THE GREATER COMMUNITY OF EVERETS
(to include Milners and Exit)
Researched and written by Lynn Rose
The western branch of the Nansemond River split at Milner’s Neck to form Everets Creek, which went in a northwesterly direction to beyond Everets, and Indian Creek (also known as Exchange Creek or Milner’s Creek), which went in a westerly direction beyond where Lake Prince is. The term Milner’s Neck referred to the area between Exchange Creek and the Everets Creek or Western Branch. Due to the variety of spellings we should explain how the current spelling of Everets has evolved. Surely the name originated from early settlers of the area whose last name was Everett. As found in Cavaliers and Pioneers, 1623-1666, Volume One a land grant was made to “Symon Symons for 300 acres in N.W. branch of Nansemond River on June 3, 1656. Transportation of six persons including William Everitt and Ann, his wife.” Ann was believed to be the daughter of Symon Symons, also spelled Simons. A will for Lemuel Everett dated 1813 shows a son named Willis Everett. The spelling of Everets with one “t” was used by the United States post office in making an appointment in 1875 and was on the official post mark. Many natives continue to use “Everetts”, “Everetts Bridge” or “Everets Bridge” as the name of this very unique community. Since the United States government designated the spelling as “Everets” Mrs. Merle Kirk with the help of Joshua Pretlow was able to have this spelling adopted in the 1960s when the roads in Suffolk were officially named. (show pic of postmark) It seems the land originally owned by the Everett family in this area passed down to other owners, most especially the Pruden family, through sales or inheritance.
A reference was made to “Everit’s Bridge” in Travels in the Confederation 1783-1784 written by a German traveler, Johann David Schoept. After spending Christmas Eve with Mr. And Mrs. Everit (sic) the author noted the following. “The next morning we took leave early and expeditiously. Not far from the house we passed Everit’s Bridge, named for our host, who had built it by authority from the Assembly so as to bring the road, which lay in a different direction, before his house and store. Although he expected and got advantage from this change in the road, he considered it no business of his to look after the comfort of travelers.” Records show a petition to the General Assembly in 1794 by Willis Everitt (sic) for establishing an “Inspection of Tobacco at Everitts Bridge”. The petition notes that the waters are “navigable for vessels of twenty five tons” and that the area has “stores and warehouses erected and a considerable trade carried on with an extensive and fertile part of the country and where large quantities of produce is received”. The petition was denied. It is known that during the 1700s and 1800s considerable tobacco was grown locally and shipped by boat from Everets.
The tidal water went in a westerly direction from the current Lake Burnt Mills’ dam for about one half mile. Prior to the bridge at Everets, and up until Lake Burnt Mills’ reservoir was built, a road went above the tidal water near the Pruden home. From there it crossed to the west side of the Pruden home connecting with Route 603, now Everets Road, near its intersection with Lake Prince Drive. When Lake Burnt Mills is low you can see the old road bed/dam going to a point near the present home of Doug Saunders.
There was a gate at the county line on Route 602 that must have been part of the county fence law to keep livestock from roaming. Stokes Kirk remembered being told that a Mr. Richards would open the gate for 5 cents. This was probably payment for the service rather than a county fee.
A sawmill and box factory were built alongside the creek in 1871 by John J. Kirk who came to the area to manage property purchased by his father, Elias Kirk, and a business partner and cousin, Nathan Shoemaker. John J. was to build a saw mill and ship lumber and boxes back to Pennsylvania. During the period from approximately 1870 to the early 1890s, a walnut furniture factory was established on Burnt Mills Lake near the Pruden home. Skilled craftsmen and furniture manufacturers, including David Lyon from Buffalo, New York chose here because of the walnut supply. He brought skilled men with him. Among them was a man by the name of Stebbins. The story was told that he built the old dam beyond the gristmill owned by Capt. Nathaniel Pruden. Mr. Lyon built the furniture factory at the dam and lived in a house up the hill from the factory. The factory burned during the early 1890s and it is believed the name “Burnt Mills” came from this event. Mr. Stebbins and a man by the name of Webster were among those from Buffalo who remained here after the furniture factory was burned. Stebbins’ son later owned the tract of land now known as the “Walnut Orchard” which was planted by Stebbins’ father. Webster was called “Webby” by my Aunt Paul and lived for a while over the kitchen of the back part of the Kirk home. He worked in a building, later called the seed house, at the wharf. In 1895 he returned to his home in Buffalo, New York.
“The Virginia State Gazetteer and Business Directory 1897-‘98”, Vol. No. VII published by J. L. Hill Publishing Company listed the following people as having businesses located at Everets. Some of these people were actually located a mile or more away.
General Merchants – Mrs. V. L. Pope, T. J. Saunders (agt), M. L. Underwood
Mills – Corn and Flour – Nathaniel Pruden Mills – Saw and Planing – J. J. Kirk, D. C. Lyon Physician – Burch (or Bunch)
Post Offices – John J. Kirk
Principal Farmers – C. T. Minton, John Beale, Geo. W. Griffin, A. Saunders, George Denson, Richard White, Mills Godwin, John Godwin, J. H. Underwood, J. J. Saunders, C. J. Minton, M. L. Underwood, Mrs. G. Gay, E. J. Matthews, W. B. Pender, Holliday Parker, C. C. Thornton, I. W. Pitt
Land was purchased by Norfolk in 1918 for the construction of Lake Burnt Mills Reservoir. Due to various reasons including work on Lake Prince the progress was delayed and Lake Burnt Mills did not become a reservoir until 1942. (pic of dam) The dam was located just northwest of the bridge and the Wagner and Morgan homes. Water was backed up into Isle of Wight County flooding 711 acres.
A bogie tract (narrow gauge rail line) once existed along the road from Everets into Isle of Wight County towards Longview. It was used to bring wood staves and lumber to the wharf from a Mr. Gayle’s saw mill located across from Christian Home Baptist Church. This tract is shown on the 1918 United States Coast and Geodetic map. A story was told of the brake on the bogie unit breaking and it crashed at the bottom of the hill throwing the driver, Genie Ward, off the side.
“Boats would visit the Everets’ wharf weekly and unload ballast stones and fertilizer as well as mail and supplies for the general stores. Items shipped from the area included watermelons, barreled potatoes, peanuts, corn, boxes, crates and lumber. These items were shipped to various places far and near. Two of the sons of Thomas Jefferson Saunders, Jr. operated boats. Ralph hauled produce and Calvin hauled timber and piling.
In 1924 Everets was a bustling community. The store across from the Kirk house was operated by Mr. Samuel Moore. Willie Saunders, W. G. Saunders, Mrs. Saunders and Evelyn Saunders lived across the road from us. The bridge was operated by two men taking the key to turn the bridge 90 degrees on its center pier to let the boats thru. They brought provisions to be sold at the stores: ice, beef, flour and clothing. Potatoes in barrels, watermelons, peanuts and various other farm products were loaded out. Incoming boats used the incoming tides and outgoing boats used the outgoing tides. The west end of the bridge was a bare tunnel of overhanging branches and honeysuckle. Next to the bridge on the downstream side was a warehouse that Capt. Tommy Saunders used to store shipments. The W. K. Wagner store was reportedly built during the 1890 to 1900 period. This was on the south side of the road. Next to this on the west was a flowing artesian pipe well. On the other side were several other warehouses, one of which was a saloon before prohibition. Mr. Wagner’s house was up the road at the bend across from where the road went up the very steep hill. The Cotton Gin was at the eastern edge of the creek south of the entrance to the bridge. Just south of the gin was the seed house where the seeds were blown in and eventually loaded into trucks by shovel. The cotton house was behind the old store. The saw mill was off the eastern back edge of the store. The planing mill was erected east of the saw mill, next to the road. Another artesian well was between the Cotton Gin and the store. The flow of water was continuous from 1924 to 1962, when the City of Norfolk began raising the water in Western Branch reservoir. The well flow was about one gallon per minute. It emptied into a barrel and its overflow emptied into a long 12”x12” trough that the horses and mules used. Granddaddy Kirk was very strict about the use of the well. People on occasion would bend over and drink out of the barrel, as a horse would. (They were supposed to use a dipper.) It was said that he warned them about this from the porch of the Kirk home. After repeated warnings, it was said that he shot at them with his shotgun as they leaned over and were drinking. He probably shot in the air.” Quote above and below from J. S. Kirk
“The Kirk family moved to Port Norfolk in 1904 since J. J. was 65 and his wife, Margaretta, wanted to be near her sister who lived there. By a deed dated 3-23-1904 the house was rented to W. G. Saunders for some years and W. G. Jr. was born in this house in 1905. Later the Saunders family built a house across the highway from the Kirk house. The Kirk family would travel to Everets in the summer by cart or, mainly, by boat. John J. Kirk died in 1922 and Russell inherited the land at Everets. Russell and Stokes moved back in 1924 when Russell went in the cotton ginning business. Merle and Arthur came in 1925. At that time the home had no water except what we got at the artesian well, transportation was by Model T and no bathroom. Russell Kirk fixed up a shower at the corner of the store and later at the N.E. corner of the house, both using rain water. Soon a water pump was installed in the cotton gin, a pipe run up the hill and a pressure tank put in the basement. This gave us water and soon a bathroom was installed. From 1924 until 1935 the family used lamps for light. Then R.E.A. came in.”
“Russell built a saw mill at the base of the hill in 1925. The cotton gin operated until 1936 using 15 to 20 bales a day. The bales weighed close to 500 pounds each. There were two gins in the single building. Mr. Alex Simonds (Salmon) ran the gin. In 1936 Russell went exclusively into sawmilling and farming. The boil weevil attributed partially to the change. This mill burned in 1935.” When Stokes Kirk was a boy he remembered there were 25 sawmills in Suffolk and Nansemond County and 9 located between Everets and Smithfield. Some of these were located on individual farms. By 2011 all the saw mills in Suffolk and Nansemond County had closed.
The cotton gin was run at night and the steam engine also powered a D.C. generator for lights in the gin and the saw mill where the boiler was. Alec Salmon, Hozier Whitfield and Mason Newby were the principle ones who ran the Cotton Gin. Mr. Simonds was in general charge. The Store during the late 20’s and early 30’s was located across the road next to the bridge. Rufus Martin was the proprietor (the Kirk store having been closed and torn down) assisted by William Baker who was raised by the Martin family. William liked to play pranks and would walk down to the saw mill after dark, get a sawmill strip, go back up to the Cotton Gin and bang the corrugated tin side with the strip. Mr. Simonds would be upstairs busily feeding the cotton into the gins. He would hear the banging and, thinking the belts were about to tear up, he would pull the emergency cord, which cut the steam off to the engine. Everything would slow down and stop. The light went out and everything was in the dark. The kerosene lanterns would be lighted and after searching for something wrong, the crew would cautiously start the gins back up. William “Joe” Baker would be at the store by the window watching, playing his guitar, and laughing. (pic of cotton gin)
From the 1920’s to 1930’s there was a large number of people in the area. Electricity became available at Everets in 1935. The Pruden home received electricity in the spring of 1948 and Vernon Rhodes got electricity in 1947.
For many years the steam powered mill whistle would pierce the air six times every workday: 7:45 and eight in the morning, twelve noon, 12:45 and again at one PM signaling the lunch hour. Another whistle at five o’clock would be a welcome sound to end the work day. The whistle could be heard for miles around heralding the start and end of the day for many and amusing school kids at lunch recess in Chuckatuck. An unscheduled whistle blown many times in succession sent feet, as well as hearts, racing to find out the reason for the warning. This usually indicated there was a fire! The worse fire was in 1935 when the second saw mill burned down. Another fire in the 1950s gutted the brick dry kiln located only feet from the office which miraculously did not burn. When the last sawmill was built in 1978 the floor of the mill was chemically treated with a fire retardant and cost prohibitive fire insurance was not purchased.
Josh Pretlow came to live with Russell and Merle on August 29, 1933, after his father and mother died. He was Merle’s first cousin, but near the age of her sons, Stokes and Arthur. Josh married Betty Cross of Suffolk and they raised their four children Pret, Anne, Kirk and Jennie at Everets. Josh and Betty started their home in 1945 and moved in the spring of 1946. He sold his house and land in 1962 to Norfolk for $40,000. He was able to buy the house back for $500 and move it across the highway and up the hill to the present location. (show pic of movement of house)
The Thomas Jefferson Saunders’ family lived high on a hill on the west side of Everets Creek above Wagner’s Store. Gertrude Saunders at age 98 said she was the last Saunders’ child born (1895) in an older house near this same site. Frederick was the first to be born in the new house which was in 1899. The new house was built from heart pine cut on the property. Mr. Saunders had a saw mill on the farm as did many large farmers. Looking out their back windows the Saunders’ family could have seen the western branch of the Nansemond River, one of the two stores, the Wagner home, the W.G. Saunders’ home (later the home of the Morgan and Worrell families), the Kirk home, the baptismal area, the cotton gin and saw mill, as well as the bridge and the warehouses and loading docks along the shore.
The earlier Saunders’ house was in the wooded area near Lewis Morgan’s house. The house was sold somewhere between 1936 when Mollie died and 1946 when T.J. died. Blanche and Tom Jones once lived (prior to 1940) in T.J. Saunders, Jr’s house after it was bought by Dewitt Griffin and Weyland Joyner. The Johnny Barlow family lived there from 1940-1942. The home and lot were sold to Alfred and Emma Russell the end of 1942. The home was purchased from the Russell estate in 1988 by Dr. Arthur L. Chambers, III and his wife, Virginia. The farm land is still owned by the Joyner family.
The W. Kasper Wagner family lived at the base of the T. J. Saunders house and beside Everets Creek. They had moved here from an area about ½ mile north in Isle of Wight County. Mr. Wagner had three brothers, Ed, Albert and Bob. “Kass” Wagner ran one of the stores at Everets until approximately 1946. It was later operated by William Baker and finally by Atlee and Mary Martin who ran it until the Western Branch reservoir was completed in 1962. The dam and pumping station for Lake Burnt Mills were virtually in their back yard. “Kass” Wagner’s son, Alton, and his wife Hazel raised their two children, Celia Rae and Kenneth, here until they moved to a new home on Godwin Boulevard in 1954.
William Clifford Morgan and his wife Marion Dunn Morgan moved to the Willie Saunders’ house at Everets in the winter of 1934-1935. They had lived in Holland near Holy Neck Church. Eva Dunn was the oldest of these children followed by Clifford, George, Marian Lee, Leonard, Archie, Parks and Eloise. Mr. Morgan farmed the land from Everets to near Quaker Road. The family of ten had no electricity or running water. In 1938 he began selling Hoover Vacuums for Ames and Brownley. When World War II started he went to work for the Navy Yard. Parks Morgan related that the Burnt Mills Dam project was a WPA project.
William T. and Ethel B. Worrell moved to the Saunders/Morgan house at Everets in 1948. They had four sons, Eldridge, Elvin, Fred and Gene. Mrs. Worrell moved in 1962 following Mr. Worrell’s death and then Norfolk bought the property and tore the house down to make way for the Western Branch reservoir. Several pecan trees on the property are still standing.
The Minton house was once owned by Claude Minton and possibly built by him. Prior to 1924 there was a still near the road. Judge George Franklin Whitley, Jr. of Smithfield was the grandson of Mr. and Mrs. C.T. Minton of Everets. Hinton Harry Schramm and his wife, Elizabeth Cotton Schramm, moved from Franklin to the Minton house in 1929 and lived there until 1951. They rented the house from the Whitleys and then the Kirks. The Schramms had two daughters, Mildred and Eunice. Mr. Schramm died in 1950 and Mrs. Schramm moved to Newport News to live with her daughter, Mildred, and son-in-law, W. C. Dailey. J. R. Kirk bought the farm in 1948 from the Minton family. Some time after 1951 the first floor was raised from below ground level to form two floors instead of three. Eunice remembers five tenant houses on the farm. There was a house to the left of the Minton house in the orchard. This is where “Uncle” John Riddick lived. He fed the livestock and did some night watching at the mill. Other people who lived there were 1. George, Sophia and Willie 2. Sammy Eunice 3. Willie Riddick. A Mrs. Bartley, or Bartlett, and later Will and Carrie Bush, lived in a house on the lot near the Minton house.
Mrs. Schramm was sister to Mrs. Margaret Olivia Cotton Eley Griffin, mother of Margaret Eley Ramsey, Angie Eley Griffin and others. After the depression Presely L. and Margaret Eley moved from Southampton County to a farm on Longview Drive where they lived until sometime in the 1950s. They rented the house from Mr. P.D. Gwaltney. Jonathan Godwin is supposed to have built the house. Curtis Griffin and family lived in the house on the right. After Mrs. Griffin and Mr. Eley died, Mrs. Eley and Mr. Griffin were wed.
In the 1930s Mr. J. R. Kirk built a series of small homes for some of the many workers he employed at the lumber company. The houses were on the border of Nansemond County and Isle of Wight County within sight of the mill. To the best of recollections there were thirteen homes in the area which came to be known as Kirk Town. Among the people who lived there over the years with their families were Alfonsa and Edmonia Johnson, James Johnson, John and Julia Cargill, Curtis Wooden, Maggie Tynes and her sister, Gracie Outland, Mason Newby, John and Mabel Ross, Jeff and Carrie Gibson, Josephus and Louvenia Scott, Talmadge and Catherine Ricks and Hurley and Estelle Young.
While the community of Everets was changed much by the formation of the Lake Burnt Mills reservoir built by Norfolk in the 1940s the change was not as drastic as it was with the formation of the Western Branch Reservoir. Joshua Pretlow and Stokes Kirk appeared before the Nansemond County Board of Supervisors numerous times to protest the proposed reservoir of 1,600 acres. A 9-16-1961 article in the Suffolk-News Herald by Rick Hinman contained the following. “Pretlow urged the board to take every step possible to preserve Nansemond County watersheds for the future needs of its own citizens. It is possible that in the not-to-far-distant future, Nansemond County will find itself with no water for its own people, he said.” It is almost impossible now for anyone to understand how the Everets area once looked. (several pics of Everets at the time) Prior to 1962 the approach to Everets from either direction had a very steep decline. Lewis Thomas related that his family would often come from Port Norfolk to visit his aunt and uncle, Merle and Russell Kirk. Prior to the road being paved there was a concern about whether the car could climb the hill on the way home. His father had instructions to blow the horn if he got stuck so Russell could bring a tractor to pull the car up the hill.
See “Remembrances of the Everets Community” by Marion Saunders Gordon, Beverly Whitley, Celia Wagner Coughlin, Bruce Kirk, Lynn Kirk Rose and Mary Ainslie S. Latimer.