Keysville as we know it began when John Key opened a tavern and relay station along King’s Road for the stage line. He received his license to operate the tavern in 1809.
By 1826, the area around his relay station was known as Keysville. In 1835, the population of Keysville was 70. The railroad came to town in 1852 and the first hotel, Keysville Hotel, was built around the same time. Two other hotels opened after the Civil War ended.
Prior to the Civil War, there were many large tobacco plantations. Other crops were grown in smaller quantities for personal use. After the war, most plantations were sold piecemeal for next to nothing.
The tobacco industry took a heavy hit during Reconstruction, yet farmers refused to diversify, trusting that the famous Virginia tobacco would be coveted once again. In 1882, the town was divided into individual lots, and by 1887, Keysville was an incorporated town.
Gold and copper were discovered in the area, though the gold ultimately did not amount to much. There were six copper mines around Keysville until they “played out” in the early 1920’s. Gold mining took off in 1894 and led to a local boom. Twelve passenger trains brought tourists to Keysville daily, and stores stayed open until 10 or 11 pm on the weekends.
Multiple schools have served the youth of Keysville through time. The first was a one room school-house about 1 mile from Keysville on Charlotte Court House Road that operated from 1870-1880.
The second was the Shotwell Institute which was located about 150 yards from the Osborne and I street intersection. The Virginia Home School for Young Ladies opened in 1898 at Merry Oaks Plantation. The first white public school was opened in 1898 and replaced the Shotwell Institute which they had outgrown.
The Keysville Mission Industrial School, later changed to The Bluestone-Harmony Academic and Industrial School, opened in 1898 for black students and was less than 2 miles from Keysville on Charlotte Court House Road. For about 50 years, it had the largest enrollment of any black boarding school in the east and sent a large number of graduates on to college.
By 1907, Keysville High School existed with five teachers, and Keysville School was built in 1912. Children now attend Eureka Elementary, Central Middle School, and Randolph-Henry High School.
According to the Charlotte County Handbook, by 1907, Keysville had “nine general merchandise stores, two banks, a saw mill, a flour mill, a foundry, a mattress factory”, and there were six churches: Ash Camp Baptist, Episcopal, Keysville Presbyterian, Mt. Ellis Baptist, Second Baptist, and Trinity Methodist. Several newspapers served Keysville from 1879-1909, but few issues survive.
Several fires burnt through Keysville in its early years, and a couple of tornadoes caused great destruction. The 1915 tornado destroyed the Episcopal Church, site of the current library, and caused extensive damage to other local businesses.
Around 1914, Jack Brookes became the owner of the only electrically-lit home in the county, and by 1921, his plant was providing 24-hour a day service to those brave enough to get wired.
Hanmer Motor Car Company opened in 1913, later becoming Hanmer Ford Sales and Service Agency. There were also a Chevrolet and Dodge dealerships in the 1920’s.
When the Depression hit, local businesses scaled back. The barrel stave mill and Southern Railway were able to continue their operations with little change. Keysville’s first water and sewer system was installed in the mid-1930’s, and the first volunteer firemen were organized after yet another devastating fire in 1933.
After World War II, young people happily returned to Keysville after serving their country. The Five Counties Baseball League was formed. The 40’s were a time of fun and growth in Keysville. However, by 1956, there were no more passenger trains running to Keysville, and the New Theatre which had opened in 1937 closed in 1958.
Ghana, better known as Steve’s, opened in the 50’s and was the only gathering place for blacks between Richmond and Danville. Briery Country Club opened in 1959, and the first public library opened in 1962, moving to its current location in 1979.
The Rescue Squad was formed in 1970, and the J.H. Daniel Campus of SVCC opened in 1971.
Since then, Keysville has become home to a number of fine shops, a large grocery store, a fast-food chain, a playground, and most recently, a stage for local and nationally-recognized performers.
Ailsworth, Timothy S., Ann P. Keller, Lura B. Nichols, and Barbara R. Walker, eds. Charlotte County: Rich Indeed. Richmond, VA: Whittet and Shepperson, Printers, 1979.
Crouch, Robin G.J. Keysville, Virginia: A Pictorial History. Keysville, VA: Keysville Women’s Club, 1987.