About the Society


  1. Mission Statement
  2. Current Board Members
  3. The Society’s history
  4. Pittsylvania County history
  5. Join and Support the Society
    • How to join
    • Membership benefits
    • Membership fees
  6. The Pittsylvania Packet


The Society’s History

Pittsylvania Historical Society was born of interest and activities leading up to the national bicentennial in 1976. The William Pitt Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution provided the initial idea, personnel, organization, and effort to bring it into existence.

Around 1973, the national DAR asked all chapters to develop a significant project for the 1976 bicentennial year. Liz Whitehead, regent of the William Pitt Chapter for 1974-1975, suggested the idea of a local historical society which could involve many who were not DAR members. William Pitt Chapter members were enthusiastic about the idea, and set about accomplishing the task.

The first meeting was held at the Pittsylvania County Courthouse on May 25, 1973, and the first memberships were for 1973-1974. The Pittsylvania Historical Society was officially chartered in 1976 through the efforts of Judge Langhorne Jones, Sr. The first officers were Lt. Col. Charles E.H. Jones (USAF, Ret.), president; Dixie Whitehead, vice-president; Mary Catherine Plaster, secretary; and Epps Perrow, treasurer.

The first emphasis of the new society was research and documentation of local history facts.

The society today publishers reprinted works including Clement's History of Pittsylvania County (1929), Hurt's Eighteenth Century Landmarks of Pittsylvania County (1967) and An Intimate History of the American Revolution in Pittsylvania County (1976), and Fitzgerald's Pittsylvania: Homes and People of the Past (1974). The society has also published Footprints from the Old Survey Books of Halifax and Pittsylvania Counties (1989) by Roger C. Dodson.

Numerous other society members have also written books on history-related topics. Former resident Herman Melton wrote several books on industrial and political history of Pittsylvania County.

Society members (and presidents) Neil and Lucille Payne created and edited a quarterly journal for the society, entitled The Quill Pen. The first issue was published in August 1982. The Paynes continued with The Quill Pen until May 1991. The name was changed to The Pittsylvania Packet in August 1991, and continues today with a circulation of over 400 member-subscribers.

Also instrumental in the beginning of the Society, in addition to William Pitt DAR, were members of local garden clubs, especially the Chatham Garden Club which restored the colonial-era clerk's office at Callands.

During the 1976 national bicentennial, the County Bicentennial Committee organized the restoration of the 18th-century Yates Tavern at Gretna. Funding for restoration was given by the DeWitt Wallace Foundation and the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors. At the conclusion of the bicentennial activities, responsibility for Yates Tavern was taken on by the Historical Society.

Soon after the society's founding, it took on two other very significant building projects: first, the stabilization and restoration of the early courthouse building at Callands; and second, the reconstruction and restoration of the 1813 clerk's office in Chatham. The 1813 clerk's office is now the official “home” of the society, the location of most of its meetings and of its museum. Paul Harold personally supervised the reconstruction and restoration efforts on both of the buildings.

In 1987, due in significant part to research by society members Judge Langhorne Jones, Sr. and Herman Melton, the Pittsylvania County Courthouse was designated a National Historic Landmark, one of five buildings chosen for that designation by the U. S. Constitutional Bicentennial Commission. The site was recognized in honor of the fact that it provided the stage for one of America's first great civil rights victories, a result of events transpiring there in 1879 and culminating in the United States Supreme Court's decision Ex Parte Virginia.

Numerous other projects involving historic buildings have been undertaken, including assisting in the documenting of structures for the National Register of Historic Places and Virginia Historical Register status; sponsoring roadside historical markers (commemorating places, people, and events of Pittsylvania's past), and moving a tobacco barn to Chatham's Frances Hallam Hurt Park (that project headed by Fuller Motley).

Today the Pittsylvania Historical Society is working toward its most ambitious building project so far, the stabilization and restoration of the Chatham railway station. Glenn Giles and others have collaborated with the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors to obtain title of the structure for the county. Funding efforts and restoration plans are ongoing, with an eye toward creating a museum there to honor Pittsylvania's military veterans.

The Pittsylvania Historical Society's quarterly meetings feature highly significant programs and speakers on county history.

Every year since its beginning in 1980, under Pittsylvania Historical Society auspices, Mack Doss has organized an annual October festival at Callands. The Callands Festival attracts approximately 10,000 visitors to enjoy crafts, food, and historical ambiance.

The Society often sponsors bus tours of historical locations throughout the county, and Society members' research often provides historical information for homes tours sponsored by other organizations.

The Society has been involved in efforts to erect roadside historical markers and hosted commemorative marker celebrations honoring Gov. Claude A. Swanson, rail pioneer Whitmell P. Tunstall, the civil rights victory involving the Pittsylvania County Courthouse, and the 1728 expedition and interactions of Col. William Byrd II and his Saponi guide Ned Bearskin.

Thousands of local citizens have generously contributed time and resources to the activities and missions of the Pittsylvania Historical Society and the enthusiasm continues.

(Information was taken from A History of the Pittsylvania Historical Society by Henry H. Mitchell and contributed to by Mary Catherine Plaster and Sarah Mitchell.)