Posted on August 15, 2017
Haunted Hanover County
About one hour’s drive away from Colonial Williamsburg lies the haunted county of Hanover. People have encountered ghosts at Hanover Tavern, spotted apparitions of soldiers at Randolph-Macon College, and felt unexplainable chills at the historic Mills House. Let’s take a look at all three of these spooky sites!
History of Hanover
First, let’s talk a bit about the county’s unique history. Hanover County, Virginia “was named in honor of King George I, the first British monarch from the House of Hanover, who ruled over Great Britain and its colonies from 1714 to 1727.”1 It was established by the Virginia General Assembly on November 26, 1720. It was developed by a group of tobacco planters who had migrated west from the Tidewater region.
Today, Hanover County falls in Virginia’s Piedmont region. It includes the town of Ashland and ten unincorporated communities.
Before the arrival of the colonists, Hanover County was where Native American tribes such as the Pamunkey and Chickahominy hunted and fished for food. The hilly land was covered with maples, birches, and hickory trees. Waterways, such as the North and South Anna, carved their way through the rolling landscape.
Such tributaries were extensions of the York and James Rivers. Colonists navigated their ships through them to reach the area’s rich, fertile lowlands. They encountered the Powhatan Indians, and competition for resources quickly turned early friendships into warfare. By 1680, much of the Powhatan Confederacy was demolished.
Hanover County was formed in 1720 along the same boundaries of St. Paul’s Parish. St. Paul’s was created when St. Peter’s Parish of New Kent County was divided up. John Perkins was elected to be Hanover’s first sheriff, while James William Clayton became the county’s first court clerk.
Hanover County was the birthplace of several important people, including Patrick Henry and Henry Clay. Patrick Henry was an American attorney and politician born on May 29, 1736. He is best remembered for his famous “Give me liberty, or give me death!” speech, which he made to the Virginia Convention in St. John’s Church on March 23, 1775. Henry Clay was born on April 12, 1777 and also became an acclaimed lawyer. He became the nation’s Secretary of State during President John Quincy Adams’ presidency. Clay was known as “The Great Compromiser,” thanks to his brokering of important agreements including the Missouri Compromise of 1829 and the Compromise Tariff of 1833.
Haunted Hanover Tavern
Hanover Tavern is located directly across Route 301 in the unincorporated community of Hanover Courthouse. It is one of the nation’s oldest taverns and “has been a vibrant center of community life”2 for nearly three centuries. Plenty of famous people – including Patrick Henry, George Washington and General Lord Cornwallis – have visited it. Today, Hanover Tavern offers fun events such as beer tastings, plays and live music. Stop by for brunch to enjoy classics like “Bacon Gravy and Biscuits,” “Chicken and Waffles” and “Eggs St. Charles.” The tavern’s pre-theater menu includes “Chesapeake Style Crab Cakes,” “Shrimp and Grits” and “Butternut Gnocchi.”
Many who have eaten at Hanover Tavern have experienced something supernatural during their meal. Diner Pati Deal, for instance, recalls feeling a spirit squeezing her shoulder while enjoying one of the restaurant’s dishes. “Deal is one of the numerous people who believe there’s a ghost or some other unearthly presence in the 18th century building.”3 In fact, paranormal activity at Hanover Tavern spans back to the 1950s.
According to the executive director of the Hanover Tavern Foundation, one of the most frequently spotted apparitions at the eatery is a women dressed in black. People have also heard disembodied footsteps and smelled ghostly perfume there. Spurred by such stories, the team behind Transcend Paranormal has conducted and hosted several investigations at the tavern. They have gathered a lot of compelling evidence, especially during their flashlights sessions. “A twist top flashlight is left just barely off, then when the spirits are asked questions they are able to turn the flashlight on and off based on their answers.”4
In 1953, six actors formed the Barksdale Theater at Hanover Tavern. The venue was the nation’s first dinner theater. But the performers eventually had to sell the theater to the Hanover Tavern Foundation, as they could no longer maintain the building. “Today, Barksdale Theatre offers a varied selection of plays each year at the restored Tavern.”5
The theater is also rumored to be haunted. Over the years, both cast and crew have experienced unexplainable events at Barksdale. Derek Phipps, a member of The Odd Couple cast, remembers finding a table in the third floor’s dressing restroom unturned, despite being the only one upstairs. Production manager Emily Cole recalls seeing a white figure once and also the ghost of a white collie. Finally, art director John Glenn tells of witnessing a supernatural force swinging the old kitchen door shut. A part of the theater was destroyed by a fire several years ago, so many believe that it is the inferno’s victims who haunt the building.
Hanover Tavern lies adjacent to another haunted building, the historic Hanover Court House. The Court House is a designated National Historic Landmark. Many colonial criminals were sentenced to be hung at the spooky courthouse. In fact, some say that the ghost of a Union soldier still wanders its rooms.
Eerie Randolph College / Formerly Randolph-Macon Women’s College
Randolph College can be found in Ashland. It is a small liberal arts school founded in 1891. One of the people who helped found the university was a Confederate soldier by the name of George Morgan Jones. Jones died in 1903, and there is a bronze statue of him on campus. The work was sculpted by Solon Borglum and shows General Jones brandishing a sword. “Freshman learn that if a student who is not a virgin stands in front of General Jones, he will lift his sword and cut off her head.”6
One of the most paranormally active sites at another college nearby, with a similar name, Randolph-Macon Women’s College at the time of the incident, is called Mary’s Garden. Students say that if you cross the garden rather than use its pathway, you will never graduate or marry. Another haunted place at the school is known as the West Dating Parlor, where many have seen the ghost of an elderly woman, which vanishes when approached. When the school first opened, the parlor was where male students would wait for their dates. Some say that during World War II, a girl committed suicide in the parlor after learning that her boyfriend had died in battle.
Several murders and mysterious deaths have happened around campus. In 1973, for7 example, freshman Cynthia Louise Hellman was slain by a man named Standaly Hope Smith while crossing a street to get back to her dormitory. Hellman’s body was discovered near the school’s science building by a university guard. According to locals, Hellman’s ghost can still be heard and seen running down the street, trying to escape her murderer.
Then, there is the tragic tale of a student who was killed in a car wreck in 1971. The student was the male lead of a Shakespeare, set to be performed that night in the school’s auditorium. “According to student and faculty reports, the ghost of said student has shown up from time to time and normally sits in the back row of the theater.”8
The history department, located in Wash Frank Hall, is typically avoided by students at night. Many of them have seen ghosts dressed in turn-of-the-century clothes wandering its rooms. As for teachers, they usually encounter ghosts at the university’s Washington-Franklin Hall.
Randolph-Macon College also has its haunted fraternity house. At the SAE Fraternity House, people have seen the floating midsections of soldier spirits.
The Mysterious Mills House
Mills House dates back to the 1790s and is situated in Beaverdam, right off of Route 54. It is a two-story framed house with a metal roof that is surrounded by trees.
The last known occupant of Mills House was a farmer by the name of Buster Mills. Buster’s father, Richmond L. Mills, purchased the property in the early 1900s. Richmond Mills turned the home into a popular bed and breakfast, and also oversaw the farm and country store located nearby.
“Locals remember Buster talking about ‘haints’ in the home’s front room.”9 Relatives say that he’d like to entertain them with ghost stories over a bottle of whiskey. After Buster died from a stroke in 1989, Mills House was abandoned. People started to sneak in and many left graffiti on its walls. Then, in 2014, a mysterious fire broke out and nearly burned the structure to the ground. A passerby noticed smoke coming from the house and called the fire department. “It took firefighters roughly four hours to bring the blaze under control.”10 Some believe that it was a ghost who started the fire. Many local residents have seen the apparition of an old woman, usually dressed in a colonial-style nightgown, through the house’s windows. Others who have dared to venture inside report of feeling cold spots in several rooms.
A short walk from Mills House lies Patrick Henry’s massive Scotchtown plantation. Scotchtown is where Henry lived with his wife, Sarah Shelton Henry, and children from 1771 to 1778. It was also where he drafted his famous “Give me liberty, or give me death!” speech. When Patrick Henry became the Governor of Virginia, the Henries relocated to the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg.
Scotchtown is one of the largest surviving 18th-century homes in the United States. It is currently owned and operated by the history preservation group, Preservation Virginia. In the late 1950s, the organization undertook a massive restoration of the estate, reconstructing several of its earliest outbuildings, including the ice house and law office.
As you can see, Hanover County has its fair share of both haunts and history! You can eat, spend a night, even study with ghosts.
1. “Home.” Hanover County Historical Society. HanoverHistorical.org, 2016. Web. 9 July 2016. Para. 1.
2. “Hanover Tavern Foundation History.” Hanover County Historical Society. HanoverHistorical.org, 2016. Web. 9 July 2016. Para. 2.
3. Shulleeta, Brandon. “Ghost hunters to investigate ‘haunted’ Hanover Tavern.” Richmond Times-Dispatch, 18 July 2013. Web. 9 July 2016. Para. 3.
4. “Paranormal Investigation at the Hanover Tavern.” Where I’ve Been: USA. MagsOnTheMove.com, 24 May 2015. Web. 9 July 2016. Para. 3.
5. “Barksdale Theater History.” Tavern: History. HanoverTavern.org, 2016. Web. 9 July 2016. Para. 6.
6. Tucker, Elizabeth. Haunted Halls: Ghostlore of American College Campuses. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007. Page 29.
7. “Police arrest man in slaying of coed.” The Free Lance-Star, 28 April 1973. Web. 9 July 2016. Page 2.
8. “Case File: Randolph College – Lynchberg, VA.” The Haunted Commonwealth. HauntedVA.Blogspot.com, 20 October 2010. Para. 10.
9. “MILLS HOUSE.” Homes: Historic Buildings. HauntedPlaces.org, n.d. Web. 9 July 2016.
10. Holmberg, Mark. “HOLMBERG: Mystery, history, ghosts and now fire haunt historic Hanover home.” WTVR.com, 16 January 2014. Web. 9 July 2016. Para. 5.