Watching The Land Grow ‘From The Ground Up’
By Laurie Koch Thrower
Decades before parents started raving about the benefits of raising families in the Gatling Pointe subdivision, Edwin Gatling knew that the shore of the Pagan River was a great place to be a kid. Gatling was born and raised on the land that now makes up the 266 residential lots of Gatling Pointe. To hear him tell of his childhood, though, he spent about as much time on the Pagan and James rivers as on land. He and his siblings started sailing as soon as they were “knee-high,” Gatling said. In high school shop, he and a brother built a round-bottom dinghy – a prelude to the shipbuilding business they later founded. “We just had boating in our blood,” he said.
In 1988, Gatling and his two living siblings sold the family property to East West Partners, the developers who built Gatling Pointe. Even before it came into the Gatling family, the land had a long association with significant happenings and people in Isle of Wight County history.
The Gatling Pointe land once belonged to the Todd family, founders of Smithfield’s famous ham industry. Local tradition has it that Captain Mallory Todd was a wandering sea man who settled in Smithfield in 1767 and opened a ham curing and shipping business by early 1779, according to “Smithfield, A Pictorial History,” by Segar Cofer Dashiell. Todd sided with colonists during the Revolutionary War and used his sailing vessels to bring arms and supplies to the colonies, accord to Dashiell’s book.
Mallory Todd’s son, John R. Todd, later took over the ham business. He owned the area now known as Battery Park, including the Gatling Pointe land. In added dated Dec. 13, 1851, he and his wife, Eliza Todd, deeded the Gatling Pointe land to Robinson A. Todd. The deed doesn’t state how Robinson A. Todd was related to the couple but it does state that the land was changing hands, “in consideration of natural love and affection” – and because Robinson A. Todd paid $1 for it.
Sometime during this period, a brick making factory operated from the banks of the Pagan River where the Gatling Pointe Yacht Club is now. The land there is lower than the rest of the community, presumably from having the clay scooped out of the shore of the Pagan River to make bricks.
At low tide, bricks are visible on the shore of Moone Creek, said Mark Edwards, an East West vice president. Gatling said history is a little sketchy on how the land passed from the Todd family to his. He knows that his father, Langley Taylor Gatling, inherited the land in 1917. At that time, it was known as Oyster Shell Neck Farm. Langley Gatling set up his homestead on a scenic spot overlooking the Pagan River.
There were five Gatling children in all, including Edwin and his twin brother, James, who were born May 14, 1926. Edwin and James eventually took their love of all things nautical on the job, founding Gatling Brothers Shipyard in Hampton. Their venture was cut short in 1951, when James died.
Edwin Gatling eventually went to work for Newport News Shipbuilding. In the 1950s, he and his wife, Dorothy, moved to the Gatling property. He used timber hewn from the property to build a single-story ranch house. “I was building from the ground up,” Gatling joked. Keeping the land up was a lot of work, Gatling said. He regretted the amount of time he logged on the John Deere cutting fields of grass while friends zoomed by in boats on the river: “I’d say to myself, I was ‘kind of dumb to stay there cutting grass when they’re out there on the river having fun.'” So he sold the land to East West in June of 1988, and he and Dorothy moved away from the Gatling land, but not away from the water. They live in Newport News in condominiums overlooking the James River. “I just was determined,” Gatling said, “to stay on the water.” Gatling drives through the neighborhood every now and then to see how Gatling Pointe is coming along. He was thrilled that East West wanted to name the subdivision after the Gatling family. “Really,” he said, “I was honored for them to do it.”
(East West Partners added another 254 home sites beginning in 1993 as it expanded across Battery Park Road with Gatling Pointe South which is bordered by Jones Creek and Towne Farm Creek.)