Do yourself a favor: slow down to see what still is
One former general-merchandise store building that is still in use is Ed Hatch Studios. ‘This store was built by my great-grandfather Curtis, who also operated a sawmill. He and my great-grandmother opened the store in 1915,’ says Ed Hatch (above).
The unincorporated community of Burrowsville straddles State Route 10/James River Drive in the northeastern edge of Prince George County.
The road follows an old stage coach route through woodlands and farms, where houses and long-closed businesses stand near the two-lane road. Driving through, you see boarded-up stores, old garages and a sense of has-been. Do yourself a favor and slow down to see what still is.
One former general-merchandise store building that is still in use is Ed Hatch Studios.
“This store was built by my great-grandfather Curtis, who also operated a sawmill. He and my great-grandmother opened the store in 1915,” says Ed Hatch. Hatch grew up in the area and has known since he was a boy that he wanted to be an artist. After learning the technical aspects of his craft at Old Dominion University, he eventually made his way back to Burrowsville and now uses the old store as his studio and shop.
While enjoying the warmth of a wood stove and looking through the wavy single-pane glass of the storefront, it is easy to imagine a scene of horse-drawn wagons and buggies moving outside. At one time there were four grocery stores and a garage here. The closest grocery store is now 20 minutes away.
Some may know the area for the Upper and Lower Brandon Plantations along the James River. Burrowsville is about eight miles south. Ward’s Creek was an inlet that ran from the James River to Route 10. Though currently only the vague trace of a streambed is visible, the creek at one time was the site of “so many herring coming upstream to spawn you could barely walk through the water,” according to Carol Bowman, executive director of The Prince George County Regional Heritage Center, who grew up in the area. Hatch fondly remembers going to the creek with his Uncle Eddie and using a homemade net to dip herring.
Across the road from the creek was an artesian well that was an asset to James and Mildred O’Donnell, who manufactured Prince George China in Burrowsville. The building still stands but is a residence now.
Bowman recalls visiting the shop with her mother to purchase wedding gifts. Her mother was able to acquire a complete set of the china, and the Heritage Museum has received many pieces as gifts. The artesian well was also a source of good drinking water, and one resident recalls seeing people in cars stopping there to fill jugs because their water, in surrounding towns, did not taste as good.
While driving through Burrowsville, you will certainly notice a church at the bend in the road that has a distinctive pink color. This is Martin’s Brandon Church, which will be celebrating its 400th anniversary this year.
The Episcopalian church originated with Brandon Plantation. After three additional moves, it has remained at the current location since the mid-1800s. The Tuscan-style church sits on land patented in 1618 by Captain John Martin when the area was known as Martin’s Brandon. Old maps show the post office and voting district listed as Brandon Church.
Several long-time residents could not explain why the community later came to be known as Burrowsville. Burrow is an established family name going back several generations. Barry Royer, a lifelong resident and history enthusiast, suggested the name change may have come about due to the break with the Church of England after the American Revolutionary War. Records show many of the state’s Anglican churches closed after they fell out of favor with the communities they had served. It is possible during this time that the area was first referred to as Burrowsville.
Salem United Methodist Church on Route 10 is recognizable by a bright-red metal roof. Built in 1869, it was originally a Methodist Protestant Church, as noted by stained glass above the transom over the front door. Just off Route 10 is Morning Star Baptist Church, founded by the Rev. J. C. Allen in 1885.
In a now-vacant lot across the road from Morning Star Baptist Church, a Rosenwald school once stood. Booker T. Washington of the Tuskegee Institute and Julius Rosenwald, philanthropist and president of Sears Roebuck, built state-of-the-art schools for African-American children across the South. The effort has been called the most important initiative to advance black education in the early 20th century. The school at this location was a two-room design built 1925-1926 on two acres.
Across the road from Martin’s Brandon Church is the Burrowsville Library, a branch of the Appomattox River Regional Library. The library is located in the former Burrowsville school, which opened in 1937. Three grades were taught in one room, with one row of chairs per grade.
One teacher taught in the classroom. The students knew each other and moved up to the next row of seats with the same group. Karen Burrow Rickman attended the school before it closed and the classes relocated. She recalls walking next door to the cafeteria for lunch.
“We loved the days when Mrs. Tiller fixed spaghetti for lunch. I think she used her own recipe and everyone wanted seconds. And you could get seconds! Lunches were 35 cents and ice cream was 10 cents for a whole and 5 cents for a half.”
Rickman laughs thinking about getting a half an ice cream. “It was literally cut in half, which was fine if it was an ice cream sandwich. But if you wanted something on a stick you hoped you would get the half with the stick or it was hard to eat!”
Rickman lives in her Grandmother Burrow’s house. Someone in her family has always lived there. Her father, Cecil Burrow, was the youngest in his family and the first one to be born in a hospital. Everyone else was born in that house.
Cecil Burrow also owned the country store that now houses Bubba’s Chikin & Thangs. Rickman says they were not allowed a telephone in her home until she was 16 years old, since the line would only make long-distance calls. Even to contact the store if they needed her daddy, they used a walkie-talkie.
“I don’t know how it worked that far away, but it did.”
The Burrowsville Library is active as a library and community center. Exercise classes, county public meetings, live music and speakers on various topics are other activities the residents enjoy at the community center.
Burrowsville Volunteer Fire and Rescue is manned by about 35 men and women. The volunteers at Company 4 respond to about 130 calls per year and are supported by a Ladies Auxiliary group.
The Burrowsville Ruritan Club is organized as a sports-and-recreation club; however, it is committed to its community. Member Barry Royer explains, “We currently have about 50 members and conduct three major fundraisers a year: An oyster roast in February, a shrimp feast, and an apple sale in October. Money raised not only supports the club, but allows us to benefit the community and county where needed. The Burrowsville
Ruritans currently fund four $2,000 Prince George County high school scholarships each year.”
If touring the village has made you hungry, you can get a bite at Bubba’s Chikin & Thangs. Business owner Jim Clanton has run the restaurant for several years and has a good business with locals, workers in the area and special events.
“This was previously Cecil Burrow’s grocery store,” explains Clanton. “I had operated restaurants in other areas and decided to come here. Burrowsville is a close-knit area with established families. Being right on (Route) 10 puts us in a good spot for the hunters and fishermen who come to this area.”
Yes, Burrowsville has its share of has-been stores that did not stand the test of time, the modern automobile and a paved two-lane road. And the education of its children exceeded its capacity to provide a good future for all. The road is not lined with trendy shops that are here today and may be gone next year at this time, along with those shopkeepers who follow a new opportunity.
Burrowsville does have very deep roots and its people have been here for generations. They stay because of the close ties they feel to their community and to their neighbors. They stay because the nearest grocery store is 20 minutes away.
The history of Burrowsville is easy to see in its area churches and river plantations. You just have to look a little deeper to find its heart.