Mathews County covers 252 square miles, with only 86 sq. miles being land and the other 166 sq. miles being water. We are a small rural community with an English settlement as early as 1650. The historical census shows the population in 1800 as 5806 residents and our most recent published estimated census in 2015 shows a population of 8862. So as you can see we have not grown very much in 217 years!
With only 252 sq. miles we do not need any stop lights, so we don’t have any. Well one on the Gwynn’s Island bridge which only turns red when it opens, (so it really doesn’t count). We are a population of “from-heres” (those that are born here) and “come-heres” (those who re-locate here), but as our new county slogan suggests we, as well as, many visitors are now “be-heres”!
Mathews once called Kingston Parrish and originally a part of our neighboring Gloucester County, became Mathews County in 1791. We are named after Major Thomas Mathews, Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates and a Revolutionary War veteran who introduced a resolution for the formation of the new county.
We are rich in history! The historic Court Green where Market Days is held includes the old Debtor’s Jail and Courthouse, circa 1795, and are both still in use today. We are the home of 39 Churches (that is one every 6 square miles) of which many are historical. There are many historical homes and estates, some being handed down for generations in the same family!
And talk about military history! Mathews was at one time the shipbuilding center for the Chesapeake Bay, building many of the Continental Navy ships during the Revolutionary War. It is estimated that a third of the ships built between 1790 and 1820 came from Mathews. Cricket Hill, near the bridge at Gwynn’s Island, was the site of one of the first naval engagements of the Revolutionary War and now the home of Milford Haven Coast Guard Station. During the Revolutionary War an earthwork fort was built near the county’s current border with Gloucester County named Fort Nonsense which has recently been restored. There is Tompkins Cottage (Circa 1816) named after Christopher Tompkins a prominent citizen of the time. The building is now the seat for the Mathews Historical Society and has a dedicated room to his daughter Capt. Sally Tompkins, the first woman to be commissioned as an officer in the Confederate Army.
Because Mathews is on the Chesapeake Bay, fishing has always been an important part in the lives of its residents whether for food, commerce or pleasure. It is in the early 20th century that Mathews rich and long history with the fishing industry really hits it stride. There is also a large growth of crab, clam, and oyster fisheries at this time. We continue to enjoy fresh seafood and although not as many, some residents still make their living in this industry.
Over time our little rural “Pearl of the Chesapeake” has become a popular area for visitors during the summer to enjoy the uniqueness that is Mathews. The history, the diversity of local restaurants to enjoy, access to local farm goods and crafts at the weekly Saturday Farmer’s Market, the ease of access to water activities, our quaint downtown area, the annual Mathews Market Days, and just the overall friendliness of a small community that often feels as if it is still living in its own past. Many a visitor has become either a part time “come-here” either thru the rental of a vacation home or visiting friends or by purchasing their own little slice of heaven.
Although this is just a snapshot of our history and what we have to offer, we invite you to click on any of the photos below for links to more information about Mathews. We hope to see you in the near future and of course the first weekend after Labor Day at Mathews Market Days!
Mathews Market Days
The first Mathews Market Days was held in 1975 and was the brain child of the Mathews Bicentennial Commission as the county was gearing up for the 1976 bi-centennial celebrations in the United States. In 1975 it was a 3 day festival and was held in the empty lot beside
Moughon’s Hardware on Main Street. Participants were dressed in long skirts, bonnets and other apparel of Colonial times.
The festival was all about a return to the Mathews way of life from years gone by.
There were exhibits of Colonial trades and crafts, demonstrations of pottery, rug, and quilt making,
chair caning, and fishing net mending just to name a few.
There was an auction of donated items and 12 booths selling mostly food.
It also included an Art Show/Sale with 55 artists exhibiting their work.
According to a 1975 article in the Peninsula Panorama (an insert in the Daily Press); the Chairman
of the event; Mrs. Lillian Rau, is quoted as saying,
“The by-word we’re using is “for the people by the people” because we are using all people from Mathews County. We’re trying to bring people out of the woods, people with talent who have never had a chance to show their work here.” She went on to also say,
“We hope to have this as an annual event. This year it’s a matter of trial and error”
Net proceeds from Mathews Market Days have been donated back into the local community from
the very start with this first event. The records show there was a net profit of
$138.12 at the end of the event and $100 of it was donated to an organization in Mathews.
We continue this tradition today with our Grants Program.
So here we still are with over 4o years’ worth of festivals!
The event has had its ups and downs, good weather and bad weather, some good changes and some bad
as each new generation takes over the torch of making Mathews Market Days happen for another year.
The constants through all the years of Mathews Market Days are what make the backbone of the event; it’s Committees that devote their time and energy to bring this event together and our citizens who continue to come out and enjoy what this special weekend brings to our community each year.
We hope to see you this year!