Modern day Great Neck is the land of well-appointed homes, glistening pools, and manicured lawns nestled luxuriously between the ocean and the bay. Two historic homes in some of Virginia Beach's most upscale neighborhoods enjoy the bragging rights of being the oldest continuously lived-in properties in Virginia. They whisper about an almost incomprehensible time when long trans-Atlantic travel and laboring in the New World was rewarded with more land to work.
Early settlers arrived in Virginia in the early 1600s and found our soil produced sweet tobacco, a popular export, as well as corn and grain for the settlers. Adam Thoroughgood, an indentured servant, was our first “developer,” bringing enough settlers to America to be granted 5350 acres. One of those friends was Thomas Keeling, who came with his wife in 1634. Thomas reportedly named Thoroughgood godfather to his son Adam. Around 1660, Thomas traded 8000 lbs of tobacco for a farm owned by a settler named Richard Dudley, who then moved to Gloucester with his cattle. Informally called “Ye Dudlies,” land records show the Keeling family passed the property through heirs and the house was built by the great-grandson Adam. Analysis of timber used in its construction indicates it was built around 1735. The quality of brick used, the detailed, interior paneling, and the center passage design were very similar to the Adam Thoroughgood home--now a museum--which was built in 1719.
After the post-Civil War economic decline and the tobacco cigarette rolling machine shifting industry to Richmond, the Keeling family could no longer afford to maintain the property. The home and 36.2 acres were divided and sold. By 1938, the Syers family decided it was time for a new kitchen. An addition was made on the south side of the house and added electricity and plumbing! In the 1950s, a tennis court was built and a baseball diamond attracted young families. In the 60s-70s, substantial development occurred in this neighborhood and a civic league was organized. Dr. Glenn Carwell and wife took possession of Ye Dudlies in 1997 and have maintained the care of this now 1.15 acre historic property.
Traveling back down the 17th century dirt road, another beautiful plantation was being established as the home of the Allen family. Thomas Allen was an English colonist who received 550 acres of granted land, which stretched from “Long Creek...into the woods...towards the Great Indian Field.” Broad Bay Manor was constructed in 1636-7. The Cornick family bought the home in 1770, added a Georgian-style addition, and kept the home through three generations. In 1847, the Dozier family purchased it and sold it nine years later to the Ferrebee family. They also retained the property for three generations. In 1914, the John B. Dey family purchased what we called “The Dey Farm” and expanded the home again in 1928, including raising the roof of the original structure. Dey served on the Princess Anne County School Board for 17 years. The community’s John B. Dey Elementary School was named after him when built in 1956.
The current owners of Broad Bay Manor, Chet and Barbara Ehrenzeller, bought the home and 9 surrounding acres in 1975 from Dey’s son. As recounted in a 2009 Virginian-Pilot article, Furman Dey became a regular holiday guest of theirs. He told them of Prohibition days when he had spirited parties at the home! The Ehrenzellers put an elegant brick privacy fence up in 1986, just before the surrounding property was developed into Broad Bay Point Greens. The multiple additions now add up to a whopping 13,835 square feet, all the while preserving and protecting the heart of the historic home.
Despite the hustle and bustle of the busy Great Neck community, these two homes provide us the opportunity to reflect on the ever-dynamic development of this historic area and be ever grateful for its gifts.