Thursday, March 10, 2011

Haunted Virginia

A selection of ten haunted places in the state of Virginia.

Aquia Church
2938 Jefferson Davis Highway
Aquia Church. Photograph taken for the Historic American
Buildings Survey (HABS), courtesy of the Library of Congress,
Prints and Photographs Division.

As with many of Virginia’s great landmarks, Aquia Church has a ghost story attached. The legend tells of a young woman murdered in this National Historic Landmark church at some time in the eighteenth century and her body hidden in belfry. Accordingly, her spirit descends from the belfry at night and has been witnessed by many over the centuries. One caretaker also spoke of seeing shadowy figures among the tombstones in the graveyard. The current Aquia Church building was built in 1751 and destroyed by fire just before the construction was complete. Using the remaining brick walls, the church was rebuilt in 1757.

Assateague Lighthouse
Assateague Island
Assateague Lighthouse, 2007. Photo by DCWom,
courtesy of Wikipedia.

In terms of books documenting the spiritual residents of the state, Virginia has an embarrassment of riches. Marguerite DuPont Lee can be noted as one of the first authors to document many of Virginia’s ghosts in her 1930 book, Virginia Ghosts. More recently, L.B. Taylor, Jr. has published some 22 volumes covering the state. Most recently, Michael J. Varhola published his marvelous Ghosthunting Virginia and it is that book that documents the haunting surrounding the Assateague Island and its lighthouse.

Assateague Island is a barrier island along the coast of Maryland and Virginia. Much of the island is now Assateague Island National Seashore with parts of Assateague State Park and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The island is famous for its feral horses, descendants of the horses aboard the Spanish ship, La Galga, which wrecked just off the island in 1720. It is said the spirits of the humans who died in the wreck still comb the island near the Assateague Lighthouse. The lighthouse, constructed in 1866 and first lit the following year to replace an earlier lighthouse from 1831, may also have some spiritual activity related to it. Varhola cites a National Park Service employee who tells of the door to the lighthouse being found mysteriously unlocked.

Bacon’s Castle
465 Bacon’s Castle Trail
Bacon's Castle, 2007. Photo by Yellowute, courtesy of

Bacon’s Castle ranks highly on a number of lists. It’s described as the only Jacobean house in America and one of three in the Western Hemisphere; one of the oldest buildings in the state of Virginia and the oldest brick home in the United States. Indeed, it may be one of the oldest haunted houses in the US as well. Researchers in 1999 dated tree rings on some of the home’s beams and determined the house was constructed around 1665. Originally called Allen’s Brick House, the house acquired its current name during Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 when some of Nathaniel Bacon’s supporters took over the house. The house has survived and witnessed centuries of American history and is now a house museum.

As for the ghosts, this house may possess many. The final private owner of the house, Mrs. Charles Walker Warren, told many tales of the house involving doors opening and closing by themselves and footsteps that were heard. Certainly the most well known phenomena regarding Bacon’s Castle is the red fireball that has been seen rising from the house and disappearing in the churchyard of Old Lawne’s Creek Church nearby.

Belle Isle
Belle Island, April 1865, just after control of the island
was returned to the Old Dominion Iron and Nail Works.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Glass
Negative Collection.

Originally called Broad Rock Island, Belle Isle was used for mostly industrial purposes in the nineteenth century. Mills, quarries and a nail factory appeared on the tranquil island in the James River. Notoriety came to the island in 1862 with the opening of a Confederate prisoner of war camp that was as notorious as Georgia’s dreaded Andersonville and with a huge influx of prisoners, the camp descended into squalor. Prisoners lived in tents that provide little insulation from the bitter cold of Virginia winters or the heat of the summer sun and were offered little in the way of food. By 1865, most of the prisoners had been shipped to prison camps throughout the South and the island was returned to its more tranquil use as the site of a nail factory. The Old Dominion Iron and Nail Works operated on the island until it closed in 1972 and many of its buildings demolished. The island became a park around that same time and has been a popular spot for hiking and jogging.

Still, remnants of the island’s past linger: the site of the prison camp is marked but little else remains while there are ruins of some of the old industrial buildings. Indeed, spirits from the islands past may also linger. There are reports from island visitors of shadow people, hearing footsteps on the trail behind them, lights in the woods at night and photographic anomalies. Author and investigator Beth Brown in her Haunted Battlefields: Virginia’s Civil War Ghosts conducted an investigation and picked up an EVP of a male voice clearly saying, “Where are we?”

Martha Washington Inn
150 West Main Street
Martha Washington Inn, 2006. Photo by RebelAt,
courtesy of Wikipedia.

War changes many things and the Civil War certainly changed Martha Washington College. The young girls that had studied and gossiped in the colleges rooms became nurses for the wounded young soldiers brought from battlefields far and near and some of those rooms housed able young men who were training on the grounds. Like so many buildings that served as hospitals during the Civil War, the pain and death left its mark upon the college. A number of soldiers still are rumored to walk the halls and occasionally shock guests and staff alike. In addition a ghostly horse, still looking for its long-dead master still walks the grounds outside.

Built as a private residence, General Francis Preston’s 1832 home became an upscale women’s college in 1858. The Great Depression’s punch to the nation led to the school’s closure in 1932 and “The Martha” was later reopened as an inn. The inn is now a part of The Camberley Collection, a group of fine, historic properties.

Michie Tavern
683 Thomas Jefferson Parkway
Michie Tavern, 2005. Photo by Forestufighting, courtesy
of Wikipedia.

My first introduction to the Michie Tavern came through the eyes of paranormal researcher and writer Hans Holzer. Among some of the first books about ghosts I read were some of Holzer’s books and I still vividly remember reading of some of his investigations. For his books he traveled the world with a psychic medium in tow investigating haunted and historical locations such as the Morris-Jumel Mansion in New York City and the famous house at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, New York, the basis for the “Amityville Horror.” On his travels through Virginia he visited the Michie Tavern and nearby Monticello and was able, through his medium Ingrid, to find spirits still partying in the ballroom of this 1784 tavern. Staff members have reported the sounds of a party in that very room late at night.

931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway
Monticello, 2010. Photo by YF12s, courtesy of Wikipedia.

In 1928, a Charlottesville preservationist purchased the Michie Tavern, an 18th century tavern in nearby Earlysville and moved it near to Thomas Jefferson’s “little mountain,” Monticello. Jefferson, perhaps one of the country’s most brilliant, enigmatic and creative presidents, designed and built his home over many years at the end of the eighteenth century and into the early nineteenth century. Over the years that the house has been open as a museum, there have been a few reports of phantom footsteps and other minor incidents including the occasional sound of someone cheerfully humming.

Octagon House (Abijah Thomas House)
631 Octagon House Road
Octagon House, 2007. Photo by RegionalGirl137, courtesy
of Wikipedia.

In a state of magnificently preserved historical homes, it is surprising to find a magnificent architectural gem like the Abijah Thomas House standing forlornly unrestored.  Neglect and vandalism by teenagers out for a “scare” have also taken their toll on this home. The octagon house style found prominence in the middle of the nineteenth century and currently only a few hundred to a few thousand (sources differ) survive. This particular house, described in its National Register of Historic Places nomination form as “the finest example in Virginia of a 19th-century octagonal house,” also has a number of legends about it. According to Michael Varhola, the internet is full of these legends that seem scary but are unlikely to be true. Certainly, this old house is creepy in its deteriorated state, but it really needs a professional investigation.

Old 97 Crash Site
Route 58 and Riverside Drive
The wreck of the No. 97 train, 1903. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

It’s a mighty rough road from Lynchburg to Danville,
And a line on a three mile grade.
It’s on that grade that he lost his airbrakes.
You see what a jump he made.
-- “Wreck of the Old ‘97” first recorded by G.B. Grayson and Henry Whittier

On September 27, 1903, the No. 97 “Fast Mail” train jumped its track on the Stillhouse Trestle in Danville and plunged some 75 feet into the ravine. The train’s engineer, who was rushing to get to Spencer, North Carolina on time, tried to slow the train as it approached the trestle, but the train did not slow. Of the 18 souls aboard, 10, including the engineer were killed. Not long after the crash stories emerged of people seeing odd lights in the ravine where the crash occurred. Even after the trestle was removed and the ravine was filled with growth, the lights are still said to appear.

5113 Old Rosewell Lane
Ruins of Rosewell, 2003. Photo by Agadant, courtesy of

The magnificent main house at Rosewell burned in 1916, but it is hardly a distant memory. The brick wall still stand and archaeological excavations have uncovered the remains of items that were inside the house during the fire. Construction began in 1725 and the house was completed in 1738 for the powerful Page family. The power of the Page family extended into the nineteenth century and included friendships with people such as Thomas Jefferson who legend says drafted the Declaration of Independence within the walls of Rosewell. The ruins have been preserved as a historic site and still attract visitors and spirits. An old legend speaks of a woman in red seen running down the remains of the house’ front stairs with the sound of slaves singing has also been heard.

Assateague Island. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 10 March 2011.
Barisic, Sonja. “Houses’ ‘Bones’ Yield Secrets of Its
     History.” The Richmond Times-Dispatch. 19 December
Brown, Beth. Haunted Battlefields: Virginia’s Civil War Ghosts.
      Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2008.
Brown, Beth. Haunted Plantations of Virginia. Atglen, PA:
     Schiffer, 2009.
Driggs, Sarah S., John S. Salmon and Calder C. Loth. National
     Register of Historic Place Nomination form for Aquia Church.
     Listed 12 November 1969.
Dutton, David and John Salmon. National Register of Historic
     Place Nomination form for Belle Isle. Listed 17 March 1995.
Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory.
     NYC: Penguin, 2002.
History.” The Martha Washington Hotel and Spa website.
     Accessed 10 March 2011.
Holzer, Hans. Ghosts: True Encounters With the World
     Beyond. NYC: Black Dog & Leventhal, 1997.
Kermeen, Frances. Ghostly Encounters: True Stories of America’s
     Haunted Inns and Hotels. NYC: Warner Books, 2002.
Lee, Marguerite DuPont. Virginia Ghosts, Revised Edition.
     Berryville, VA: Virginia Book Company, 1966.
Melvin, Frank S. National Register of Historic Place Nomination
     form for Bacon’s Castle. Listed 15 October 1966.
Michie Tavern. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 10 March 2011.
Monticello. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 10
     March 2011.
Octagon houses. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.
     Accessed 10 March 2011.
Rosenberg, Madelyn. “History and Legend Abound at Abingdon’s
     Martha Washington Inn.” The Roanoke Times. 31 July 1999.
Taylor, L. B., Jr. The Ghosts of Virginia. Progress Printing, 1993.
Tucker, George. “Ghosts Long A Part of the Lore of Bacon’s
     Castle.” The (Norfolk, VA) Virginian-Pilot. 9 November 1998.
Turnage, Sheila. Haunted Inns of the Southeast. Winston-Salem,
     NC: John F. Blair, 2001.
Varhola, Michael J. Ghosthunting Virginia. Cincinnati, OH, Clerisy
     Press, 2008.
Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission Staff. National Register
     of Historic Place Nomination form for Abijah Thomas House.
     Listed 28 November 1980.
Wreck of the Old 97. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 10
     March 2011.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you!!! I used to live in Richmond and Belle Isle was one of our favorite places. I knew that place was haunted. It just felt creepy, but I couldn't find anything about ghosts or hauntings there. Thank you for researching and finding that it was. I now believe in my spidey sense more deeply :)