Heading south from Vienna towards Fishing Bay there is a vast tract of land between Elliotts Island Road, the Chicamacomico River and the Transquaking River. Woods, marsh and farm land cover many acres with Griffith Neck Road running from the bridge crossing the Chicamacomico at the old Cecil Robbin’s boat factory on Drawbridge Road to the Bestpitch Ferry Bridge at the Transquaking River. A few days ago I sat down with one of the old timers and talked about years gone by and where he has lived for 92 years.
Mr. Harold Willey has lived on Griffith Neck Road his entire life and is a direct descendant of Christopher Columbus Hughes. Mr. Hughes did not discover America, but he did settle in Griffiths Neck. He was Harold’s great-great-great grandfather. The farmhouse where Harold was born still stands along with the farm sheds that made up the home place. His father Henry Lloyd “Judge” Willey and his mother Nora Fisher Willey raised two boys, Norval who was known as “Stumpy” and Harold, and a girl named Mildred (Mickey) on the land where Harold is now. Farming, fishing and trapping was Harold’s way of life and he said he loved every minute of it.
Before the bridge at Bestpitch was built, a ferry or barge was used to cross over to the store and hunting lodge that was owned by the Robbins brothers. Harold said the bridge was built about the time of World War II. It still looks like it was built during that time period and the single lane and rattling wood planks make crossing a real adventure. The men that built the bridge rented rooms at the Willey farmhouse and the large meals that Miss Nora cooked were a welcomed addition to the hard and dangerous work.
Fresh milk from the cows was sold to the crews in the sawmills that were cutting timber across the road. One mill was producing saw timber and the other was making staves for the barrel factory. Timber was taken from Guinea and Chance islands and Indian artifacts of the past native settlements were found there. Harold said that in the winter, trapping the marsh, taking hunting parties out, and seeing that there was plenty of corn in the marsh ponds was his job. The muskrat meat and hides were sold to local stores and also sold over in Salisbury. At that time the hides brought $2 each and meats were 50 cents. This was excellent money then, and Harold set as many traps as he could possibly take care of. Trapping all day and skinning all night–marsh heaven. The farm work was done during the warm and hot months of the spring and summer. The mosquitoes and green head flies grew as well as any crop that ever came out of Griffiths Neck.
Cambridge was the big city to head for on the weekends. The streets were full of shoppers and Miss Lorraine Bradshaw worked at the candy counter in the Woolworth’s 5 & 10 cent store. Mr. Harold spent his money on jelly beans when he went to town, and this probably had a lot to do with their marriage. Two children – Dickie and Darlene were born and besides farming Harold & Loraine ran the rendering plant at Linkwood in the 60s.
When I was a youngster I was asked to help pull watermelons on the Willey farm where Mrs. Thelma Brohawn was raised. I was told I would get some money at the end of the day and Miss Elsie would fix me dinner. I knew it was a mistake when the men came out of the packing sheds, some of them wearing those jungle hats with the netting all around and a long sleeve shirt and it was about 95 degrees. Back on the sandy island in the middle of the marsh the big old Conga watermelons must have weighed about 65 lbs each and the mosquitoes and sheep flies were about the same size. The $5 at the end of the day was okay, but I never went back to harvest watermelons on that island again.
Hunting and fishing were always important parts of life for the folks on Griffith Neck Road. Besides putting meat on the table, the income from muskrats, fish and turtles was always looked forward to. One of the best ponds for geese and ducks was located on the Riley Willey Farm. Located in the marsh next to the Chicamacomico River, there was a field that always produced corn next to the pond no matter what crop was planted. Of course there was always corn in the pond itself, it’s important to feed the waterfowl.
One afternoon about fifty years ago I was invited to go hunting on the pond. It was a cold day but everyone showed up with plenty of Canadian anti-freeze. The group consisted of Bob Brohawn, Vaughn Brohawn, Wayne Brohawn, Raye Brohawn, Blair Brannock, Chris Hurley and me. The geese came up out of the river a little late but we could still see; it was a full moon. As the big flock set their wings we cut loose. It sounded like a war but the results was plenty of food for the hungry. I pushed off in the pond in a little john boat and started picking up the geese. About that time I saw several heads coming across the marsh. I hollered to the guys and told them we had visitors from the federal government about to join the party. Wayne & Blair grabbed some geese and took off for the house. Raye & Chris were throwing geese in the turn-row, Vaughn & Bob were unable to move, they were celebrating the hunt in the blind. I sat in the boat, in the middle of the pond, with the geese and nowhere to go. One of the agents went over to the blind and asked Vaughn if he had done any hunting that day. Vaughn said, “Hell no, I been sitting here watching the boys.” When the agent picked up Vaughn’s old double barrel and broke her open, smoke rolled out of the end about five feet. After we were all told what was going to happen, the agents got us in our vehicles and headed for the barns, since they said they had backup on the county road. When we got to the barn, Blair jumped out and hit the side of the car with his gun case and declared that he was a federal warden and we were under arrest. At that point, as Blair & Wayne were laughing, the agent in the car opened the door and introduced himself. We visited Judge McAllister that night in Vienna and came away $25 lighter. I told Mr. Bob that I would pay him back, and I did.
As I sat with Harold and talked about his life I saw a man that was at ease with the world he knew years ago, and also at ease with the present time. Being successful at farming, successful in the business world, and as a young man working hard and playing hard. There is no way to reflect on a life that has been on this earth for almost a century. A life that began on a back country road and I am sure that is where he hopes to stay, sitting on his porch watching his granddaughter let the horses eat the grass in the yard. He told me that he does not need a lawnmower.