by Nancy Hubbard Clark
After recently viewing footage of the Lost Northern Neck films I was asked by a member of that committee to record my memories and impressions of life in this era during the Great Depression, as reflected by some of the films’ scenes.
In my mind, these films are a testament to how the “Depression” years spent in our remote haven offered blessings which those who lived beyond could not hope to experience. Grit, ingenuity and spirit made life surprisingly palatable and pleasant here, while the nation around us was suffering far worse conditions than were ever felt in this place.
For example, Mr. Wharton’s films indicate how we were able to eat well, owing to location. Bordered on three sides by water, fish, crabs and oysters were readily available for the table. This does not mean that the diet always consisted of these wonderful delicacies. Plenty of lesser ranking meat was also consumed. Menhaden fish provided an industry with jobs. Scenes of watermen fishing one of the many fish traps that dot the waterways demonstrates, in detail, how the job required skill, cooperation and physical strength. The land itself was productive; personal gardens and widespread farming produced other food and supported farm animals as shown in the films. Life, of course, was not experienced in the same way by everyone, but primarily the sources for eating “well-enough” were available to most people of the area.
Education is addressed in the films with shots of school buildings in some footage, shown along with school children and school activities. There are also interesting scenes of some of the home economics classes offered in schools. There were numerous schools in each county with grade-school and high school housed together in one building.
Entertainment was featured in several forms. Swimming and boating on the river scenes show a zest for fun and relaxation, apart from the constraints posed by the nation’s economic conditions. Another portrayal of entertainment is given in the abundant footage of Sports Day/Field Day/May Day events. This traditional yearly event was jointly shared by local schools of the Lancaster County-Northumberland County school system.
The “Sports Day” part of the event consisted of mostly baseball team competitions between high schools. There were other Sports Day competitions, as well. By later in the day the May Court was presented with much pageantry. Beauty was on display in this footage showing a parade of May Queens from each high school with their attendants. The Queen of the day was selected from this group of queens by an unknown committee. Upon her coronation as Queen of May, the remaining high school queens served as princesses along with small children who also appeared in the May Court. Dressed in colorful and interesting costumes, many school children are pictured as they performed well-rehearsed dances before the May Queen. The scene was witnessed by large crowds of delighted spectators.
Filmed aerial views of the landscape give witness to this “God’s Country” (as it is known to natives), so blessed by the hand of nature at a time when our ‘country life” contrasted drastically with the much greater hardships experienced by the ‘city life’ of the Depression years.
Jimmy Wharton was a talented and wise fellow whose forethought to capture so many aspects of local history by using his home movie camera has given us all something to consider by showing us how adversity really can be put to many sweet uses.
Nancy Hubbard Clark has deep roots in this area with ancestors who were early settlers here. Born in 1930, she grew up living on Irvington Road, across the street from the first Kilmarnock High School. After attending school locally, she departed for further education. Love of the area brought her home again, along with her North Carolina husband. She is seen in several of the Wharton films.