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Locals buy Sharp’s Island in the James: ‘Why would you buy an island?’

Posted at 2:43 PM, Jan 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-02 14:43:01-05

Thompson and the rest of the new owners on Sharp’s Island. (Courtesy Creative Dog Media)

RICHMOND, Va. — Where many saw a random island in the middle of the James River, Andy Thompson saw a playground for himself and his friends.

The devout outdoorsman led a group of 10 family friends in purchasing Sharp’s Island, a roughly 1-acre morsel located just southwest of Mayo Island.

His group paid $35,000 for the property and closed the deal Nov. 27.

Thompson is the founder of outdoors news site He also co-founded Terrain360, which makes Google Street View-like maps of trails, parks and waterways, and Wild Streaming, which sets up streaming cameras of wildlife nests.

When recruiting friends to purchase the island, Thompson said reactions generally fell into one of two categories.

“It’s almost like a personality test,” he said. “Some people are like, ‘Case closed, I’m in.’ Then some people are like, ‘What’s wrong with you? Why would you buy an island?’ It’s hilarious the reactions you get.”

A small house stood on the island from the late 1800s until the 1970s, when local architect Henry Tenser Jr. purchased the land. The foundation of the house was irreparably damaged by Hurricane Camille and, in lieu of demolishing, Tenser burned it down, according to Times-Dispatch archives.

By random chance, Thompson now lives a block away from Tenser on the Southside.

“I went over and hung out with him, and he showed me all these cool old pictures of kids hanging out on the island. There’s like this cool emotional chain of custody of the island,” he said.

Tenser wound up selling the property to the Dedes family, which put it on the market this year for $44,000, on par with its assessed value. Joyner Fine Properties’ Cary Turpin had the listing.

In negotiations, Thompson put it simply: “It’s such a random piece of property, there’s no way to truly assess the value of it. How in the world do you decide what it’s worth?”

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