Thursday, August 2, 2007

Happy Birthday Barksdale! - Part III

Muriel McAuley is not the only one who compiled a written record of Barksdale’s founding. The recorded deed and early press clippings validate her story. The longest article appeared in the Herald-Progress on Thursday, August 20. It is reprinted here, with spelling, grammar and punctuation exactly as they appeared in 1953. Before anyone gets too enamored of the history outlined in the article, be sure to read the upcoming Part V in this series for a more factual enumeration. With regard to those instances when this article seems to disagree with the facts included in Muriel’s account (published here in Parts I and II), I have every reason to believe that Muriel’s account is the correct one.

Young People Plan Permanent Theatre In Ancient, 33 Room Hanover Tavern
By Evelyn Christian Hughes

“It takes a little time to go into 33 rooms—and after all, we’ve only been here a few days, so it’s no wonder we’ve not explored two of the rooms.”

So speaks one of the group of nine young people, aged 2 to 29, who have just bought the ancient Hanover Tavern, with ideas of using the old building as a residence and theatre.

The ones who intend to do the work, however, are aged 22 to 29. The 2 and 3-year olds, children of the only married couple in the crowd, intend to cause as much work as possible.

The seven “old enough to vote” are combining their incomes, to save toward a year-round, in-the-round theatre, and to work on the tavern’s restoration. Because it takes a little time to get a permanent theatre started, and because they need money for restoration, they are now working at a variety of jobs. Television has lured two. One works for the Automobile Association of America, one is a teacher and two work in television. “We all work at what we can, and we pool our money to work on the Tavern.” They pool their chores, too. Carlin is cook.

Flies are such a problem now (no screens and they haven’t counted the windows!) that they are already looking forward to the winter. They’ve each bought an electric blanket.

Attracted to the Hanover Tavern because it is an ideal place for their presentation of circular theatre, the crowd has been temporarilyly (sic) sidetracked by the tavern’s history, and they hope to restore the building.

“We think it’s the oldest tavern in Virginia,” says Tom Carlin one of the WTVR employees. But it is a known fact that it was built in the early 1720’s and among other claims to fame, it housed Cornwallis and his staff on their way to Yorktown. It is older than Hanover Courthouse, exactly across the road, which a Virginia circuit court judge, Leo M. Bazile, calls the most historic building on the North American continent. Once owned by Patrick Henry’s father-in-law, the bar was tended by the great patriot himself.”

Washington and Jefferson must have stayed here, as it is on the old stage coach route from Williamsburg to New York. All this, Hanover school children know by heart. It takes a Michigan actor to recall a little-known fact of its history. According to Carlin, P. T. Barnum kept his menagerie here on his grand tour of the last century.

The Barksdale Memorial Theatre had its genesis with Carlin, Stewart Falconer and David Kilgore, who had a summer stock theatre in St. Claire Michigan in ’49 and ’50. They just gathered up the others as they rolled, a little moss from Florida, more from New York, until they came to Virginia.

Falconer gained impetus from being stage manager for Circle in the Square Theatre's production of Summer and Smoke in New York. Muriel McAndy (sic) was doing modeling, television and radio work in New York. One by one they gathered.

Now the tavern has fascinated them, and with the restoration, and jobs (after all they must eat!) they “doubt if we can do anything theare-wise (sic) before spring.”

They named their theatre for their inspiration, the late Barbara Barksdale, whose parents, Mr. and Mrs. Albie Barksdale, live in Charlottesville. A victim of multiple sclerosis, Miss Barksdale helped get the group started in summer theatre in St. Claire, Mich. “She would scrub floors from her wheel chair,” they say about her. She died while attending the University of Tampa.

The group consists of Mr. and Mrs. David Kilgore, their attractive (all are attractive!) blond children 3-year old Kate and 2-year old Peter; Tom Carlin, Stewart Falconer, Bud Colvis, Miss Pat Sharpe and Miss Muriel McAuley. and Miss Muriel McAuley. (sic)

In the midst of their frantic painting, plastering, cleaning, cooking, rewiring, and after only three days in the place, they all got cleaned up and went to the neighborhood church, St. Paul’s Episcopal.

The neighbors say it created a sensation, to see all the theatrical folk, “nice young people, too,” at church. “Nearly filled the church.” And they hope it’s a good omen. They recall how Bob Porterfield tells to this day how his world famous Barter Theatre got a start in Abingdon by the actors and actresses going to church, and “singing like all getout.”

There is one photo that accompanies the article, showing the Tavern photographed from what is today the back yard, but was originally the front yard in the 1700s. The photo caption reads, “Hanover Tavern, built in the early 1720’s, just purchased from Jourdan Woolfolk by a group of young theatrical people.”

My big question, after reading this article is, “Who is Bud Colvis?” He’s like the fifth Beatle. No where else is he mentioned in Muriel’s book. He doesn’t even appear in the index! Nor have I ever heard his name mentioned by one of the Barksdale old-timers. If anyone can identify Mr. Colvis, or has ever even heard of him, please click comment and let me know what you know. Thanks.

--Bruce Miller

Photo captions: This photo of Muriel is cropped from a larger pic of Muriel, Pete and Nancy, taken in the early 80s. The Herald-Progress masthead dates from the present, not the 50s. The WTVR photo is a snapshot of the station identification screen as it appeared in the early 50s, with the settlers trudging in their covered wagon beneath the call letters WTVR. Cornwallis is wearing the large hat; Patrick Henry has the high forehead and collar. Washington and Jefferson are, of course, from Mt. Rushmore. And the Barnum poster specifically mentions his travelling menagerie. Geraldine Page starred in the revival of Summer and Smoke that Stu stage managed at Circle in the Square. I'll write more about that super-historic production in a future blog. The Barter Theatre photo shows how this Abingdon landmark looked both then and now.

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