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Klondike Willie’s county surveys to be restored

Middlesex County deputy clerk Rachel Hartenbach holds several of the Stiff Survey records that will be restored soon with a $12,095 grant from the Library of Virginia. (Photo by Larry Chowning)

by Larry Chowning

At its July meeting, the Middlesex County Board of Supervisors was informed by clerk of the court Lynn Dunlevy that the county has received a $12,095 grant from the Library of Virginia to restore a portion of the “Stiff Surveys.”

William Healy Stiff, known by most as “Klondike Willie” Stiff, was a colorful local surveyor for decades in Middlesex. He often demonstrated his artistic flare on survey land plats. Middlesex County purchased several of the plats from Stiff before he died in 1967.

One book of plats has fallen into disrepair and, according to Dunlevy, includes some of the most used documents in the clerk’s office, which houses county records dating back to the late 1600s.

Stiff was the county’s last official “county surveyor” before the state took over licensing surveyors. He surveyed Middlesex and adjoining counties for over 50 years, dying on the job in 1967 at the age of 93.

Klondike Willie was born in Wake in 1874. He got the nickname “Willie” from his parents and two brothers, Burton Chowning Stiff and Apollas Boutwell Stiff, who called him Willie when he was a child. The “Klondike” part of his name came from his adventures in 1898 when he left Middlesex to find his fortune in gold during the Klondike (Alaska) Gold Rush (1896-1899).

With little or no gold, Klondike Willie returned home to Middlesex in 1915 and took up surveying, a trade he had learned out west. While surveying, he would often dress in his western buckskin clothing and carry a Winchester model 1873 rifle wherever he went.

When Klondike Willie died he was living with his wife, Hilda Hodges Stiff, on Fishing Bay near Stove Point in Deltaville.

“We feel these plats are very important to our county,” said Dunlevy, “and we are very thankful to the Library of Virginia for providing the funds to preserve them.”

When documents go to the Library of Virginia it takes about a year for them to be completely restored, Dunlevy added.

posted 07.31.2013

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