Again in the year 2002, 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 seventh stop, well be...
Down Home in Calleo By Mike McKenney, Contributing Writer
in PDF Format With a wealth of
friendly folks and family businesses, Callao stands ready to welcome
When Captain John Smith first visited the Northern
Neck of Virginia in 1608, he was struck by its natural beauty. His notes
mention trees “so lofty and direct” that they could provide planks 2
1⁄2 feet square and 20 feet long. The land was a mighty forest
surrounded by water in which the abundant natural resources seemed so
plentiful that Captain Smith’s party tried to catch fish with a frying
pan. Crabs and oysters were also observed in plentiful supply.
generations have worked at R. R. Beasley Concrete. Seated to the right
surrounded by family is founder Bob Beasley, who began the company in
Callao with a single truck.
Visitors to the area are still drawn to nature’s
bounty. The lush rolling tidal plain provides opportunities to hunt, fish
and enjoy the recreational amenities of the area. Bordered by the Potomac
River to the north, the Rappahannock River to the south and the Chesapeake
Bay to the east, the Northern Neck is the northernmost of Virginia’s
peninsulas and is comprised of the counties of Westmoreland, Richmond,
Lancaster and Northumberland.
In the heart of this beautiful area lies the village
of Callao in Northumberland County. Perhaps the only village in America
whose name was devised when its originally proposed name was denied by the
U.S. Postal Service, the history of Callao stems from its location at an
upland crossroad between roads leading to Montross in Westmoreland County,
Warsaw in Richmond County, and Reedville in Northumberland County.
In the late 1800s, most of the business activity on
the Northern Neck occurred at steamboat landings. Whether at Coan Wharf,
Lodge Landing or any of a number of such steamboat landings along the
waterfront, mail was delivered and commerce was transacted. However, for
those who lived upland from the rivers, a more convenient post office was
requested to be placed at Bells’ Store, site of today’s Callao.
Originally called French’s Store before the Civil War, an application
was filed for a post office at that location.
Baptist Church welcomes visitors as they head east toward Callao.
On May 27, 1893, the United States Post Office
approved a post office at Bells’ Store with Jacob Callaway of Mt. Zion
Farm as postmaster. Mr. Callaway agreed to serve as postmaster only if he
could name the post office after himself. The United States Post Office
denied his application for a post office named “Callaway, Virginia”
since there was a Callaway, Virginia, in Franklin County. A revised
application dropped the “way” and added an “o” for the new name of
Callao (pronounced Cal lee oh).
The Callao Post Office has continued to thrive and
now serves many of the sites previously served by steamboat landing post
offices and country stores, such as Lodge, Harryhogan, Mundy Point,
Fruitplain, Hyacinth-Village, Luttrellville and Walmsley.
Callao also thrived as the major business center for
Northumberland County. “We have everything a town could want,” says Hyatt
Headley, 85, a former Callao merchant.
Hyatt, retired from his business since 1975, remains
the town’s leading citizen. From 1940 until its close, Hyatt and his
wife, the former Virginia Hayden, ran People’s Drug Sundrae, selling
patent drugs and novelties while running a lunch counter and soda
fountain. Hyatt expressed surprise at how people remember him and his
store. He is frequently approached by people who patronized his store.
Mornings in the store saw a gathering of men who drank coffee and told
stories. “There were some big fish caught in that store,” remembered
Hyatt, thinking of the tales exchanged by his early-morning coffee club.
The afternoon saw school children come by for ice
cream or limeade. During the 1950s, the store had a jukebox and high
school students from Callao High would gather to listen to records and
Everyone who grew up in Callao while the People’s
Drug Sundrae was in operation has a fond memory of something special at
Hyatt’s store. For the author of this article, it was Tuesdays when new
comic books were delivered and two comics could be purchased for 25 cents.
Nothing could beat seeing your favorite comic book displayed in your
hometown ready for the reading.
runs Northern Neck Cleaners with daughters Janie Harper and Betsy Harper
Hale and granddaughter Amanda Hale.
Hyatt Headley was more than a local businessman. He
set a tradition of community service by joining with 17 men and 1 woman to
form the Callao Volunteer Fire Department in 1948. The fire department
began with a 1921 American LaFrance-Brockway fire truck that had been
originally assigned to the Prince Anne County, Maryland, Fire Department.
The old truck, which was retired shortly after the fire department started
and newer equipment purchased, was restored by members of the Callao Fire
Department in 1971. A second restoration project has just been completed
under the leadership of Chris Neale, son of former fire chief, the late Thomas Bowie Neale,
and an employee of Northern Neck Electric Cooperative. The truck has
served as a motorized landmark and has traveled throughout Virginia
representing Callao in various parades and festivals. The Callao Fire
Department proudly displays hundreds of trophies won by the antique
Hyatt Headley not only was a leader in forming the
Callao Volunteer Fire Department, he has been a goodwill ambassador for
Callao throughout his life. James
Harper, who runs Northern Neck Cleaners in Callao, remembers meeting
Hyatt as a boy when he would visit a cousin in Richmond County. The cousin
would meet Hyatt early in the mornings to deliver newspapers. Harper
remembers Hyatt’s kindness and remembers buying Pepsi-colas, “12 full
ounces for five cents,” before 5:30 a.m. from Hyatt. In 1959, when Jim
and his wife, Jean were looking for a small town to raise their children
in, he jumped at a chance to buy the cleaners from Thelma
and Phil Riley and moved to Callao. “I cannot imagine living anywhere
else,” Harper says. He continues to operate his cleaners with his
daughters, Betsy and Janie.
owner Phillip Edwin Deitz is the third generation to own the hardware
store, located on U.S. Rt. 360.
Family connection in business is not unusual in
Callao. In fact, most of the businesses are now run by a second, third or
fourth generation. For example, Phillip
Edwin Deitz recently took over management of Callao Supply Company
from his father, Phillip H. Deitz.
The store was started by Phillip Edwin’s grandfather, Edwin Deitz, in
1938. Edwin Deitz was a town visionary. He built most of the commercial
and residential buildings on the east end of town. At one time, he ran the
hardware store, a sawmill, planing mill, locker plant, motel and built a
furniture store for his wife. He also had a carpentry crew of 65 men
working on building homes throughout the area. Mr. Deitz is famous for
having appeared before the Department of Transportation to argue against
bypassing Callao when it expanded U.S. Route 360. To make his point to the
highway commissioners, Deitz asked, “Once you get to Callao, why would
you want to go anywhere else?”
fourth-generation owners Bobby and Chris Burgess welcome customers to
Many business people feel the same way, such as the
Burgess family, who own and operate Callao Super Market. Started in 1948
by Robert Burgess and his father
Paul Burgess, the business continues today under the management of the
founder’s son and grandson, Bobby
and Chris. The supermarket offers a full range of products including
local seafood, Mrs. Manning’s hominy, canned in nearby Lake Neck, and
Callao pilsner, a Peruvian beer (named for Callao, Peru, the only other
town in the world with that name). The supermarket serves as a gathering
spot to visit with neighbors and friends.
The family tradition continues as well at Callao
Pharmacy where local pharmacist, Michael
Mangano, has taken over the business from his father, Charles Mangano. A new store located on the west end of town has
replaced the original 1952 location. When Charles Mangano first began his
business in town, his father-in-law, who ran a number of drugstores in the
Richmond area, told him, “You’ll never make it.” As is true with
many individuals in the area, he had come to visit the area during the
summer and fell in love with it. His business grew and expanded and the
Mangano family developed a special bond with the people of the community.
While modern in design, the new pharmacy continues to have a small-town
feel at a special counter built to allow pharmacist Mike a chance to talk
with his patients, dispensing prescriptions and good advice.
Mike Mangano Continues the family business at Callao Pharmacy.
A new store has replaced the original 1952 location.
Family ties are also found at R. R. Beasley Concrete,
W. C. Lowery Concrete, Callao Wheel Service, Cralle Insurance and in the
offices of many local realtors, where parents, children and grandchildren
work together. The commitment of families to business in Callao represents
what makes it a special place to live. While not an incorporated town,
residents have a special loyalty to Callao. There is a closeness among
people who live in Callao and a devotion to it as their hometown.
This pride can be seen in the response to the
accomplishments of the town’s residents as well. Recently, attorney Thomas
A. Williams was recognized by the Virginia State Bar for 50 years of
service. A former four-term Commonwealth’s Attorney for Northumberland
County, Mr. Williams has had a successful practice in Callao. Mr. Williams
passed the bar on February 2, 1952, making his golden anniversary date
02/02/02, a fact which delights Mr. Williams. He has been described by a
local newspaper as being “well known for his encyclopediac knowledge of
arcane facts.” The entire town has been quick to recognize Mr. Williams
for his success and his contributions to the community.
Thomas A. Williams was recently recognized by the Virginia State Bar
for 50 years of service. Mr. Williams has practiced his entire
career in Callao.
Community pride may also explain why Callao is such a
gathering spot. The late Ralph W. Hundley, former Northumberland County
Board of Supervisors’ member and president of the Northern Neck Electric
Cooperative, once said, “A crowd will gather in Callao to hear a baby
cry.” While a baby crying is not a highlight during the year, special
events draw great crowds throughout the year. The Callao Ruritan Club
sponsors a spring and fall tractor pull and entices folks from near and
far to participate in their Memorial Day Bull Roast. The Ruritans also
sponsor softball during the spring and summer. The Callao Volunteer Fire
Department sponsors its annual fireman’s festival on the third Saturday
of each August. The parade and accompanying events draw thousands who
gather to hear music, enjoy crafts and visit with friends, old and new.
Callao, like the remainder of the Northern Neck, has
seen a change in its basic economy. The traditional industries of farming,
fishing and lumber have changed. New economic ventures such as Carry-On
Trailers — a utility trailer-assembly business located outside of town
on Harryhogan Road — represent a new economic opportunity for the town.
Post Office continues to thrive.
Of course, manufacturing is not a new business in the
Callao area. From the 1870s until 1931, the Chambers Stamp Factory made
postmark and cancellation stamps for the post office department. The
factory located at Lodge was the exclusive provider of these products to
post offices nationwide until the 1930s.
The town’s community pride can also be seen in its
civic and community organizations. The Callao Volunteer Rescue Squad just
opened a new building and stands ready to serve a growing community.
The church also plays an important role in the life
of Callao. With seven churches located within 5 miles, the churches serve
to strengthen the community’s faith and minister to those in need.
Set in the midst of the beautiful Chesapeake Bay
region and surrounded by history, Callao is a mix of businesses, families
and friendly folks. It stands ready to welcome you.
Callao is located on U.S. Route
360, about an hour east of Richmond. Businesses line Route 360 as you head
east through Northumberland County. The
Callao Volunteer Fire Department is located in the center of town.
Stop by any evening and a fireman will proudly show the restored 1921
American LaFrance-Brockway fire truck to an interested visitor.
The area is well known for fishing and recreational water activities. Public boat landings are
located on Lodge Road at the end of Route 712.
Headley (at the wheel) is the last surviving charter member of the Callao
Volunteer Fire Department. He is joined here by Northern Neck Electric
Cooperative employee Chris Neale.
public fishing pier is available at Glebe Point, a 15-mile trip east
of Callao on Route 200 in Northumberland County. The fishing pier and
grounds are opened to the public from sunrise to sunset. A Virginia
Saltwater Fishing License is required.
Point Natural Area Preserve offers a number of excellent examples of
wetlands as well as exemplary undeveloped beaches, dunes and upland
forest. The area is open to the public and features trails, a woodland
boardwalk, wildlife-viewing platforms and interpretive signs. Located off
of Route 200 in Northumberland County, additional information may be
obtained by contacting the Department of Conservation and Recreation,
Division of Natural Heritage, at (804) 445-9117.
In nearby Heathsville, the
Northumberland County seat, immediately behind the historic 1851
courthouse is Rice’s Hotel-Hughlett’s Tavern. Believed to have been built by
the sons of John Hughlett, the tavern dates to the late 1600s and was
expanded six times to form a two-story, 110-foot long Greek Revival wooden
landmark with a two-story veranda. Under the guidance of Rice’s Hotel-Hughlett’s
Tavern Foundation, the building has been restored and houses the Tavern
Restaurant and a foundation store. The restaurant is open for lunch
Wednesday through Saturday and for Sunday brunch and is open for dinner
Wednesday through Sunday night. Reservations may be made by calling (804)
580-7900. Work continues on restoration of the “backyard” with plans
to build a carriage house to include a workshop and blacksmith shop as
well as other supporting structures. To learn more about the Tavern and
its history, contact Rice’s Hotel-Hughlett’s Tavern Foundation, Inc.,
at (804) 580-3536.
The fishing industry has been
at the center of the economy of the Northern Neck since the first English
settlements. The Reedville Fishermen’s Museum located at 504 Main Street,
Reedville, on U.S. Route 360 is dedicated to preserving the heritage of
the maritime history of the lower Chesapeake Bay area and the watermen who
have applied their trade for hundreds of years. The museum also focuses on
the menhaden industry that has existed in Reedville for over 100 years.
Also on display at the museum is a 1911 skipjack, “Claud W. Somers”
and a 1922 buy boat, “Elva C.” The museum is open May through October
daily from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and November through December 20,
Friday through Monday from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information,
contact the museum at (804) 453-6529.