By Cathy Schmidt
Bill and Sara Benson were dear cousins 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 Ferry 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 in 1936 at the home of Joseph Newnam, her brother. After living in an apartment above the “Towne Shoppe” in Oxford, they moved to 315 North 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 to 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.
Saturday, July 29, 1950 – Oxford celebrated its 255th birthday. Sunny and hot, a little breeze. Frank spent the day on the Ferry with Bill. Chesapeake Bay Log Canoe Races 10:00. Star Boat Race 10:05. Comets Race 10:10. Penguins Race 10:15. Oxford Sailors Race 10:20. Work Boat Race 1pm. Log Canoes 2:00. Star Boat Race 2:05. Comets Race 2:10. Penguins Race 2:15. Oxford Sailors Race 2:20. Baseball game 2:30. Presentation of trophies by Rep. Edward Miller. 5:00-5:30 Radio Broadcast – speech by Hon. Herbert H. Balch. During program Mrs. M. F. Millikan broke ground on our new Oxford Library, next to the fire house. Right after lunch Dale and I watched the sailboats from “village green.” Came home and made lemon pie and went back again until time to finish cooking dinner. Gusie relieved Bill for dinner. Brother Fran had the day off, none of the boatyards worked today – so Randy (nephew) stayed with him. After dinner Dale and I went up town for more milk and we were surprised to find things getting under way for a street party. From Aulby Bates’ corner to Bill Anderson’s corner – big crowd watching so we watched too. I danced a couple of times with Sarah Crockett. The music was records.
Saturday, April 22, 1961 – Dorothy Whitely and Dennis Stall married. Lovely, mild, sunny day. At 10, Dale took his 279th piano lesson (148th from Russ). At 11 Mrs. Banghart and Mrs. Engle came here and we started our tours at the Grapevine house. We bought our tickets there for $2.00. We were the first ones there and Ruth was so glad to see us, she took mother all through and the house looked lovely. Virginia Anderson was the hostess, later Doris Blunder and Anna Willey hostessed. Adeline Loebers displayed an art and seashell collection. Then we were off to the Robert Morris Inn. We stopped at Mrs. Banghart’s to have some cheese and peanut butter crackers, peach halves, cookies and tea. Then on to Bent’s gardens, the Wilson Pick home, World Farm, Thread Haven cottage, the John Todd’s, the Doug Hanks house and garden, Eunice Highley’s, Barnaby, the Hughlett Naylors, and then to Mrs. Frank Tulease to see her pitcher collection. We finished at 5. Mother looked forward to this day and everyone made a fuss over her and she loved it. Tour benefitted the Episcopal Church.
Saturday, April 17, 1971 – Oxford Day! Only about 800 on tour this year. A beautiful day until it got cloudy midafternoon. After 5 it began to rain and continued onto the night. Perfect that it waited until the tour ended at 5. Fixed Bill’s lunch and took it to him before picking up Katherine Banghart, Lucy Abercrombie, Carolyn Banghart and Valerie at Abercrombie’s at 10:45, then picked up Isabel Engle and went to Ritters home, Judith’s Garden, and the parish house. As soon as we returned to town we had our lunch – 1 crab cake, ham, potato salad, beets, roll and butter, and coffee for $1.75. Dessert was 25 cents extra. Then Isabel went on tour with Nancy Howard. We went to Back Channel – Louise and Jerry Valliant home, the home of the George Junkins, and onto the home of Dr. and Mrs. Carl Shulthies. Then Isabel and Nancy picked up Lucy and I got changed from my green wool suit to my “Shocking Pink” dress and went to Louise and Jerry’s home to hostess from 2 to 5. I enjoyed being there so much – not only did I get to see Louise and Jerry but their daughters Carolie, Jan and Liz and also Louise’s sister Sid Remont. Right after I got home Nancy brought Cathy to see me, she has grown so much since last fall. She also brought us a gift of “old smokehouse” applesauce. Delicious! The other places in town were repeats so we didn’t visit. They were: L.N. Bents’ Wintersell Gardens, Mrs. Carroll R. Hardings Grenna, Oxford Museum, The Wm. H. Naylors, Barnaby, Wileys Boatyard, and Downes Curtis Sail loft. Clarence relieved Bill for a couple of hours this afternoon.
In case you were wondering….
- Yes, Oxford used to have street parties and I heard about them growing up. My mother told me one time they rolled a piano out of the Bratt house right onto Morris Street and everyone danced.
- Sara Benson’s mother Bess Valliant Newnam lived in the Grapevine House for many years; it was where Sara Benson and her siblings were raised. That’s why they made all the fuss.
- The Cathy that grew so much over the winter is me.
- The Oxford Lions Club in 1950 “…was instrumental in having the harbor dredged to proper depth, in maintaining proper sanitary conditions, in providing adequate playground and school equipment for their children. These are not unusual accomplishments but are for the improvement of our already ‘good living.’ ” (1950 Souvenir pamphlet)
Sara Benson’s Oxford Day Lemon Chiffon Pie
1 envelope unfavored gelatin
1 cup sugar, divided
4 eggs, separated
Zest of one lemon
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup cold water
Dash of salt
9-inch pie shell, baked
8 oz. heavy cream
Extra sugar for heavy cream
In a small bowl stir together the gelatin and 1/2 cup of the sugar. In double boiler, beat egg yokes slightly and stir in the lemon zest, juice, water and gelatin mixture. Cook over boiling water stirring constantly until gelatin dissolves and mixture thickens – about 5 minutes, no less. Remove from heat and cool. In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites with salt until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. Fold into the cooled lemon mixture. Turn into pie shell and chill in refrigerator until set, a few hours. Just before serving, beat the heavy cream, sweeten to taste, and flavor as desired with half teaspoon of vanilla or lemon extract. Beat the cream until stiff – spread, dollop or pipe over pie as desired. Serve with fresh strawberries. Refrigerate remaining pie – if there is any!