A significant year fades into history

Tom Lappas, Citizen Publisher
This issue, our final of Henrico County's 400th anniversary year (and this newspaper's 10th year), also concludes our yearlong series profiling the most significant moments in Henrico's illustrious history.

Were you surprised by some of the events on our list? Did you learn about some that were unfamiliar to you? We hope so. Did you disagree with some and agree with others? That's ok, too. This endeavor was designed not only to celebrate the county's past turning points and momentous occasions but also to generate discussion among readers and members of the community about the county, its past and how these events and others have shaped our future.

It's been said that to know your future, you must know your past. We hope that this series has helped foster a great knowledge of Henrico's history among its ever-growing citizenry. Many of us who live here now are relative newcomers to the county (a title, of course, that applies to anyone who hasn't been here at least three or four decades). We may not realize all that happened here before we arrived, and in this county, it's an exhaustive list of events.

Our list was composed somewhat equally of singular events that on their own merits were noteworthy at the time they occurred and others whose true significance didn't become clear until years – or decades – later. Of course, paring 400 years of history in one of the most historic places in the United States down to just 24 is an impossible task. Our list, though diverse, certainly is not an authoritative one.

Though some of the county's successes have resulted from good fortune or circumstance over which its government and citizens had little or no control (the construction of Interstate 64 through the county – No. 9 on our list – for example), many must be attributed to events and actions over which they did have control; among them, the establishment of the county manager form of government (No. 5), the rejection of a merger with the City of Richmond (No. 4), Henrico's decision to take control of its own road system (No. 8) and the county's triple AAA bond rating (No. 19).

Those events arguably have done more to shape present-day Henrico than any others because they laid the foundation from which a budding community could flourish in a unique way.

But in compiling – and ranking – the events that comprise this list, our self-imposed charge was to identify those that have had the greatest impact on the county both at the time during which they occurred and in the years since. In that sense, it would have been difficult to choose anything other than the establishment of the Citie of Henricus or the success of John Rolfe in cultivating his unique variety of tobacco at Varina Farms.

Certainly without the former, the latter could not have occurred. But it's easy to argue that if not for Rolfe's success, Henricus – and indeed the Virginia Colony itself – may have died a swift death.

How much longer would England have continued to fund exploration to the New World without finding a profitable reason to do so? Jamestown's flame had nearly been extinguished only a few years after its settlement, and Henricus likely wouldn't have lasted much longer itself without a reason for investment. Rolfe's tobacco provided that reason – in grand fashion.

It not only saved the Virginia Colony, the Jamestown settlement and validated English exploration to the New World, it also set the stage for the birth of a nation. And it happened here, in Henrico County.

"After four failed attempts, Rolfe's pioneer commercial venture reversed the fate of the colonists' effort to settle on American soil from failure to success," author Billy Yeargin concluded in a book about the history of tobacco in the Mid Atlantic.

Yet, 400 years later, Rolfe's role remains arguably the best kept secret – or greatest historical oversight – in the story of present-day America. Every American school child learns about Jamestown and Plymouth Rock. Few – if any – outside of this state have ever heard of Henricus, nor do they understand the importance of what happened there and on Varina Farms. Indeed, revisionist history seems alive and well in the case of John Rolfe and Varina Farms; many documentations of his tobacco growth attribute it to Jamestown, not to his Henrico home where it actually first occurred.

The farm where Rolfe lived with his wife, Pocahontas, still produces crops today in Varina, virtually unchanged in the 400 years since he unknowingly altered the history of a county, a colony, a European nation and an unborn nation in the New World.

The events and moments profiled in these pages throughout this historic year help tell the story of the most historic locality in the United States, but they are only part of that story. Each event helped set the stage for others that followed – a mixture of good fortune, calculated risk and carefully laid plans by men and women who sensed the proper moments in which to seize opportunity.

Today, Henrico is known as a desirable place to live and work – a strong, economically sound and progressive locality with a conservative, well-reasoned approach to government, a vibrant and creative workforce, a powerful network of small businesses, an exceptional educational system and a variety of opportunities for those who call it home. In many ways, then, Rolfe's ingenuity four centuries ago seems incredibly befitting of the county it helped create.

Rolfe was able to combine events over which he had little control (landing in Bermuda on his way to the New World, where he likely gathered tobacco seeds) with those he could control through ability and education (cultivating various seeds here to produce his successful strain); and to combine fortune (falling in love with Pocahontas, the daughter of a powerful Native American chief) with calculated risk and logic (seeking, and winning, her hand in marriage and helping to unite, if briefly, natives and newcomers); and to lay the foundation for future generations on the land he made

It is with these thoughts in mind that we mark the conclusion of Henrico's first 400 years. What does the future hold here? We need only look to our past for inspiration.

If you missed any of the articles in our series, or if you'd just like to refresh your memory anytime,
we've archived the entire series of 24 articles here.

Reynolds CC to host sculptor Paul DiPasquale

Reynolds Community College will host Richmond sculptor Paul DiPasquale Sept. 28 as he shares his presentation “Art Talk, Why Art Matters” from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Conference Center Gallery of the Workforce Development and Conference Center on the Parham Road Campus, located at 1651 E. Parham Road in Richmond. This event is free and open to the public. > Read more.

Free children’s clothing for those in need

The Children's Clothing Closet at Highland Springs United Methodist Church will be open Saturday, Aug. 27 and Tuesday, Aug. 30 to provide free new or nearly new children's clothing for families in need, prior to the start of the school year. The Clothing Closet will be open from 10 a.m. to noon both days. The church is located at 22 North Holly Avenue. > Read more.

Weekend Top 10

Beautiful fall weather is back this weekend! Don’t leave your favorite pooch at home – take the whole family to Canine Companions’ DogFest Walk ‘n Roll at West Broad Village or FETCH a Cure’s annual Mutt Strutt at Deep Run Park. Pets are also welcome at this weekend’s Central Virginia Celtic Festival and Highland Games. Halloween events taking place Sunday include the University of Richmond’s 18th annual Trick or Treat Street and Goblins and Gourds at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.


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Crossroads Art Center will hold a TedxRVAWomen watch party from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Watch this sold-out event (taking place live at the Byrd Theatre) live-streamed in Building 3 of the arts center. Enjoy the give-and-take of an audience of your peers along with coffee and donuts. For details, call 278-8950 or visit http://www.crossroadsartcenter.com. For more information on this independently organized TED event, visit http://www.tedxrva.com/women. Full text

Your weather just got better.


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