By Stefanie Jackson – Eastville Mayor Jim Sturgis is an all-around Eastern Shore original. His family history on the Shore dates back to the 1600s on both his father’s and mother’s side, and he was born in the Nassawadox hospital and raised in Eastville, where he still lives today.
Sturgis’ residence – a historic, two-story brick home on Courthouse Road – marks his personal history as well. He has lived there approximately a decade, about the same amount of time he has been a survivor of stage 4 lung cancer.
He fondly remembers growing up in Eastville with his sister, the late Eleanor Sturgis.
“It was a fun place – we had the best time,” said Jim Sturgis, who remembers going bike riding and watching the fish swim in the pond at his childhood home.
He didn’t plan to follow in the footsteps of his father, the late Edgar Sturgis III, who was an insurance agent and the mayor of Eastville, Northampton’s county seat.
Jim Sturgis, who graduated from Northampton High School and went on to study finance at Virginia Tech, was entering his third year of college and hadn’t chosen a major.
He put his foot down and told himself, “you’re going to have to do something,” and chose a career in the insurance industry, which he enjoyed.
Today Sturgis works at Northampton Insurance Agency, the business that was owned and operated by his father and grandfather.
Edgar Sturgis III was the mayor of Eastville for about 40 years until he retired in 2010, when his son, Jim Sturgis, ran unopposed for the position and won. Jim Sturgis has won re-election unopposed every two years since, including in November 2020. He served on Eastville’s town council before running for mayor.
By getting involved in the local fire and rescue squad, Jim Sturgis also followed the example of his father, who was the chief of the Eastville Volunteer Fire Company for 25 years.
The Sturgis family and the town of Eastville are both steeped in history. “History is like our background,” he said.
The Northampton County Courthouse in Eastville is home to the oldest continuous court records in America, starting from 1632. At least one record dates back as far as 1628.
Historic buildings on Eastville’s courthouse green include the 1731 courthouse, the 1800 clerk’s office, the 1814 debtor’s prison, the 1899 courthouse (which currently serves as the Northampton County administration building), and the 1907 jail.
Also on the courthouse green stands a monument of a Confederate soldier, who appears to be European American. The monument was built in 1914 to commemorate the Civil War dead.
Sturgis approved of Dr. Arthur Carter’s idea to recontextualize the controversial piece of history by pairing it with a monument of an African American Union soldier. However, Northampton supervisors voted Jan. 12 to remove the Confederate monument.
During the Civil War, in 1863, when the Confederate Navy looted and destroyed the lighthouse on Smith Island, it was from the Eastville telegraph office that lighthouse keeper William Stakes sent the news to the U.S. Secretary of the Navy.
Sturgis aims to maintain a balance between Eastville’s history and its present and future economic growth. He wants new businesses that will be “compatible” with the town and extend its “walkable community.”
The mayor notes that Eastville’s “downtown strip” on Courthouse Road is ideal for small, family-owned businesses or “cottage industries,” but Route 13 in Eastville is a prime location for franchises like the new Dollar General being built near the Eastville Community Health Center.
Eastville boasts business-friendly attributes such as low taxes, a “highly coveted” water system, good downtown foot traffic, and easy highway access, he said.
The town is always looking for new revenue streams to support its infrastructure such as the water tower, firehouse, and sidewalks that were built by the Works Progress Association in the 1940s, Sturgis said.
Eastville already collects taxes on items such as real estate, property, food and beverages, and cigarettes, which are used to keep the lights on, the water running, the grass cut, and the streets clean.
Sturgis would like to see the town prosper again. He noted Eastville once had the highest per capita income in the nation due to the early presence of the railroad, which boosted both the agriculture and aquaculture industries.
In the upcoming fiscal year, Sturgis will work to shore up Eastville’s budget and address unfunded mandates passed down from the state.
He also will continue to listen to the town’s citizens and work toward solutions to their issues. For example, the highway splits Eastville’s downtown from Eastville Station, where residents feel “cut off” and “disenfranchised,” Sturgis acknowledged.
He welcomes citizen input about how Eastville should be run. “We want to know what everybody wants,” he said.
Sturgis called Eastville a “great town” full of people who are always asking, “How can I help out?”
“And they constantly do.”