During the year 2001, were making our way around
Virginia, each issue visiting a small town and meeting some of the folks who make up the
heart of electric co-op country. On this years second stop, well be...
Down Home in Franklin by Virginia Reese, Contributing Writer
Download in PDF Format Beneath this communitys beauty and gentility is a die-hard battery of
energy with an eye ever turned toward the future.
In the fall of 1999, as
the waters of Hurricane Floyd ravaged the city, Franklin was the subject of feature
stories in newspapers and television broadcasts across Virginia.
Though the flood inundated many communities in the surrounding area, Franklins
downtown business district was especially devastated because the Blackwater River flows
along its southern perimeter and Main Street is situated well below the rest of the town,
which spreads out to the west. The river crested at 101/2 feet and receded very slowly.
Pollution and hazardous chemicals in the water required precautions that made those who
were able to enter their buildings nine days later look like astronauts on a moonwalk. All
the equipment and inventory on the first floor of the 182 businesses downtown was a total
loss estimated at $30 million. At least 100 homes were destroyed and many more families
were displaced. Building repair costs are expected to reach $50 million.
Agriculture was once the mainstay of Franklins
economy. In 1909 J.W. Copeland shows off his peanuts and behind him the remains of the
corn crop. Today agriculture accounts for less than 2 percent of the towns economic
Communication was a major problem. The phone company, the post office, the local radio
station, City Hall, and the fire and police stations were useless. International Paper,
the towns largest employer, was severely affected. The power of the ravaging
Blackwater seemed overwhelming, but a visitor to Franklin today will find 110 businesses
with new paint and old smiles working to help clients and customers.
Second Avenue and Main Street in 1950 shows a thriving
downtown, one without traffic lights or parking meters.
The villain Blackwater had been the impetus for the establishment of the town in the
late 1800s and was largely responsible for its growth and economic prosperity. The river
and the railroad met at Franklin, providing transportation for cotton, peanuts, lumber and
people. Steamboats operated on the river until 1928. Early in the 18th century, Richard
Barrett opened a hotel near the railroad station and the boat dock, and that area became
known as Barretts Landing.
In March 1999, as part of the Downtown Development and the historic preservation
encouraged by Franklins 1985 designation as a National Main Street Community, the
town built a park on the site of Barretts Landing. The park is the focal point for
the Franklin Fall Festival, the Summer Concert Series, and other holiday and promotional
events. It was at this site that citizens gathered to commemorate the one-year anniversary
of the flood and recognize the recovery that had taken place. Rebuilding the park became a
priority for the city and the townspeople, and today Barretts Landing is the bright
star of the restored downtown business district.
Previous floods in 1946 and 1960 had brought destruction to Franklins downtown.
Flames had been the enemy in 1881. A fire started near the railroad station and
driven by the wind swept up Main Street, destroying 43 buildings in the next four
blocks of the business district. Each time, the citizens of Franklin rallied to help each
other to clean up to rebuild to recover. Barretts Landing has
come to symbolize the strength and determination of the community.
Franklin Mayor James Councill (left) confers with one
of many volunteers who helped with logistics during the flood of September 1999.
Unity Helps Franklin Reach Goals
Franklins history of succeeding where other small towns have failed reflects the
spirited belief that acting together the towns people can reach whatever goals they
set. Their recovery from the flood is not the miracle many have proclaimed it to be
it is only the most dramatic of its victories over dire circumstances.
The Mayor of Franklin, James P. Councill, said, "The recovery would not have been
possible without the dedication and commitment to Franklin of the people here and
their belief in each other. The hundreds of volunteers really made the recovery such a
success." He noted that, "We couldnt have done it alone, however. Help
came from as far away as Indiana and England." An estimated 8,000 volunteers
participated in the clean-up and reconstruction work.
Before Floyd, the downtown businesses had prospered despite the arrival of chain stores
and strip malls, and the construction of the four-lane Route 58, which bypassed Franklin.
Similar events have turned the Main Streets of many small towns in Southside, Virginia
(and America) into abandoned ghosts.
In the last decade, Armory Drive the corridor connecting Franklin to Highway 58
has developed into a thriving commercial area, providing the city with an increased
tax base and its citizens with a wider array of services and shops. Many fast-food
franchises, restaurants, a bowling alley, a tri-screen movie complex, a variety of stores
including national chains and a Wal-Mart Super Store are located in this area of town, but
the restored Main Street of Franklin boasts 110 businesses and continues to attract
clients and customers. And, the sign at an exit on Bypass 58 has two arrows one
says "Armory Drive" and the other says "Downtown Franklin!"
This artists rendering of Barretts Landing
by Dorthy Fagan, a one-time Franklin resident, captures the nostalgia appeal the spot
holds for the townspeople.
Franklin offers an amazing array of amenities that serve the health, education,
recreation, and intellectual needs of the community. Serving on committees and
volunteering seems to be a requirement for citizenship. The Citizens Guide lists 23
boards and commissions whose members are appointed by City Council, the members of which
encourage anyone interested to offer their services. That list doesnt include the
fund drives that have made possible facilities that offer the townspeople advantages and
opportunities usually found only in much larger metropolitan areas. Franklins
population is 8,500.
A new contemporary building is the home of the Ruth Camp Memorial Library, which houses
and gives public access to computers. Close by is the Paul D. Camp Community College. The
college offers 40 different programs and has an enrollment of 1,660. Under construction is
the Workforce Development Center. The center is expected to open in 2002, offering new
opportunities for students and an incentive for new enterprises to locate in Franklin.
Central to the "good life" enjoyed by young and old Franklinites is the James
L. Camp YMCA. The "Y" program offers sports and recreation activities that run
the gamut from "Twinges in the Hinges" for seniors to pre-school swimming
classes and after-school care. With two gymnasiums, indoor and outdoor pools and tennis
courts, playing fields for soccer and baseball, it is the center of recreation for the
area. Membership exceeds 4,000, so Franklin should have a very healthy population.
Its impossible not to notice that many of the institutions that provide services
to Franklin bear the name of one of the Camp family. The Camp family formed Camp
Manufacturing Company in 1888 after it had purchased the Neely Sawmill on the east side of
the Blackwater. In 1956 it merged with Union Bag Corporation. The company prospered and is
the areas largest employer. Shortly before the flood in 1999 the mill was sold to
International Paper. But a number of Camp family charitable trusts continue generously
supporting efforts to provide this community with facilities, services and amenities few
small towns enjoy.
Another example is the Texie Camp Marks Childrens Center, which offers a day-care
program for typically developing children 6 weeks to 5 years old. The program includes an
array of services for children with developmental delays. Occupational and speech therapy
are provided to clients up to 20 years old. The center serves 120 Franklin clients.
Southampton Memorial Hospital provides 220 beds, and an adjacent medical center complex
contains the offices of 90 physicians and surgeons and the New Outlook mental health
center. Attached to the hospital is East Pavilion, a 116-bed, long-term facility. The
Village at Woods Edge, a senior living community with 55 private apartments, is adjacent
to the hospital. The Martin Luther King Community Center also provides activities for
seniors as well as young adults and children.
Students take a break at the landmark cupola in front
of Paul D. Camp Community College.
Nearly all of these facilities utilize volunteers to run their programs: Pink Ladies at
the hospital, coaches on the playing field, craft instructors at senior citizens
homes. Clubs abound book clubs, music clubs, garden clubs, the Southampton
Assembly, Federated Womens Clubs, Black Achievers, Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs,
Kiwanis, the Sportsmans Club, and many others. All of them have projects that enrich
life in the city.
Even an amiable lunch at Freds Restaurant on Main Street can turn into an ad hoc
committee meeting. If youre looking for the slow pace of a laid-back small town,
Franklin may not meet your needs. Its lovely Victorian homes that speak of the past and
the golf course at Cypress Cove Country Club that signals leisurely pursuits are
deceptive. Beneath the beauty and gentility is a die-hard battery of energy with an eye
ever turned to the future.
If You Go
food abounds in the area. Check the Tidewater News for church bazaars where you
will find homemade pickles, jellies, preserves, and scrumptious desserts. Ask about other
fundraisers where you might find Brunswick stew, barbecue or a local "delicacy"
For another taste of down-home food, and to see where the locals conduct business and
spread jokes, visit Freds, a town treasure, run by Fred Rabil for over 50
Franklinites flocked to Barretts Landing during
the 2000 Street Painting Festival.
Whatever your passion might be, theres something in the area to delight you. Auto
racing? The Southampton Motor Speedway, located on Route 58 near Capron, holds
NASCAR-sanctioned races every Friday night from March 30 through Oct. 6. Art? Check out
the Rawls Museum of Arts in Courtland. Their spacious new gallery showcases
changing local and national exhibits and there is a gift shop stocked with ceramics,
jewelry and other original art works. On Main Street in Franklin, visit the A&G Art
and Frame Gallery where local artists works may be found. Franklin Furniture
Store on Second Avenue also showcases works of the local Blackwater Art League.
History buffs will enjoy a visit to the Rochelle House in Courtland, the
restored home of President John Tylers mother. Nearby is the Agriculture and
Forestry Museum. The main building houses antique cars and farm equipment, but
dont miss the one-room school house, the old filling station, the working saw mill
or the narrow-gauge train on the grounds. The third Saturday in September the Agriculture
and Forestry Museum holds its Heritage Day, featuring old-time crafts and working
exhibits of life before television and dot-com.
Fall is a good time to visit. In August the five-day Franklin-Southampton Fair
features rides and food, crafts and exhibitions, dog shows and beauty contests. In
September, Franklins Downtown sponsors a Fall Festival that fills Main Street
with vendors, special events and entertainment.