Searching for Rome

June 30, 2017

Hattie Powell lived as a war refugee and teacher at a place called Rome from about May of 1862 through some part of the summer of 1863. After finding one home where Hattie Powell lived as a refugee (see “Finding Blenheim”), I wanted to try to find the other. However, the location of “Rome,” was just as difficult to search for online because the results invariably included Rome, Italy or Rome, Georgia. I instead focused on the Tucker family that owned it. Since I knew the names and ages of the children, I was able to find them in census records for Brunswick County, Virginia.

 

I then turned to the website of the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) to see what I might find in their online database. When I didn't have any luck, I found that the VHS had a service where I could ask a question and have a professional research it. So, I filled out the online form to ask for help and explained what I knew so far.

 

A helpful professional responded with a reference to Rome in a book called, “Brunswick County, Virginia 1720 – 1975 Revised to 2000” by Gay Neale. In the book, the author described a unique architectural detail that would help me to identify the house. She explains that Rome had two fireplaces built into a chimney that face outside into the air.  It is presumed that the family planned to add on to the home and so had fireplaces built into an existing chimney.  However, no expansion occurred on that chimney, so the fireplaces remain open to the air. The author also describes the location of the home, but not with enough clarity to identify it on a map.

 

I made a visit to the VHS in person to learn what other resources may be available to me.  This was my first visit to the VHS as a researcher instead of a tourist, so I was nervous. I asked the professional who had helped me via email to meet me at a specific time, which helped keep me from feeling like a rookie who fell through the door. 

 

 She suggested that I might narrow down the location of Rome by studying maps made by Confederate engineers during the Civil War. These engineers created maps of many Virginia counties with astonishing detail. A history buff could spend days looking through them. The Library of Congress made electronic images of these maps available online at this link.  The VHS had large printed copies, and I was shown the copy for Brunswick County dated 1864.  The archivist then handed me a magnifying glass and explained that I could look for the name “Tucker” because the land was identified by the property owner. Given the size of the map and tiny details, I thought it would take me all day. So, I was surprised to look down and immediately locate the name “Tucker." As I looked further, I saw the name "Tucker" a few times, so while the map helped to narrow it down, I still didn't have a precise location. So, I drew a copy of the map where the Tucker name appeared – noting nearby roads and streams (this was before I knew the maps were online).

 

I then used Google Maps to try to find the same location today. However this was far more difficult than I anticipated for several reasons: The Virginia State Route I was looking for snaked all through Brunswick County, and Google Maps doesn’t consistently label all streams in every place. Further, the locations of roads and streams had likely changed over 150 years. I searched online with fresh eyes many times without having any luck. I ultimately decided to get in the car and drive to this area to see if I would have more luck in person. I identified a popular restaurant where I would find locals if I decided to ask for help. I drove back and forth down different roads studying the houses. I saw several, but it was impossible to know which was Rome – and all were set too far off the road to make out details on the chimney. Although, there was one in particular that struck me. I could barely see the porch, and it was uninhabited. But something about it made me pull over to make a note of where I was on a map.

 

Late in the afternoon I drove to the local restaurant I’d memorized and found a large crowd enjoying Sunday dinner. I awkwardly asked various people if they’d heard of a house called Rome and was directed to a lady who was knowledgeable of the area. She knew of two homes owned by the Tuckers, but she wasn’t sure which of the two was Rome. Another lady could hear us talking and approached us.  She was confident in the identity and the location of both houses. So, on a small piece of paper, I wrote the directions to each home. 

 

I thanked the ladies, got back in my car, and I followed the directions to Rome. I soon realized I was approaching the same uninhabited home I’d seen earlier. My gut instinct was right: of all the old homes I’d seen that day, I had unknowingly fixated on the right one. I wanted to get out of the car and hike up to the house to confirm it had two exterior facing fireplaces. However, enormous insects were dive-bombing my windshield, and I knew one or more would get inside if I dared to open the door – which would make for a miserable drive back to Richmond. So I decided to wait for several frosts to occur before attempting to get near the house. As I left, I was glad to see farming related activity in a field nearby, which meant someone was on that property every day. The land was still in use, and there would be an owner to contact.

 

The 1864 Map: Graves, H. M, et al. Map of Brunswick County, Virginia. [Virginia: Chief engineer's Office D.N.V, 1864] Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress <https://www.loc.gov/item/2012589654/>.

 

 

 

 

 

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©2019 by Alison Herring