By Cathy Schmidt
Bill and Sara Benson were dear cousins to me who lived up the street from my family. Throughout their lives they enriched those who surrounded them with their community involvement, faith, grace, and generous neighborly manners. Sara kept a journal every year of her life in Oxford and Captain Bill kept a daily weather book throughout his time as captain of the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry. They were anchors in the town of Oxford, steadfast and kind; they were a pleasure to know.
The Benson family has graciously decided to share some of these journal entries with the readers of Attraction. Smartly titled “Oxford Vignettes” by Susan Benson, I invite you to enjoy reading these daily snippets of life in Oxford in their day.
William Lindale Benson was born in Bellevue on October 20, 1908. Sara Valliant Newnam was born on August 10, 1913, and grew up in the Grapevine House in Oxford. They married on Christmas Day 1936 at the home of Joseph Newnam, her brother. After living in an apartment above the “Towne Shoppe” in Oxford they moved to 315 South Morris Street in 1943, the year their son Dale Jr. was born. At their new home, Sara could watch Captain Bill and the ferry from her sink window and front porch. Captain Benson took over operations of the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry in 1938. His summer schedule ran 80-105 hours per week. Only winter ice kept the ferry from running, and the only day he took off was Christmas Day, which was also his anniversary. He retired in 1974.
Sunday, December 11, 1961
Today is Bill Newnam’s 44th birthday. It began to snow around 8 a.m. No one thought it would amount to anything but a flurry. Joe came down after early service and had breakfast with us. D. went to Sunday School, Mother and I joined him for church. B took up the offering with Aulby. Mr. Nagle, of Harmony, a Gideon, spoke. 81 present. When church was over we were all shocked – ground white with snow drifting and roads icy and wind very strong. We had been invited to an evening dinner party for Bill Newnam but didn’t dare go out. We talked to Bill Newnam by phone. Baked 2 kinds of cookies this afternoon for the veteran’s hospital. All church services called off tonite. So good to be able to stay home. By nite radio announcing “no school” tomorrow. Thankful for that. We had a bad nite, so windy, just could not sleep.
Monday, December 12, 1961
Blizzard & Thunderstorm, No School.
Mailed a package to Aunt Etta Peg, Jean, and John Stewart, Letter from Miss Erma. Letter to Peg Titus. Wrote note of sympathy to Helen Newnam (her mother died). What a night! Blew a gale all nite, at 2 a.m. it was so noisy we just had to come downstairs and take a look – Still sleeting and snowing. Bill and Dale brought in many heavy clothes to wear later. We finally went back to bed and to sleep and missed the thunderstorm. Strong lightening roll at 4, bad indeed. B & D up at 5:30 a.m. Soon as B & D ate they dressed for the outdoors and went down to ferry boat. B was shocked to find a lot of water in the boat. Big seas had washed over the boat during nite. Early afternoon before snow fully stopped, everywhere snow drifting closes the road again. B and D brought Koester’s bread truck over this morn and took 2 cases of Sealtest milk to Bellevue for Valliant’s store this afternoon. Easton P.T.A. called off tonite, D walked to store and post office and left cookies at Miss Ella Haddaway’s for the veteran’s hospital. I wrote Christmas cards for Mother this afternoon. and again tonite. Insley’s (Todd) Manno boat iced up and sank tied to dock in St. Michaels 6 a.m. Hope a crane will be able to get it up.
Tuesday, December 13, 1961
Birthday card and note to Sallie – 57th birthday. Betsy Clapper’s 22nd birthday. John Chas Thomas, 68, died of cancer. What a nite! B & I hardly slept at all – for worrying about the ferry – wind blew so hard all night. B was so sorry he didn’t take the ferry in the creek last nite. He didn’t know how tide was – if waves were washing over the dock, if lines were holding. All in all we had a terrible nite – down to 12 degrees at 5:30 when we got up. At 6:45 B & D went down to the wharf and found the ferry in better shape than yesterday morn., but couldn’t get the oil burner to burn til he took the line off and cleaned it. It made first trip at 7:45 and about 5 other trips today. He and D took the boat to Oxford Boatyard this evening so at least we don’t have to worry about that tonite. Finished addressing Mother’s Christmas cards. This morning I took the car to Valliant’s and had a new hose put on the radiator and filled with antifreeze. I walked to the store and post office this afternoon.
In case you were wondering…
- A Manno boat is a clam boat that most likely had a “Hanks Rig,” which was developed by Fletcher Hanks of Oxford, a cousin of Sara Benson.
- A Gideon is a member of an evangelical Christian Association that was founded in 1899. They encourage others to do the work of the Lord. They are best known for distributing bibles. As of 2015 they had distributed over 2 billion bibles.
- Koester’s Bakery (The E.H. Koester Bakery Co.) was founded in 1885 and was at one time the largest family-owned bakery east of the Mississippi. It was located in Baltimore on Lexington Street. It went out of business in 1974.
- Sealtest Milk had milk and ice cream plants across the northeastern U.S. It was a division of the National Dairy Corporation of Delaware. It was ultimately acquired by Kraft.
Sara Benson’s Christmas Cookies
3/4 cup of butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
1 egg, separated
3 oz candied cherries, chopped (about 6 cherries to 1 ounce)
2 candied pineapple rings, diced (about 4 oz)
1 cup of walnuts, chopped
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour (gluten free flour works too)
1/8 tsp of salt
Cream butter or margarine and sugar until light and creamy. Add egg yolk and mix thoroughly. Blend in chopped fruit and nuts. Add flour and salt gradually and work in well. Beat the egg white stiff but not dry and fold into cookie mixture. Drop from teaspoon, 2 inches apart, on aluminum foil lined cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes. Cool before removing from foil. Yield: 4-5 dozen cookies.