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A History of Bracey, VA

by Verna Palmer Bracey and Susan Bracey Sheppard

 

Bracey is a community with an interesting past and a promising future.

Since 1900 Bracey has served approximately the same region as did its forerunner, Saint Tammany, which was established in 1792 and was the first incorporated town in Mecklenburg County.

The trade area of the town of Saint Tammany covered a large region on both the north and south sides of the Roanoke River (now Lake Gaston) and at least as far east as the Brunswick County line and as far west as Flat Creek. In 1762 a ferry went into operation from the land of Richard Fox on the south side of the Roanoke to that of James Blanton of the north. Thirty years later, as the result of a petition to the General Assembly, the town of Saint Tammany was laid out in 100 half acre lots on land belonging to Blanton, on a bluff overlooking the northern ferry landing. The road that ran north from the ferry landing to Petersburg became know as the Saint Tammany Road.

Thirty-nine people bought lots in the town during the first year of its existence. On lot 6, just above the ferry slip and on the west side of Saint Tammany Road, stood the tobacco warehouse, which survived until about 1930. Built into the side of the bluff, its first story was of stone, the second of wood. On the ground floor, tobacco, some of its transported there by the bateaux on the river, was stored until it could be carried by wagon to Petersburg to be sold. The second floor, which had a projecting porch, housed a store and the post office. Another store, a blacksmith shop, a tanyard, a tavern run by Samuel Lambert, and several houses (at least sixteen feet square) comprised the remainder of the original town. In 1798 a post office was established at Saint Tammany.

In 1816 Virginia chartered the Roanoke Navigation Company to work in conjunction with North Carolina’s existing company of the same name to reach for the dream of a water outlet to the rest of the world by means of canales and locks around the rapids of the Roanoke. One of the loading stations was Saint Tammany, at which the company had a storage house.

The ownership of the ferry and other property changed hands several times, the Boyd family being owners in the 1840's and N.M. Thornton in 1859. After Thornton’s death in 1885, the Saint Tammany property was purchased by A.H. Bracey. In the 1880's, probably after 1885, the businesses and post office were moved from the riverside up the Saint Tammany Road to its crossroads with the River Road (about one-forth mile north of the present-day crossroads of routes 617 and 903). Bracey moved one of the buildings from old Saint Tammany to this new location and west of that he build a large store (standing until recent years). In addition to the store, he had a drugstore and was the postmaster. Also at the new Saint Tammany were a blacksmith shop, cotton gin, and wheelwright’s shop. (North of the drug store).

In 1900 the Richmond, Petersburg and Carolina Railroad completed building a railroad from Richmond, VA , to Ridgeway, NC, where it joined the old Raleigh and Gaston. The company then change its name to the Seaboard Air Line Railway and became part of a chain of railroads on the east coast.

Eastward. To the crossing of the River Road and the new railroad (with its new station), moved the businesses and post office of the second Saint Tammany settlement. However, despite the wishes of the local citizens that the station also carry the name “Saint Tammany,” railroad officials are said to have refused on the grounds that the name was too long for telegraphing purposes. They chose the name “Bracey,” for A.H. Bracey - although the property on which the station was built and the village laid off belonged to George Lambert. The Bracey post office was established on July 24, 1900.

Bracey was laid off across the tracks of the depot, on the side of a gentle hill. In Bracey’s heyday customers came from as far west as Red Lawn, drawn by the five stores, a blacksmith shop, two cotton gins, a barber shop, an ice cream stand, a garage, two boarding houses (Rideout and Bracey), and the busy passenger and freight depot. Bracey also had churches, schools, the station master’s house, and other houses.

By 1900, when the lots for Bracey were laid out, W.H. Morris had build a general store on an acre purchased in 1889 from George Lambert, on the north side of River Road and across from the then-proposed depot. Across the road from Morris’s store, Waller Bracey (son of A.H. Bracey) built a large general store. This building later burned and was replaced by the present, brick Bracey & Co. Building. Bracey’s store sold dry gods, groceries, hardware, and even coffins; he also had a soda fountain and the post office.

East of Bracey’s store was that of Melly Walker. Later W.T. Harper bought out first Morris and then Walker. In 1901 John H. Rideout bought a lot on which he build a small store, the shed for which served as a barber shop - open on on Saturdays - for Robert Freer. Rideout later moved the main building and left the small shed for the barber shop. About 1915 A.O. Bracey )son of A.H. Bracey) build a store between Morris and Rideout. (He had previously had a store and the post office at Joyceville on Poplar Creek, near the entrance to the present-day development of Joyceville.) Across from Rideout’s store was that of Ed Lambert, with living quarters upstairs. In 1939 the store of J.M. Cole (who had worked with W.T. Harper from 1920) joined the other Bracey stores, this one at the top of the hill.

Bracey also enjoyed other amenities. When W.T. Harper’s first gin burned, he built another one at the top of the hill (standing until 1994). Rideout’s gin was on the south side of the road. In A.O. Bracey’s garage Thomas Wortham sold ice cream and fish, brought on the train from Norfolk weekly. Ed Lambert’s blacksmith shop was operated by “Uncle” Nonnie Algood.

The ferry at old Saint Tammany continued in operation until 1916, and by the 1920's the tourist traffic that came through Bracey crossed the Roanoke on Smith’s Ferry, further to the east. These primarily Florida-bought tourist often camped overnight behind one of the Bracey schools.

Along the River Road - Route 903 - are Bracey’s three churches: Roanoke Zion R.Z.U.A Church and St. Mark’s Episcopal Church across the road from the post office, and Kingswood United Methodist Church a short distance further to the east.

In 1962 the dam across the Roanoke River at Gaston, NC, was completed, and Lake Gaston began filling, covering the cleared low grounds along the river and its tributary creeks. The river, which once was a means of transporting tobacco and other goods, has become a beautiful lake, enjoyable not just for summer recreation but also for pleasant year-round living.

Just as Saint Tammany moved and changed, Bracey has moved and changed, leaving a railroad that no longer stopped - and then was totally gone- for roads more heavily traveled by cars. Route 619 and 903. Children now go out of the community to their schools; but a bank, lakefront developments, new stores, a new church building replacing an earlier one, a garage, a truck stop, realty office, a landscaping company, a marine sales center, rental storage units, a highway department maintenance station, a telephone cooperative office, a new post office building and a motel and restaurant show that Bracey is a growing community.

© St. Tammany Farm 2003