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John Lonsdale Roper

Elmwood Cemetery
Salter Street, Lot 12
Elmwood Extension, Block 28, Lot 5
Elmwood Improved, Block 68, Lot 4 & Block 69, Lot 10
First Alley West, Lot 76
Cedar Grove Cemetery
Cedar Grove Extension, Block 56, Lot 10

Captain John L. Roper was born at Greenwood, Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, on October 9, 1835. His father, Richard B. Roper, was a native of England, and settled in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania. He married Esther Ann Reynolds of Philadelphia and they became the parents of two sons: William B. and John L., and a daughter, Mary Matilda. Both sons became Union soldiers.

John Lonsdale Roper was an infant when his father died. He grew up in Pennsylvania; his schooling ended at the age of thirteen and he earned his living as clerk in a general store. At the age of 21, he traveled to California to satisfy his love of adventure and his quest for gold and treasure. He went by the Panama route, achieved only moderate success in the mining industry.  However, this arduous experience did much to develop his talents of enterprise and courage to fight his battles unafraid of adversity or difficulty. When he returned to Pennsylvania in 1861, the Civil war had broken out and he enlisted in the Eleventh Pennsylvania Cavalry. He followed the fortunes of the Union flag through four years of the war until March1865 when he rose through the ranks to become Captain.

Captain Roper's youth was spent in the pine and hemlock district of Pennsylvania, and he became familiar with the values of standing timber. During the War, he became familiar with the great timber tracts of Virginia, particularly in the Southeast and North Carolina. He deduced that Norfolk was the strategic point at which to center a manufacturing and export lumber business. In 1865, he moved his residence to Norfolk and began lumbering operations in Princess Anne County, at a point 24 miles from where the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal entered the North Landing River. He erected a saw mill equipped with the best circular saw system having an annual producing capacity of 6,000,000 feet. He specialized in North Carolina Pine. He carefully prepared the lumber in dry kilns for the market.  He personally supervised every detail of the purchase of raw material, its conversion into lumber, and its marketing until the business grew to such proportions that this was impossible. Little by little he expanded, larger and larger tracts of timber land were purchased; additional mills for manufacturing lumber were erected; railroads necessary to connect forests and mills were built; mills for the manufacture of related interests were erected along the railroads, canals and rivers, all owned and controlled by the Roper Lumber Company. Captain Roper remained as the active head of his company until the summer of 1905, when he retired, turning over to his successor. In the meantime, Captain Roper became vice president of the Virginia Savings Bank and Trust Company, the Lumberman's Marine Insurance Company, the Seaboard Fire Insurance Company, and other commercial organizations. He served several years as a member of the City Council of Norfolk, and always retained his allegiance to the Republican Party. He was a member of the Chamber of Commerce. In Masonry he attained the thirty-third, supreme honorary degree in the Scottish rite and was a leader in the building of the Norfolk Masonic temple.

Exceedingly generous with his personal influence and means, he helped to finance the Woman's College of Norfolk, organized and for years served as president of the United Charities, and was prominent in the Methodist Episcopal Church.

In June, 1865, Captain Roper married Lydia H. Bowen, of Philadelphia. They became the parents of six children, all natives of Norfolk and community leaders. Albert L. Roper became a Norfolk attorney and Mayor. George W. Roper was educated in civil, mechanical and electrical engineering, was associated with the Roper lumber interests and became the head of several large manufacturing, transportation and industrial enterprises. He served as President of Norfolk Southern Railroad for quite some time.*  William R. Roper was also identified with the Roper Lumber Company, and subsequently became secretary and treasurer of the North Carolina Pine Association.**  John Lonsdale Roper, Jr. served as the President and CEO of Norfolk Shipbuilding and Drydock Corporation.  He was married to Sarah Dryfoos of Hazelton, Pennsylvania.  They had three children:  Isabel Roper Yates, John L. Roper III and George W. Roper II. *** John L. Roper III became Chairman of Norshipco.

Other family interments on the Roper Lot include:  Charley, d. 1894; Chas, d. 1881; Emma, d. 1902; Ethel S., d.1984; Georgianna P., d. 1930; Grace L., d. 1875; Infant, d. 1913; Isabella P., d. 1915; Jeanne F., d. 2000; John, d. 1906; John L., d. 1921; L.J., d. 1923; Lonsdale G., d. 1915; Lydia B., d. 1976; Lydia H., d. 1930; Margaret M., d. 1902; Mary A., 1946; Mary M., 1913; Mary M., d. 1905; Matilda, d. 1958; Rose B., d. 1974; Sarah D., d. 1988; Virginia, d. 1946; William, d. 1877; William B., d. 1964; Zulika, d. 1877.

More genealogical information on the Roper family can be found at www.roperld.com

Newspaper articles courtesy of the Sargeant Memorial Room, Norfolk Public Library
*“George W. Roper”, Obituaries Section, The Virginian-Pilot, January 8, 1946.
*** “Shipyard President Norfolk First Citizen” by Jim Stiff, The Virginian-Pilot, No date provided.

Biographical information provided by Norfolk Bureau of Cemeteries.

Visitor Information

Visitor Hours: Sunrise to Sunset

Office hours: Monday to Friday 9:00 AM to 4:30 PM

Free parking inside cemetery.

Admission Cost: Free

Address: 238 E. Princess Anne Road , Norfolk, VA 23510

Official web site for more information: www.norfolk.gov/cemeteries

Norfolk Society for Cemetery Conservation Web Site: www.norfolksocietyforcemeteryconservation.org