The earliest European owner of what is now Riverview Farm Park was Colonel Samuel Mathews. Mathews arrived in the Virginia colony prior to 1618, and by 1625, the Virginia Company had awarded him two land patents in the area that would become Warwick County in 1634. One of the patents was near Blunt Point, on the eastern shore of the James River in what is, today, Newport News. Mathews acquired more land in the area through his marriage in 1628, and by 1630, Mathews had erected a house less than one mile northwest of the Riverview Farm Park in the modern-day Plantations subdivision. The original house site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Mathew’s extensive land holdings, first known as Mathews Manor, became known as Denbigh Plantation. In 1678, 2,944 acres on Deep Creek passed to Samuel’s grandson John Mathews.
In June 1680, the House of Burgesses passed the first of three acts1 creating official ports of the Virginia Colony. All imports and exports (primarily tobacco) to and from the colony would be restricted to these sanctioned ports. This would ensure that customs duties owed to the Virginia Company were properly collected. Of the 15 port sites identified, one was to be “in Warwick county att the mouth of Deep creek on Mr. Mathewes land.” This spot was to become known as Warwicktowne.
The act stipulated uniform standards for the layout of the port towns. Each was specified to be 50 acres in size, with streets laid out at right angles and lined with half-acre building lots. Larger lots, or commons, would accommodate public uses such as churches, courthouses, and waterside landings with warehouses and wharves. The text of a subsequent act in 1691 indicated that development had already begun at Warwicktowne; it describes “severall houses there built, together with a brick Court house and prison.”2 Other known facilities included a least one tavern and a mercantile establishment. A wharf, shipbuilding facility, tobacco warehouses, and a boat yard were located in the vicinity of nearby Denbigh Plantation, and in 1748, a ferry travelled the James River from Warwicktowne to the land of Thomas Moseley. To date, there are no known maps showing the layout of the town. However, maps of nearby towns founded around the same time are available as a guide. They show an idealized gridded layout like the plan of Tappahannock, Virginia below.
Plats dating to the end of the eighteenth century provide much greater detail on towns in this area and illustrate that a number of factors such as topography, drainage, and existing transportation routes would have affected how the town ultimately developed. A 1781 plan of Hampton, Virginia shows the level of detail in these maps, which included roads, landings, and building locations.
Warwicktowne’s peninsular location proved inconvenient as interior roads were built and the county’s population shifted inland. In 1807, a group of local citizens petitioned the Virginia General Assembly to move the deteriorating courthouse to a more convenient location. The courthouse remained at Warwicktowne until 1809 and is shown on the Madison 1807 Map of Virginia. It was then moved east to a location on a main road. An 1813 act revoked Warwicktowne’s charter, and the land was returned to agricultural use. The new location of the courthouse can be seen on an 1862 map, which also shows “Taylor’s Landg” at the former location of the town. Located at the confluence of the Warwick River and Deep Creek, Taylor’s Landing may have had its origins during the occupation of the town.
After the county seat was moved, the Riverview Farm Park tract was part of a larger 296-acre farm owned by the Young family from about 1816-1856. Richard Young had been a tavern-keeper and merchant in Warwicktowne. After its demise, he shifted to agriculture, for which tax rolls and U.S. Census records indicate he enslaved between six and nine people. We don’t know exactly what types of activities took place at the Riverview Farm Park site during Young’s ownership. The archaeological data recovery may tell us more. Tax records show that farm buildings had been removed from the site by 1856.
During the Civil War, both Confederate and Union Armies occupied the Young Farm. The earthworks that remain along the Warwick River shoreline are from this time. In 1869, the Young’s sold their 300-acre farm to Hudson and Sallie Mench. In 1869, the Young’s sold their 300-acre farm to Hudson and Sallie Mench. Hudson Mench was a lumber manufacturer and farmer, and the couple owned the land for over 50 years. In 1931, the land became the Newport News City Farm Correctional Facility.
1 Hennings Statutes at Large: http://vagenweb.org/hening/vol02-23.htm
2 Hennings Statutes at Large: http://vagenweb.org/hening/vol03-04.htm