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Businessman buys forest for the family tree

Michael Schwartz April 22, 2013 2
The house known as Criss-Cross in New Kent. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The house known as Criss-Cross in New Kent. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

John Poindexter wants to get back to his roots.

And the Texas businessman, whose company dabbles in everything from big-rig trucks to hearses, is willing to spend millions and buy almost 1,000 acres in rural New Kent County to plant the Poindexter family flag on its former home.

A Houston native, Poindexter traces his lineage back to 17th century New Kent, not far from what today is Interstate 64.

He has never lived in Virginia, let alone in the tree-lined northern sections of New Kent County. But Poindexter over the past year has spent more than $1.3 million to purchase 965 acres, much of which would have been his family’s land centuries ago. And there’s still more he has his eye on.

An aerial view of the house shows the cross shape of the house. (Screenshot via Google Earth)

An aerial view of the house shows the cross shape of the house. (Screenshot via Google Earth)

“I have the ambition to someday buy Criss Cross,” he said.

The house known as Criss Cross – named for its cross-shaped footprint – was built in the late 1600s by George Poindexter (then known as Poingdestre), according to historical records.

“It’s thought to be the oldest Tudor residence in North America,” John Poindexter said. “It survived the Civil War, and naturally I hope to see it restored someday to its historical condition.

It’s also the one piece of property that has eluded his buying spree.

The Criss Cross house is tucked away off Route 155 and Interstate 64. Poindexter’s family’s past presence in the county is evident on the roads surrounding the property. There’s a Poindexter Road that intersects with Criss Cross Road, which leads to the home.

The Harrison family owns the property. Father and son E.T. Harrison and Chap Harrison own hundreds of acres at Criss Cross and its surrounding lands, according to county records.

Poindexter, 68, has been able to acquire land all around and abutting Criss Cross, but he has yet to attempt to strike a deal for the house. It may never happen.

“I wouldn’t want to suggest in any way that I’m on the verge of buying the [Criss Cross] property,” he said. “I’m taking the short cut of buying the land around it and getting to know the neighbors well to position myself in the event the family decides ever to sell.

“I’m merely hopeful someday the winds will blow in my direction.”

If his track record in the business world is any indication, Poindexter is a man known for being able to seal a deal.

He popped up on the New Kent radar in early 2012. A company called Southwestern Holdings Inc. began acquiring hundreds of acres at a time, most of which surrounds Criss Cross.

Southwestern Holdings Inc. shares an address with J.B. Poindexter & Co., a manufacturing conglomerate in Houston that works in truck bodies, step vans, pickup truck caps, limousines, and oil and gas industry equipment.

Poindexter owns 100 percent of the firm, according to its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. He has a master’s and PhD from New York University and previously worked at Wall Street firms Smith Barney and Salomon Brothers.

Poindexter and his firm have completed dozens of acquisitions over the years.

The company brought in more than $708 million in revenue in 2011, according to its most recent annual report.

Poindexter is adamant that his activity in New Kent County is strictly personal and has no ties to his business efforts.

“It’s not business. I’m not a developer,” he said. “I have no interest in developing it any way.”

The idea of developing the land is something of which some New Kent residents have become wary, said Debbie Downs, who sits on the county’s historic commission. The commission is appointed by the county’s board of supervisors and minds its many historic properties.

Before the recession, many developers saw New Kent as the next suburb for metro Richmond. When the real estate bubble burst, it left many spec land developments in limbo in the largely rural area.

“The thing that people in this county are nervous about is overdevelopment, because we’ve had so many housing developers come in and chew up great tracks of land and have marginal success,” Downs said. “People do get suspicious of anyone who is buying up [large amounts of] property.”

Poindexter does have plans for his property: He’s clearing some of the land to make it farmable and some to make suitable for grazing.

“I’m all in favor of that,” Downs said.

Poindexter is not quite willing to say he’s gathering the land for his own personal estate.

“‘Estate’ might be too strong a term,” he said. “Maybe a little above my station in life.”

But he plans eventually to spend a fair amount of time there in a sort of partial retirement, he said. There’s another old house, not far from Criss Cross, that he’s restoring.

That doesn’t mean he’s giving up hope that Criss Cross will someday be back in the hands of a Poindexter, but he’s not holding his breath.

“It’s no more than a hope,” he said. “I may never get that house.”

Another view of the house. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

Another view of Criss Cross. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

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2 Comments »

  1. Brett April 22, 2013 at 9:25 am - Reply

    He could buy it under the stipulation with the county that he will make it a conservation piece so that it can never be developed. Everyone wins. I mean, except of course if the Harrisons prefer not to ever sell.

  2. J T April 24, 2013 at 9:43 pm - Reply

    His first mistake was telling everyone he was buying the land because of his family heritage. He should have bought it under assumed names acquired the properties including Criss Cross and then told everyone. If some one knows you have sentimental value over something they own they will hold it over your head as leverage.

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