2007-10-31 / News

Haunted Chesterfield

Settle in for the county's best ghost stories
By Pamela K. Kinney GUEST WRITER

No, those aren't orbs floating around Railey Hill. It's just last week's raindrops frozen in time by the camera lens.
Richmond is haunted - no doubt about it. And Chesterfield County adds to the paranormal activity.

There's the Midlothian area, a burgeoning, upscale residential and business community - one place you never expect to find anything supernatural. One of the houses there, Railey Hill, stands abandoned with boarded-up windows. It looks exactly like a haunted house. If ghosts walk inside it now, no one knows. But people inhabited the place once and found that they shared it with spectral tenants.

Built by the owner of the Railey Coal Mines around 1800, the ghost stories started when a couple, Mildred and Carl Whitfield, bought the house in the 1980s. It stood empty then and was in need of repair.

One interesting feature about the place was the "witch doors" - the doors had crosses on them. In the 19th century it was thought that this kept witches from crossing the threshold of a house. But this didn't stop the ghosts apparently, as two male specters were seen by Mildred Whitfield, each one at a different time. One was the 12-year-old son of a superintendent of the coal mines in the 1800s, and the other, a Yankee officer, or so Mildred Whitfield believed.

Magnolia Grange is said to be home to numerous spirits including a brooding man, a lady in an 1820s gown and children forever at play.
Crab Louie's

Then there's the restaurant, Crab Louie's. Once called Midlothian and owned by a family named Wooldridge, the place changed hands and names over the years. It was once a stop for the Lynchburg-Richmond stage, and it's also been a boarding school, a nursery and finally a restaurant.

Notice of the ghostly phenomena started in the 1980s and continues to this very day. The main ghosts are a man dressed in clothing from the 19th century and a little girl, though one past owner thought it might be several that haunted the place. But it is "Rachel," the little girl ghost, that most of the phenomena is attributed to. This includes glasses coming off bar racks (many times flying), plates disappearing and apparitions of the little girl near table 10. Children have also been heard singing around table 10, and a calculator once turned itself on. Next time you go to Crab Louie's, ask for table 10 - if you dare.

Wrexham's current owner, Donna Brennan, displays this red dress in the house in hopes of making the ghost of Susannah Walthall feel more at home.
Ruth's Chris Steak House

Another restaurant with spirits beyond the alcoholic kind is Ruth's Chris Steak House at Bellgrade Plantation. The story behind the haunting has all the makings of an Edgar Allen Poe tale. In 1840, the Friend family sold the plantation to an older Frenchman named Robiou. He met and became enamored with the 14-year-old daughter of a neighbor, Wormley, and was granted her hand in marriage. One day, he returned home and found her with a former boyfriend, Reid. He demanded a divorce, which didn't sit well with the father. The father convinced his daughter's lover to help him retaliate against Robiou. What happened next was horrible. Wormley shot Robiou, and both he and Reid were arrested. Reid got off - as it was said he had been coerced into the plot - but not Wormley. Eventually, he was hung at the county courthouse. Within two weeks of her father's hanging, Robiou's widow fell down the front stairs of the plantation house and died. Since that time, both she and her murdered husband's spirits have been seen, mainly in the boxwood gardens behind the place.

Huguenot Barnes & Noble

Shopping centers are places we all go to shop till we drop, but sometimes they can be the focus of a haunting like the shopping center at the intersection of Alverser Drive and Huguenot Road. The family graveyard plot of the Johnson family had been on the land and was removed to another location. Not long after, the shopping center was built on the land. Strange things began to happen in the stores there, including the Barnes and Noble bookstore. So when you wander the shelves of books in the bookstore don't be surprised if you feel the whisper of a presence behind you.

Wrexham's "Lady in Red"

One of Chesterfield County's most famous residents - spectral, of course - is the "Lady in Red" at Wrexham Hall. Most wraiths are seen dressed in gray or white but rarely in vibrant colors like Susannah. It was always suspected that Susannah Walthall was the supernatural presence in the house, but no one knew conclusively until a shaman with a child psychic came to the house. The child talked to the ghost and confirmed to the current owner, Donna Brennan, that it is indeed Susannah.

For many years, the lady has made her presence known physically to those who owned the house. Brennan confirms she even appeared in a wedding photo with a bride and groom. She seems to approve of the weddings held there. Susannah's presence has been felt the most in the room the brides use to change. Just outside the door, voices have been heard on the landing. Other ghostly occurrences involve things disappearing and reappearing later, doors opening and shutting, lights turning on and off, and a blast of cold wind that blows through the rooms for no reason. The ghost has also been seen.

Magnolia Grange

Magnolia Grange is a Federal-style plantation home on Iron Bridge Road. Cared for by the Chesterfield Historical Society, it is across from the county administration buildings and is used for tours. It also has had its share of supernatural activity. One story involves a psychic from Pennsylvania that dropped by one day. She told Tamara Evans, the museum shop manager, that not only did she see a tall, dark and brooding man in the parlor, but a lady in an 1820s gown standing on the sixth step of the staircase. She also heard children's laughter coming from an upstairs bedroom and saw ladies having tea at white-covered tables in the backyard.

But the spirits of the family who lived there long ago aren't the only presence felt. Back in the summer of 2005, a member of the historical society was working in the Old Jail next to the 1917 Courthouse when he suddenly passed away. Not long after, lights would flicker on and off, especially in the basement of Magnolia Grange where he did archeological digs. Some speculate this was his way of saying good-bye to those he had worked with.

Physic Hill's "Martha"

Another supernaturally active place is Physic Hill in the Winterpock area. Named for the doctors who once lived there, nothing much about the ghostly presence was known until Patti and Ellis Grady moved there in 1983. The Gradys soon learned something else shared the house with them when pictures began falling off the walls and lights would dim and brighten for no apparent reason. Things kept happening, from unexplained footsteps to a mattress torn off a bed. Patti suspected it was Martha Branch, the first wife of Dr. Walke.

When Patti later received a copy of a portrait of Martha's daughter, she realized the woman in the portrait fit the description of a woman who had been seen by a painter who was working in the house. He'd seen her three times up at a window.

Though the Gradys no longer live there, the ghost is still active, according to a story posted on a realtor's Web site. Another prior owner of the house admitted to waking up one night and seeing a shape stroking her daughter's leg. She drifted back to sleep, and later said she wasn't sure if what she saw had been real or part of a dream.

More historic homes

Three other historical houses reputed to be haunted or that have had strange things happen are Castlewood, which houses the Chesterfield Historical Society, Eppington and Cloverhill. Parke Poindexter who built Castlewood is said to haunt it. As for Eppington, the same psychic who identified possible ghosts at Magnolia Grange claimed that she also felt a supernatural presence at Eppington. And in Kate Cox Logan's book, "My Confederate General," she wrote of a bird at a window the day her brother returned from the Civil War to Cloverhill. The supposed bad omen proved true when he died the next day.

Civil War remnants

The Civil War has been the cause of many hauntings in Virginia, and especially in Richmond. Chesterfield hasn't escaped this. There are tales of voices coming from the bunkers of a battery off of Ware Springs Bottom Road in Chester, especially when no one else seems to be around. At least not those of flesh and blood.

Matoaca Middle School

Last but not least are the strange things that occurred at Matoaca Middle School. Matoaca was still a high school when the phenomena happened. Cold chills would be felt, lights would move and turn off, doors would shake and bang and other noises would be heard. No activity has been reported since the building was converted into a middle school.

So when you answer that knock at your door on Halloween thinking it's a trick-ortreater, beware, for it might be something else. Chesterfield County has proved to be a very haunted place to live. Pamela K. Kinney is an author of published horror, science fiction, fantasy fiction, poetry and the nonfiction book, "Haunted Richmond, Virginia," published by Schiffer Books. She has also published erotic and sweet paranormal/ fantasy/science fiction romance under the pseudonym of Sapphire Phelan. She lives in Chesterfield County with her husband, Bill, and their cats, Ripley and Bast. For more information, visit http://FantasticDreams.50megs. com.

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