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There are several routes to the town of Surry. You
can travel by Rt. 10, Rt. 31 or on a car ferry across the James River from
Jamestown/Williamsburg. One of the first things you will notice when
arriving in Surry is how quickly you seem to get there. Part of that is
due to the straight stretches of routes 10 and 31 that form the
intersection at the heart of the village. It is also partly due to the fact that there
are no stoplights in Surry County.
Pocahontas ferry docks at Scotland Wharf on the Surry side of the
That fact is a testament to the largely rural nature
of Surry County and village-like setting of the town. Surry County was
formed from James City County in 1652. Many of the existing county roads
are in the same pathways that existed in Colonial times. And it is not
difficult to find history around every curve in the road. Through the
years, the major industries have been related to the production of pork,
peanuts and pine trees and every July there is a festival at nearby
Chippokes Plantation State Park to honor that history.
For a small town, Surry offers some of everything to
a visitor. Faye Grandison, branch manager of the Surry Branch of the
Blackwater Regional Library, has spent hours assisting people from near
and far with genealogy research. “We have had visitors from as far away
as Australia asking for information. Requests come in the mail and by
phone. If we can’t help them, we direct them to the courthouse or Surry
County Historical Society.”
River House, built around 1830, overlooks the James River at
Chippokes Plantation State Park. The Farm & Forestry Museum at
Chippokes houses many early tools and machinery.
One of the advantages of being in a small town is how
close knit the community can be. That is true in Surry. Stacey Richards,
employee and faithful customer of Farmer Joe’s, commented that she was
late for work due to stopping at Zoom’s Convenience Store. “Farmer Joe
recently had an accident and at least 12 people stopped me to find out how
he was doing.” Farmer Joe’s is a combination greenhouse, flower and
gift shop, though “Most of our business is the greenhouse and flowers,” explains Marge Holler, Farmer Joe’s
wife. They, with their son Matt, have been in business in Surry since 1994
after relocating from Vermont where they were cattle farmers. “We were
looking for a warmer climate and found Surry to be a unique area. It has
always felt like it was meant for us to be here. The people here are very
kind to each other.”
Joe's Greenhouse and Garden Shop will delight any shopper with its
wide array of live plants and specialty gifts.
The building itself was a grocery store long ago. It
currently has a varied assortment of gifts ranging from journals,
children’s books, and gardening items to decorative cocktail napkins.
“Many local people have told us how glad they are we are here”
acknowledges Marge. Farmer Joe’s is also the only florist in town.
“People are surprised at how much stuff we have in here” she added,
noting the coziness of the shop.
Under large old oak trees at the courthouse you can
close your eyes and let your senses imagine gatherings from years past.
Perhaps the shouting lone voice of a politician giving a campaign speech,
or the clanging sound of swords being stacked by Revolutionary militia
camping overnight, or the laughter and aromas from a community picnic ...
these grounds have seen all of these activities in the last three
Marge Holler displays one of their flower arrangements. The
Hollers relocated to Surry from Vermont in search of a warmer
Within the courthouse area are several old buildings.
The town of Surry became the county seat in 1797 when the first session of
court was held at the then-wooden courthouse. The current courthouse is in
the same location, though it has been burned twice. Nonetheless, county
records dating back to the 1600s survive and make this an invaluable
resource for those doing historical research.
Touring and research work up an appetite and Surry
has several eateries offering varied fare. The oldest is the Surrey House
Restaurant, which was established in 1954 by Owen Gwaltney. It was in the
Gwaltney family until 1993 when Mike Stevens bought it. “Though
ownership has changed, some menu items have not. The ham rolls and peanut
raisin pie remain the most popular items for tourists.” The hospitality
is another thing that has not changed. A long-standing employer, the
Surrey House has several employees who have been working there for 30 to
35 years and Miss Elsie Evans has been baking pies for the restaurant
firemen Michael Shinaberry and Scott McLuer prepare a stew for a
fundraiser for the Surry Volunteer Fire Department, which serves
the town and county.
Mike has expanded the business since becoming owner.
A dining room has been added and a motel behind the restaurant was
purchased in 1998. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, the restaurant is
busiest between Easter and Thanksgiving. At other times the business is
patronized by locals who enjoy a cup of coffee at the counter or a weekday
special. The restaurant also provides the meeting site for the area
Lion’s Club, Tourism Bureau, and Surry County Chamber of Commerce, of
which Mike Stevens is president.
Another unique shop is the Edwards Ham Shoppe. Though
it opened in 1988, stepping onto the porch is like stepping back in time
with a 1950s ice drink box to hint of the cold refreshment to be found
inside. The shop offers a myriad of pork products from hams to sausage to
bacon. Tasty samples are available on the counter to help in your decision
of which products to buy. The business is now in its third generation of
the Edwards family. Eight-year employee Vickie Jones commented on how
devoted people are to Edwards hams. “We even have people from
Smithfield, the Ham Capital of the World, come to us for their hams,”
staff at the Surrey House Restaurant is always ready to offer
southern hospitality and down home food.
The shop not only carries ham products, but also
other goodies made in Virginia like jams and jellies and peanuts. Hostess
gifts, dish towels, and gift baskets are among the other items for a
shopper’s delight. Or you may want to stop in to pick up a ham sandwich
for a picnic at some roadside tables near the center of town.
If you plan to stay overnight, you may want to spend
the night at the Seward House Bed and Breakfast. After walking up a
flower-lined brick pathway past a white-railed porch with beckoning wicker
chairs, you may be greeted at the door by Polly, a friendly, soft,
sweet-eyed dog. The house was built in 1901 by Dr. William and Elizabeth
Seward. Jackie Baird, a great-niece, opened the B&B in 1990 and has
done work to restore the house. “People come here for the quiet and the
location. There are things to see and do
Surry County Courthouse houses records that date back to the
on this side of the river and it
is close to the Williamsburg attractions as well.” The main house has
two rooms available upstairs and there is also a separate cottage that was
originally built for and used as the doctor’s office. “We have done
renovations to the property to restore the house, but the only thing that
has been added is a side porch.” Breakfast is included in the stay, but
dinner may be available with advance planning. “We have enjoyed visitors
from Holland, France, and Greece in recent years,” states Cynthia
Erskine, co-hostess of Seward House. “And everyone has been very
welcoming when we moved to the area and opened the B&B”.
Ham Shoppe offers a wide variety of pork products and gift items.
After visiting the town of Surry and riding through
the peaceful countryside at a leisurely pace, you can only wonder how long
it will continue as it is today. The quiet rural nature of Surry County
will face the same issues of growth that neighboring counties have seen in
recent years. The large agricultural base and location of the land make it
an appealing prospect for potential development and individuals looking
for a quieter way of life. The impact on Surry will eventually be felt.
The first sign may be a stoplight in the middle of the town. For more
information, visit www.toursurryva.com.
FUN FACT: Surry was once known as Scuffletown.