Searching for Blenheim

June 16, 2017

 

The location of "Blenheim" was an intriguing mystery to me for three years. From November 1863 through June of 1865 Hattie Powell lived as a Civil War refugee at a location she called “Blenheim.” She was a teacher to the young girls in the neighborhood and seemed to have had a sociable existence with friendly neighbors, soldiers on furlough, parties, and new friends. The location of Blenheim was a mystery to me because Hattie wasn’t clear on where she was. Occasionally I would search maps of Virginia for a town called Blenheim but could never find one. A few places called “Blenheim” would appear in the search results, but the locations didn’t seem right given the few clues she left behind.

 

Her employer and host was a Dr. Joseph V. Hobson and his wife Mary E. Bullock. I began to research the Hobson family and found them on census records in Richmond and in Lynchburg, which was perplexing because I knew Hattie wasn’t in either location. After more research of the Hobsons, I found the name on a National Park Service website that included the National Register of Historic Places. The information I found summarized the details of a house in Powhatan County once owned by a Dr. Joseph Hobson called “Blenheim.”  Blenheim!!  After years of searching I had stumbled upon it, and it turns out to be a house instead of a town. I read every page of the of the information I'd found, taking in the descriptions of every nook and cranny of the house. That’s when a key question dawned on me: could Blenheim still be standing? After 150 years? Was it possible that I could see the place where so much happened?

 

The information I found online was dated 1986, so this was possible – and the documentation had a street address. I typed the address into Google Maps, switched to the satellite view, and saw what appeared to be an old home near the pin point. I went from simply reading about the Hobsons to finding Blenheim and was now staring at it on a map in disbelief. It had never occurred to me that it was a house – let alone that it would still be standing.

 

The next question was whether I should reach out to the home owners. Would they allow me to take a photo of the outside of the house? Would they be interested to know that these letters exist and the tales they tell? I had not viewed the letters in this light before: they're not just the tale of Hattie Powell, they represent a complete account of life at that home during the Civil War. Hattie documents everything: their daily routine, visitors to the house, events in the area, the neighbors, how and when news of the war reached them, and much more. On the one hand, it seemed bold to reach out to people I don’t know. On the other hand, anyone who owns historic property is bound to be a bit of a history buff and may love to know the details of life at their home during the war. 

 

I decided not to act on impulse and waited. At that point, simply knowing where Blenheim was gave me a new lens through which to view Hattie's letters, and a better understanding of them.

 

 

 

 

 

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©2019 by Alison Herring