Welcome to Reedville
by Reid Pierce-Armstrong
When sea captain Elijah Reed of Maine pulled into the Chesapeake Bay in 1874, he saw dollar signs shimmering in the schools of silvery fish that flourished here. Reed brought with him a little nugget of knowledge that was passed down to the pilgrims of Plymouth Rock by Native Americans: These small fish were a valuable fertilizer.
Reed developed a process to extract the oil from the fish in large quantities, turning it into fish oil, meal and fertilizer. Reedville prospered and within a decade it was one of the wealthiest towns in America. The large Victorian houses that lined Main Street were dubbed Millionaires Row.
Today, menhaden is still the primary industry of Northumberland County, and Reedville is said to be the second largest fishing port in the nation next to Kodiak, Alaska. The fish oil is now more valued as a health supplement and nutritional additive for its Omega 3 fatty acids.
Omega Protein, the county’s largest private employer, owns the only fish factory in the area now and is ever upgrading the facility to keep up with modern times.
|The Gables (right) and The Reed House (left) are two of Reedville’s historic landmarks, located along “Millionaires Row.” The town’s Main Street, a National Historic District, is a mile long and flanked by water.|
Azalea Grove Bed and Breakfast up the road offers a tea room to visitors and guests.
Reedville’s Main Street is home to two waterfront restaurants: The Crazy Crab and Tommy’s, which both offer a selection of surf and turf. Boaters can dock at the Reedville Marina and walk, bike or use a golf cart to tour the town. Homemade ice cream is available all year at Chitterchats.
The center of Reedville’s cultural and social life is the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum. The museum was founded with the mission of preserving the heritage of the watermen who have plied their trade here for hundreds of years, and the menhaden industry that has existed in Reedville for over a century.
In addition to a permanent exhibit on the fishery and a rotating gallery, the museum hosts numerous clubs and groups, including a knitting club, quilting club, modeling club and photography club.
There is a fully outfitted boat workshop with a dedicated group that builds, repairs and maintains boats, including deadrises, sailing vessels and nationally-recognized historic craft.
The museum also has several boats listed on the National Register of Historical Places, including the skipjack Claud W. Somers and the deck boat Elva C.
Beyond its mission, the museum hosts a variety of community events and fundraisers, some in conjunction with the local churches, throughout the year. These include Family Day in March, the Blessing of the Fleet in May, Independence Day in July, an Antique and Classic Boat Show in September, the RFM Oyster Roast in November and Christmas on Cockrell’s Creek in December, which includes a visit from Santa and tours of some of the area’s more interesting homes.
The Christmas season also includes the opening of the model train display. Painstakingly created over the years by the modeling club, the model trains run through many landmarks real and imagined along Cockrell’s Creek.
Reedville is the launching spot for two passenger cruises to islands in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, Tangier and Smith islands. Isolated for centuries, these communities today harken back to the Elizabethan era. Tours of the villages offer visitors a glimpse into two communities that have long relied on the bounty harvested from the Chesapeake Bay estuary for their livelihoods.
The museum’s gift shop carries books with more information on the history of Reedville and the Northern Neck by author Miriam Haynie, including “The Stronghold,” “A Kingdom by the Sea” and “Reedville: 1874-1974.”
- October 31: Halloween Costume Dance
- November 14: RFM Oyster Roast, from 2–5 p.m. on the museum grounds on Main Street in Reedville. Also that day, Winter Market at Reedville’s Festival Halle
- November 27: Northern Neck Railroad opens to visitors in the Model Shop.
- December 12-13: Christmas on Cockrell’s Creek