about 200 acres from the bank that owned the Cotten farm. It is assumed that the Newman and Wilkerson farms had already been sold off or would be sold very soon. The current road known as Cotton Farm Lane split the Cotton/Copeland farm down the middle. From the research and conversations with Eddie Cotten who lived on the farm Mrs. Elsie Copeland’s home was not part of the big two story house, but the smaller home. The small house was located in the area of the big house and was the first home of John David and Elizabeth Mary Corbell. As the children started coming every 2 years, the little house was moved to where it is now, and the big house was built where it stands today. Mrs. Copeland, mother of Sammy, is still living in that smaller home with new additions. In place of the old Corbell home place a new home was constructed circa 1900 or earlier. The land area on both sides of Cotton Farm Lane has been developed into large building lots and a large sand pit filled with fresh water.
Next we have the Newman farm on the Chuckatuck Creek just prior to entering Hobson. In discussions with Geraldine Newman Sandidge, her grandfather, William Thomas Newman purchased the farm in 1910 from B.M. Bruce of Suffolk. Oliver William Newman and five other children lived with them, two of whom were born on the farm. In 1914 the farm was sold to E.L. Batten and in 1925 Oliver William Newman married Gladis Geraldine Neal and they purchased the farm back from E.L. Batten.
Connie Newman Taylor tells a funny story about her dad and the smokehouse when one of the relatives was looking for a Bible and she remembered she had one. “In Daddy’s later years when he had slowed down on the farm and had more time to listen to the radio and watch TV he became smitten with evangelists such as Rex Humbard, Oral Roberts and Jerry Falwell. Mother suggested on occasions that he make the monetary donations to Oakland, his beloved church, instead of to these folks. We think he tired of hearing this and that why we have a “Smokehouse bible”.
Only Oliver Newman would order a case of bibles from one of these folks and store (hide) them in the smokehouse. When friends and relatives came, he went out to the smokehouse and proudly gave them a bible.
Sure enough when I located the bible and opened it daddy had signed “O.W. Newman” I knew then that my memory was correct.”
In 1995 the Newman farm was sold to Mr. Dwight Schaubach who leases the land to local farmers.
Portions of the land holding across Crittenden Road, east side on the Nansemond between Hobson and the Copeland farm was sold to Robert Lafayette Wilkerson, father of George Frank Wilkerson. Robert and his family came from England in the 1800’s. Marion Wilkerson, in an interview, said that her great grandfather was buried at Saint John’s Church and her parents are buried at Wesley Chapel Methodist Church. Her grandfather, Robert Lafayette Wilkerson, was a cabin boy on a lumber boat on the Nansemond and he owned a store in Hobson under the trade name of Luke’s. That store was on the land that is now the entrance to the Schaubach home. There was a Wilkerson tobacco wharf on the Nansemond side somewhere between the Raine farm (Briar Farm), discussed in the agriculture and commerce section under 20th century, and the Route 17 bridge. The farm was purchased in three separate tracts. The first house was built on the tract now known as Longvue Shores and was ultimately sold to the Youngks who developed it to what it is today. The next section may have been adjacent to the Carney farm and what is now the game preserve and the third and final section was at the end of the Wilkerson lane, bordered by the Pope farm and crossed the road on the Chuckatuck Creek side. The second home built in 1905 by Marion’s grandfather was on the Nansemond River at the end of the current lane and remained until the late 1990s when the farm was sold and the land was developed along the waterfront.
“Briar Farm”, which backed up to the Pope land on the Nansemond River side was owned by Michaux and Zou and Zou’s brother, Withers Woolford. On the other side adjacent to Ferry Point farm was the farm owned in the 1870s by Capt. John Pruden. According to Shack Raine Brian Farm was bought by his father in 1933 from the Pinners. There is a funny story about one of the workers on this farm by the name of “William Wynn” or “Will Shoot a Pistol” as he was known to most of us. This is a quote from the autobiography of Shack Raine. A real treat was to stop by Williams house and have something to eat with him. Often Arthur and I would go to Williams’ house and eat beans and franks with him, warmed on his sole source of heat, a wood stove. William Wynn “came” to us in about 1940; and stayed until long after I left. William was totally uneducated, but a real jewel. In these days we had a tractor and a mule, “Dick”. William could walk behind Dick and plow all day, talking only to Dick. He also milked and each morning, as we were eating breakfast, William would come into the kitchen and talk, talk, and talk some more. Each cow had a name, Jumper, Mean One, Big Boy, etc. The cows would frequently get out, and after rounding them up and fixing the fence, William would announce, “Mr. Range, I got them cows paralyzed now”!
Ferry Point farm has a long history dating back to the early 1600s. It was a land grant from the King of England. In a “Sketch of Oakland Christian Church Community and Folks During the Period Between 1870-1880” written by Dr. N.G. Newman he noted that during that time frame Ferry Point farm was owned by Col. Phillips, a Commission merchant of New York and was occupied at that time by William J. Sullivan, an oysterman by trade. A ferry from Ferry Point farm made its way during the 1700-1800s back and forth to Sleepy Hole on the Driver side of the Nansemond. This ferry was a main artery for transportation across the river saving a great deal of travel time to Portsmouth and Norfolk in the early days before the bridges were built. At some point in the early 1900s Nick Wright from Norfolk bought the property and was instrumental in building the King’s Highway Bridge in 1928.
Sam Chapman and Cliff Pruden developed a water system circa 1935 for themselves and the local African American community. In Sandy Bottom the initial deep well was on Pruden property close to the road and remains in operation today. Originally this system served all of the houses from the Browns, first house on the right coming from Chuckatuck to just past Diamond Grove Baptist Church. In later years a well was drilled on the Community Center property and in 2000 the majority of this system was taken over by the city of Suffolk. The original well although serving a smaller number of members, is still in operation and just recently upgraded according to Gib Chapman.
In the 1950s a young man known by those in Sandy Bottom as “John” went to work for Sam Chapman in the store and around the house. It seems that John Odom was involved in a bus accident in the late ’50s which placed him in a disadvantaged state however he has continued to work every day for the Chapmans. Currently John can be seen in his Nansemond Marine uniform headed for the store every morning before opening time and after closing he makes his way back home. No one could ask for a more dedicated employee than John and he is always friendly to everyone with a wave or hello when you speak or honk at him.
There is not a lot of specific detail in this writing about the owners of the property in and around Sandy Bottom which is by design. Sandy Bottom like all the other villages would be a book unto itself when all the available data is researched and written. If anything obvious has been left out or misquoted it is not by design. Any corrections, additions or deletions will be appreciated by all concerned and will be incorporated into the archives at the earliest convenience of the GCHF.