Growing up, I lived in a neighborhood in Virginia Beach, formerly Princess Anne County, called Kempsville, which was established as a town in 1781. It was named for Kemp’s Landing, a colonial port on the Elizabeth River. It was also the site where the first Virginian casualty of the American Revolutionary War occurred during an incident with the Royal Governor Lord Dunmore’s militia. In other words, there’s a lot of history right near home.
Less than two miles from my house is a historic home that I was always wanted to visit.
However, Pleasant Hall, as it is called, was always privately owned, so I never had the chance. Recently, Kempsville Baptist Church, the current owner of Pleasant Hall, celebrated their 200th anniversary, and as part of the celebration they opened the home for tours. Of course, I had to go check it out.
Pleasant Hall was built in 1769 as the home of George Logan, a wealthy merchant from Scotland with a large family that loved to entertain. In fact, the Logan’s hosted a victory ball in their home following the Battle of Great Bridge that took place in nearby, present-day Chesapeake in 1775.
Not shortly thereafter, the Logans returned to Scotland after announcing their support for the Crown. It is notable that George Logan was friends with Lord Dunmore, the last royal governor of Virginia who also retreated across the ocean once he realized he would not be able to regain control of Virginia after the burning of Norfolk in 1776.
In 1777, Peter Singleton purchased the home from the Commonwealth of Virginia, to which it had been escheated when the Logans left the country, and it was then inherited by his son Isaac Singleton and Isaac’s wife Suzanna Thorowgood Singleton in 1790. Peter Singleton was famous for riding from Great Bridge to Kempsville to warn citizens about approaching British troops during the war. Peter Singleton II, the son of Isaac and Suzanna, eventually inherited the home, as well as a considerable amount of property from his mother’s side of the family. Unfortunately, Peter II lost the home due to his gambling habits. He was paid a fair price for the home by William Bishop in 1804.
During the next decades, the home was sold many times. Between 1836 and 1857, it had three different owners. Then, in 1905, Dr. Robert Whitehead, Sr. purchased the house for $3,000 and moved in with his wife, Peaches Sanderlin. According to a docent in the home, it Peaches who named the home Pleasant Hall in the 1930s because she liked the name. Prior to that it was known as the Singleton House. Dr. Whitehead practiced medicine in an outbuilding on the property. When Dr. Whitehead died in 1945, his four children inherited the property. His son, Major Robert Whitehead, Jr., was the last owner-occupant of Pleasant Hall.
During the 1970s, Major Whitehead leased the home to John Pond, who ran a music school in the home. In 1973, Pleasant Hall was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
By the 1980s, Pleasant Hall was in need of restoration work. It was purchased in 1986 by Al Bonney (in my research I’ve also seen him listed as A.L. Bonney) with the intent to renovate. However, this did not take place. Three years later, Bonney sold the home to Neal and Karen Kellam. Neal Kellam was an important member of the Virginia Beach community who established a funeral home in 1980 that still operates today. The Kellams carefully restored the home, and it was used for funerals.
It wasn’t until 2001 that Kempsville Baptist Church, located right next to the home, purchased Pleasant Hall. In 2006, the church received a grant to help care for and conserve the home and significant projects to update the home were completed between 2008 and 2012. Today, the home has been decorated as close as it was known to have looked in the 18th century.
Many of the features of the home are original to the construction in 1769, including a majority of the window panes, door locks and handles, interior wooden shutters and door hinges. The wallpaper in the dining room today was recreated from what was found when layers of paint were scraped away during restoration.
I am very grateful that this home has been saved and maintained. The 17th century plantation home of Anthony Walke once stood in the nearby neighborhood of Fairfield. Its lack of existence is a reminder of the importance of historic conservation. To learn more about Virginia Beach historic homes, I would suggest reading Lost Virginia Beach by Amy Waters Yarsinske, which is available for free on Google Books.