HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) – Descendants of the historic Aberdeen Gardens community in Hampton are working to preserve the community’s charm.
“I say I’m from Aberdeen Gardens in Hampton, Virginia,” said Margaret Wilson, president of the Historical Foundation of Aberdeen Gardens. “Never Hampton, Virginia first, always Aberdeen Gardens.”
Aberdeen Gardens is one of a kind – it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Seven streets make up the community just off Aberdeen Road.
“A unique place, a family oriented place, very close knit and very willing to help others,” Wilson said.
This unique place is a 440-acre subdivision was a result of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Settlement.
In 1934, Hampton Institute secured $245,000 to build 158 single family homes, gardens, schools, and commercial center.
The planning, design, and construction was **all completed by African Americans.
“We weren’t afraid to do anything in here,” Wilson said. “We could walk the streets late at night knowing that everything was safe. They took care of each other. If a mother was sick, didn’t worry about the kids, cause the mother next door grabbed the kids.”
Wilson has a special connection – her grandparents were one of the first families to move in – and she grew up on Russell Road.
She said each house was made with tender care, love – and handcrafted bricks.
The three to five room houses included a garage – great room – and a bathroom. Doctors, teachers, day laborers – Black people from all walks of life lived here.
In her early 20s, Bernadine Vann and her husband Andre moved into a house in the neighborhood.
“The neighbors were very friendly – in and out the homes,” Bernadine Vann said. “The children up and down the street. And you felt much safer during that time.”
Of course, there have been changes through out the years. The Vanns added a sitting area with a bathroom, closing off the old, original bathroom.
The Vanns original great room is now a kitchen, and they added a living room, along with another bathroom and bedroom upstairs.
Every inch fill with memories of her three sons – grandchildren – and now great grandchildren.
“The youngest one – we would cook and he still wouldn’t eat it,” Bernadine Vann said.
Wilson and Vann want to preserve the history of our country’s first planned African American community. One challenge is not having a covenant to maintain uniformity and character of the brick homes.
Wilson also said there is some recultancy from new residents or renters to get involved.
“The people across the street don’t come,” Wilson said. “We’ve invited them.”
While the Historical Foundation maintains a close relationship with the city – members want to make sure this area never looses it’s unique heart and soul.
“I’d like to get more young people involved,” Wilson said, “to learn this history so this place is not forgotten. The legacy I’m trying to leave is don’t loose this history. “
Said Vann: “It’s so much history it makes you proud to be association with the community.”