Source:  The Charlotte Gazette, Drakes Branch, VA., Thursday, August 30, 1928
Submitted By:  Beatrice Adams King

An Interesting Sketch Written Containing Historical Data of Charlotte County

(Editor's Note: This is one of the first of a series of articles that will be published in The Charlotte Gazette, dealing with the history of some part or episode in the County.  The articles should prove both interesting and instructive and should be read by every one interested in our County.  Other articles will appear in early issues.)

These note were prepared by Dr. A.S. Priddy in 1923, and were intended merely as rough notes from which a more complete history of the town could be later written.  They were read by Mrs. M.L. Watkins at the A.P.V.A. meeting at Ash Camp, July 27, 1928.

Keysville, with a present population of 600, is situated in Charlotte County 73 miles southwest of Richmond, on one of the watershed of Albermarle Sound.  This section was originally inhabited by branches of the Nottaway tribe of Indians.

Keysville received her name from an early owner of the tract of land containing 320 acres which comprises the present town site, John Key, who kept a tavern which was located in the yard of the present Keysville Hotel, this old building only being removed in 1894.  It was then a state relay station, which was the only method of transportation.  The present King street, which is the main street of Keysville, was then known as the King's road, and according to well authenticated tradition was located and opened by Col. Tarleton in command of a detachment of the British army in his pursuit of the Continental army commanded by General Light Horse Harry Lee on his retreat which followed the repulse of the Continental Army at Guilford Courthouse, N.C.  On August 28, 1882, John Key and Elizabeth, his wife, sold and conveyed the property to David Flournoy, Capt. Ben Watkins and others, and moved to Tennessee, where he lived for many years and many of whose descendants are scattered over Tennessee and Missouri.  One of them, the late Judge David M. Key, of Knoxville, Tenn., was Postmaster General under the administration of President Hayes in 1877.  In 1837 the above owners sold and conveyed the property to Thomas F. Merryman, after whose sudden death, his son-in-law, the late John D. Priddy, generally known as "Old Landlord," acquired it by purchase and continued to keep a tavern which was favorably known throughout that section of Virginia, having built the present Keysville Hotel during the fifties, until he sold the property to Michael Hardman and Frederick Rummel, of Ohio, in 1874.  He then built a residence and settled on the present Merry Oaks property.  Hardman and Rummel subdivided the property into town lets with streets, and the building of houses, with an increase in population, followed.  A good many of whom were estimable people, whose descendants now constitute some of our best citizens.

Up to that time, the town had consisted of a hotel, two stores, blacksmith and wheelwright shop, Ash Camp Baptist Church and the Richmond and Danville detot.  At that time the following families were residents of Keysville: 
Those of John D. Priddy, R.W. Priddy, J.T. Morton, George W. Rawls, Dr. F.J. Gregory, J.C. Bowman, G.R. Glinn, Roland Anderson and P.E. Fore, the later three having stores about 1-2 mile beyond the residence of Dr. Gregory.  The late John Chambers, who then owned the property now the residence of S.R. Tuggle and Mrs. Mary Green, who lived just below the present Methodist church, with Capt. John R. Bailey, A.W. Keeling and J.F. Sharpe, lived nearby, and were considered residents of the village.


The first event in methods in internal transportation was the building of the Keysville and Boydton Plank road a few miles below Chase City.  This road having been built from Petersburg to Boydton about that time.  Very few people now living know just what a plank road was.  It was built on the order of the first railroads, sleepers eight or ten inches high of heavy timbers were laid and then a heavy oak floor, such as is used in rovering bridges, was nailed over them.  In fact, it was bridging of the old dirt roads.  This road was built by a joint stock company and was a toll road, the toll gate being in front of the present residence of W.E. Hailey, where Mr. Wood Cox lived, and was the toll gate keeper.  The plank road did not last more than ten years, as it had begun to give way about the outbreaking of the Civil War, and the timbers were soon pulled up.  It was on the course of the present King's Road and this road was for many years known as the Plank Road.

The building of the old Richmond and Danville Railroad, now the Richmond and Danville Division of the Southern, was of course, a great event in the history of the village.  The first train pulled by the historic engine known as The Charlotte, reached Keysville, which was for some time its terminus in 1853.  In 1860 the present branch of the Southern to Clarksville, Oxford and Durham was begun and a good many miles were graded, the work having been done largely by Irish contractors and laborers.  The breaking out of the War caused the building of the road to be abandoned.  In 1873 under a new charter, and under the name of the Roanoke Valley Railroad, work was resumed and grading was continued almost to Chase City.  Track was laid as far as the present residence of Mr. Hogan and nearly to Ontario.  The great panic of September 1873, with its historic Black Friday of Wall St. caused the work to be again abandoned.  In 1882 under a new charter with the late John B. McPhail, of Charlotte County, as president of the Richmond and Mecklenburg Railway Company, work was begun and by the early part of 1884, the road was built to Clarksville and completed to Oxford in 1888.  The arrival of the first train at that city was attended by a great public celebration.

The Richmond and Danville Railway went into the hands of a receiver in 1892, and became a part of the Southern Railway System in 1894.  It is gratifying to state that no serious casualty or wreck involving any great loss of life ever occurred in the first 50 years of it operation.  In October, 1903, a collision of what is now known at Keysville as Rudd's Trains, which has always left about 6 A.M., with a delayed night southbound passenger train, occurred about two miles below Keysville at what used to be known as old Mrs. Fore's Crossing.  This caused widespread sorrow in Keysville, as four deaths resulted and a good many serious injuries.  Mr. Ernest Atwell, the engineer, and Mr. Dillon, baggage master, on Rudd's train, both esteemed citizens of Keysville, were killed out right and Mr. Dorsey Tyler, engineer, also a resident of Keysville, was severely scalded and from it was disabled for many months.  The engines of both trains and the baggage cars were burned.


Until 1857 there was no church directly at Keysville.  Old Ash Camp Church was built about, 1802 on the site of the residence of the late Philip C. Jones on the Charlotte C.H. road, and in this church the first temperance society was organized in Virginia in 1826.  In 1857 the present Keysville Baptist church was built with the old name of Ash Camp Church. In 1876 the old Methodist church, known as Salem Meeting House, which stood about a mile from Keysville on the Pleasant Grove road on a part of the Hines land, was abandoned and a new church was built in Keysville, which was replaced by the present Trinity Methodist church in 1912.  In 1883 an Episcopal church, under the leadership of Capt. J.W. White, of Eureka Mills, Major J.W. Morton and Thomas Robinson, was built.  The corner stone was laid by the Keysville Masonic Lodge on April 28, 1883, with appropriate exercises; addresses were delivered by Rev. J.G. Armstrong of the Monumental Church of Richmond, and Dr. W.M. Dame, of Danville.  The building was a large and attractive one and stood until 1913, when it was destroyed by a storm and the present Episcopal Church was built on its site.  The members of the Presbyterian church at Keysville held their membership at Briery, but in 1907 the present Presbyterian Chapel was built.  In 1878 members of the colored church then called Mt. Ellis, about a mile and a half below Keysville on the King's Road, now known as Antioch, established and built the present colored Baptist church at Keysville, taking the name of Mt. Ellis.  In the spring of 1883 this church was burned and the present church was speedily built on its site.  About 1890 the First Colored Baptist Church, of Keysville, was built from the membership of Mt. Ellis.


On the establishment of the public school system in Virginia in 1870 a one-room frame school house was built on the land of the late Capt. John R. Bailey, one mile from Keysville on the Keysville-Drakes Branch road.  This building was used for a school until 1880 when a four-room school building was built at Keysville on what is now the railroad yard between the town and the residence of Mr. R.H. Wilson.  This was known as the Shotwell Institute, in honor of the late Shotwell Powell, of New York.  This building gave place to a newer and larger school building in 1898, which was sold to the late Mr. Robert Watkins in 1912, and remodeled and changed into a residence, now occupied by his widow.  In that year the present Keysville High School building was erected and became an accredited High School, which now has the largest attendance of any school in Charlotte County.  Interest in and impetus to the development of public education at Keysville is largely to be attributed to the efforts and labors of the late Edward M. Holt, who was principal of the school in 1878-1882.  He was an educator far in advance of his day, and under him many of the boys and girls of Keysville who have taken a prominent and honorable stand in life, received, for the most part, their education.


In 1887 by Act of the General Assembly of Virginia, Keysville became an incorporated town, the first mayor being the late Henry Clarke, who ably and acceptably filled the position until his death in June 1892.  Subsequently the act of incorporation was amended so as to include what is now the properties of S.R. Tuggle, R.H. Wilson and Merry Oaks.


In every call to arms in the history of our country the men from Keysville and surrounding country have promptly responded and bravely and faithfully acquitted themselves.  In the War of 1812, an artillery company was formed in Charlotte County, commanded by Capt. John D. Richardson, who was called the Hero of Craney Island, where his battery repulsed an attack by British in 1813.  He served his county as a member of the Legislature for 21 consecutive years and is buried in the graveyard of his old estate, now owned by Dr. McCorkle.  His battery contained many members of the old families around Keysville.

In the Mexican War, soldiers from the Keysville section followed Scott and Taylor from Palo Alto and Vera Cruz to the City of Mexico.  It is a matter of authentic history that during the administration of President Andrew Jackson when it was anticipated that there would be a war of this country with France, in preparation for it, citizens drilled on the lot on which the home of Mr. W.A. May now is.

In the War Between the States the first volunteer company in Charlotte County was the Keysville Guards, Co. K., 23rd Virginia Regiment.  This company was commanded by Capt. Armistead Bailey, Dr. S.T. Walton and Andrew B. Crawford, all Keysville men.  Dr. Walton was killed in battle as Lieutenant Colonel when a commission had been made out for him as Brigadier General, being the only officer from Charlotte to attain this rank; Captain Bailey died from disease in service; and Captain Crawford lost an arm and lived to an extremely old age, having died only a few years ago.

The Staunton Artillery was drilled and mustered into service in the grove at Merry Oaks, and in this company many of the boys from Keysville and vicinity were soldiers, the last survivor of whom in Keysville is Mr. R.T. Priddy.

The Charlotte and Lunenburg Artillery was organized at Keysville, and afterwards became Co. B., 22nd Inf. Battalion.  Although Keysville has fortunately escaped being in any war zone, she nevertheless experienced the hardship of an invasion by the Federal Army known as Wilson's Raid, in 1864, which was defeated at Staunton River Bridge by the reserves on June 26, 1864.  Capt. John R. Bailey commanded the Charlotte Reserves artillery at Staunton River Bridge.  It is interesting to relate that the Federal Army reached Keysville on June 24, 1864, which was being observed by those members of the Masonic Lodge who were not in the army as St. John's Day.  The lodge, adjourning, of course, before the appearance of soldiers.  The lodge was then where the store of Hailey and Gee now is and the store room under it was used as a Confederate depot of supplies.  The commanding general ordered this store burned, and the party detailed to do this was under the charge of Lieut. H.D. Hamner, of a New York cavalry company, who protested to the general against burning it, as it would necessarily burn the Lodge, but the general, viewing it as a military necessity, ordered the burning, which consumed the Lodge and two other houses owned by John D. Priddy.  After the war, Lieut. Hanmer came back to Virginia and located in Charlotte County until his death in 1904, during which time he was a popular and highly respected citizen, succeeding the late Dr. F.J. Gregory as Worshipful Master of this Lodge, and at the time of his death was postmaster at Keysville.

The Richmond and Danville depot was also burned at this time.  In this connection it may be stated that the Keysville Lodge, A.F. and A.M. was organized at Keysville in August 1860.  After the first lodge building was burned another was built on the present site of Wilson and Co., this being also burned in June, 1887.  From 1860 until 1901, when he was incapacitated by disease, Dr. Gregory never missed attendance on the Grand lodge of Virginia, except when he was in the army.

In the War with Spain, and in the World War, Keysville also furnished her quota of soldiers, all of whom proved to be worthy of the traditions of Keysville soldiers in previous wars. 


Keysville has escaped any unusual disaster, but the mention of but one severe storm and several fires is a matter of historical interest.  On May 10, 1882, the severest storm or cyclone ever witnessed in this part of the State occurred, in which a large tobacco warehouse owned by Mr. E.J. Gregory on the present site of the Hotel Charlotte was demolished, and from its weight the adjoining store of the late A.W. Keeling was also destroyed.  This warehouse was a very large frame building containing nearly 40,000 sticks of tobacco hanging and 18 men and 15 horses; not a horse or man hurt.  There had been no visitation of fire since the War in 1864 until June, 1887, when a fire started in the frame storehouse on the former site of the present store of Mr. Brookes on King street, destroying all that business section of the town. 
During the Christmas holidays of 1892, a fire again visited the same section, destroying all of the houses which had been rebuilt.  On April 3, 1897, a fire started in the large storehouse and warehouse of Jeffreys and Co., on the site of Hailey and Gee's store, and burned all of the business houses on that side of the street up to the present residence of Mr. W.A. May. 
About 7 o'clock on April 5, 1897, about three days later, another fire started across the street, burning all the houses within the block from the Hotel Charlotte up to the present residence of Mr. Schusler.


The depot at Keysville is regarded as the most important one on the Southern Railway between Richmond and Danville.  While Keysville has but few industries and is dependent largely on the agricultural resources of the surrounding country, it is a  place of considerable commercial importance, having as a feeder an excellent back country.  About 1869 the first tobacco warehouse in that section, nearer than Farmville, was established at Keysville, on the site of the present store of Hailey and Gee by Fatman and Co., and ever since with the exception of the short period following the organization of the American Tobacco Company, a good tobacco market has been maintained.  It might be safely stated that Keysville.