Work continues on the construction of the 55-mile Virginia Capital Trail, which will eventually connect all three of Virginia’s historical capitals — Richmond, Williamsburg and Jamestown. The eight-mile Charles City Courthouse section of the path is complete and offers a great time in the country for cyclists.
This phase of the trail – one of nine — parallels historic Route 5, designated by the Department of Transportation as a scenic area. Along this stretch of Route 5 are the birthplaces of two U.S. Presidents, three churches, and several picturesque private farms.
Cyclists may park their vehicles either at the Charles City Courthouse complex or the newly constructed rest area at Little Herring Creek. From either point, the trail offers safe cycling off the main road on a separate paved surface. If you park your vehicle at the courthouse complex, you’ll find public rest rooms, a description of the first courthouse that dates from the 1730s, and the Courthouse Grille, which is housed in the old general store that dates from 1872.
The old courthouse building is made of brick and in its original state, was almost identical to the old courthouse in Hanover County. The old and new courthouses are off Route 5 on SR 644 and motorists simply follow the signs to the complex and park in the ample lot.
After checking the air pressure in your tires, you’re ready to proceed west for the eight-mile ride. The trail actually starts once you pass by the Post Office and Memorial United Methodist Church, which you’ll see on your left. The first historic site at this point of the trail is the privately owned Greenway Farm. The house was built around 1776 by John Tyler, who served as Governor of Virginia from 1808 to 1811. His son, also named John, became Governor of Virginia and was later elected Vice President during the 1840 Presidential race along with Presidential candidate William Henry Harrison.
The next few miles of the trail pass farms and wooded areas. The bridges on this stretch have been constructed over waterways and have safety rails included. After passing through one of the wooded areas a few miles west of Greenway, the cyclist comes to a clearing then the driveway of Evelynton.
This estate was once part of the huge Westover plantation. In 1847 the Ruffin family took possession of the place. Edmund Ruffin has been described as the Father of American Agronomy. As with most farms in Charles City County, Evelynton was invaded by Federal forces during the Civil War. The main house was burned at that time. The present structure was built in 1937 by Ruffin’s great-grandson and designed by architect Duncan Lee.
Close by Evelynton is Westover Church. As with Evelynton, the tract of land on which the church stands was once part of the vast Westover plantation. This classic brick structure dates from the 1730s and is surrounded by ancient boxwood and mature trees. After the American Revolution and the disestablishment of the Church of England, Westover Church was abandoned by 1803. It was used as a barn for thirty years before it was revived as an Episcopal Church. Legend says that the first building originally stood next to the Westover house. The mistress of Westover, Mrs. Byrd, had a new building constructed on the present site as a matter of survival. Southern hospitality dictated that the mistress of the property on which the church stood, required her to serve Sunday supper to the parishioners after services. This practice stretched Mrs. Byrd’s energies and resources too much, so she had the church relocated.
During the Civil War, Westover Church was used as a stable by Federal officers. Damage from that time was repaired and services resumed in 1867 but without several pieces of communion silver, which disappeared during the Federal occupancy. A descendant of the soldier who took the pieces returned them to the church in the 20th Century, and they are used to this day.
Just west of the church is mile marker 27. There will be more of these as construction of the trail continues.
Further west along Route 5, the trail goes off to the left down an embankment to Little Herring Creek. Here VDOT has built a rest area with parking and picnic facilities. For those cyclists who would rather begin the Charles City Courthouse phase at this point and ride east, this is the place to begin. There are no rest room facilities here.
The turnoff at Little Herring Creek also marks the entrances to both Berkeley and Westover Plantations. The Harrison family built the main house at Berkeley in 1726. Benjamin Harrison V served as a member of the Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence. His son, William Henry, was born here in 1772 and was elected President of the US in 1840 with John Tyler as his running mate. Harrison was the first President to die in office after only a month as a result of catching pneumonia on his inauguration day.
Westover was the seat of the Byrd family of Virginia. William Byrd II gave the city of Richmond its name. The main house is believed to have been built around 1750. It is privately owned.
The trail continues past this point one more mile to Kimages Road. Cyclists will pass Edgewood Plantation, a local bed and breakfast that has an interesting history. In the spring of 1862, the famous Confederate cavalry general J.E.B. Stuart circled the Federal Army to determine what positions they held. General Stuart and his officers stopped for a time at Edgewood. Legend has it one of the owner’s daughters swooned when she saw the general ride up the driveway. Her ghost is sometimes seen in one of the second floor windows.
When you return to the courthouse, do consider stopping by the Courthouse Grille. The food and service are excellent and have received positive reviews in the Richmond press. Spend a few moments looking over the old general store ledgers which are on display near the front door.
So plan a bike trip out this way. The trail is separate from Route 5, and is a safe and enjoyable outing for families.