Oxford Vignettes: Birthdays, Carnivals and Swimming

By Cathy Schmidt

Bill and Sara Benson were close cousins of the family who lived up the street from us. 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.

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

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 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.

June 3, 1948. Cloudy all day, cool most of the day and at night it just poured, and wind blew hard. Stopped at Jessie’s for a while, while waiting for the train to come in at 11:55. Frank Benson (Bill’s brother) came in on the train and looks grand. After dinner (lunch) he went to Crockett’s shop with Bill. I baked a chocolate cake. After supper they went back to the shop and Bill worked more on the engine. Frank brought Bill a dandy little adding machine for his desk. (It is not little.)

June 6, 1948. Sunny and warm. Bill worked on the ferry down at Crockett’s all day and Dad ran the passenger launch. Frank spent the day between the two places. At 2:30 I took Dale to Bobby Thompson’s birthday party. I gave him a medium sized ball and a polo shirt, about 18 were there. They all had a grand time and had birthday cake and ice cream and the children all had a bag of candy to bring home. We had supper at 6 and the three of us took Frank to the train. It left at 6:55. We sent Ann (Frank’s wife) crab cakes. I dropped Bill at Crockett’s and he brought the ferry around to the ferry wharf. Dale stayed with Dad and Mother and I went to church.

Bobby Thompson’s family hosted a birthday party at his Oxford home on June 6, 1948. Party guests included Anne Cook (back, left), Elaine Valliant, Deanna Martin (middle row, left), Suzanne Newnam, Beth Sullivan, Phyllis Dobson, Janice Haddaway, Dale Benson, Doug Hanks, Suzanne Hanks, Betsy Thompson, Bobby Thompson (seated, left), Denny Newnam, unknown, and Buddy Taylor.
Photograph courtesy of the Sara Benson Collection.

June 7, 1948. Partly sunny, little rain. Dale stayed up home (likely at the Grapevine house) awhile this morning while I went out and got some news for the Oxford Column of the Star Democrat. I will write columns this week and next for Mrs. A.C. Cox while she is away. After supper I took Dale to the school grounds (now the park) and Fireman’s Carnival. He, Doug and Suzanne Hanks spent the evening riding on the merry-go-round, airplanes and cars together. Mary Hanks, Doug and I were looking after them. Town election today. William Colburn and Upshur Stevenson are running for commissioner to succeed Howard W. Newnam, Sr. Upshur won by majority.

June 8, 1948. Hot, mostly sunny, little rain during the night.  Ferry inspectors came this morning, but they didn’t bring the temporary permit and Bill can’t run until he gets a permanent certificate from Baltimore and that won’t be til Thursday. Bill sure gets the worst breaks. I took my column to the Star Democrat and then I went to the airport for the wireless recorder and brought it back to Oxford and got Ben Lowrey and we took it to Holiness Church to record the wedding (The Holiness church has bought it). I attended Betty Eason and William Millers wedding at Holiness Church, and it was indeed lovely. Dale stayed up home and had lunch. Bill and I had lunch together and as I backed out of our driveway to leave and somehow, I’ll never know how, unless Bunny was stretched out asleep and didn’t see the car, I backed over Bunny Rabbit and killed her. It nearly got me down. Bill took Bunny and buried her. Dale doesn’t know.

June 9, 1948. Cloudy off and on all day, slight shower this evening, late. By the middle of the morning Bill couldn’t stand this business of not being able to run the ferry any longer so he called Baltimore and after talking to two officials up here they told him he could start running. We were both so happy. Dad relieved Bill for dinner (lunch), and before going back Bill went up to Trappe Road and took signs down and then went to Cambridge to get a haircut. I did a big laundry up home this afternoon. Parade here tonight, Pat and Peggy sat on the porch and watched the parade with us. Bill was on the ferry and didn’t get to see it. Randy and Denny were on one of the fire trucks with Francis (Sara’s brother). Later we drove out to the carnival for a while.

June 13, 1948. Mostly sunny, few showers, warm. This afternoon Dale and I went over to on the ferry and on down to see Mama. Had a nice visit there – stopped in to see Mildred and Raymond. He and Norma had just arrived from Baltimore with the mast for a boat Raymond is building for Norman. While waiting for the ferry, Dale and I visited with Aunt Mary, Uncle Will and Cousin Daisy Pastorfield was there too. This afternoon Uncle Howard took Dad down to see Uncle Al.

June 19, 1948. Hot and sunny until almost 5:30 then three thunderstorms in a row. Electric current went off at 8:20 til 10:20 p.m. I did the dishes by candlelight. Bill returned home just after the lights came on. He made late trips ferrying people across the river after a yacht club dance.

June 20, 1948. Father’s Day! Dale gave Bill a pair of pajamas. We gave Mr. Stewart a carton of Lucky Strikes. We gave dad a carton of Camels and a box of chocolate covered cherries.

June 28, 1948. Hot and sunny. Dale and I are really something; neither of us woke up until 7:45. As soon as we had breakfast, we went up home and Dad and I did all of mother’s wash – was near noon when we finished. After lunch I did our laundry. It was 3:10 when the siren blew; it was the town trash pile on fire. Dale and I went swimming. I had my first real swim of the season. Mary Hanks and her children, Louise Cox and her two were there. Later Sarah Crockett and Scott came down and we all had a grand time together. Dale didn’t get a nap today, so I put him to bed right after supper. Bill went to church to the trustee meeting.

In case you were wondering… Howard W. Newnam, Sr. is my great grandfather; to Sara he was “Uncle Howard.”

Bill Benson’s “Dandy Little Adding Machine” that his brother Frank Benson brought him via Train to Oxford still works today and requires no electricity! Photograph courtesy of Cathy Schmidt.
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