Monday, July 22, 2024
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by Henry Lane Hull

This coming year will mark the 50th anniversary of my parents buying the farm where we presently live. They already had sold my grandparents’ home in Colonial Beach, having decided to move to the lower Northern Neck. When we came here many aspects of life were quite different from what they are today.

Kilmarnock abounded with grocery stores along Main Street, with the Safeway in a Quonset-style building now the site of the Tri-Star parking lot. It was demolished when Safeway moved to its larger premises, now occupied by Tri-Star. Fitzhugh Stevens operated an Esso gas station in what is now Savannah Joe’s Barbecue. Marks and Sullivan, the local department store, occupied the present Animal Welfare League premises on the corner of Main and Irvington Road. Cockrell’s and Norris’s Supermarkets were on either side of Main Street.

The town had switched from herringbone-style parking to the present parallel system a few years earlier and the latter arrangement was uprooted with the reconfiguration of Main Street in 2000. The large brick house on the site of the birthplace of Henrietta Hall Shuck, the first American woman missionary to China, had been cleared away for the Gulf gas station, now still standing. The bricks from the home were cleaned and used to construct a home then being built at the end of the new development at Lee-Dale Shores near Mila.

Car dealerships were also prevalent along Main Street, before they moved farther up Route 3. In those days practically any American-made vehicle could be purchased new in Kilmarnock and serviced for its lifespan thereafter. Conglomerate dealerships were not part of the scene and local folks remained loyal to their dealers, usually replacing their cars at the same dealership.

The church scene back then was basically as it is today. The Methodists had replaced their 1909 carpenter gothic church with the present brick structure five years earlier and the Catholics had built their new brick church in 1956. Church Street and Kilmarnock’s expansion into Northumberland County ended at Bluff Point Road, next to the then frame Calvary Baptist Church, prior to its having been brick-veneered, with only Campbell Funeral Home on the other side of the road.

Significantly, coming from Wicomico Church a Rip van Winkle visitor to Kilmarnock today would find the approach from Northumberland to be substantially the same as in 1968, save for the Lutheran Church in the former Eubank Arts Building on the left, the Presbyterian Church on the right, flanked on either side by the apartment complexes that were not there in 1968.

Coming into Kilmarnock on Route 200, no signs designated the road in memory of Jessie Ball duPont. In this column one week 30 years ago I proposed the road be named for her, as she was the most prominent 20th-century native of the lower Northern Neck.  The day the paper appeared I received a telephone call from my friend, H. R. “Peck” Humphreys, the former mayor of Kilmarnock, who was serving on the Commonwealth Transportation Board. He said he agreed with the idea of naming the road for Mrs. duPont, whom he had known well, having received one of her college scholarships, and that he planned to proceed with having the road designated as a tribute to her philanthropy across the Northern Neck.

At the next Transportation Board meeting, he achieved that goal and 15 years later when the Northumberland County Board of Supervisors adopted the enhanced 911 system, Route 200 became the Jessie Ball duPont Memorial Highway, albeit VDOT has not learned the correct spelling of her name, which should be duPont, rather than Dupont.

Bill Gates has done better and when I type the word as Dupont, it gets underlined in red, but then again he went to Harvard.

Riding along our country roads my Good Wife takes note of the signs designating certain properties as Century Farms, indicating that the same family has owned the farm for over 100 years. Thus inspired, next year she is planning to have a sign made for our farm proclaiming it as a “Half-Century Farm,” the fruition of which we already are celebrating. In future columns I shall discuss some of the other local changes over the past half-century.

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