I remember when.
Little is known of Maurice K. ‘Doc’ Collier, who is said to have addressed an unknown audience in February, 1979. We do know that his mother’s sister married William Benthall, a local Phoebus merchant. Beyond that, Mr. Collier’s memories – even those of a man in his eighties – dovetail remarkably with other recollections. We hope you find them of interest.
Not many of us have lived long enough to hand first hand knowledge of a small town in its infancy and of the conditions which prevailed around the turn of the century.
Being one of a group of rapidly declining octogenarians who fit in that category, I would like to take this opportunity to reminisce and share with you a few recollections and perhaps let a little nostalgia creep in.
The Phoebus Graded School on Howard Street was completed in 1902, and I started in 1903. I lived next door to the school and my brother, two years older and always late, jumped over the back fence when the bell rang at 8.30 am.
In those early days, oil lamps were used for lighting facilities in the homes and arc lights at each street corner. The old lamp-lighter turned them on at night and off in the morning. Wood and coal was the method of cooking and heating your home. There was no electricity or gas. The kids congregated on the corners under the arc lights at night and played various games.
It wasn’t dangerous, because there were no automobiles in those days, the early 1900s. In the early turn of the century on Mellen Street and a small part of Mallory were paved. The rest was plain dirt. Naturally, we accumulated a coating of either dust or mud as the weather dictated, and so a nightly bath was a necessity, much to our regret.
Fire equipment, previously drawn by man-power, was motivated by Percheron horses. Street cars, trains and horse and buggy were the only means of transportation.
Ice for ice boxes was delivered door to door by horse and wagon, and the ice man cut the size you desired to order. There were no electric refrigerators in those days. Meat markets used walk-in refrigerators, with overhead ice storage for their meats and other perishables.
In those days there were saloons on Mallory Street that catered to the veterans at what was then called the Soldiers Home, now the Veterans Administrations, and sold mostly beer. On Mellen Street, they catered mostly to the Army and Navy. Virginia went dry in 1916, two years before nationwide prohibition.
The fleet used to berth in Hampton Roads frequently, and at night when all their lights were on, the picture was spectacular and attracted many visitors. The small boats took passengers out to visit the ships on Saturdays and Sundays.
Until recently, there was a large dock at Old Point, and steamers from Norfolk to Washington and Baltimore used to stop to take on passengers. Numerous people came down each night at seven or eight o’clock to see their friends or family embark or disbark. Small ferry boats shuttled back and forth from Old Point to the Norfolk side at Willoughby Spit. At that time, there were no bridges so the ferry was the only means of crossing.
The overnight trip to Washington or Baltimore was a pleasant and relaxing journey. As automobiles became more numerous, sad to relate, roads failed to keep pace. The dirt highways were very bad and tires of such poor quality that a trip to Richmond and back was an all day project. That is, if you were lucky and had only two or three flat tires. Washington was an all day trip one way. The roads started improving about 1920, about the time I returned from World War One.
Some of my earliest memories are treasured. In my last year at Phoebus School, I was awarded a prize for achievement in history. A five dollar gold piece was the prize. I thought that was something else. In those days, little things meant a lot.
The Phoebus Sentinel, a weekly paper published by Mr. L.M. Brown came to press on Fridays. We kids sold about twenty or twenty-five papers each at 3 cents per copy. One cent for each paper was our very own. Not much money, but in those days, a penny candy bar compared in size to a ten cent bar today.
Does anybody remember Heinickels Bakery? Bread 5 cents a loaf, doughnuts 10 cents a dozen, and the kids delight, Washington Pie, a concoction made of stale bread, stale cake, molasses, raisins and spices, which they sold for a penny a slice, and two slices was enough for a meal, and good. Our newspaper money kept us in candy for a week.
Remember Snaps Hot Dogs? 5 cents each. People from all over the peninsula used to drive down to the foot of the bridge at Water Street to get them. Nobody at any price has ever come close to equally Snaps Hot Dogs.
Anyone remember the old street car line from Old Point, Phoebus, Hampton and the Soldiers Home? Not the present one which changed to busses. It only operated a short time.
Remember Dr. Vanderslice? He brought me into this cock-eyed world. He was married to a daughter of Harrison Phoebus, our most illustrious citizen and for whom the town was named. Dr. Vanderslice live on the same estate as Mr. Phoebus, Roseland Manor, but nearer to the Veterans Administration.
Dr. Donohoe had a drug store in which the Post Office was located and Dr. Congdon also operated a drug store.
One of my most vivid memories are of Mrs. Amelia Colgan of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Every Memorial Day she led the school children to the Soldiers Home to decorate the graves of the Civil and Spanish War veterans, and present the school with a flag. I still remember her speech. “Mr. Principal, teachers and pupils of the Phoebus Graded School, I come here this day to present you with a beautiful five by eight bunting flag.”
Some of the firms that I knew as a kid are still operating today. Benthalls, Muglers, Coopers, Saunders, Fullers, Slaughters, and Snows bicycle shop.
Remember when the Retreat House on Mallory Street was a junior college? The Brothers at the school allowed us to use their athletic facility for our football games. A team was sponsored by the Phoebus Fire Department.
A friend of mine, John Jay Daly, born and raised in Phoebus and a graduate of the college, wrote a [missing word] which I would like to read to you. He left here to join The Washington Post, where he rose to considerable fame.
And here the speech abruptly ends. . . .