Oxford Vignettes: Snow in April 1964

By Cathy Schmidt

Bill and Sara Benson were close cousins of the 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; 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.

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 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.

Bill and Sara Benson’s devotion to the ferry was unwavering.

Spring in Oxford 1964

Sunday, March 29, 1964. Easter Sunday. Rather cold day, but a beautiful sunrise. It began to get cloudy before noon and then began to sprinkle. It showered until about 2 and then the sun came out but windy and colder. Mother, Bill and I went to church. It was filled – chairs had to be brought up from the basement. The county sunrise service was in Tilghman with a breakfast. J. Blunden gave the sermon. We went to Easton after the service and took a lily we had in church in Dad’s memory and put it on his grave. Siren Blew at 8:45 pm. It was a chimney fire at Bill Kouzoulas.

Monday, March 30. Bill’s aqua green aluminum scow and pair of oars were stolen last night. We got up at 5:30 and were sure surprised to find it snowing! A wet snow that continued until early afternoon, then the sun came out and it was windy and cold. Bill was in his garage when the men came to work on the ferry wharf, but they soon left due to snow. Denny Speigle, foreman on the job, asked Bill if he had moved his scow during the weekend. That was the first Bill knew it was gone – because he looked at it yesterday morning before church. He had left it for the men use it to work on the wharf and noticed they had left it turned upside down on their float on shore. Bill and the men figure someone carried it away in a truck or on top of a car last night. Bill notified the town cop, Pete Bullen, also the sheriff, state police, coast guard at Tilghman and Tidewater fisheries. One of the state police came here tonight to get a full description of the scow. It will cost $275 to replace the scow and oars.

Tuesday, March 31. Cold all day! Down to 26 this morning, ice all around from yesterday’s snow. Slightly windy, mostly sunny. Bill brought the ferry around from Crockett’s to the ferry slip first thing this morning. Bill put his stove back aboard the ferry and lighted it. Bill spent part of his day measuring pilings in the ferry slip and making a drawing of the ferry slip (Joe Thomas helped him) so Mr. Bailey will have something to go by – putting down new pilings. At 11:45 Bill went to Bellevue to meet a bus from New York and brought 21 people over and landed them at the Tred Avon Yacht Club Wharf and they went to the Robert Morris Inn for lunch. The bus drove around to Oxford and picked up the passengers. I cleaned upstairs, did a hand wash, went to the post office and store this afternoon.

John Bailey and Bill Benson expanded the wharf in 1964.

Wednesday, April 1. We awoke to 2 inches of snow, wet, clinging and still snowing until 9 am. The sun was faintly shining too. This afternoon John Bailey brought both his pile driving rigs round to the wharf to be ready to drive the pilings in ferry slip tomorrow. ‘Bout noon Jason Blunden stopped and told Bill when he was at Pauline Valliant’s house, he noticed Bill’s aluminum scow pulled up on shore. Apparently, someone used it to cross the river on Sunday night. Bill phoned Newnam Valliant and asked him to take care of it until he can get over.

Thursday, April 2. Still many traces of snow here. John Bailey’s men started pulling out the old pilings and putting down new in the ferry slip. The other men were working on the wharf at the same time. Rain caused them all to quit work around 2:30. A number from our church (Oxford Methodist) went to the Methodist home near Wilmington today to tour the home and have lunch.

Monday, April 6. Work continued on the wharf. While Bill had the ferry out of the slip so the men could work, he went to Bellevue. Newnam Valliant saw him coming and met Bill in his truck and took him to his home. Newnam helped Bill dump water out of his scow and Bill rowed it to the Bellevue ferry wharf and tied it behind the ferry to tow to Oxford. Sue Newnam has the German measles and was told by Dr. Baybutt to go to bed. (The next day she was peppered with them).

Ferry wharf, circa 1964.

Wednesday, April 8. Raining hard at times today. Despite the terrible weather the men continued to work on the wharf until afternoon, at this rate when will it ever be finished? Bill was right down there with them as long as the work was going on. Attended Miss Fannie Bratt’s Funeral at 11 at Newnam Funeral Home in Easton. Due to so much rain we did not go to the Oxford Cemetery for the burial. Made cookies this afternoon. Eloise Bratt returned the casserole dish I took up yesterday with baked pineapple in it. She said they loved it. Sue is still peppered with measles.

Thursday, April 9. Sunshine at last! But wind blew hard all night and most of the day, especially this morning. Cold. Slow progress on the wharf. Mr. Bailey’s pile driver broke down this morning so some of his men went to another job, but other crew continued with their work. Did a huge hand wash. Funeral for Howard Taylor at 11am at the Oxford Episcopal Church. Burial at Oxford Cemetery. At 2, a funeral for Miss Virginia Boulden at Oxford Episcopal, burial at the Oxford cemetery. Later, I gave Mary and Aulby Bates cookies to take to Jr. Bates tonight. He is in Chestertown hospital with a fractured back.

Friday, April 10. John Bailey’s men finished driving pilings at the ferry wharf. Joe Thomas put a top coat of black paint on our front steps iron railing and he and Bill nearly finished taking our storm windows off.

Wednesday, April 15. Partly cloudy, warm. Easton had rain and hail, but we didn’t. State road people hauled old pilings and old wharf material out to Fred Requart’s place today. Many loads of dirt were dumped on the new ferry causeway. Men started building the new gangplank. Bill was busy all day down at the wharf checking on things. We will be so thankful for so many reasons when he can get the ferry back in operation.

Saturday, April 18. “A Day in Oxford.” Houses on tour. A beautiful day. Really hot. What a shame the state did not see to it that the gangplank was finished for this weekend. Not only did Bill lose out on a big weekend money wise but the public in general and visitors were very disappointed. Bill spent the day down at the wharf and he did carry $7 worth of foot passengers. At 11, Jean Pelle, mother, Miss Banghart, Carolyn, Judy Gay, Mrs. Engle, and I got our tour tickets ($2 each) at the Episcopal church parish house and rode out to “Plimhimmon” (all in our car) to the home of Bill and Bunny Myers. First time I had been there since his mother died. It is lovely now, new kitchen, furnace heat, and the grounds were lovely too. Then to “Mizzen Top” home of Marion and Arthur Pringle on Jack’s Point. What a gorgeous home and gardens they have! Back to the Parish House for lunch: 2 crab balls, ham, potato salad, roll and coffee $1.25 each. Then we went to Mrs. Mida Sullivan’s funeral at 2:00 at the Oxford Methodist Church; Debbie Newnam was playing the organ. Burial was at the Oxford Cemetery. After the burial we went “Linden Tree” home of Dotty and John Seaton and over to Eunice Highley’s and then called it a day. Places on the tour that we didn’t visit were: Gardens at Wintersell, Naylor’s, “Barnaby,” Willey’s “Byberry” and marine exhibit at Robert Morris Inn, and John Seaton’s Craftsman’s workshop. Miss Erma, Mr. Stewart and Mrs. Stevens down for a few hours this afternoon.

Monday, April 20. Cool, cloudy and a thunder and rain storm at 8:30 pm. Old Diesel fuel tank taken away and new one delivered. Alfred McNeal started running new gas lines from shore out by the side of the new causeway to the tanks on the end of the wharf. Bill spent most of the day running the water pipe to go out to the end of the wharf. All of this is sure a big worry to Bill. How thankful I’ll be when it is all completed and Bill can get from under the strain. Bill went to Bellevue at 6:30 am and brought over 8 boatyard workers and 4 pickers. He took the pickers back this afternoon and the workman at 4:30. He’s glad to do this again. It still makes us sick he had to lose all that work and business and is still out as far as vehicles are concerned. Material to fix the gangplank won’t be here from Baltimore until tomorrow. I made two chiffon pies with chocolate crumb crust and took them to Flo, Edwin, Edith and Marion.

Tuesday, April 21. Such weather! Cold, rainy, drizzle all day and night. Al McNeal worked the gasoline lines today and Len Fluharty helped Bill run the water line to go out at the end of the dock. Late afternoon the material for the gangplank arrived from Baltimore! Tonight Bill went to the meeting of the Oxford Museum Committee in the town office. Dues for membership will be $2 per person.

Friday, April 24. Ferry back in operation!

On April 17, 1968, the Marine Band stationed at Fort McHenry arrived by Ferry. They began playing in front of the Tred Avon Yacht Club and continued to play while Captain Benson docked. They marched ashore and up Morris Street to the Robert Morris Inn and played several numbers right in front of the Inn. The occasion was the unveiling and awarding of the plaque designating the Robert Morris Inn as a historical inn. A number of State, County and Town officials attended and were invited to a luncheon at the inn. Captain Benson was also invited.

Photographs courtesy of the Sara Benson Collection.

This receipt from the 1960s was given to customers when they purchased fuel from Bill Benson.
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