Group to awaken images of history
NASSAWADOX, Va. — These citizens once set their watches by the steam-powered whistle of the town’s saw mill.
Now, one local group is working to restore the historic site and convert it into the Eastern Shore of Virginia’s first agricultural museum.
“We’d like to get younger people involved and explain and teach how all of this was done,” said Peninsula Tractor Organization President Richard Dryden.
“There isn’t an ag museum anywhere in Northampton or Accomack County,” said the mill’s caretaker and PTO member Josh Lattimore. “It seemed like a really good fit — the saw mill, the agricultural part of it, the history.”
PTO is drumming up interest in the museum and is looking for donations of farm equipment traditionally used on the Eastern Shore, historic photos of the saw mill, volunteers and donations to kickstart the project.
There is no timeline for the museum’s opening yet, Dryden said, but the group plans to host students and other visitors to demonstrate how farm equipment was used on the Eastern Shore once it is up and running — literally, because PTO is also restoring the saw mill’s function.
Once a powerhouse of the Nassawadox economy, the Northampton Lumber Company’s steam-powered mill employed more than 50 of the town’s 475 residents in 1920, according to the National Register of Historic Places.
“They said the whole town lived by the time of the whistle,” Dryden said. “This mill provided a lot of jobs for this community.”
Resting on a concrete slab and semi-enclosed by a gabled roof, the 9,100-square-foot space houses two boilers that drove the large engine to make lumber and barrels for the Eastern Shore’s booming potato industry.
The mill gained attention again in the 1990s as part of an Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act grant that helped restore some of its structure.
“At that time, they said this was one of the most complete, steam-driven saw mills on the East Coast,” Lattimore said.
In 2008, the Northampton Lumber Company Historic District joined the National Register of Historic Places.
It wasn’t until after Lattimore became caretaker for the town-owned property in 2010 that Peninsula Tractor Organization became interested in the site, though.
“When I became part of the PTO tractor club a few years ago, there was always talk about (how) we really would like to have more of a permanent home or a permanent place to do events,” he said.
“Our long-term goal was to make it not only a home base for PTO, but also a museum for the public where people could come and walk through and learn about the old equipment and about the history of the saw mill,” he said.
After installing a chain-link fence, the Town of Nassawadox agreed to lend the mill to the organization for $1 per year.
A Tourism Commission grant will help fund signage and a footbridge on the property and workers will install electricity soon, Dryden said.
The next major hurdle in the restoration project will be repairing the mill’s metal roof — a project for which PTO is brainstorming fundraisers.
Through word of mouth, the organization has already received donations for the fledgling museum, including a 1953 tractor, 1932 rototiller and apple press from as early as the 1800s.
The goal is “to preserve the old equipment and how it operated, what it was used for … and to pass on for generations to come to be able to know and understand,” Dryden said.
“We’ve had a lot of definitely really good feedback from the community, and we’ve barely scratched the surface,” Lattimore said.
Founded in 2008, Peninsula Tractor Organization is a group of antique tractor and farm equipment collectors and enthusiasts on the Eastern Shore.
The group hosts parades, shows, an annual agricultural fair, tractor rides and other events for its members, who span from Delaware to Chesapeake, Virginia.
The mill site on Nassawadox’s aptly named Mill Street will double as a venue for its community events, Dryden said.
To become involved in the farm equipment museum project as a volunteer or donor, contact Lattimore at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit www.peninsulatractor.org to learn more about Peninsula Tractor Organization and see the “Support” section to download an application to join the organization for $20 per year.