Mathews History & Statistics

Location/History

Mathews County is located on the eastern tip of Virginia's Middle Peninsula, which is formed by the Rappahannock River, the York River and the Chesapeake Bay.  The County covers 87 square miles, and has a shoreline of 214 miles. The county is 80 miles east from the state capital of Richmond, 65 miles north from Hampton Roads and 155 miles southeast from the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.

The county is rich in history. Mathews was originally called Werowocomico by the Chiskiake Indians. This tribe originated in present day York County. After the 1622 and 1644 rebellions, they were given a reservation on the southern bank of the Piankatank River. The Chiskiakes "became extinct" during Bacon's Rebellion in the 1670's. Some historians believe that they joined larger, surviving tribes. However, claims of Chiskiake ancestry are not uncommon among African-Americans in Northern Gloucester and Mathews Counties. Needless to say, more than a few of the tribe were sold into slavery. 

English settlement of the area began around 1650. The area known as Mathews was once Kingston Parish, part of Gloucester County. The county's oldest continuing church, Kingston Parish (Episcopal), circa 1652, remains active to this day.

Mathews played an important role in Revolutionary War history. Cricket Hill, near the county's Gwynn's Island, was the site of one of the first naval engagements of the Revolutionary War. In 1776, Lord Dunmore, the last colonial governor of Virginia, established a stronghold on Gwynn's Island.  In June of that year, Continental forces led by General Andrew Lewis at Cricket Hill bombarded the British fleet and an army of troops and loyalist followers encamped on the Island who were planning the re-conquest of the region. Lord Dunmore, along with Maryland's fleeing Royal Governor who had joined him there, was forced to return to England. This marked the end of British rule in Virginia.

Also during that conflict, an earthwork fort was built near the county's present border with Gloucester County. Called "Fort Nonsense," it was designed to slow the progress of an expected invasion of the county's mainland and ultimately Williamsburg, the colonial capital, from Gwynn's Island. The success of General Lewis made use of the fort unnecessary. The fort still exists, though overgrown with woodlands.

Mathews was an established shipbuilding center for the Chesapeake Bay. The county was once covered with forests of Live Oak trees, the wood of which is very well suited to ship construction. The Continental Navy built many of its ships in Mathews during the American Revolution. By 1791, 12 sailing ships over 20 tons each were built in a single year in Mathews. Between 1790 and 1820, approximately a third of the ships built in Virginia came from Mathews. The sharp, fast vessels, popularly known as "Baltimore Clippers," were built throughout the Chesapeake Bay region. Before the War of 1812, these fast ships were simply known as "Virginia built."

In 1791, Major Thomas Mathews, a Revolutionary War veteran and Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, introduced a resolution in that House calling for the formation of the new county consisting of the Kingston Parish of Gloucester County.  Because of his support of the resolution, the new county was named for him.

In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned Elzy Burroughs of Stafford County, Virginia to build a stone lighthouse at the county's southern tip - New Point Comfort. Together with his family, Mr. Burroughs had earlier constructed the stone lighthouse at Old Point Comfort in Hampton, Virginia, at the foot of Fort Monroe and another light at Smith Point at the mouth of the Potomac, since destroyed. New Point Comfort lighthouse still stands, perched on a lonely outcropping of rock as the land around it has been washed away by the action of the Chesapeake Bay. Today the lighthouse can only be accessed by boat. The structure has been named one of the ten most endangered resources in Virginia. However, exciting efforts are underway to rescue this precious historic resource. Another lighthouse, Wolf Trap Light, stands guard offshore of central Mathews in the Chesapeake Bay as well.

From 1802 to 1844, Mathews was an official port of entry for the registration and enrollment of ships. During this period, 10,000 vessels called at the "Port of East River." The customs house stood at Williams Wharf (marker 13), which was a center of maritime activity until the steamers quit running earlier this century.

The War Between the States found most Mathews County residents solidly behind the Southern Cause. Many of the county's young men joined the Confederate service. One became a General (Lane), and another a personal aide to General Robert E. Lee (Major Giles B. Cooke). Confederate irregular forces operated from the county, and did much damage to Federal forces on the Eastern Shore and other areas. The unofficial "Confederate Coast Guard" was active in Mathews. The effect of Mathews County irregulars on Union interests was apparently so great that Federal forces were sent into the County in 1864 to stop it. Abraham Lincoln mentioned this incursion into Mathews in his reelection Inauguration Address. Another Mathews resident, Captain Sally Tompkins, was appointed the only female Confederate officer by President Jefferson Davis. The appointment assisted her in the running of a hospital in Richmond during the war.

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, water was the highway, and Mathews County had a front row seat. With 2.46 miles of shoreline in Mathews for every square mile of land, boats were the standard means of travel. The arrival of steamboats at area piers with passengers and cargo from Norfolk, Newport News or Baltimore was a daily highlight.

As Mathews entered the 20th Century, her residents continued their close relationship with the sea.  Mathews men traditionally joined the merchant marine, with many becoming ship captains.  It was commonly said that “the sun never set on Mathews County seamen” as they were known to be found all over the globe.  World War II brought the menace of Hitler’s U-Boat packs.  In the early days of the war (1942-43), the merchant marine became the supply lifeline to a desperate England, suffering under “the Blitz.”  Mathews local papers weekly recorded the grizzly toll as local Mathews men were killed in German U-Boat attacks along the Atlantic coast and in the Caribbean. In 1942 alone, fifteen Mathews men were killed when their merchant ships were torpedoed by the U-Boats. In tribute to this disproportionate loss, the U.S. Navy commissioned the attack transport ship U.S.S. Mathews.

The arrival of World War II put most of the steamboat lines out of business. In 1942 the government requisitioned most of the bay and coastal steamers for service in the war effort. Even before the war, faster means of transportation and better roads caused stiff competition for the boats. The last remaining steamboat line, the Old Bay Line, stopped its York River to Baltimore run in 1942. About 20 years later, the Old Bay Line dropped passenger service between Baltimore and Norfolk. The steamers stopped for good in the spring of 1962.

The early 20th Century found the local fishery industry in Mathews approaching its peak.  Fishing had always been important to Mathews residents for food, commerce and pleasure. Its importance to the community grew in the 1840's when a visitor from Long Island, New York introduced the "pound net," a type of fixed-position fish trap that proved exceptionally effective for use in Chesapeake Bay waters.  Within a few years, such nets were all over the Bay, and most Mathews males above the age of thirteen seemed to be fully engaged in the race to catch fish for east coast markets. Oyster, clam and crab fisheries also bloomed during this period, with subsidiary seafood processing plants popping up widely on commercial piers.  The fishing industries peaked during World War I, with fortunes being made on products such as caviar (Sturgeon roe), which were shipped to discerning buyers in far-off markets. After the war the industry slowed, and was dealt a severe blow from damage done to seafood piers and facilities by the August Storm of 1933. Demand for Chesapeake Bay seafood rose again briefly during World War II.  Immediately after that war, the industry suffered under declining market demand and prices for Chesapeake Bay seafood and a depleted fishery in the Bay itself. Thereafter a trend started which continues to this day - local young people either leaving the county after high school in search of better jobs or opportunity elsewhere, or otherwise commuting to Hampton Roads and Richmond each day by car, carpool, and commuter bus.  A few are lucky enough to find work in local businesses, professions, and with government.

Because of its unique beauty, history and pleasant population, Mathews County has always been a popular spot for vacations and summer retreats.  As prosperity boomed in the 1950's more people began to discover these unique qualities.  This created a demand for vacation and retirement homes. As demand rose, prices for waterfront property rose precipitously, which in turn attracted a wealthier and more discriminating retirement clientele. The Mathews coastline is today often referred to as the "Platinum Coast" by real estate professionals from as far away as California and Europe, and is home to some of America's elite. Present and retired CEOs of many Fortune 500 companies call Mathews County home for at least part of the year.

As waterfront development grew, local people began to migrate to the building trades. The level of quality demanded by waterfront home buyers led to a distinguished level of skill and craftsmanship in these local tradesmen not found elsewhere. This reputation for exceptional quality is widely known and respected today in the residential real estate construction industry.  Moreover, these skills have been utilized to renovate and maintain some of the county's historic plantation homes erected in the 18th Century, and many are still in use, including Woodstock, Providence and Poplar Grove.

The county (along with neighboring Gloucester County) is also known as the daffodil center of Tidewater Virginia and the annual fall Market Days festival on the courthouse square draws visitors from across Virginia.

Genealogy

A Mathews County genealogy website is available at http://www.rootsweb.com/~vamathew/. A free Mathews genealogy emailing list can be subscribed to by request at goodsell@pilot.infi.net.

Climate

Average annual rainfall: 31.8"
Average annual snowfall: 4.6"
Annual average temperature: 59 F
January average temperature: 40 F
July average temperature: 78 F
Prevailing Winds:
Southwest

Weather Reports

The weather line at (804) 693-XTRA (9872) is sponsored by radio station WXGM 99.1 FM and 1420 AM in Gloucester. Weather reports via VHF are on the weather channel.  More weather information is available here.

Employment

Mathews has a civilian labor force of 4,487 and an unemployment rate of 3.6% (August 1996).  Three-fourths of the County's working residents commute to jobs outside the County.  Within the County, leading employment sectors are trade, government, services, manufacturing and contract construction.

Population

According to the 1990 Census, the county's population was 8,348.  This represents a 4.4% increase since 1980 with the 25-44 year old group showing the highest increase and the 5-17 year old group showing the most decline.  The 1996 population estimate was 9,100.

Topography

Consisting of 88.7 square miles of land and 16.3 square miles of water, Mathews County lies in the Tidewater Physiographic Region.  Elevations range from sea level to 39 feet above sea level on terrain which generally has a slope of less than 2%.

Emergency Services

Emergency services can be reached via telephone 911. The sheriff's department of 13 deputies, dispatchers and staff provides local protective services.  Three state police are assigned to the area.  Fire protection and rescue services are provided by all-volunteer units.  The five fire stations and rescue squad have a combined total membership of approximately 140 volunteers.  The Emergency Services department has a director, deputy director and coordinator and maintains emergency shelters in case of disaster.

Community Facilities

Recreation - The County operates a recreational program. Recreational opportunities include fishing, hunting, sailing and water skiing.  There is also an amateur theater, a senior citizen center, a YMCA, a Boys and Girls Club, Little League sports and the L'il Ole Opry at Donk's Theater in Hudgins is a haven for rising country music stars.

Bethel Beach Natural Area Preserve: Turn left on Route 611 just south of the town of Mathews. Turn right on Route 643, then left on Route 609. This 50-acre parcel contains a sandy beach, low dunes and salt marsh habitat bordering the Chesapeake Bay. Over 90 bird species have been reported on the preserve, which also protects the globally rare Northeastern Beach Tiger Beetle.

Mathews Recreation Park is a 10 acre facility located next to Mathews High School just west of the town of Mathews. It has a softball field, a basketball court, a playground and two tennis courts with lights that are token operated. The 25-cent tokens, good for 15 minutes of play, may be purchased at the Mathews Sheriff's Office, the parks and recreation department, and at the Medicine Shoppe pharmacy in Mathews.

Public Water Access: Mathews County has 19 public access points to the water. There are two public boat ramps. Town Point Landing is on Put-in Creek at Route 615 and provides access to the East River. It was rebuilt recently and is handicapped accessible. The other boat ramp is on Route 223 at Grimstead (Gwynn's Island near the Seabreeze Restaurant) and gives access to Milford Haven.
Most of the following public access areas may be used for fishing, picnicking and swimming. Some uses are restricted at certain access points and some sites are bordered closely by private property; please avoid trespassing:

- Auburn Public Landing off Route 620 is on the North River.
- Bayside at the end of Route 633 on Gwynn's Island at the Bay is a very small beach.
- Davis Creek Landing, with a 175-foot pier, is on Route 689 and leads to Mobjack Bay. It is used by local watermen.
- Doctor's Creek Landing is at Route 691 and the Bay.
- Route 645 at the Bay has a beach and a portable boat may be launched there. Please observe no trespassing signs.
- Haven Beach on Route 643 at the Bay has a beach and a portable boat may be launched there.
- White's Creek Public Landing at Route 682 and the Bay is used commercially now.
- Horn Harbor Landing is on Route 698 at the Bay.
- Edwards Creek Public Dock on Route 672 is used by local watermen.
- New Point Comfort Island at the Bay is accessible only by boat at high tide.
- New Point Comfort Observation Walkway is at the end of Route 600 and offers a view of the historic lighthouse.
- Winter Harbor Landing is at Route 611 and Winter Harbor.
- Winter Harbor Haven is at Route 608 and Winter Harbor.
- Warehouse Landing is at Route 631 and Piankatank River.
- Piankatank River Landing is on Route 632, with a beach.
- Roane's Point Landing on Route 630 accesses the Piankatank River.
- Rose's Creek is at Route 662 and the Bay and is used by local watermen.
- Williams Wharf Landing is a public access facility for small engineless watercraft, such as canoes, kayaks, rowing shells and small sailboats. There are two floating docks for easy launching of boats, and the facility also offers opportunities to learn to row for exercise or fun. Located at the end of Route 614 (Williams Wharf Road) off of Route 14, two miles south of Mathews Courthouse, it is open daily during daylight hours. It's the training site of the Mathews High School and Mobjack Rowing Association crew teams. Call Mimi Ulsaker at 804-693-5160 to schedule lessons. Groups are encouraged but individuals can be coached privately as well. Boats and coaches are provided.

Kayak rentals and tours to New Point Lighthouse, wetland areas and other sites are offered by Bay Trails Outfitters. Call 804-725-0626 for reservations.

Churches - There are over 30 churches in the county covering most denominations. Rev. Dr. James D. Singletary Jr., president of the Mathews Ministerial Association, will assist persons in finding a local church. Call him at (804) 725-5606 or 725-3376.
Lodging - Five lodging facilities, including Bed & Breakfasts, offer approximately 30 rooms.  Two campgrounds have a total of 405 campsites. In addition, a new Comfort Inn motel will soon be constructed in nearby Gloucester, 20 minutes from the town of Mathews.
Restaurants - Nine restaurants offer seafood on the waterfront, as well as fast food and family style dining.
Library - The Mathews Memorial Public Library is located on Main Street in Mathews in a lovely building that has recently been completely renovated and modernized. The Library contains approximately 35,000 volumes and a new Children's Wing is under construction. Its hours are Mondays, 10AM to 4 PM; Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9 AM to 7 PM; Wednesdays and Fridays 9 AM to 5 PM; and Saturdays, 9 AM to 1 PM. Phone 804-725-5747.

Day Care/Baby Sitting

Day care is provided for children ages six weeks to 12 years by Westville Daycare on Main Street in Mathews. Hours are 6 AM to 6 PM Monday through Friday (804-725-7640).

Local Taxes

1997 Tax Year

Real Estate
Tax Rate/$100:  $0.68
Assessment Ratio:  100%
Manufactured Homes
Tax Rate/$100:  $0.68
Assessment Ratio:  100%
Automobiles and Light Trucks
Tax Rate/$100:  $2.90
Assessment Ratio:  100%
Value Used for Tax Purposes:  Trade-in
Boats, Machinery, Tools and Rec. Vehicles
Tax Rate/$100:  $1.94
Assessment Ratio:  70%/100%

Higher Education

Rappahannock Community College in Glenns (20 miles) offers programs in a number of fields, including vocational and technical training.  The College's Warsaw Campus (60 miles) offers additional courses.

There are several colleges and universities in Richmond, Hampton Roads and Williamsburg, including the College of William and Mary, the University of Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Union University, Norfolk State University, Old Dominion University, and Christopher Newport University, among others.

Local Economy

The largest employers in the county are the county school system and D&P Embroidery, whose principal product is the blue field of stars portion of the United States flag.  Retail sales annually total over $21 million.

Finfish and shellfish are plentiful in the water surrounding Mathews County and are integral to the local economy and culture.

Agriculture also remains an important part of our economy.  There are 61 farms in the county of an average size of 101 acres.  The principal crops are corn, wheat and soybeans.

Finance

Bank of America and Chesapeake Bank operate branches in Mathews offering a variety of services.  There are three ATMs in the county. One ATM is located at the Bank of America Building in the town of Mathews (MasterCard, VISA, Plus and MOST), another, run by Chesapeake Bank, is in front of the Best Value supermarket in Mathews (Cirrus).  The third ATM (also Chesapeake Bank) is located at the Get and Zip store one mile west of Cobbs Creek at Routes 198 and Route 3 (MasterCard, VISA, Plus and MOST). All machines charge fees to non-bank customers.

Alcoholic Beverages

Beer and wine may be purchased at most convenience stores and at both supermarkets in Mathews County. Liquors may be purchased from the Mathews Alcohol Beverage Control (package) store, which is located on Main Street in Mathews (804-725-2100). The store's hours are 10 AM to 6 PM.

Communications

Telephone - Verizon, residential repair requests, 1-800-892-2980 (24 hours per hour).
Cellular - No roamer access codes required by Verizon Wireless. Cellular One (No. Neck/Mid. Penin.): 804-450-7626; 360-Degree Com. (Glo) 804-693-1900. Main number: 757-873-1942; Sprint PCS Wireless.
Internet – Internet Service Providers (ISPs) accessible via local phone call from Mathews County include 3 Bubba’s Innanet, CCS, Eagle’s Nest, O.A.S.I.S., RiverNet, VillagePop, VisiNet, and Widomaker. Newspapers - The Daily Press-Newport News, morning;  The Richmond Times-Dispatch-Richmond, morning; Gloucester-Mathews Gazette Journal, weekly;  Southside Sentinel (Middlesex), weekly.
Radio - WXGM 1420 AM, 99.1 FM Gloucester and WNDJ 104.9 FM White Stone/Urbanna.
Television - The major networks are received from the Hampton Roads area.  Cable service is provided by Adelphia with 42 channels (804-725-3032).
Parcel - UPS and FedEx.

Transportation

Roads - State Primary Routes 14 and 198 (east-west) and 3 (north-south) bisect the county. Virginia Department of Transportation maintenance headquarters for Mathews is on Route 14 at Foster (phone (804-725-3894).
Rail - Norfolk-Southern provides freight service in nearby West Point.  Amtrak passenger stations are located in Richmond, Williamsburg and Newport News.
Air - General aviation airports are located in West Point, Tappahannock and Middlesex.  Commercial air service is available at Newport News/Williamsburg International, Norfolk International and Richmond International Airports.
Bus - Two independent bus lines provide commuter service to Newport News.  Greyhound provides service from Gloucester Courthouse.  Charter service is available locally.
Waterways - A haven of navigable waterways, Mathews County is bounded by the Chesapeake Bay on the east, Mobjack Bay on the south, and the Piankatank River on the north.  There are several rivers and many creeks and inlets throughout the County.
  Major commercial port facilities are located just 50 miles south in Hampton Roads (channel depth of 55 feet), the largest natural deepwater harbor in the world.
Navigation Notes - The Gwynn's Island drawbridge on Route 223 operates 24 hours a day. Boats have priority over cars and bridge operators will open the bridge only when the crossing boat is in sight. Boats should sound horn (one long and one short blast) to alert the operator. The bridge operator will answer with a similar siren sound. The bridge operator may be called on VHF radio channel 13, CB radio channel 11, or by phone at 804-725-2853. The maximum width is 80 feet and there is a deep channel (about 12 feet) on the north side of the bridge opening. Several shoals in the area are marked with day markers. Special navigation notice: Boaters should remember a navigation quirk in Milford Haven and Hills Bay that reverses the navigational markers' meaning. Boaters traveling east towards the Bay are considered to be going up river and red markers should be kept to the right through marker 12. At marker 16, go back to standard marker delineation. Boaters traveling west and entering Hole in the Wall and Milford Haven from the Bay should use standard "red right returning" through marker 16. Beginning at marker 12, red should be kept to the left. Red markers should be kept to the left through the narrows at the bridge.

Utilities

Electricity - Supplied and distributed by Virginia Power (1-888-667-3000).
Water - The County is located in the Small Coastal River Basin and is surrounded by salt water.  The quality of potable ground water varies with depth but is generally good from wells less than 200 feet deep.  Wells in the higher portion of the county can yield about 10 gallons per minute from sand aquifers that are less than 65 feet deep.  There is some ground storage for individual project use.
Sewerage - The Mathews Court House Sanitary District serves a portion of the County.  Its average daily use is 40,000 gallons.  The permitted maximum daily treatment capacity is 100,000 gallons;  secondary treatment. Mathews County sanitary district billing inquiries, 804-725-7171, emergencies 804-725-7177.
Solid Waste Disposal - Mathews County has a convenience center/transfer station that accepts recyclables and residential and commercial waste.  The county is a member of the Virginia Peninsulas Public Service Authority. The trash transfer station is on Route 14, two miles west of Route 198. It is open from 9 AM to 7 PM, Thursdays through Tuesdays (closed Wednesdays). For more information, call 804-725-2654 or 1-800-683-0922.
Recycling - The transfer station accepts newspaper, glass, cardboard, aluminum, used motor oil, antifreeze and numbers 1 and 2 plastics.

Medical

Riverside-Walter Reed Hospital in Gloucester (25 miles) offers general and emergency medical services.  Larger medical centers are located in Hampton Roads and Richmond.

There are three doctors, two dentists, and one optometrist in the County and a clinic operated by the state health department.

Veterinary Services

Mathews Veterinary Services, Route 198, Blakes (804-725-4123).

Education

Public School System (1996 School Year)

 

Schools

Enrollment

Teachers

Ratio

K-4

1

480

38

13:1

5-8

1

425

27

15:1

High School

1

408

33

13:1

Number of High School Graduates: 62 (1997)

Private Schools - Primary

Gloucester Montessori School (Gloucester, Gloucester County)

Chesapeake Academy (Irvington, Lancaster County)

Aylett Country Day School (Miller's Tavern, Essex County)

The Ware Academy (Gloucester, Gloucester County)

Private Schools - Secondary

Christ Church School (Saluda, Middlesex County)

Saint Margaret's School (Tappahannock, Essex County)

Government

Mathews County is governed by an elected five-member Board of Supervisors.  The daily operations of the county are handled by an appointed county administrator.  The county has adopted a comprehensive plan and zoning and subdivision ordinances.

Natural Resources

Forests - Approximately 63% of Mathews County's total land area is privately owned commercial forest land.  Predominant forest types are loblolly-shortleaf, oak-hickory, and oak-pine.
Minerals - Sand and gravel have been mined for highway construction and local use.  Clay along the Piankatank River is suitable for the manufacturing of garden pottery.  Shell marl is abundant in some areas and there are small amounts of iron, stone and gravel.
Water - The Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries provide numerous recreational activities, including water sports and fishing.

Most of the above information was provided by the Mathews County Department of Planning and Zoning, the Mathews County Historical Society and The Rivah Visitors Guide.