Oxford Vignettes – Opossum, Regatta and Log Canoes

By Cathy Schmidt

Bill and Sara Benson were close cousins of my family who lived up the street. 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, and 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.

In this undated photograph, Sara and Bill Benson sit on their front porch in Oxford.

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 the 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.

Tuesday, August 9, 1977

Sara Traps an Opossum

After lunch, Sarah Crockett and I went to see the Tingles (Methodist Minister) for a few minutes. Then I made a loaf of dilly bread and blueberry muffins. Isabel stopped this afternoon. While we were on the front porch, Ed stopped by and came up on the steps. He looked over in the yard and said, “Oh, is that your pet?” I had no idea what he was talking about and got up to see. It was an opossum! It was slowly going across the yard heading for under the utility room of our house! I asked Ed to keep it from getting under the house, while I got a bushel basket from the garage. The opossum was so weak I had no trouble putting a basket over it. Isabel stopped at the town office and asked them to call the humane society. Mr. Jones came in a truck at 4:30, he put a cage by the basket, got his net, lifted the edge of the basket, caught the opossum in the net and then lifted it by the tail and dropped it in the cage, and took it away.

Friday, August 11, 1978

Sara’s Surprise Birthday Party & Oxford Regatta

Mostly sunny and hot. Bill cut the grass this morning and I changed the bed and did the laundry. Made a loaf of dilly bread. Pat and Fran (Sara’s brother), got here about 10 a.m. and spent the day out on the water visiting some of the old spots where they crabbed and went swimming before they moved to Florida. They brought the boat back about 4:30 and washed it down. I swept the front walk this morning and got all of the grass off the bricks and worked in the flower beds. I went up to Nancy Newton’s and thanked her again for a wonderful surprise birthday party she and Sarah Crockett gave me yesterday and thanked her for the gift and thanked Catharine too. I went to Francis Trammell’s and thanked her for giving me the oil painting she did of the Ferry Tred Avon. She didn’t come to the party; she had dinner theater tickets at the Tidewater Inn. Sally Trammell brought it with her to the party when she came. I didn’t get to see Sarah Crockett this morning, she went to Cambridge early to get her “hair done.” She came down after she returned and brought the 8 pink balloons they used for decorations last night and I thanked her again for everything. Boats in the Annapolis to Oxford Race began arriving here late in the afternoon. After they had dinner at Bill Newnam’s, Pat, Fran and Hubert rode down here. We sat on the porch for a while and watched the sights. Then we all walked down to the wharf to see the boats. So many rafted together – one tied to the ferry dock and extending far out into the river. Very fortunately there was not a storm tonight.

Saturday August 12, 1978

Log Canoe Races

Cloudy early, but turned out to be a sunny, hot day. Threat of storms tonight. Pat and Fran came about 9:30 and put their boat over at the ramp at the foot of Tilghman Street. Soon we were out on the creek and out on the river Tred Avon in Fran’s “Tred Avon.” So many other boats were following the beautiful Log Canoe Race.

This undated postcard, probably from the 1940s, is from Nancy Newnam Newton’s Collection.

At the same time, other types of boats were racing and we could also see them. The canoe race ended shortly before noon and we came in and had a lunch of ham and cheese on Maryland biscuits, potato chips, pickles, iced tea and cookies. After lunch while waiting for the log canoe race to start, Pat and I took a nap in the cabin. There was more breeze for the afternoon race. It was after 4 before we had the boat pulled up. Later we all went to Town Creek Restaurant for dinner. Bill and Hazel Newnam joined us for dinner, and we had such a good time together. After dinner we came back and sat on the porch for a while. A lovely day.

In case you were wondering…

Francis Trammell was a local artist that lived on Morris Street. Her love of art began in adolescence when she studied at the Corcoran School of the Arts in Washington, D.C. After earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Maryland, she went on to get her Master of Fine Arts (MFA) at American University and taught in the public school system. She painted and also made pottery for the 1976 bicentennial celebration in Oxford. She and her husband restored their home together in Oxford and she tended daily to her creative flower and vegetable gardens in her backyard and made fig preserves from her fig tree in late summer. Her mornings began with a bike ride around town, and she could be found many days at Sandaway Beach with sketchbook in hand.

Sara Benson’s Dilly Bread

1 pkg of yeast (2 1/4 tsp)

1 cup small curd cottage cheese (do not use nonfat)

2 TBS sugar

1 TBS onion powder

1 TBS butter cut in pieces

2 tsp. dill seed

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking soda

1 egg

2 1/2 cups of flour

Activate yeast in 1/4 cup of warm water (about 5 minutes). Add room temperature cottage cheese, sugar, onion, butter, dill seed, salt, baking soda, and egg. Beat until combined. Cover and let rise in a warm place for an hour. Stir down and place in a greased pan. Let rise in a warm place for 40 minutes. Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes. When hot, brush with softened butter and sprinkle with salt.

* This recipe can be made gluten free by substituting equal amounts of all-purpose gluten free flour. Omit the initial rise and place bread directly into buttered bread pan. Rise for 40 minutes and then bake at 350 for about 35 to 40 minutes.

Sara Benson’s Dilly Bread
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