PUNGO — Is Pungo a magisterial district from years past?
A former city voting borough?
An unincorporated village encompassing roughly a mile around the light at Princess Anne and Indian River roads?
The crossroads of the world (where sometimes it’s mighty challenging to make a left turn)?
Or something more symbolic — a kind of shorthand for all things rural in the city of Virginia Beach?
Fair questions, all. To which there seems to be an unsatisfying answer.
City Councilmember Barbara Henley, a farmer who represents the Princess Anne District, wasn’t alone in saying Pungo can mean different things to different people.
She’s heard people “use that term all the way down to Knotts Island.” Yet locals may identify with rural villages such as Creeds, Back Bay and Blackwater.
Those spots, after all, get their own mentions in the city’s comprehensive plan. And Henley, also the author of Glimpses of Down County History: Southern Princess Anne County, can point to another spot where some people still identify with what they wrote on their mail.
“I go back to the time when we had post offices,” she said. “I was there when my address was Pleasant Ridge.”
But some folks see Pleasant Ridge Road and think of it as just more Pungo.
“I just think people call the rural area Pungo,” Henley said.
The Independent News also put the question to the Rev. Walter A. Whitehurst, who lives within the village and is the author of the Pungo Tales series of books.
“When Princess Anne County merged with Virginia Beach, it was divided into boroughs,” he said. “This was Pungo Burough.”
Eventually the boroughs evolved into districts, and the rural section of the city became the Princess Anne Voting District. Yet Pungo, for some, is a catchall for places that certainly have distinct identities.
“I think that’s why when you ask people south of Pungo Village where they live, they’ll say Pungo,” Whitehurst said.
Eleven years ago, the Urban Land Institute released a report about “Pungo Crossing” for the city, though it was not adopted. It had requested by the Pungo Village Landowners Association. Among its goals was defining the area and establishing “realistic” goals for development. A decade later, defining the village area again was included as an aim of the city comprehensive plan.
“Realistic” can be tough to quantify, but the report made a clear effort to characterize the village itself. It does so in terms of “Pungo Crossing” immediately surrounding the intersection of Indian River and Princess Anne roads. As the “Pungo Song” goes, this is the “crossroads of the world.”
If you’re new to the area, the tune goes, in part: You’ll find this country girl/At the crossroads of the world/Where Indian River crosses Princess Anne.
The report noted that the area is a crossroads, so the song is partially on the money.
“Even the name Pungo is fraught with controversy,” the report said. “The area is alternatively called Pungo, Pungo Village, the Crossroads, Pungo proper, or one of a half-dozen other names.”
It added that the area, essentially, is the last stop for “significant commercial development” from there to North Carolina. That is not to imply Town Center II is imminent.
The most recent Virginia Beach comprehensive plan contains goals to delineate boundaries for the “Pungo Rural Village” and write a master plan to guide future development. However, that aim is on hold for the time being, according to the city.
Whitehurst said the Pungo Village Landowners Association, which sponsors the annual tree lighting event here, used the name “Pungo Village” to distinguish the area near the stoplight from other areas.
“Very few of us live in Pungo Village,” Whitehurst said.
Just plain Pungo can be a different story.
Tammy Burroughs Hindle, president of the landowners association, said the village area is notable because much of its character has been preserved even as some new businesses have been established here.
She spoke to her father, Joe Burroughs — an eighth-generation Virginian — and he offered this: “Pungo’s the in place to be.”
“Is Pungo a town?” Hindle said. “Yes. It’s the rural section. It’s a town within a town. … It’s a legacy to be passed down of generations of sitting on the porch, a slow life that is not to far from the fast lane, if you want it.”
Hindle said she avoids getting territorial about definitions, but she noted that locals south of Pungo know where they’re from.
“Somebody from Munden Point is not going to say they’re from Pungo,” she said. “They’re from Munden.”
People in Pungo have the best of both worlds, she said. They’re close to a resort beach, suburbs, shopping centers and a proudly rural community.
Hindle offered “Pungo proper” over the sometimes-humorously used “downtown” Pungo because, well, “downtown” gives folks the wrong idea about Pungo.
Dr. Karen Beardslee Kwasny, who represents the Princess Anne District on the planning commission, said she recently spoke about Pungo with a fellow member of the commission because the place seems to be many things to many people.
“We always talk about a gateway to the rural area,” Kwasny wrote later in a text message. “Pungo is this. It is the point where space expands around us as it demarcates the shift in landscape from buildings to farmlands and in land use from residential to agricultural. Its nucleus is a four-corner rural center with limited community-serving stores and restaurants.”
Whitehurst, the Pungo Tales author, recalled a conversation with someone from near Tabernacle United Methodist Church along Sandbridge Road about the name of an area there called Sigma.
“Why don’t people call it Sigma anymore?” Whitehurst asked.
“Well,” the woman replied, “Pungo has swallowed us all up.”
Maybe its time for Pungo to throw its collective hands in the air.
Or, as Whitehurst noted, “Whatever a person wants to call it is fine.”
© 2017 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC