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Urbanna building block mold on display Saturday

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As part of the Urbanna Christmas House Tour this Saturday, Dec. 6, a new exhibit featuring some early 20th-century history of the town will be on display in the basement of the Old Tobacco Warehouse.

H.S. Chowning Sr. ran an alpa cement block business in Urbanna from about 1915 to 1930. His first block plant was on Urbanna Creek where the Urbanna Town Marina at Upton’s Point is now located.

Chowning used sand from Rosegill and other beaches on the creek and Rappahannock River in his blocks. He used a “lighter” (barge) that he would float across the creek and load with sand. For fresh water, he used water from a natural artesian well that flowed freely near the shoreline.

In the 1920s, Chowning moved his block business to Watling Street where Urbanna Baptist Church has now expanded its fellowship hall. At that location, he had several buildings and a Model A Ford truck, which he used to haul sand from the beaches and finished blocks to construction sites.

His blocks are in several buildings and structures in town, including Nimcock Gallery and the town hall on Cross Street; the Middlesex Art Guild Gallery, Olivia’s Restaurant, the former Moo’s Diner, and Joanne Mason’s home, all on Virginia Street; a garage, which was built to house a 1920s Star Car automobile, behind the Palmer-Chowning House on Watling Street; a carbide lighting shed on Richard and Ann Donoffs’ property at the corner of Watling and Cross streets; and the wall around Glenlochan on Watling Street.

The blocks also were used in the Jones House that was just outside of town next to the Urbanna Firehouse, and the old Southside Sentinel office building. These buildings have been torn down.

The mold has been donated by Emily and Shep Chowning, son of H.S. Chowning Sr., and the exhibit will remain in the basement of the Old Tobacco Warehouse. 

posted 12.05.2008

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