Reminiscence: Courthouse tales

There’s a common thread that connects one locale to others. Although roads allow us to travel between places, such as Chester and Courthouse and Beulah, they are not the real connection – it’s the people. As we’ve featured different folks in different areas for the Reminiscence series, we at the Village News have found that there’s a strong connection. This connection became immediately apparent when we spoke with Henry Myers, Jr., 79, last week.

Myers remembers Elizabeth Winfree Quaif – the subject of the April 14 Reminiscence – who was a number of years ahead of him in school; he remembers how she and her husband met in elementary school. He knows Jake Halder – who was featured in the May 16 Reminiscence – and remembers his father racing his horses at the county fairgrounds. As Myers spoke of families he knew growing up or people he knew in Chester, their roots always brought them together.

Myers grew up around the Courthouse area and lives there today, but he’ll correct you quickly if you say ‘born and raised.’ “I was born in Beulah and moved down here when I was two,” he said. His father, the first Henry Myers (there are now four), lived with his mother in the yellow house that still stands next to the closed Amoco gas station adjacent to Chesterfield Meadows South. His uncle, Ben Frith, owned a blacksmith shop within walking distance from the old Courthouse and county. The blacksmith shop was in front of the house where Myers grew up and when Route 10 came through, (relocated Hundred Road in the 1960s) it took the shop and the front porch of their house. Myers later moved it further back from the road where it now sits awaiting the wrecking ball, along with the Amoco gas station that closed last year, to make way for a Walgreens store.

“After the Civil War, that [blacksmith shop] was the main attraction here, because it was like a service station,” Myers said. “So he was the focal point of everybody around here.” Another uncle was a wheelwright at the same location.

As Myers counted the dozen or so houses that were around the Courthouse when he was growing up in the 1930s and 40s, the names of the homeowners seemed like a who’s who of Chesterfield – Goodwyn, Cogbill, Purdue, Daffron and Frith.

Myers mother Anne was a Frith and her blacksmith brother, Ben, also owned a hotel for a few years that once sat just a couple of hundred feet west of the old Chesterfield Courthouse; now county police headquarters is on that site. Phillip Cogbill of Magnolia Grange eventually bought it and gave it to John Cogbill, who also ran the general store containing a post office just behind the old Courthouse.

“I spent quite a few nights in that white house myself when Mac Cogbill [once Commonwealth’s Attorney] was in the hospital,” Myers said. “This was in 1951 when I was in school at what is now VCU.”

Behind the old Courthouse was the fairgrounds, Myers remembered, containing a massive horse track, stables and exhibition halls.

“The original fairgrounds was nothing like you would remember,” Myers said. “They had the fair there every year and horse races. But the races were sulky (harness) races.”

Myers said the high schools would enter their beauties in the Miss Chesterfield contest. Betty Wilmouth of Thomas Dale High School won it when he was in high school. She married Nelson Bennett, now deceased and former owner of Bennett Ford, now Haley Ford, on Jefferson Davis Highway.

“A horse got loose there one time and somebody thought I stole him, but he’d had gotten over behind  where the jail is now and there were thick wire bushes back in there,” Myers said.

“That horse got in there and died. They later found the horse with the saddle and the loggers found the horse.”

“The old jail is still standing and it held all the bad boys at the time, and it only held about 40 people,” Myers chuckled, getting ready to tell his jailbreak story. “On the top of the old Courthouse is a bell and whoever was jailer that night would ring the bell if there was a problem and then anyone around here would run over there to see what was going on. Well, one night my mother heard that thing ringing and she punched my father and told him something’s going on over at the Courthouse. He said, ‘Forget it, I’m going back to sleep.’ But eventually he went over there to see what was happening. Old man Hirschberg, the jailer, was by himself; he didn’t have any pistols or anything, he was just there to watch them all night. Come to find out, one of the jailbirds had dug a hole through the wall, just enough to squeeze his body through.

“The jailbird had saved the butter from his meals for a month or so, took off all his clothes, greased himself down in butter and another one was pushing him out of the hole. Of course, my dad showed up and they got the guy back in jail.” Myers said the attempted butter breakout happened in the late 1930s.

Behind the yellow house where Myers grew up is a spring. It has rocks built up around it and it was the source of water for the blacksmith shop, the Courthouse and also for the Lumpkin house (Castlewood). “They had a 15-foot right-of-way from their house to the spring to go down there and carry water by the bucket back to the house,” Myer said.

The spring also fed a mill pond that provided the water power for a gristmill where local farmers would bring their wheat and corn to be ground into floor. Although the dam has given way and the mill pond has drained, Myers said the water wheel is still standing.

“The story goes that when the Revolutionary War started that the boys from around the county who were going to join the Army would meet at the spring,” Myers said.

Myers says he doesn’t remember too many stories about slaves around the Courthouse, but said there are some buried on his property. “The son of a slave, Shug Cheatham, is buried on the back corner of the shopping center here [Chesterfield Meadows South]. He worked the bellows for Uncle Ben at the blacksmith shop.”

Named Wrexham by Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Hague, who renovated it in 1941, the historic house was located on the opposite side the Hundred Road from Myers homestead, the yellow house. Myers said Hague was a gentleman farmer and was on the Board of Supervisors for a while. According to Myers, when Stanley died his widow sold it to Judge Ernest Gates.

“Pioneer Federal ended up with the property before Nesbaum bought it and made it into what you see now.”

Myers worked as a paper delivery boy, a tobacco surveyor, bell hop at Parnell’s Motor Court and then, after getting his business degree, for Chesterfield County Schools for about 10 years, setting up the shop class at Meadowbrook and Thomas Dale. He also started a school/work program there, which allowed students to go to school for half the day and work the other, giving them an opportunity to see what type of work they liked.

Myers eventually got into the building business and developed Deerfield Estates opposite the county courts building, Brentwood, off Beulah Road, and Hartland, off Happy Hill Road. Myers also developed the Chesterfield Meadows South shopping center. He and his three sons, Henry III, Ben and Tom, built the home that he and his wife live in today. Henry, Jr. and Virginia have four grandchildren, including Henry IV.


Chesterfield Reminiscence

These old stories of Chesterfield are wonderful. Having grown up and lived in Chesterfield for my 67 years I too can remember most of the people mentioned in the articles. Oh for the good old days before the come-heres flooded into the county forever changing it.

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