Wednesday, August 20, 2008


When the oldest child moves out of the house, the rest of the children usually fight over his/her room. If Riddick's Folly's various exhibits and purposes are children, this analogy quite nicely reflects what will happen in less than two weeks when the peanut exhibit comes down.

The room in which that exhibit currently resides was formerly the house's pantry and larder room. Its windows offer a street-level (literally!) view of Main Street and the sidewalk leading to the front steps of the house. That it has these windows makes it an optimal place for our gift shop, but an unusual place for a larder room.

Typically, the larder room, pantry, and kitchen all occupied separate buildings on the property. These buildings, along with a smokehouse, an ice house, and a root cellar made up most of the support facilities for life in the house. Mills Riddick's design for his house brought the kitchen, laundry room, and larder room all into his basement -- Riddick's Folly, indeed.

Of these, perhaps the larder room made the most sense. It required a cool place, such as a basement, and its proximity to the kitchen would have been convenient to be sure. The larder room takes its name from -- you guessed it -- lard. Meats would be partially cooked or smoked, and then stored in vats of lard to keep them until they were ready for final cooking and preparation. As it needed no fire for its operation, there was no risk of damage or destruction, at least from that. Such was obviously not the case for the kitchen, or even the laundry room for that matter.

The house's former kitchen houses the gift shop at the moment, but its lack of natural light and its unnatural ceiling (protruding in places with 20th century ductwork) make it more like a cave than a shop, certainly not the kind of place in which one would feel comfortable shopping. Its windows once looked out on the Riddick family's garden, and its close proximity to the family's smokehouse made the kitchen's location in the basement rather handy. When the family added on a side porch in the early 20th century, the kitchen's windows looked out on nothing but a wall, and the smokehouse was torn down. On top of this, the family constructed a new, modern kitchen as a separate wing on the rear of the building, just off the back parlor which was then used as a dining room.

It makes sense, then to relocate our gift shop to the former pantry/larder room/peanut gallery. Not only does the gift shop get a better location with windows, but we can now restore the period kitchen to make more complete our presentation of the Riddicks' 19th century home.

However, for the time being, that presentation will be a little light. So far we have only a dry sink and a jelly cupboard to fill the space, making interpretation akin to games of make-believe we play when we're younger (though it's too bad we stop playing them). We'll address this over time, sure, but the walls will be awfully bare for a while.

There is the matter of the smokehouse, but that's the subject of another post. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 8, 2008


We're well on our way to having the new, permanent Civil War exhibit installed. The cabinets are in place with fresh paint, and lighting will be installed in the next two weeks.

The exhibit will focus doubly on the military occupation of Suffolk. This won't just be the perspective of the Union soldiers stationed here, but also of the citizens of Suffolk who lived under military rule.

The citizens who stayed behind signed a document called the "Parole of Honor." This was essentially an agreement between the occupiers and the occupied that the former would not interfere in the affairs of the latter, so long as the latter made no attempt to overthrow the former.

Those citizens left behind were mostly women, children, and the elderly, all unable to serve in either army. We recently acquired an 1863 article from a Charleston, South Carolina newspaper talking about Suffolk, specifically mentioning the Riddicks. Newspaper articles such as this pair well with photographs of soldiers generously donated to us to provide an interesting counterpoint to the 100+ pieces of military hardware that otherwise dominate the exhibit.

In the meantime, we say goodbye to the peanut. For years, Riddick's Folly has been the home of Suffolk's only exhibit on peanuts. Given Suffolk's history with the legumes, an exhibit is certainly warranted, just not here.

On September 1st, the peanut exhibit will come down for good at Riddick's Folly as we focus on our mission to portray 19th century life through the lens of the Riddick family. Peanuts in Suffolk didn't become a phenomenon until the 20th century, and even then, that had little to do with the Riddicks and their descendants. If you'd like to see the Peanut exhibit, be sure to stop by while it's still around. In September, the items will go to their original owners where possible, and otherwise to the Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society.