Who Created the "VirginiaPlaces.org" Website?

I'm Charlie Grymes. Since 1998, I have been building this site.

Compiling a new geographic description of Virginia is a fun challenge - but many of the 1,000 pages on the VirginiaPlaces.org website are far, far from finished. If you explore further, expect to find incomplete pages and content that needs to be updated.

On the maternal side, my relatives come from Halifax County. On my father's side, the Grymes family has been in Virginia since the 1640's.

Anglican minister Rev. Charles Grymes was caught up in the emerging religious conflicts in England associated with the rise of the Puritans and efforts to repress them by William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury. After my ancestor moved across the Atlantic Ocean, my side of the Grymes family stopped migrating. I am the 10th generation to live in Virginia.

I suspect Rev. Charles Grymes chose to move across the ocean because he was unable to keep his mouth shut. (Come on a field trip sometime, and you might recognize the family trait has reappeared.) When he wanted to get out of England in the 1630's, the obvious place to go was the new colony of Virginia. At the time, it was still a raw and uncomfortable place for new immigrants. All English settlements were located east of the Fall Line, and nearly every structure was what today would be described as a "wooden shack."

The Grymes men bought estates back in the 1600's and 1700's, when land was cheap cheap cheap and colonial law allowed men to dominate family finances and public roles. Various ancestors of mine were influential in the House of Burgesses and on the Governor's Council.

You might think we would be rich landowners today - but no, we have managed to buy high and sell low for generations. In the colonial days, there were family plantation homes scattered around Tidewater, such as Moratico on the Rappahannock River and the mellifluously-named "Grymesby on the Piankatank." They are all gone today.

The Grymes women seemed to thrive in Virginia better than the men, in part because the women married well. One, Lucy Ludwell Grymes, was by family tradition the "lowland beauty" that caught George Washington's eye but rejected his advances. Young Mr. Washington was not good enough, or perhaps showed few prospects of obtaining enough wealth to ensure family comfort. Lucy Ludwell Grymes married Henry Lee instead, and lived on the plantation that is today Leesylvania State Park. She and husband Henry Lee are buried there.

Charlie Grymes, creator of the VirginiaPlaces website and teacher of Geography of Virginia (GGS380) at George Mason University
Charlie Grymes, creator of the "VirginiaPlaces" website and teacher of Geography of Virginia (GGS380) at George Mason University

Lucy Ludwell Grymes chose to live with Henry Lee at Leesylvania
Lucy Ludwell Grymes chose to live with Henry Lee at Leesylvania
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Their first son was Henry "Lighthorse Harry" Lee, a cavalry officer who served General Washington well in the American Revolution and wrote for his eulogy the famous lines First in War, First in Peace, and First in the Hearts of His Countrymen.

Young Henry Lee must have inherited the financial talents of his mother's family; Lighthorse Harry died bankrupt. His last son, Robert E. Lee (head of the Army of Northern Virginia) helped restore some luster to the Lee name, but just being a grandson of Lucy Ludwell Grymes makes him important to my family.

One of my many-generations-ago ancestors was the District Attorney in New Orleans. He was prosecuting the pirate Jean Lafitte, until he showed up in court one day and sat on the other side of the aisle. He chose, in the middle of the trial, to defend the pirate that he had been prosecuting. That required an immediate career change, ending the role as District Attorney and starting a career as a private attorney. At least someone in the family once made a little money, at least until the fee was spent in Lafitte's local houses of entertainment on wine, women, and song.

My more-respectable branch of the Grymes family stayed in Virginia, migrating to Orange County and then Chesterfield County before my grandfather settled in Richmond.

the skyline of downtown Richmond includes (from left to right) the headquarters of MeadWestvaco Corporation, the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, and office towers housing financial and legal firms
the skyline of downtown Richmond includes (from left to right) the headquarters of MeadWestvaco Corporation, the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, and office towers housing financial and legal firms

Other branches of the family moved across the Ohio River. One came back to visit as a Union soldier. He wrote about marching with Sherman through Georgia in 1864, saying in a letter that "we enjoyed it hugely." We don't have quite the same feelings towards him... surprise, surprise.

I retired in 2007 from a day job pushing paper as a Federal bureaucrat in a downtown DC office. Before retiring, I became adjunct faculty at George Mason, teaching for the fun of it. In addition to "Geography of Virginia," at various times I have taught field study classes ("Virginia From the Ground Up - Northern Virginia/Southwest Virginia/Shenandoah Valley"), plus courses involving communications and natural science in what was New Century College at GMU.

In my earlier days, I have laid railroad track in Richmond, shipped tobacco from auction warehouses and packed it into hogsheads in Florida/North Carolina/Kentucky, led cave tours and presented campfire talks as a National Park Service ranger in Missouri, and managed scenic easements on a Wild and Scenic River in Oregon for the Bureau of Land Management.

I spent the last 20 years of my career working on information technology projects for the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of the Interior. On a good day, I facilitated adoption of Geographic Information System (GIS) technology and crafted the initial policy and procedures, as we implemented e-mail, websites, and other internet-based capabilities. Today, I am active in local history and environmental groups in Prince William County.

So what qualifies me to teach at GMU? Mostly my interest and my knowledge from living in Virginia for 60 years. My academic credentials: I earned an "independent studies" diploma from the University of Virginia in 1975. I never chose a formal program of study, since as an Echols Scholar I did not have to declare a major. I was fortunate to find high-quality instructors who allowed me to do field research as independent study projects, rather than sit in a classroom listening to lectures.

I finished my Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies (MAIS) degree at GMU in June, 2002. My MAIS project was an examination of the cultural and natural history of Prince William County in Northern Virginia. I chose not to pusue a PhD, but instead to continue my learning on independent tracks.

I've been poking into the famous and unknown places of Virginia for decades. I find the challenge of understanding how places change over time to be fascinating. The idea that the sand grains on Virginia Beach could have come from Massanutten Mountain near Harrisonburg still intrigues me. When the thunderstorms of summer roll through, you'll find me in the cheering section rooting for another flash and bang in the sky, and wondering if erosion will expose new fossils in certain stream channels.

east of I-95, you will find where the Shenandoah Valley ends up after rainstorms
east of I-95, you will find where the Shenandoah Valley ends up after rainstorms
Source: Google Earth

When the cardinal flowers appear in the wetlands in August, I know that summer - and those thunderstorms - are almost done. When it's time to get a hurricane or at least a nor'easter, we fill up the bathtub. When you depend on a well, the loss of electrical power means loss of water too. When ice and snow arrive, I grouse about the cold and burn firewood to keep warm, just like my ancestors did.

The patterns of people in Virginia intrigue me as much as the natural history. Folks in Southside really are different from people in Arlington, and the diversity of culture is not limited to just Virginia's urban areas. Across Virginia, we may all watch the same TV commercials (one reason our regional accents are fading), but we're not homogenized yet. On Monday mornings, you will find people talking about the latest NASCAR events in Pittsylvania County - but in Loudoun, discussion at the water cooler is more likely to be "think the Caps can win the Stanley Cup this year?"

The study of Virginia helps me understand why we have such differences. Geography, physical and cultural, is more challenging than reading a detective story and more fun to unravel. Different places evolved along different paths for different reasons, and connecting the dots can create a great picture of Virginia.

There are links between places that require both a scientific and historical perspective. Price Mountain coal was squeezed hard enough by the collision with Africa, over 200 million years ago - and that is why fuel from Montgomery County might have been used for powering the Civil War ironclad Merrimac when it fought the Monitor in Hampton Roads.

Virginia is a special place, worth exploring in depth. Getting stuck in traffic provides unplanned research opportunities to look outside the car window and ask "why does it looks like that, at this place?" Completion of the Shirley Highway from the Pentagon to the Occoquan River in 1950 triggered the construction of Marumsco Hills subdivision in Prince William County, and suburban sprawl in Northern Virginia still follows transportation corridors - watch the Metrorail's Silver Line spur new subdivisions in Loudoun County.

This website attempts to describe some of the story of Virginia places. Welcome.

Virginia's urban areas are an extension of the Boston-Washington corridor
Virginia's urban areas are an extension of the Boston-Washington corridor
Source: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Visible Earth


Virginia Places