Pea Ridge
Pea Ridge is a small, rural community in Skinnersville Township that is nestled along the south shore of the Albemarle Sound. The beautiful waters of the Sound provide a clear attraction for potential newcomers who savor the view and the opportunities for activities on the water. In 2009, the first condominium in Washington County is under construction at Waterside @ the Point. This new development, along with a few other residential areas, beckons to locals and newcomers alike. What was once a community of farmers and commercial fishermen is being transformed by the lure of the southern shore of Albemarle Sound.
Northern Gateway into Washington County
Pea Ridge is situated on the south end of the Albemarle Sound Bridge in Washington County. This location gives it prominence as the main point of entry into the county on the northern edge at Leonard’s Point. The sandy ridge served as a foothold over three hundred years ago when the first settlers filtered across the Albemarle Sound. The boundary for Pea Ridge extends several thousand yards to the west of the bridge, encompassing the Arnold’s Beach residential development . On the south, Pea Ridge is bounded by the low land to the south of Pea Ridge Rd. and ends approximately one mile east of Piney Grove Baptist Church. Pea Ridge Rd., though, continues eastward through several small communities such as Turkey Island and Big Swamp before ending at Scuppernong Church of Christ.
Modern Landmarks
The Albemarle Sound Bridge is an important landmark for the area. The first bridge, a drawbridge with wooden pilings, was completed in 1938. Until then, Mackeys Ferry, in operation for over two hundred years, enabled local residents to travel north to Edenton and points beyond. In January of 1977, the Albemarle Sound froze completely from shore to shore. The thawing chunks of ice greatly damaged over ninety of the pilings. The bridge closed several weeks for repairs, but it was apparent that it would have to be replaced with more substantial construction. The current high-rise bridge opened in June of 1989.

Piney Grove Primitive Baptist Church, established in 1892, is on Pea Ridge Rd., just a few hundred yards east of Blair Shores Rd. In recent years, there has been a resurgence in interest in this small church and attendance has increased with both local residents, and newcomers sharing worship at the old church. Regular Sunday services begin with Sunday School at 10:00 A.M. followed by services at 11:00 A.M. On fifth Sundays, the service includes a “singspiration.” The increased attendance at Piney Grove has enabled the congregation to replace the roof and add a new sign.

Mid-County Volunteer Fire Department is a short distance from the end of the Albemarle Sound Bridge on Hwy 32. Its location is well-positioned in the middle of the Pea Ridge area. The fire department was established on December 20, 1974 with a 1944 Mack as its first fire truck. The VFD continues to work with Washington County officials to seek funds to acquire new equipment and materials as needed. Discussions are underway to request funding for a ladder truck, as Pea Ridge is the only area in the county with a condominium, the first of seven planned in the development, Waterside @ the Point.

The Mid-County Ruritan building can be found on Sam Allen Rd. just off Blair Shores Rd. adjacent to the Blair shores community. The building was constructed in the 1970’s soon after the Blair Shores development was established. The Ruritans are community oriented and are ready to assist elderly in the community who may need a little help with projects they cannot handle alone. In addition, the Ruritans provide scholarships for local graduating seniors.

Mid-County Ruritans meet the first Thursday of the month at 6:30 P.M. for a meal, fellowship, and business. They are most famous for their annual “Chittlin’ Cookin.’” On the third Saturday of January, February and March, chittlins are served. Included on the plate with this old delicacy is a sweet potato, corn stick and a drink. A bowl of soup or stew can accommodate those faint of heart who are not eager to sample the chittlins. BUT, evidently many people look forward to the annual treat and travel from as far away as Pitt County, Currituck County, Rocky Hock, and Chesapeake. In addition to plates which are “eat in” or “take out,” chittlins can be purchased by the pound. In 2009, the Ruritans’ sold over 1200 pounds of chittlins!

Waterside @ the Point is a dramatic shift for the community of Pea Ridge. This new development is, in 2009, completing the first 12 unit waterfront condominium. Plans include six additional condominiums as well as ninety more units which will be both town homes and single family dwellings. Amenities planned for residents include a clubhouse and ten boat slips. Space will be available for a small commercial center. Notably, this is the first development in Washington County that includes condominiums. Perched just a few hundred yards west of the foot of the Albemarle Sound Bridge, this new development is readily recognizable from many vantage points. The beautifully landscaped entrance way provides a wonderful, welcoming atmosphere for the development.

The water tower provides water from the county-wide system. It is located on Pea Ridge Rd. between Breezy Banks Rd. and Blair Shores Rd.
Pea Ridge History-The Early Days
South Lancaster is a name applied to a considerable expanse of the southern shore of the Albemarle Sound. South Lancaster appears in early deeds of the eighteenth century and fades from prominence by 1800. Modern Pea Ridge was once a portion of South Lancaster. Its early inhabitants were part of the 18th century society that thrived along the shore, traveling within the area and to communities across the Albemarle Sound and also further south.
Although he was probably not the first explorer in the area, Nathaniel Batts presence in the Albemarle is well documented. By the 1650’s Batts came to the Albemarle area from Virginia to explore and trade with the Indians. A dwelling was built for him at the mouth of Salmon Creek in Bertie County, several miles west of Pea Ridge. Batts Grave Island, which once sat directly across the Sound from Laurel Point, just east of Pea Ridge, was thought to have been his final resting place. The island, at least 27 acres, was probably lost in a storm in the early 20th century. Only shallow water provides a clue to its existence. No doubt, Batts plied the waters of the sound and explored South Lancaster in the 27 years that he spent in the area. It is very likely he stepped ashore on this high sandy land that is Pea Ridge.

At the turn of the eighteenth century, Pea Ridge, and much of what is now Washington County, was part of Chowan Precinct in old Albemarle County established in 1684. In 1729, Tyrrell County was formed and comprised an area that today includes Tyrrell, Washington, and Martin counties. In 1799, Washington County was formed, and Pea Ridge remains part of this final division.

By the 1680’s, settlers who had already trickled into North Carolina and staked their claims in modern day Currituck, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Bertie and Chowan counties , began to look to establish settlements on the south side of the Albemarle River, as it was then often called. Early records provide a few clues to settlement, but some records clearly show that by 1706, settlers in this area were well enough established to have already built thirteen bridges through swamps. Although the first bridge was constructed as far east as Backlanding on the Scuppernong River, the final bridge was in the vicinity of Pea Ridge, at Mrs. Long’s landing, just east of the George Leonard plantation. The Long’s were on this shore at least by 1702.
The account of bridges given in 1706, totaling some 1,154 yards, was provided to prepare for the building of a road. Over the next two decades, the road would be extended in sections, until it eventually reached Kendrick’s Creek, probably a western portion of South Lancaster. Following are the names of men who lived along the first section of road in 1706. Some names remain prominent in northeastern Washington County and North Carolina. John Davenport, Richard Davenport, Henry Norman, Robert Fewox, Samuel Spruill, Godfrey Spruill, Joseph Spruill, La. Alexander, Will Tarkinton, Charles Craddock, Jon Swain, Joseph Fisher, Thomas Hopkins, Matt Caswell, and Cut Phelps perhaps are the forbears of many succeeding generations.

The work of those early settlers involved tilling the soil, raising some livestock, and fishing the waters of the Sound. That rural culture persisted for more than 250 years, giving way in the second half of the twentieth century to progress.
The Dawn of the Nineteenth Century.
The early plantations were probably humble dwellings, with various outbuildings for livestock, smoking meat and storing pickled or corned meats and fish as well. Remnants of those first settlements long ago returned to the earth, or were claimed by erosion at the Sound’s shore. However, the early seeds of the rural lifestyle grew and expanded until, a more recent plantation that has left evidence of its existence was established in 1797, basically at what is now the Blair Shores community.

In 1797, John Newberry I , who had purchased several hundred acres of land in what was to become Pea Ridge, established a plantation and built a home which commanded a beautiful view of the Albemarle Sound. Although Newberry and his descendants raised various crops typical of the time, they also attempted to cultivate rice. At the eastern edge of their lands, at what is now known as Newberry’s Ditch, just a short distance up the Sound from the plantation house, they had a canal dug to create an environment to cultivate rice. The effort did not prove successful.

About 1837, when a portion of the property had passed to Abram Newberry, Abram sold the land to Josiah Collins and Ebenezer Pettigrew who had previously partnered in the development of Somerset Plantation outside of Creswell. The two men intended to raise mulberry trees for a silkworm industry. The venture failed by 1840, but remnants of this plantation; at some time given the name Sahara, remain in the Pea Ridge area. The original John Newberry dwelling built just before 1800, was lost in a fire in the 1930’s. The owner rebuilt a house on the same foundation, using also the three original chimneys. The dwelling today provides a panoramic view of Albemarle Sound, reminiscent of what the Newberry’s saw two hundred years earlier. The Collins/Pettigrew collaboration led to the construction of at least four, two story houses abut 1838. Two burned down, one as late as the mid 1990’s. Two others remain privately owned. Various outbuildings, including a privy and various other implements from the days of Sahara remain in the nooks and crannies of Pea Ridge.

The name Pea Ridge probably emerged after the Civil War, when the already poor, sandy soil, by then was even poorer after over 160 years of cultivation. Peanuts, field peas, and similar legumes grew well on the sandy soil and do so today.
The Twentieth Century- A Time of Sweeping Change
The twentieth century and its developments slowly eroded a rural way of life begun around 1700. The first section of road begun around 1706, was quickly followed by succeeding sections of road. From the first end of the road at Mrs. Long’s, residents decided to extend it to “ye Flette Swamp.” A short time later, work continued to connect the road to Paw Paw Neck, probably in the area of modern day Holly Neck. Quickly plans were made to continue the road to Kendricks Creek which was the site of the first courthouse for the area in 1735, Tyrrell County having been established out of the Chowan Precinct in 1729. These roads connected people to their neighbors, and made it possible for folks to tend to business in some of the other more populated settlements. No doubt the early roads were quite crude by modern standards. Without roads, however, travel was even more complicated and challenging.

We don’t know for sure where the early road beds were located, but we do know that at some point Pea Ridge had a road or cart path that ran near the shoreline, which provided an easy way for residents to move within their community. Tar Landing, on the western edge of Pea Ridge was the beginning of a section of road that ran eastward to Newberry’s Ditch. Members of the community who recall the Tar Landing road, tell that it was eventually lost to the Sound by the late 1930’s and never replaced. The eastern section of that cart road, from Sahara House to Newberry’s Ditch, remained on a surveyor’s map in the 1920’s, and one could still travel on it in the late 1960’s before the Sound claimed it as well. In times past, as the road slipped into the Sound, someone would carve out another section from their farmland to continue the route. But times were changing and the need to maintain the cart road slipped away.

Those roads have led to the inevitable changes now erasing the culture so long established at Pea Ridge. The introduction of the automobile, gasoline, and eventually the tractor, led to modern techniques for cultivating the soil. The mule and single tree plow faded away. The two World Wars led some to parts of this country and the world that they would have never seen otherwise. The Albemarle Sound Bridge, which opened in 1938, opened opportunities for travel, trade, and movement that enabled people from Pea Ridge to have increased contact with other communities for trade, travel, and visiting. Long time residents recall their own memories, or stories from their parents about the opening of the first Albemarle Sound Bridge. It was a day of celebration.

For over two centuries, Pea Ridge was home to successive generations of independent and capable families who wanted for little outside of their community. They traded for what they did not grow, raise, or catch. When they bought seed for crops, it was customary for them to pay their bill when they harvested and sold their crops. Electricity changed that. Just after World War II, electricity arrived at Pea Ridge. It had a dashing effect on people’s lives in more ways than one. The kerosene lamp was no longer the only source of light when darkness fell. And this new technology had a monthly bill attached that required “ready money.”

It wasn’t until the 1950’s that the telephone and its party line arrived at Pea Ridge. The 60’s ushered in the first neighborhood development at Arnold’s Beach. Indoor plumbing had become more accessible and popular. As new conveniences arrived, old traditions faltered. The traditional hog killing, held during the coldest days of winter was no longer such an urgent activity for survival. At hog killings, neighbors had helped each other out with the work of preparing and preserving meat for the year. Corned hams and backbone, smoked hams and side meat were put up and kept in smokehouses, the smoked meat eventually hung and the corned meat kept in crocks. ‘Midst all of the hard work, a large pot of hog killing stew was made to feed the day’s crew. And then, neighbors would gather another cold day to help someone else go through the same process. Although hog killing was work, it also provided a time for neighbors and friends to visit as they scalded and scraped the hogs, and then butchered the meat.

Commercial fishermen had subsidized their livelihood by selling their catch and preserving some as well. In the spring, they dipped herrings, selling some, and salting enough to keep for their own consumption. The salted herring were kept in barrels, along with the other meats preserved for the year. Hog killings and herring runs, though still practiced among a few, gained prominence in talk about the old days, rather than in actual practice.

The 1970’s brought the Blair Shores development, Soundview Restaurant (now closed), Mid –County Volunteer Fire Department, and the Ruritans. Slowly, other homes began to dot the shoreline. In the early 21st century, the welcoming shores of the Sound lured developers to the area and several tracts of land, once family farms, were sold.

Today, under the shadow of the first condo in the county, one might easily think about the Sound as a playground for sport fisherman, sailboats, and pleasure craft. The views and sensations of being on the Albemarle Sound provide many pleasures. Rhythmic water lapping against the shore provides a lullaby for relaxation. A rising moon hangs heavy and huge over the water before it begins its ascent into a night sky. Brilliant, rosy, summer-time sunsets melt into the waiting earth.

But not so long ago, Pea Ridge, against this beautiful background, was a haven for hardworking people who enjoyed the simpler pleasures of life. Just as the Sound has gently chewed away at the shoreline and taken away some of the history of the area, so is progress, once nibbling, now gulping down huge blocks of history about a time when people were busy building bridges over swamps.
References for more historical information:
Hathaway, J. R. B. The North Carolina Historical and Genealogical Register. Volumes I – III. Reprinted, Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, Maryland, 2002.

Knight, Malcolm Newberry. “The Newberrys of Pea Ridge,” “Abram and Deborah Freeman Newberry,” and “A Study of Sahara Plantation and the Newberry Family – 1799-1800.” Washington County Genealogical Society Journal, Vol. 6, No. 2, August 1998.

McPherson, Elizabeth Gregory, Ed. “Nathaniel Batts, Landholder on Pasquotank River, 1660.” The North Carolina Historical Review. Winter 1966. State Department of Archives and History.

Ray, Worth S. Old Albemarle and Its Absentee Landlords. Genealogical Publishing Co., Baltimore, 1998.

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