Posted on February 10, 2021

Culpeper Votes to Remove Confederate Soldier’s Name

Josh Gully, Culpeper Times, February 9, 2021

Lake Pelham, which was named after a Confederate soldier, will eventually have a new name.

By a 5-4 vote during its Feb. 9 meeting, the Culpeper Town Council decided to rename the lake dubbed after Alabama-native Major John Pelham. Council members in favor of the renaming included Frank Reaves Jr., Meaghan Taylor, Jamie Clancey, Billy Yowell and Pranas Rimeikis. Those opposed were Jon Russell, Keith Brown, Keith Price and Mayor Michael Olinger.

Pelham died in Culpeper stemming from injuries suffered when an exploded artillery shell struck his head during the 1863 Battle of Kelly’s Ford. A local Civil War driving tour guide explains that Robert E. Lee referred to him as the “gallant Pelham.” {snip}


Before voting on the name change, Mayor Michael Olinger said the matter should go to a referendum because having nine elected officials decide for the entire population is not fair.

Councilman Pranas Rimeikis opposed the referendum, saying such an action would politicize the matter. If it was necessary, Councilman Jon Russell said he would vote for the referendum but that he would rather “just end this tonight” and keep the name.

Keith Price spoke vehemently in opposition of the name change and pondered what impact it would have on Lake Pelham Drive, Pelham Street and other roads named after Confederate soldiers.

“There are ripple effects that we have to think through before we walk down that path,” he said.

While Councilwoman Jamie Clancey understood the desire to hold a referendum, she said renaming the lake is a compromise. Right now, she said, the town is not changing road names and the council understands that would burden residents who would have to change addresses.

Renaming the lake, she added, is not causing division amongst citizens. Instead, she said it is the defensiveness of some who oppose the name change that is causing division.

“A name like Pelham – who was a fighter for the Confederacy and slavery – does have an impact on the people that it does means something to,” she said.


Earlier in the meeting, the town council also passed a resolution celebrating Black residents’ contributions to Culpeper. The resolution notes that the Black community’s role in the town has been previously undervalued. It pledges that the council will work to commemorate Culpeper’s rich Black heritage. Clancey said that approving the name change is a way for the town to take responsibility for a history that perpetuated racism while living up to the resolution’s promise.


Price said renaming the lake is not necessary to follow through on the promise made in the resolution, which he proudly had a role in assembling. {snip}  He noted that Pelham was not just a name, but a reminder of how the town was devastated by the Civil War.

Price added that he is “damn proud” to have Confederate soldiers in his bloodline. In addition to street names, he predicted that soon the courthouse’s Confederate monument will go away.

Then, Price said, “it’s all forgotten.”