Friday, February 4, 2011

Piecing Together the Past

Outbuilding Near Ocean Products, November 2010

Yesterday I discovered another treasure trove of local information down at the Clerk's office at the Court House.

After I showed up dragging a laptop, a bag of file folders, a mini-backpack that serves as my pocketbook, and a partridge in a pear tree the bags under my eyes from not enough sunlight or sleep, my initial conversation with the employees there went like this:

CBW, to the two nice ladies sitting near the front desk:  "Hi, my name is CBW and I must be half crazy because I agreed to do a book on the history of Mathews and need some help."

Nice Ladies:  (Insert sounds of crickets chirping here as they stared blankly and blinked once or twice.   I don't think they're used to people admitting they're crazy, at least not where they work.)

CBW, filling in the awkward silence:  "Yeah, well, anyway, a lot of the book will revolve around the Court House area. I'll use old photos from various Court House scenes, match them with current photos I'll take of the exact same scenes, and then for each pair I have to write a paragraph about the significance of the location."

Really Nice Lady and I swear I am not making this up :  "You really must be crazy."

CBW:  "I know.  Anyway.  Let's take Foster's Department Store as an example."

Nice Ladies:  (**Crickets.**  They didn't know where Foster's Department Store was because technically it's no longer called Foster's Department Store, and they aren't from Mathews.)

CBW:  "You know, the store across from Richardson's.  So it was Foster's Department Store and through some research I know that before the fire in the 1920s there was an old hotel near that property.  What I'm curious to know is if there is any resource here that could tell me, for any given piece of property, who owned it and what establishment may have existed on it through the years, as far back as I can possibly go."

Nice Lady, who knew this really wasn't possible but didn't want to potentially disappoint someone who has just self-declared as crazy:  "Well, some of that is possible. Eugene will probably be able to help. Eugene, are you there? Eugene?"

Mr. Eugene came out and I gave him the overview but also suggested that Mr. Eugene himself, with ties to Callis Wharf on Gwynn's Island, might know some of the history of the Court House.  He then went on to say that he probably knew about as much as my husband.

Since I am not married and haven't been for some time, it was obvious that Mr. Eugene thought I was Chesapeake Bay Mother.  Instead of looking 46, I and my baggy eyes must have looked 69 yesterday.  Great!

After we took care of that little bit of confusion, Mr. Eugene and the Very Nice Lady carefully explained what I needed to do to piece together what is available at their office to determine property ownership. It's actually quite fun and involves some sleuthing but it isn't a swift process and nothing guarantees you'll find what you're looking for.   Researching three properties took me three and a half hours, and I never did find anything about that old hotel.

After I left, I aged another 10 years at the realization of how much work is ahead of me in my "spare time" headed to the library and spent another 2 hours upstairs in the genealogy room, which also houses some excellent local history and record books.

In conclusion, here are some of the things I learned after my day of research:

* The Clerk's office maintains a wealth of information that is easy to access, albeit time consuming.
* The employees there are wonderfully patient and very helpful.
* Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes have not purchased any property in Mathews.
* The room upstairs at the library, which has 2 or 3 huge books dedicated to the Sibley family alone, is a gold mine of local history and information.
* If CBW didn't already have a paying job and two children to parent, she might be able to make her book deadline.
* Since CBW thankfully does have a job and children, she's so worried about making her deadline and juggling all her regular responsibilities that she walks around looking 69 years old while her mother looks 46.
* I really, really, want to escape it all and hop on the next available plane to Bora Bora.

Who wants to come along? What would you run away from if you could?


Ann Marie said...

Well how is this for some history.. that outbuilding.. once had a baby frog on the door and I took a photo of it without the damn thing jumping on me.. but more importantly that out building belonged to my Great Uncle.. your boyfriends, Daddy's brother. I called him Bubba Duck.

there ya go.

AverettLadyNana said...

Naw he remembered you mother when she was twenty-something and you looked like she did instead of being forty-something looking you look twenty-something....

Mental P Mama said...

LOL....Wait. Come heres are working in the information area?????

Maria said...

Hi CBW I'm Maria from NJ, I posted your blog on the DIY site, gosh I hope ya didn't mind...Hey about those Vietnamese Spring rolls, I mean it if I win the BC, you can come up for them any time, but my question is? do you have an Asian market to get all the ingredients? :^) OK I thought so, I will bring them with... Alright, so, what do I want to run away from, my 32 year job (notice I didn't say career) in the casinos in AC. I am like burnt toast!! I swear if the good Lord grants me the grace of winning that home I will be making Twin Cove my year round home and getting out of Dodge! Hey thank you for clearing up that debate on the Cruises!! hehehe...Maria

deborah said...

How very interesting your life is, Madame Clouseau..investigating the past and uncovering the facts. Is a mystery in the works as your second book? No pressure or anything:)

I would run away from everything for a few days! I'm always in need of a recharge and a dose of Vitamin D!

Maybe we could all go on a booze cruise some day?

Oh, the DIY cabin is mine. Sorry:)))

Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

Maria from NJ - No, I don't mind at all. And you're correct, the closest Asian markets are 40-ish miles away. I sincerely hope you do win the Blog Cabin, particularly if you can make spring rolls!

Whoever wins that place will be one very fortunate individual assuming they have the money for the property taxes and upkeep. It would be a great change of pace for people worn down by the city life.

AM-Bubba Duck? Well, that's a new one. I can't wait to hear how he got that name. (Or can I?)

A.Lady Nana - You're very kind. But even the local doctor's office confuses us. Sigh.

MPM-Yes, but they've been here a while. Just not long enough to remember Fosters Department Store.

Deborah-Sign me up for the cruise!

Daryl said...

Actually I would love to be there helping you, its a lot of work but it really is like putting together a puzzle .. something I love doing ..

And I am a readr (WV)

Trisha said...

It sounds like you had a lot of fun! Too bad you can't just do this all day long - that would be heaven.

Personally, I want to run away from two research papers this semester for which I have no clue of topics!

Caution Flag said...

Would I run away? Yes. Enough said.

foolery said...

If you have any specific questions about researching property ownership, e-mail them to me. There's a man named Mike in this town who is an amateur historian and an expert on the town's patriarch (one of the west's most influential men of the 1800s). Mike comes in to our office on business sometimes, and we can't get him talking about history because it would never end. But he would be a good source for how-to questions. In general, what I've learned from him is PATIENCE and DILIGENCE and KEEP LOOKING. It's a coincidence that I know this because I'm not researching property ownership and I have none of those skills.

Kay L. Davies said...

I really admire you for taking on this project when you have a job and kids. It sounds like it would be a major undertaking for an independently wealthy single person.
Would I run away on a booze cruise? Nope. But if I were to run away (I'm leaving tomorrow, actually) I'd go to the west coast where my home town isn't covered in frozen snow.
-- K

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

Meg @ Soup Is Not A Finger Food said...

I just booked a flight to Ft Myers to visit my mom and her husband at the end of February for a couple of days. I have requested freakishly warm weather and if she can come through on that I'll have to get a pedicure before I go because my feet are a hideous, hot mess.

Isn't there a historical society that can also help if they have come-heres manning the info desk?

big hair envy said...

My daughter is trying to convince me to run away, um, relocate to Texas...wanna come with??;)

Mrs F with 4 said...

Yes. YES! I will run away right now, this very second, from the oceans of puppy pee lapping around my ankles; from my van also peeing unmentionable fluids; from the four children with stinking colds, running noses, and uncertain tempers; from the hunt for the spare car keys for the truck because my husband has the main set with him, in INDIA (and who can't get back into Canada b/c his residency card has expired); from yet another three day weekend; from the snow; the washing machine making dire and threatening noises; the generator that has chomped through three spark plugs in two days; from the state liquor stores that are only open ridiculous hours...

Yes, yes, I will run away with you. Wait, why are you running away from ME?

Country Girl said...

I can't think of anything I'd run away from, if I could. Except for my jiggles.

You are doing too much. But you already know this. And you do NOT look old. This Eugene could use a new pair of glasses.