As a notably historic, predominately African-American neighborhood in Norfolk, which encompasses parts of Church Street and Princess Anne road, Olde Huntersville is currently going through a renewed and determined revitalization that is this time being initiated by neighborhood residents like Mrs. Thompson, and supported by the city of Norfolk itself. Through the neighborhood’s participation, via its civic league, in programs associated with Keep Norfolk Beautiful, including its Adopt-A-Spot program, Olde Huntersville’s residents are actively recycling, planting flowers and otherwise engaging in a full scale “beautifying” of its residential homes.
“There are some beautiful yards here, if you ride around,” states Mary Doggett, who serves as the chairperson of the beautification committee. “We also encourage our neighborhood residents to participate in curbside recycling, which is every other Tuesday.”
Mrs. Doggett and her husband helped to initiate the first Adopt-A-Spot event, which involved members of the neighborhood, along with a representative from the department of planning. After clearing debris and eventually planting flowers, the area’s appearance improved dramatically. “We did like a mini slide show of the whole activity,” explains Doggett, referring to that following month’s civic league meeting. “We gave certificates of appreciation to our collaborators, like the Mason organization that helped us…”
Partnerships and work by committee has been the dominant approach that Mrs. Bea has used to push forward her agenda to turn Olde Huntersville into “a choice neighborhood, one that is healthy and vibrant.” In office since this past March, the longtime resident quickly established the five committees that are now tasked with handling the various responsibilities of an active neighborhood civic league. Community outreach, health and safety, beautification, zoning and codes, and preservation, are the five distinct focus areas that each committee tackles just one of.
Along with a strong executive board, it allows for oversight and a better shot at covering at least a large portion of their many neighborhood concerns. “I am impressed by the level of commitment from our committee members,” Garvin-Thompson asserts.
“It is a community that is rich in history and tradition,” Mrs. Bea tells me early in our conversation, while showing me some remarkable, classic pictures of Olde Huntersville landmarks and former residents, dating back to the 19th century. It is her appropriately named Sankofa Journal, which per the dictates of our modern times, is actually housed amongst the picture gallery of her tablet. Former residents of Old Huntersville include the founding publisher of The New Journal & Guide newspaper, along with many other esteemed professionals who greatly impacted the city of Norfolk, especially during times of segregation.
“The neighborhood started to take on the appearance of blightedness,” she explains at one point. “No longer was it the pride of our city or the African American community.” That was before the two Mrs. Beas arrived, as they were affectionately called, the other being her mother, Mrs. Bea Jennings. Their family returned to the neighborhood in 1980, following decades of economic neglect by the city and following the departure of the neighborhood’s desirable professional class.
Shortly after arriving, they reactivated the civic league and started referring to the neighborhood as Olde Huntersville, which eventually stuck and was formally adopted in the mid-nineties, according to Mrs. Bea. Their efforts to market and essentially rebrand the neighborhood led to national coverage, but the recession of the early 2000s set back a lot of their progress. So now, through the efforts of its many residents, some of whom are involved with the civic league, the neighborhood is yet again headed in the right direction. There are community members who are involved in the citizen’s police academy, and attendance at the civic league’s monthly meeting, which is held at the Huntersville Community Center, continues to increase. They even have a new logo for the neighborhood, which features a crepe myrtle tree and an old antique light. Crepe Myrtles are known for their long lasting visual beauty over seasons, while the light represents, perhaps, an enduring history. Mrs. Bea would like to see their logo adorning banners that will welcome city drivers into the Old Huntersville corridor.
When asked to describe the neighborhood’s distinguishable character, she takes a moment to answer. “We are evolving and our strength is in our history.”