It was over 35 years ago when Mrs. E.A. deBordenave, during Historic Garden Week, oversaw the brochure for the Tour of Historic Tappahannock, April 23, 1975.
The brochure’s description of tour location number 6 read: “Built in 1939 by Mr. and Mrs. Raymond B. Wallace, this shingled house has had several rooms added by the present owner, Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Lewis. It is a charming home with many attractions, such as books, pictures, old furniture, and many objects of Interest for the Civil War buff.”
I lived there – on Duke Street for almost five years. Gordon Lewis and my mother, Martha Latane Wallace, were devoted first cousins. On a cold, Sunday afternoon in December, we heard about “Pearl Harbor” for the first time in that Duke Street home. No one knew what it was, or that the event would eventually take us away from there forever – all so long ago.
This is where my affinity for the town of Tappahannock was nourished. It was a wholesome, safe, friendly comfort zone, where I began in the late 1930’s. Then there was Allen Douglas Latane, my grandfather, the personification of a loyalty and love for a place called Essex County, Virginia.
I was a small child when the significance of the Latane name was introduced to me in curious fashion. It was the engraving of the Burial of Latane painting that hung over my grandparents’s mantle at the Customs House, in a state of disrepair, faded, and silver-fish damaged, along with other blemishes. I am reminded that Dr. Charles Bryan, a good friend, and retired leader of the Virginia Historical Society, wrote me about the Captain William Latane burial: “It was one of the Civil War’s most poignant, not to mention, iconic, moments.”
My first memory of this Essex County citizen, Allen Douglas Latane, was his role as Clerk of the Essex County Court, Commonwealth of Virginia. Unlike some of his reserved Latane cousins, he was the most winsome and congenial of that family. His professional history included decades of publishing the Rappahannock Times, and continuing to write a front-page column for that newspaper after selling it to George Clanton. He loved writing, singing in the St. John’s Episcopal Church choir, bird hunting, listening to Eddie Cantor and baseball on radio. Add playing golf to his list of pleasures, which reminds me of the following story:
“Preacher, Clerk Interrupted Twice in Game”
“The Rev. M.F. Roberts, pastor of Beale Memorial Baptist Church, and A.D. Latane, Clerk of Essex County Court, were playing golf Saturday afternoon only to have it interrupted twice in the interest of romance and matrimony. Sheriff S.S. Newbill came on the course to tell the clerk that a young couple, John Schools, 18, and Miss Pansy Lee, 17, was anxious to obtain a marriage license. The Clerk’s office is supposed to be closed on Saturday afternoons, but not wishing to stop the young couple from their proposed plans Mr. Latane went back to his office. There he found the couple’s parents, complying with the State law governing marriage of minors. The license was duly issued.
The golf game was resumed. Two holes had been played, when the course was again invaded, this time by the young couple themselves and their attendants. They were searching for the parson to perform the marriage ceremony.
It was agreeable to all parties concerned for the marriage to solemnized right then and there. A grove of locust trees on the course was selected as the most appropriate place, and because the trees afforded some shelter from a blistering sun. The marriage ceremony was performed, the couple went on their way with a blessing, and the golf game continued without further interruption.”
About Mr. Latane’s writing – in obituary, the Richmond Times Dispatch reported: “that in addition to his newspaper writing, Mr. Latane wrote and published several books of sentimental poetry.” I think he was simply rural and romantically southern that way.
His obituary of friend and brother-in-law, James Meriwether Lewis, born at “Mansfield” in Essex County, was typical: “He (Lewis) was loved and revered by men and women in all walks of life…he took upon his shoulders the burden of sharing with others their sorrows and troubles.” My older brother, Allen, had memories of visiting Cousin Jim’s office in the rear of the Lewis home looking out on the Rappahannock River.
And then there’s the corner….the north east location of Prince Street and Water Lane. Becoming famous for its congregation of Tappahannock citizens: Dr. Chas Andrew Warner; the affable “Chummy” Ware; Preston Derieux; sometimes Dr. Shepard; certainly Sheriff Smith Newbill; Attorney Fleet Dillard might be there; later – after World War II, – Attorney Gordon Lewis. Always chatting it up with rumors, jokes, current events, some with strong views, resulting in solid conversations.
The favorites for little folk (me) were Sheriff Newbill, and “Chummy” Ware. Ware was always kidding – he knew how to nicely tease us. Later, he introduced the passer-by to a revolution: the Polaroid Land Camera. He’d take your picture on the spot. Yet, the Sheriff was my favorite. Distant cousin, Alex F. Dillard, reminded me of Sydney Newbill’s childhood experience….seems his mother in Dunsville was using scissors to sew. Playfully, he ran into her, putting his eye out. Standing there, as sheriff, he would get my attention by simply showing me how easy it was to extract a glass eye. I’d never seen anything like that before. He and Ware were first rate entertainment.
Our Essex childhoods were magically free. The only exceptions were not being allowed near the busy construction of the DAW Theater (Doar-Atkinson-Wallace) and not having access to the lower steep stairs below the first basement level of the Latane’s Customs House.
Roaming, playing up and down Water Lane, particularly in the magnificent frontage of great Aunt Virgie and Uncle Covey Anderton’s home just across the street, was magical. During the week, Aunt Virgie would go out on her dock and catch fish for Uncle Covey’s lunch. This existence seemed simply nirvana – not a bad start to life.
Raymond B. Wallace, Jr., a former CEO and retired History teacher, served as a Trustee of the Virginia Retirement System for eleven years. Contact him at (firstname.lastname@example.org).