Neck District has a special history

The eighth election district in Dorchester County is basically cut into by Route 343 heading west out of Cambridge. On each side of the highway are various creeks, coves, guts and points of land bordering the waters of the Little Choptank and the Big Choptank, all leading to the Chesapeake Bay.

The “Neck” district is a special place for all of its inhabitants as well as its many visitors. Some families have lived there for many generations, others have discovered a way of life that is far different from where they came. When you see the large Texaco sign next to the now closed store of the Long family, you are entering the Neck zone.

In the early years and up to the mid 60s, although having no actual town, several communities in the area had enough population to support two schools, several country stores, two fire houses and several well attended churches. Farming, fishing and forestry were the main occupations in the early years. Most families lived off the crops and livestock on their farms. In the winter many of the farmers took out hunting parties or worked on the water tonging or fishing. Many tracts of pine timber were harvested and most farmers followed the old rule of thumb of having both tillable land as well as good wood acreage for saw timber to sell, and wood for fuel to heat the home. Some of those points of land had to be the coldest spots in Dorchester County when the winter wind came off the Bay.

There were several wealthy individuals who bought property that was used almost exclusively for hunting. Some farmers rented their land for the hunting rights and many times they were also hired to be the guides, build the blinds and bait the waterfowl. Just a little at a time, a five gallon bucket of corn was the standard amount for each hunt.

I have always been a frequent visitor to the Neck. The other day I went down the “Neck” and visited David Marshall and his wife Shirley. David retired as the number two man from John Tieder Electric several years ago. His many tales of life in the Neck always keep me laughing, especially ones like the story he told on Mr. Charles Spedden. Mr. Spedden always enjoyed a good drink and after leaving the Friday night poker game at the fire house, Mr. Spedden knew it was time to head for Todds Point.

When he left the parking lot, Dave and the others at the table heard the motor racing and saw the lights shining in the woods. Mr. Spedden had driven his pickup across the county ditch and the back wheels were spinning in the water. When Dave reached the side of the pickup, Mr. Spedden wanted to know how in the hell Dave could run that fast. The speedometer was showing forty miles per hour.

Many of my mother’s siblings (the Fleming clan from Bucktown) lived and worked in the community. Bill and Shirley Fleming and Melvin and Jean Hurley lived next to each other at Cornersville. Aunt Charlotte was married to Donald Spedden and their home farm was at Todds Point. Donald tilled several farms and Charlotte was the receptionist for Dr. Hanks in Cambridge. Besides farming, Bill drove an Esskay meat truck from Wye Mills to the main plant in Baltimore. Another uncle, Ridgeway Fleming, a prominent farmer in Bucktown, was always helping Bill and Donald with their farm work. Ridgeway loved his old Gleaner and 510 Massey Ferguson combines.

When I could, I would help hauling corn to Perdue’s grain facility in Salisbury. Driving a three hundred bushel load of grain from Bald Eagle Farm at Hills Point was my kind of job. Getting $1 an hour for a four hour trip was unbelievable, as compared to my $5 week from my dad. I felt milking cows twice a day, seven days a week was worth a little more than $5.

My extra hustles and the key to the farm gas tank, as well as Mom’s cooking, made my life bearable. However, one afternoon the journey did not go so good. Bill was shelling corn at the end of Hills Point and I was driving Ridgeway’s Chevrolet farm truck. She was a six cylinder Viking that would solid run, and I would always like to get alongside another loaded truck at one of the stop lights in Salisbury to see what she had.

When I got past the old ball diamond on Hills Point turn I knew I could shift to fourth gear with the “button up.” On the way out, there was a bad turn next to Edmund Seward’s farm. As I almost made the turn I knew that the loose gravel was in the wrong place. As I gently went off the road, the marsh held up pretty good. After about ten feet the Viking took to the water and slowly went down to the body of the truck.

It took about ten minutes for everyone within five miles to find out that I had sunk the Viking – loaded with corn on Edmund Seward’s turn. After about twenty cars lined the county road, Mr. Ellsworth Wingate came in with his 930 Case tractor. He told everyone that he would have the truck out in a short time.

When the cable on the drawbar took up and the front wheels of the tractor reached a height of about three feet off the road Mr. Wingate unhooked and went home to Hudson Wharf Road. At this point in time, Billy Seward got his father’s truck on the farm lane and pulled from the cab a very large scoop shovel.

I had to shovel most of the corn off that truck before we could pull her out with Uncle Bill’s combine. Several days later Capt. Edmund Seward saw me at John Lewis’s store and told me that he had to shoot all his call ducks – they would not come home out of the marsh, because there was so much loose corn on the turn.

I miss Uncle Donald’s 706 Farmall tractor, pulling that 12 foot disc across some of the ground that had been plowed about a week. The ground was so hard it was all one could do to steer and stay in the seat. After about four trips across, the ground was usually worked up good enough to plant.

I miss Aunt Jean’s crab cakes, Aunt Shirley’s muskrat and Aunt Charlotte’s soft crabs from Mill Creek.

I miss Arthur South’s cows at the end of Bar Neck. The term “free range” grazing must have gotten there years before the national trend.
I miss hunting and fishing with Billy Seward – gone way too soon.

I miss the Friday night poker games at the firehouse.

I miss Mr. Howard never stopping at the end of his lane, going onto the county road, looking straight ahead and waving at the same time.
Most of all I miss John Lewis, his store and the Neck family. His store was the hub of the community. While John was alive and well, 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. was the schedule. From the first cup of coffee in the morning until turning off the gas pumps at closing time, you knew John would be there.

From the President of the United States to the local not-so-fortunate, the store was the place to get a piece of ham that you could see through on your sandwich. It was the place that the local and national events were studied and taken care of. The seats in the corner, by the stove, were occupied by some of the finest minds of the region–storytellers to match Mark Twain and, liars who could stick with the Washington politicians. There will never be another store or storekeeper like John Lewis.

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