Sunday, September 16, 2007

New York/Franklin, Virginia


Last weekend I attended the funeral of an aunt in Franklin, Virginia. With the passing of most of my close relatives in the area I don't expect to be making too many trips down there in the future. My father's side of the family comes from the area with its peanuts, cotton, and other agricultural products. One of my uncles had a hog trucking business in Courtland (previously known as Jerusalem), a few miles from Franklin, the site of Nat Turner's 1831 slave uprising. It's still a predominantly agricultural area, just outside the urban/suburban orbit of Hampton Roads, the metro area centered on Norfolk, Virginia.

The Virginia Diner, Wakefield, Virginia

The southside of the James River is still a conundrum to me, and I have searched there, largely in vain, for the roots of my own self-identity. After crossing the river at Jamestown, we had lunch at the Virginia Diner, a popular restaurant featuring local Smithfield ham, collards, hush puppies, and lots of fried things. Like much of this part of Virginia, Black and White life is still pretty segregated. There were no black faces in the Virginia Diner--other than in the kitchen.

Main Street, Franklin, Virginia
Quiet, but well-preserved.

Franklin exists because of its location on the Blackwater River, which flows south into North Carolina and out to the Albemarle Sound. The river and key rail lines made it a transportation hub for the area. Main Street and a small grid of blocks lies along the river as does a huge paper mill owned by International Paper, formerly Union Camp, which grew from a sawmill on the Blackwater. My aunt Louise worked a good chunk of her 91 years at the mill inspecting paper.

Main Street, Franklin, Virginia

Big Tunes, Home of Da Hits
, Franklin, Virginia

Franklin's downtown is well-preserved despite a devastating flood in 1999, and most of its storefronts are cleaned up and freshly painted. Unfortunately, many still await an occupant. After the funeral we met at Fred's on Main Street where the waitresses wore t-shirts emblazoned with whereinthehellisfranklin? To the north was a music store called Big Tunes, Home of Da' Hits. To the south was a possibly still used movie theater. The marquee said: County Line Cloggers and Jesus is Lord.

Franklin, Virginia

Peanut silos, Franklin, Virginia

Freight trains still go right through downtown, and a large complex of peanut silos stood near the tracks. The funeral home was a few blocks away, one of the many grand houses built in the heyday of the town when the Camp family (of the paper mill) was royalty, and money, in general, was more likely to stay in town. Reading up on Franklin, I see that it's a pretty poor community, slightly more African American than White, and significantly less educated than most of the state. Not much bad happens in Franklin with it's 8,000 inhabitants, but overall, crime is slightly higher than in the burg from which I am now writing, New York City.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I lived in Franklin for 2 years and it was a really strange place. I felt uncomfortable the whole time there. I could hear and smell the Papermill nonstop. It would start up on a Sunday night and sound like a plane continuously taking off! I could see it from my front door every day.

2:46 PM  
Anonymous Patty Gene said...

I have live in Franklin for over 25 years and have loved every minute of it. Saying that it is a poor community and not well educated in so untrue. The crime rate here is very low. I believe you have your so called facts all wrong. Reading what you have written I for one feel very fortunate that you will not be gracing out wonderful city anytime soon.

10:54 PM  
Blogger Brian Rose said...

Patty Gene,

I'm not sure you understand my original post. Crime is not high in Franklin, as I wrote. I only threw New York in there to make the point that people tend to see crime through their particular perspective and experiences. Both the small city of Franklin and the big city of New York are relatively safe to walk around in.

Places like Franklin are poorer and less educated than the fast growing suburban areas of Virginia. There simply aren't as many high paying jobs in Franklin.

Stats here:

But as I wrote, I'm impressed with the efforts to save downtown. I only wish more businesses would open there. I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out in Fred's.

I drove all around town. Saw the big houses up the hill from downtown, read the historic plaques in the waterfront park. I walked around the center of town taking pictures for the better part of an hour. I've probably been to Franklin 20 or 30 times over the years, though I certainly don't know it well like you do.

This part of the country is deeply intertwined with my family history, and although I left the area a long time ago, it is not a place I disdain.

1:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes I lived in Franklin. Yes it not only seems like it is divided along racial lines it is. The education given to blacks was an atrocity and when mass integration began without any training in human relations; all hell broke loose.I often wonder whatever happened to the class of 1973. This blog would be incomplete without mentioning two of the most stoic heroes in Franklin's history. In desegregation those heroes were melvin jones and adrian jones because they suffered the wrath from 6th grade until 10th grade from the many dysfunctional rich kids (they were black kids). I remember them to this day. The class of 1973 died. one reunion and that was at the 10 year point. What a waste. Thank god I was able to graduate without getting killed.

Yes the mill is the town. However, the day IP bought out Union Camp was one of the saddest days of my life. Many memories during the summer employments will forever be indelibly etched upon my mind. As far as the writers comments about Franklin, they were interesting to read.

I miss the Hassetts. They were great Sam and Abe, and Harry

I am long gone from Franklin, but I do enjoy the water there.

Liberals suck.

Make sure you read the bible for the outcome of peoples ignorance.

1:36 AM  

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