Note: Lloyd Joseph Kellam, 89, passed away Monday, October 2, 2023. A native of Cape Charles, VA, he was the son of the late Lloyd Branson Joseph Kellam and the late Florence Manley Kellam. The following is an oral history captured by the Cape Charles Historical Society.
My name is Lloyd Kellam. And those of you who lived here knew me before as “Brother.” Some guys in here knew me as “Sly.” Those were some of my nicknames. Everybody here during that time had a nickname, and I mean everybody! I can’t think of some people’s real names!
But anyway, it’s hard to do this, but it’s easy. One of the reasons is that I’ve had this love affair with Cape Charles all my life. And I just can’t seem to shake it, it’s like a good woman, I guess. But my thoughts of Cape Charles are maybe not the same as yours because you’re going to see my memories through a child’s eyes. I think my thoughts begin when my father went in business downtown and stopped when I went to college. Daddy opened his business in Cape Charles downtown in 1938. We had an apartment over the store. A lot of things I’m going to tell you, you’ll have to visualize. We had an apartment and when we were in the living room we looked out and saw the ferry traffic. We saw the steamers. We saw the ferries’ comings and goings.
GERMAN PRISON CAMP
When I first started remembering, war was going on. The people that lived here remember Cape Charles or Fort Custis and we had soldiers that were there. We had a ship that was docked out in the Bay called the “Hannibal” and we had a German prison camp at Oyster. It kept our town busy. So busy that I’m not sure I remember a day going by that we didn’t have a shore patrol or a military police that went up and down the streets. I’m not saying that it was necessary, but they were there.
The other thought that first comes to my mind when I think about that, is thinking about Saturday nights. When traffic would come to town on Saturday night, the farmers would come in and shop. There were so many people on Front Street, in my mind, that if you were going to walk toward the beach, you had to walk close to the buildings. And if you were going toward the ice plant, you had to walk close to the street. Otherwise you would bump into people, there were that many people. My first recollection is, there was a parking lot across from the downtown area. That was all a park, and you’ve all seen the pictures, there was some kind of hedging around it. And I remember I was too young to play tennis, but there were tennis courts out there. Of course, being living downtown, when it snowed, it was a great place to go get wet and throw snowballs! Later on, they increased traffic and World War II was at its end, they built the parking lot.
When I think about Cape Charles — I’m going to bounce around a lot — but transportation and people coming in, I think about what went on. I can remember on the corners going into the parking lots, there were taxi stands. We had two taxi services in Cape Charles! We had Cooks and Boots taxis and they were there. The ferries came in and the people would get off the ferry and they wouldn’t have a car, we had taxis to take care of them. We had trains that left here, we had ferries, we had steamers, we had busses. We had a Trailways bus, it wasn’t Trailways then, it was Eastern Shore Transit and it was driven by Mr. Stringfellow. In fact, the Stringfellow that lives here now, I can remember seeing old man Stringfellow with his white hair carrying him on his shoulder. It used to cost a quarter to go to Exmore. That’s the truth because I saw that in the newspaper. I’ve been doing a bit of research.
FRIDAY NIGHT FERRIES
One of the stories that I tell in Exmore is, when I start off on Cape Charles, Friday night when the ferries would come in and the sailors would get off they could hitchhike a ride. You have to realize when the ferry traffic left, that was it. Nobody left Cape Charles after that unless they were going to Paul’s in Cheriton. So the guys would stand downtown and wait for the next ferry to come in. When the ferry would come in there would be another load of soldiers or sailors about that time the bus was going to come through, he would stand out front of Savage’s Drugstore with that little greyhound flashing and neon lights at the top, I believe George filled up a bus sometimes. I’m sure you did, didn’t you? [George is in the audience.] But that was the kind of town it was. Can you imagine 30 people waiting on the corner to catch the bus to New York or Philadelphia? But that’s what Cape Charles was.
Daddy operated his store and he stayed open late, 11 or 12 in the summertime. And in the summertime, when we weren’t working it was our job to do all the dirty work. Empty garbage, grind ice, put away things, get the paper cups and all that. I remember going out on the street carrying a load of garbage out, we had two garbage bins they would come by in the middle of the night and get the garbage, but I can remember seeing the red caps coming back from the ferries or the steamers. You may all not remember that, because I think I was different because everybody didn’t live downtown like I did. People were home at that time of night. But these guys had done their jobs and they were on the way home and they were having fun. Their job had been when the train came in, to take people’s bags from the train to the steamer or when the steamer came in, to take their bags and put them on the train and send them north. They were at the hotel and got paid by the railroad. I remember seeing guys that worked on the railroad that went on the Pullman cars and they were porters. People went home at midnight, there was a midnight train to New York.
Anyway, maybe that’s not what you all want to hear, but that’s my childhood. That was when I was young. When I think back about what we did at the store…. I mean I hear things in Exmore now that I can’t believe happened here and I was here! One old guy I know, he is a customer of mine, the first recollection he had of Cape Charles was he was from Massachusetts and he was on a troop train. They brought him from Little Creek to Cape Charles on a barge. They put the troops on the barge and brought them across. He said he got out at Cape Charles in the middle of the night. That’s kind of hard for me to believe, but I guess they did it.
FATHER MILLER MADE SANDWICHES
I remember them bringing in boatloads of people in, of soldiers in, and they arrived at Cape Charles and there was no place to eat except restaurants. There were so many of them that Mother would take the children upstairs over the apartment and we’d get bushel baskets and make them sandwiches and put them in bushel baskets and bring them downstairs as fast as we could. I can remember Father Miller, he was the local Catholic priest, he would come help us make sandwiches.
Speaking of Father Miller, he was another issue in town, my mother was so Catholic that she donated my time to the church! I was a little Catholic boy. You may all remember Jimmy McCabe. Jimmy will tell you all that I lie, but that’s not the truth. The only thing I ever did to Jimmy was I used to tell him that Daddy made me work on Saturday morning and he’d have to serve mass on Saturday morning and I’d do it in the middle of the week. Well, Mother had planned for me to do it six days a week, but Jimmy would always get one that was Saturday! We had mass every morning at 7 o’clock and I’d have to get up and be an altar boy. Which was not bad, I guess. One of the good things was that on Sundays we’d say mass three times. I’d be an altar boy three times. Father Miller had a 7 o’clock mass, he had a 10 o’clock mass down at Fort Custis, and say mass to the soldiers there and eat. It was a big thrill to go eat with all those soldiers. And then we’d leave there and go to Oyster and we’d say mass to the German prisoners. Which was a real treat because I can remember the officers being dressed up in their uniforms and high boots. And I thought I was right in the middle of it, just like in the movies!
WAR COUPON RATION BOOKS
Anyway, I think about the businesses that were in town. I haven’t had the pleasure of being here every time you’ve had one of these talks, so I don’t know if people have talked about what businesses were downtown. If you start down at Mason Avenue towards the beach and come back, when I was young there was Mr. Charnock worked for Forbes Garage. There was a little gas pump out front. My first recollection of pumping gas out there, was somebody came in and he had one of these little coupons on the back of their windows. It was during the war and they could only get five gallons of gas. I remember Mr. Charnock talking to the man about how he couldn’t get any more gas. Then I remember Henry Warren had a poolroom, restaurant, bar, gun shop, whatever. He sold most anything. I don’t think the pastry shop was there at that time. That came a little later on. We had a pastry shop there next to where Mr. Hallett had an insurance agency. Then after that, Hubert Bonniville had a restaurant and that was right in that building that has the three story porch that’s there now and that porch was there at that time. Next to that was Carmine’s Barbershop and that was a place to be. I see a couple of people here that I told what happened to me in Carmine’s Barbershop. I’ll come back to that.
Then on the corner, R.A. Parson’s had a building, he was in the bank building. Later on, Amos’ father moved over there from the bank building. If you turn that corner, my first memory going down Pine Street, was a Western Union there. And Mr. Dickie ran the Western Union. And then there was a modern appliance building, they called it “Modern Appliances.” Then Flossie Burton had a beauty shop. There was another building in there, at some time it was that building or not, but Peach Lusk had a dance studio in there with little kids. Across the street from that, there was the Chesapeake Hotel. And during the time that I remember, Hubert Bonniville and Maude Bonniville ran that. There was a little alley so wide that separated that from the back of my father’s building and the back of the bank. Come right up Front Street and the bank was there and the next place was where my father had a restaurant. Next to that was the Army Navy. Then we had an A&P store. And after that I think it was MacMath’s Drugstore. And then, I don’t know exactly, but there were some changes. Webster had a restaurant after that somewhere. Then there was a Ten Cent store in where Charmars is and then later the A&P took it over. And when the A&P left Cape Charles, they left from there.
And I’m sort of vague of what was after that. I know there was a poolroom my father was in business with. About the time I was born in 1934. Frank (Richard) Etz had a little jewelry store. The Cape Charles Hardware store was there. The theater and the famous Waddell’s Newsstand. And another barbershop named Slim Colonna’s. The electric company had a building. McCarthy’s Hotel was there. And then you had McCrory’s and Brown’s. Then Louis Getzel’s, later on Lloyd’s, and Wilson’s. Turn the corner and a lot of people say they don’t remember this, but I remember a little white wooden building next to that and Mr. Ewell had a fish market there. Anybody remember that?
[Bill Neville:] Abe Moore had it there, too. I think at one time. Maybe after Mr. Ewell.
WING SING’S LAUNDRY
Then we had D.P. Penders and Penders turned to Colonial Stores about 1947. And then if you go on toward the Virginia Hotel with Peeler Burford. Ed Bilich’s store, he had a grocery store. And I missed another one, the American Store was in there. Now some of these overlap, I’m not right sure when one would close and another one would take its place. Then when you crossed the street from the hotel, across the street and keep going, was the post office. Then if you head east across the street there was a building that housed, at that time, was the telephone company and they had a little kindergarten behind it. Next to it was the Northampton Times building. Then if you crossed the street and headed down towards Savage’s Drugstore, there was a brand new doctor’s building there. We had Dr. Lynch, Dr. Green, Dr. Ames, Dr. Goode and Dr. Trower, and Dr. Stevenson. Then you turn the corner and start heading down, and I’m a little fuzzy there, but I remember Wing Sing’s Laundry, I used to spend a lot of time with the guy who ran it whose name was Ben Jung. He had several claims to fame, one is he never missed going to Atlantic City to a Miss America Pageant. He liked girls until his wife came up!
Then we had Johnny Limenzo who had a shoe repair place. We had Morton Brown who had the Modern Furniture store. Then Savage’s Drugstore.
[Audience:] What about Sample’s Barbershop?
SHOOTING AT THE SHOPLIFTER
Was Sample’s Barbershop there? I thought, well, was it there before? That goes back maybe before my time a little bit because the time prior to that my father had a pawn shop for Adam Barban there on the side street about where Wing Sing’s laundry was. I’ve heard this story so many times, I can almost see it. Someone stole something out of one of the stores downtown and Mr. Taylor was the policeman, Charlie Taylor, I think. Anyway, Mr. Taylor was trying to apprehend this guy and he ran and cut on that side street running back toward the Northampton Times Building, down that side street, and there was a commotion. And Mrs. Barban was in the pawnshop that Daddy was running, and she heard the commotion and she walked out the door. Just as she walked out the door, the criminal had run past the door and Mr. Taylor shot at him and instead of shooting him, he hit Mrs. Barban and killed her right there. You all remember that? Some of you remember that? Not to change, but that was before my time. I can only tell you that people who know me in later life will tell you that I remember things that never happened! But I think that happened!
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The Cape Charles Historical Society has for more than a decade been recording oral histories of the area’s earlier days. In 2002, as one in a series of lectures sponsored by the Cape Charles Library entitled “The Way We Were,” Cape Charles native Lloyd Kellam shared the following account. In 2012, funded by a grant by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, the recording, along with 14 others, was transcribed. The Historical Society has now made it available for readers of the Wave. All the transcriptions are also available for reading at the Museum. In Part 1 below, Mr. Kellam recalls the German P.O.W. camp in Oyster, as well as the day a Cape Charles policeman accidentally shot and killed Mrs. Barban. Mr. Kellam, now 79, is a long-time pharmacist who reopened his Shore Pharmacy this year in Exmore.)