Welcome to Lottsburg
by Audrey Thomasson
Lottsburg’s tranquil lifestyle lures artists, photographers and city dwellers to its shores to boat, bird watch or find inspiration in the beauty of the natural setting.
Located in Northumberland County, the village may not hold the commercial attraction and charm of its more popular neighbors, but Lottsburg’s appeal lies in the rural landscape and the friendly people who call it home.
Lancelot Smither settled the land in 1795. After his death, and that of his wife, the land they called “Lottsburg” passed to their orphaned children.
Today, some 1,278 residents live in the 13.75-square-mile village four miles northeast of Heathsville.
Rich farmland skirts along Northumberland Highway within the village proper where a farmer can be seen tilling his fields and waving to a passing neighbor.
The Coan River divides into two branches to embrace the area before spilling into the Potomac. Deep waters edge the shores near working farms of winter wheat, soybeans, corn and tomatoes.
In the air, salt mingles with the pungent odor of seafood plants like Cowart Seafood and Lake Packing Company Inc. If you are brave enough to get an early start on the day, follow Lake Road off the main drag to the plant where oyster shucking begins at 5 a.m. At Cowart’s docks, you’ll find watermen unloading oysters from boats. Canning of herring roe and hominy are still part of the packing operation.
During the romantic era of steamboats, Lottsburg was home to a flourishing seafood industry that dominated the banks of the Coan along with an abundance of canneries that packed produce from local farms. The area was so productive, steamboats docked at several landings in the area, picking up products and passengers bound for Baltimore.
Technology changed the landscape and many local jobs went away. While farming is still an important component, most canneries shut down long ago. Cowart’s, which has been around since 1898, is one of the few to survive and is the area’s biggest year-round employer with some 80 to 90 workers.
“My great-grandfather dredged oysters with a sailboat in the late 1800s,” said Lake Cowart, “and my grandfather ran the steamboat dock and store. In those days the steamboats came here three days a week because there were no bridges for trucks.”
Today, Cowart’s is thriving thanks to innovative aquaculture systems that will produce oysters faster and strengthen their resistance to disease.
According to Lucille Huffman, marketing director, the event that started out as an opportunity to display art from elementary school children has turned into an annual event for the kids. The tradition of art on display continues and kids can check out Buzzie the Clown, paint pumpkins, bob for apples, and collect balloons, prizes, popcorn, hot apple cider and much more.
Get a bird’s-eye view of the region at Bill Martz Impressions in the heart of town. You’ll find original oil paintings and reproduction prints of the landscape and its natural inhabitants by Bill Martz. It’s also Bill and wife Teresa’s home, so call ahead and you’ll receive a warm welcome and be entertained with local stories.
Also in the center of the village is the famous Callao Auction House — pitting folks from around the region in a bidding frenzy over collectibles and antique furnishings. Check for auction dates on the website.
Mt. Zion Baptist Church with its towering silver steeple is the most prominent building in the village. The church has served the black community since before their first pastor was ordained in 1869.
For 90 years, Holley Graded School helped open the doors to greater opportunities for rural black children of the Northern Neck. It was founded in 1868 by three northerners, Emily Howland, Caroline Putnam and Sallie Holley. Leading abolitionists and suffragettes of the day, the women worried that black children in Virginia were not receiving an education so they moved to Northumberland County and began a school outside Heathsville.
In 1869, Sallie Holley purchased two acres in Lottsburg and the four-room schoolhouse was built. Black children attended the school until desegregation in 1959. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Virginia Historic Landmark. Today, it houses the Adult Literacy Program of Northumberland County.
The Northumberland County School board office is on the north end of town, across from the post office and O’Bier’s Produce stand where you can purchase local vegetables, fruits and honey.
Mt. Zion Baptist Church stands among homes and shops in the village and is backed by gently rolling farmland.