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A Northern Neck Business grew from a Homemade Contraption

I grew up here in the Northern Neck on a 300 acre farm on Cat Point Creek. We had some timber on the farm, mostly pines. One day when I was a small boy Daddy took us all out in woods and pointed to the pines and said, “That is money.” There were only 2 of us boys then and my younger brother who was 3 at the time said, “Daddy you said money doesn’t grow on trees.” A few days later the smaller pines were being cut and dragged up to a spot in the field where fence post were cut from them.

Daddy had seen this contraption in Popular Science or some magazine like it which was nothing more than a piece of pipe with a round metal plate on each end. Between the metal plates pieces of chain had been welded. This contraption was close to where the fence post where being cut and a long belt ran from it to the PTO of a tractor.

After all the trees had been cut the tractor was started and the PTO was engaged. When that happened the contraption started spinning with these chains rotating. One man would stand on one side of the contraption and push one of the fence post into the spinning chains. Bark started flying off the fence post and a man on the other side of the contraption would grab the post and finish pulling it through as the chains knocked the remaining bark off the post. He would then take the peeled post and drop it a trough filled with creosote. That was the start of what is now “Wood Preservers”.

Bill Wright, whose family had been in the lumber business for years had moved away from the Northern Neck. He was working for DuPont but he came back home to be the managing partner. I can’t begin to tell you all Mr. Wright did to make the company what it is today but he did plenty. Today they pressure treat poles, piling, lumber, railroad ties, and other wood products. They also process and bag all the bark as mulch. You will see it in retail outlets all over the state being sold for landscape material. Today Wood Preservers is managed by one of Mr. Wright’s sons, Morgan.

A couple of weeks ago on my morning walk a logging crew moved on to a piece of property I walk past. A few days later the trucks started coming out carrying tree length pine logs. The trees weren’t big enough to make good sawmill logs but they were much too pretty and straight to be cut and hauled to West Point for pulpwood so I wondered if they were being taken to Wood Preservers to be cut,  peeled, and treated. BTW, that method of debarking and smoothing the pole is much more sophisticated today.

I eat lunch at The Daily several times a month. When I do I usually join Morgan and some other regulars for lunch. I told Morgan about these straight trees being cut and he acknowledged that Wood Preservers was getting them. He also wanted me to make sure that the people who bought waterfront property new that the poles in their piers came from Wood Preservers and that it was a quality product.

While searching for waterfront homes in the Northern Neck if you come across one you like but it doesn’t have a pier don’t be discouraged because I can recommend a contractor for you and Morgan will supply him with materials.

Northern Neck opened with the Downing Bridge in 1927


Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been telling you about how things have changed. I guess the change started happening here in 1927 when the Downing Bridge connecting the Northern Neck to the middle peninsula at Tappahannock was built.

Not long after that people started coming and going to the Northern Neck. Even though Richmond is the closest large town to us most people then had not been there. Norfolk and Baltimore were the cities of choice because they were the closest by steamboat.

Not long after the bridge opened the city of Richmond wanting some of the money from the Northern Neck had an event known as “Northern Neck Appreciation Day”. The residents of the Northern Neck were invited to Richmond and given hot dogs, drinks, and something they had never seen before, Popsicles. They were also given buttons that said “I’m from the Northern Neck”.

From what I understand no one needed to be told. It was evident. I guess that was easily figured out as some of the boys wanted to take these Popsicles back home to show the family and stuck them in their pockets.

Story telling use to really be a great form of entertainment here and often the truth was not part of the story. Whether or not that actually happened I don’t know but it does add color to the story.

I guess it was in the late forties and the fifties that people started coming here and buying or building cottages along the rivers. Some of those cottages have been in the family for 3 and 4 generations. Some of them are are for sale now and you can find them along with all property by searching the Northern Neck MLS.

The people that bought and built cottages were mostly from Richmond and they all had families with kids. Back then where were no malls so the kids really wanted to come down with their parents. It was a great time growing up here having both your childhood friends that you went to school with and your summer time friends.

Well that’s enough for today. Go ahead and search the Northern Neck MLS and if you see something you like give me a call. I still like making new friends.

The Northern Neck has changed too

You’ve read my emails and blog post about how other localities have changed and about the Northern Neck’s 1,100 miles of shoreline. In the 1800’s plantations lined our shores. There were no highways so the Bay and her tributaries were the interstate. Goods were shipped to international ports like Baltimore and Richmond. This means of transportation and shipping continued until the late 1930’s and was known as the Steamboat Era.

As the steamboats went up and down our rivers they stopped at what were know as Steamboat Wharves. Many of these wharves were centers of commerce as seafood processing plants and canneries were built near them. You would be surprised at the number of old banks that are in some of our sleepy little villages that might have a 100 residents.

There aren’t very many people alive today that were part of that era but I’ve grown up hearing the stories of some of those shopping excursions to Baltimore. A day of shopping took 3 days. The first day was spent picking up the passengers and freight. Livestock and dry goods were loaded on the lower decks. There were parlors and staterooms but most of the passengers set in chairs on deck and socialized with the other passengers. Passengers knew the people from one end of the river to the other better than most of the country knows their next door neighbor today.

The steamboat would arrive during the night and that morning the passengers would disembark, shop, and come back that evening for the return trip home. Again they would socialize during the night and the next day both passengers and freight would be unloaded as the steamboat made its way upriver.

Things have changed. It no longer takes 3 days. Most of my clients can be here in a couple of hours. Go ahead and search the Northern Neck MLS. You’ll find out that this is a great place to spend time and many of you will find it is also a great place to retire.

Northern Neck Realtor ask,”Is it progress?”

My last couple of emails haven’t had much to do with real estate other than giving you a link to search for Northern Neck Real Estate. Instead I’ve written about the changes I’ve witnessed on Kent Island and what I consider over population around Nags Head.

As I said it was 30 or more years ago that I visited the Outer Banks but a couple of years ago I did go back and I went to Hatteras. I liked Hatteras with the long stretches of unpopulated areas and I’ve been back several times.

Today when I go to Hatteras I reach the Outer Banks by crossing Currituck Sound entering around Kitty Hawk and heading south. It is much closer than the route I took years ago crossing the bridge from Roanoke Island.

After all those years I still have a vivid memory of Roanoke Island. It was barely populated and what you did see were the boats of the commercial fishermen and there was no doubt you were looking at the culture and heritage of those residents. I’ve always wished I had stopped and talked with some of the locals. On my last trip to Hatteras I decided to take the long way home and I crossed the sound at Rt. 64 to Roanoke Island.

Instead of finding a quaint little fishing village I found more development. Look, I’ll be the first one to admit that it is beautiful. Everything is so tastefully done and you certainly don’t see anything out of place or deteriorating.but some times progress saddens me. I can’t help but think of the people that use to be there. Probably for generations preserving a way of life that is now gone.

Things have changed in the Northern Neck too but not so drastically. I’ll tell you about that next time but you don’t have to wait for me to find your piece of paradise in the Northern Neck.

A Nostalgic Northern Neck Realtor

kent narrows2There are many things that have happened during my lifetime that I am thankful for and made my life easier or more comfortable. One of them is being able to have you search the Northern Neck MLS online. There are also things that have happened that sadden me.

I use to have reason to go to the eastern shore of Maryland several times a year. I loved coming off the bay bridge on Kent Island. There wasn’t much to see but as you got to the Narrows you could see all the workboats.

I loved seeing that. There was a piece of the heritage of the bay for all those passing by to see while on their way to other places like Ocean City. For a few miles you could enjoy a pristine drive before you got to crowds and condos.

I don’t know why but for some reason the need to go to the eastern shore stopped and years passed before I went back. As I went across the bay bridge all I could think of was the fleet of workboats that I would soon see. I had made up my mine that when I got there I was going to pull in and talk to some of the watermen and find out what they were catching.

But when I crossed the bridge it wasn’t workboats I saw but condos. The boats were gone or at lest the commercial type and replaced by expensive yachts.

I guess it has been 3 or 4 years since I last went across the bridge. I think I was going to Ocean City for the Commercial Waterman’s Expo. The ride was depressing not seeing many of the things I remembered. Shopping centers and restaurants had taken the place of agriculture, crab shanties, deadrise boats, seafood processors, and marsh grasses.

I stopped several times to try to get something to eat but even with so many restaurants all had waiting lines. Maryland, you’ve done a great job. The crabs and culture have gone but you replaced them with tons of people. There is no wonder you have imposed a flush and rain tax.

Things in the Northern Neck have changed too but not as drastically. We’ve had a lot of good people retire here or buy their second home. Most of those people want to see us preserve our culture. You won’t find congestion on our highways. You won’t find malls either. But what you will find is such a laid backed lifestyle that the region has become know as “The Land of Pleasant Living”.

Go ahead and search for your piece of paradise.

Another Day in the Life of Ryder and Granddaddy

I use to have people tell me that I didn’t have patience to boil water. It is funny how that changes as we get older.

All of my children learned to swim at a fairly young age. Ryder’s mom, my youngest, probably began at the earliest age. We had been working on her swimming that spring. She was always trusting of what I told her and I can remember the day I told her she could swim without me. It was right before her 4th birthday.

We were at Sunday School cookout and I told her that she was big enough to jump off the diving board and swim to the side.

I got out in front of the board to comfort and coach her (as much for her mother and the other women who were much more worried than Kacy). I told her to jump and swim to the side. Although she was older than Ryder she wasn’t much bigger than he is now. She jumped and made it to the side on her own. The women all gave a sign of relief and Kacy spent the rest of the day jumping off the diving board and swimming to the side.

Last year Ryder and I would get in the pool 3 to 5 times a week. I almost joined the Y so we could use their indoor pool and keep it up during the winter but I didn’t. Anyway when the the video below was taken it was our 3rd day this year. The first day was kind of chilly but we braved it and I was confident enough that he was going to enjoy it again this year.

The second day we went he was putting his under the water and now he is ready to start working on swimming. He is got a pretty hardhead sometimes but if I can get him to listen then I wouldn’t be surprised if he isn’t swimming by his second birthday in September.

A Boy in the Northern Neck

That’s my youngest grandson, Ryder. I’m not sure how he got that name. Maybe he was conceived in a rental truck.
Anyway that picture was taken when he was probably about 10 months old. He stays with me 3 or 4 times a week. When I say stays with me I mean really stays with me, spends the night, goes to meetings, out in the boat, there I go he goes.
We are buddies. I don’t remember when I was his age. I guess my memories really start when I was 3 or 4 and remember being under Daddy’s feet all the time.
I remember doing things on the farm, jumping out of the loft into a pile of hay. Going on the boat and catching my first fish. If Daddy was nearby then you can believe I was beside him. Those days were probably the happiest of my life and I’m almost teared up thinking back on them.
Ryder is 18 months old now and this is going to be a big summer for him. A life preserver will be part of his attire this summer. I love his curiosity and we’ll be around the water way too much for him not to learn to put it on the moment he steps out of the house.

I can’t wait for him to learn that that crab net he keeps playing with has a purpose or see him when he watches a crab shed. He enjoyed seeing a fish get caught last summer but this summer he might actually be able to hold the pole. Winding it in will be another story but I guarantee you he will try it and will probably get mad when I try to help him. He is pretty independent. When he falls down I tell him to get up. He does. I think a lot of women want to run over and pick him up but when he is with me he gets up, doesn’t cry and is right back following my every footstep.

He is a tough little guy. But that doesn’t mean he can’t give you a hug or do those other things that just melt you.

I hope he remembers these days when he is grown.

Growing Up in the Northern Neck

When I was a boy the towns in the Northern Neck were like most small southern towns. Local people owned small stores and all those stores were on Main St. Everybody knew everybody and the people that were driving didn’t use turn signals because everyone knew where they were going.

Things have really changed except the locals still don’t use turn signals and always wave to the passing car.

I really have grown up in 2 different eras. I think most people my age have.
All of our phone calls were operated assisted. No matter where I was I could pick up the phone and Ruth Brown would say, “Operator”. I’d say that I wanted to talk to Mama or Daddy and she would Say “Hi Ken” and connect me. Today I have to read a book before I can use my cell phone.

I can remember being 8 years old and telling mama good-bye in the morning, getting on my bicycle, and not being home until suppertime. Can you imagine that happening today?

A bunch of us boys would get together and play ball or go fishing. If I did anything wrong someone scolded me and when I got home Mama let me know about it. If I really did something wrong Daddy broke out the belt.

There were no theaters but there was the Movie Hall or the Picture Show and on Friday and Saturday nights people stood outside and talked while waiting for the doors to open. I don’t think I ever saw a movie that the projectionist didn’t have to realign the film because you were seeing about 10 frames at a time. Either that or the film broke and he had to repair it.

We did have a television but it only got 3 snowy channels. We really didn’t need that because the entertainment was sitting around one of the old country stores in the evening. The men all told stories, the truth got stretched, and even when you were the one getting ribbed you never got mad. And if you did you got over it.

Disclaimer Ken Smith is a Licensed Realtor Commonwealth of Virginia

Ken Smith ken@ksmithre.com 804-366-2325
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