From 1937 to 1951, Mary Ann Harrison lived her formative childhood years on the Harrison family farm on Woodstock Road; on the land just north of what is now Woodstock Cove Park. Her grandparents, John and Mary Oliver, had a farm right across the street; and her cousin, Dorothy Johnson Steele lived with her husband Tommy Steele on what is now Pinehurst Point. I had the profound privilege of visiting with Mary Ann (now Smith) in her North Carolina home, learning about her family and neighbors during a time of world war. I am pleased to share the highlights of our conversation with you.
G: While researching your grandparents, John and Mary Oliver, I read that John Oliver was a minister. Is that correct?
M: At one time he was a Pentecostal minister, and he would take a train from South Norfolk to Plymouth and places to preach. He never had a church of his own.
G: Was he still in the ministry when he lived in Woodstock?
M: No, no. In fact he kinda lost out – I don’t know the reason – but he had a lot of things that really upset him. He didn’t even go to church for a long time until just before he died of Leukemia. He started going back before he died, and I’m sure he’s in heaven today. My grandmother was raised old-time Methodist. She was real quiet and never talked a lot – an immaculate housekeeper. We had an old cow named Betsy and she would go out every morning and milk that cow, and you know she was just a very country, old-timey country woman – never went out without a bonnet on her head.
|John Oliver, with neighbor Burt Hunter. Photo courtesy of Debbie Yancey.|
G: So was that an active, working farm that they lived on?
M: They didn’t make enough off of it, I’m sure, to make anything. When he first moved to Woodstock Road he had that first farm on the left , and that had more acreage. He had a beautiful house with a wrap-around porch – but I was quite young when he sold that to Sammy Hastings and moved down to the end of Woodstock Road . That was not a farm that he made a lot of money on, but it had a great big barn on it that was full of pidgeons, and there was an old man by the name of Belford Armstrong that would come up and work the farm (I’ll tell you the story of Belford in a minute!). My grandfather worked at a produce place over in Norfolk. Back then Norfolk had a big farmer’s market and they had a lot of produce places around the waterfront. He was a very kind man who would give you the shirt off his back! That’s the way he was. He would get ice cream or something and then bring it home, or watermelon, and one toot would be “Watermelon! Come quick!” and two toots would be “I’ve got ice-cream! Come on over!” and we would run over to granddaddy’s house you know, and get treats! He was just a very loving grandfather.
G: Okay – so he had a daughter, Annie…
M: The oldest child was Charlie – Charlie Lewis Oliver. He lived in Norfolk and he was at one time a policeman, and then he started collecting money for some of the furniture stores when people didn’t pay their bills. And he, too, was very generous. Then they had Annie Mae, my mother; and she was the older daughter. Then they had Lilly. And then there was Leroy; he was in the military and he went overseas in World War II and the Germans shot him up real bad in the stomach. He came back and died of cirrhosis of the liver because he was shot, and they would operate on him without any anesthetic. And then the youngest child was Elsie Marie Craddock, but then he died and she became Elsie Marie Cunningham; and she passed away a few years ago, in ’06. She lived there on the place with granddaddy – he built her a place in the back. She finally moved back to Plymouth where she lived until she died. That was the youngest girl. They are all buried in Indian River cemetery on Indian River Road. What else can I tell you about the Olivers?
G: I was going to ask you about Leroy. Somebody from another Oliver line had written that he died in a car accident in 1946.
M: No, no, no – it wasn’t a car accident. He died from the results of injuries overseas. He died of cirrhosis of the liver here in a hospital over in Hampton. He was a very colorful character.
G: So how did Annie and Walter meet?
M: They met when they were living in Campostella. My daddy played an instrument – about any instrument you would put in his hands! He would play the mandolin to my mother, but my grandfather didn’t want him to marry my mother because he was a very short man in stature and he never thought that he would make a living for my mother; so he opposed them going together. But my dad would go out across the street and play love songs to my mother. Well, they eventually ran off and got married. And my dad made a very good living…
G: As a musician?
M: No – he went to school and he worked for the Ford Motor Company in the office.
G: Now this is the Ford Plant on Indian River Road?
M: It became a Navy base during World War II. There were rations, and we had to have little coupons to buy sugar and flower and meats and the Ford Motor Company always told the men (because when the Ford Plant would shut down they would be out of work for a week or two) to always have something on the side to do; so daddy had hogs. And then he went to work for a place called Barrett & Hilp. They built these little places over in Portsmouth for the Navy to use – little houses – and they found that my daddy was smart and knew how to work. So they took him over there and he worked for Barrett & Hilp until Ford Motor came back and the war ended. Then daddy went back to the Ford Motor Company and that’s where he was when he died, when he got killed.
G: Killed? I knew that he died in ’61, which seemed rather early.
M: We moved out to Ballahack Road and he had a big farm. He was never a farmer, but he rented his farm to local people that would farm it. He went out to help his neighbor get out of the ditch; so he took the tractor and pulled the guy out, and when he did, that thing tipped over and crushed him.
G: Did he rent out farm land on the Woodstock property also?
M: Well, he raised hogs, you see; and he would raise corn to feed the hogs, and he had a mule and a cow – Molly. Molly was my pet cow. Her mother got her horns hung in the manger and broke her neck. And we raised Molly with a bottle of milk. We’d get milk from my grandmother’s cow and feed Molly – we raised her like that.
Before I was born, my dad and mother lived on my granddaddy’s farm, where Sammy Hasting’s farm is; there was a little house way back in the field, and they lived in that house. My mother was a bookkeeper for R.C. Brown Credit Clothing store. They sold their business and moved to Mississippi, and then mother worked for the Post Office for a while. But they lived there, and then daddy found out about the Howe farm. You see Mr. Howe was killed by a black man – shot him through the living room window, and they shot him to rob him. But they caught the guy that shot him and they sent him to the electric chair for it. But that was how daddy bought the place. It wasn’t very much of a house when daddy bought it. And then in Campostella there was an old barge that went aground, and daddy asked them, “what are you going to do with that barge? It’s just sitting there doing nothing.” “Nah, we don’t want it.” “Well, do you care if I have the lumber and the beams? “ And they said “yea, take it!” So my dad would go down and take that barge apart, and haul the lumber and the beams (how he did it I don’t know, but he could do anything; he was smart) and he put all that stuff into the house. Steel beams were in the living room, you know, but then he covered them with wood so we had beams that went across. 
My daddy was real big in church (he belonged to the church of the Nazarene) and he had Sunday School class parties at the house. They would come out all the time and he would give freezes of ice cream and the yard was – he had it lighted so they could do horse shoes in the summer, and he had a ping pong table and all in the basement; so we always had a bunch of people there. And then when the Navy was there daddy would always tell the Navy boys “if you go to church with me on Sunday, I’ll feed you all Sunday when we come home.” And momma was a good cook and she would make these big meals and they would all come out – a bunch of them – about five or six at the time would go to church with him and then they would come homeand my sister, my older sister was a very good piano player, and she would playthe music and they would just sing! They had a good time.
Now you want me to tell you about Belford?
G: Belford – B E L F
M: B E L F O R D, Belford Thomas Armstrong . He was a black man that was dear to myheart. He did days work. He lived in a little place called New Light – have you heard of New Light? 
M: Well he lived in a little place called New Light and he would come up – different ones would come up to ask if you have any days work; and if you had anything for him to do then he would work that particular job and you would pay him, and then, you know, that’s the way a lot of them worked. Well Belford got in trouble, and we couldn’t – we didn’t know what in the world happened to Belford? Jolly fella, just as nice as could be. Well, come to find out Belford had been with some of his friends and one of them was his cousin. This cousin and another guy were arguing that one owed the other money. Well, he took a crowbar and killed the guy...
G: BELFORD DID?!
M: No – not Belford – the cousin killed the guy, and then he hit Belford in the head and knocked him out. When they found him, the man was dead, the cousin was gone and Belford was there, and the crowbar, so he got pinned for it. And he was sent to the penitentiary for 15 years. Well, when my dad finally found out about it, he went to the authorities. He said, “I know that he did not do it – he’s not capable of killing anybody!” And daddy went through a lot of paperwork and investigating and he got Belford paroled to him. I was about 10 years old , maybe 9. And I remember when the police brought Belford to us – we went to Staunton, Virginia where he was, and talked with Belford. Belford said “yes Mister Walter, I sure would like to come live with you.” And daddy fixed a little apartment in the back of the garage; and he took his meals with us. And he would work on the farm and daddy would give him so much a week, and he also signed him up for social security so when he got older he would have social security. So daddy looked out for him. I can remember when the state troopers brought him to us I was scared to death. We were having a party at the house, and he was sitting in the dining room – just sitting there – and I was so afraid of him. And he said, “Girly?” (he always called me “girly”) “Girly, are you afraid of Belford?” And I knew he’d been in prison, and I said “yes”. He said, “You come here! You come here; this is old Belford.” He said, “You look at dem hands” (he had these old knotty fingers) “Not one a dem hands will hurt a hair on your head. You come here girly and touch me.” And I touched him, and from then on I was never afraid of him. I loved him. My sister and I followed him everywhere he went; all over that farm – when he would fix hog fences, we would just follow him. He never, ever said a dirty word in front of us; no dirty gestures, nothing. He was just the sweetest, kindest man. And if mother and daddy had to go out at night, he would come in and sit with us. And back then we had woods, and there would be a hoot owl. And the owl would just hoot and hoot, and we would be afraid of the owl. He said, “Now go get my left shoe...” (how he did this, I don’t know!) “go get my left shoe and bring it to me!” And we would go get it, and we would bring it, and he would say “now you turn that shoe over!” And we would turn it over, and he said “now you won’t hear that owl anymore.” And the owl would go away! Isn’t that amazing? That is amazing! And I often wondered, how did he do that, you know? (laughs) But, I mean, this is the kind of person Belford was. And he lived with us; and then after we left and went to Ballahack Road, he went down with us. And then when daddy was killed and mother eventually sold the farm we moved to Kempsville Road. After that we found out (I’d go over and check on him) people were stealing from him. I saw him out cutting greens, and he was old, and he said “they just take my money, they steal my food, and we have to cut greens” – and I said “oh, no you’re not!” So I fixed a place for him when I lived on Kempsville Road and he stayed with us until about when he died. If anybody died, he went to the funerals of our family. He went to the weddings. Wherever we went he was just one of us, and I loved him just like he was a relative.
G: Let me get one clarification: did he actually serve 15 years in prison?
M: He didn’t serve 15 years – it was a sentence, but daddy got him out on early release. He was what they call a trustee, and he was working in the kitchen when we went to see him.
G: Any idea how long he was in for?
M: He was in for 15 years, but I don’t know how long he stayed in there. I would say maybe 3, 4 years? Maybe 5? I don’t know.
G: Did he ever marry, and have a family?
M: He was married when he got in trouble, and he had a family. He was married to a woman by the name of Annie, and she lived in New Light. He had a daughter named Estelle, he had a son named Roosevelt, he had another son named Milton, and Milton lived in Florida, I believe. And there was another girl; I think her name was Alma, but I’m not real sure. And then he took up with this girl when he was living at our place, name of Mary. We never knew where Mary came from. She was – something wrong with her head. She told us that the boys had beat her in the head with a drink bottle and she was all bloody, and evidently it did something to her brain. The only thing she could say was “uh huh, yea, no sir." And he was living with Mary when she died. I don’t know Mary’s last name. We think it was Harper, but we were not sure.
And that was the story of Belford. His son would come out and see us once-in-a-while. Roosevelt worked for the Post Office. He lived in Portsmouth, and his wife’s name was Jean; they had a son named Tyrone – and they would come out to see Belford, but the others did not.
Now what else you need?
G: Well, let me move down the line here. Was the area called “Woodstock” then?
M: It was just Woodstock Road. It was country, and it was no particular area. See we were Princess Anne County, we were not Virginia Beach. “Where’d you live?" "Woodstock Road.” People knew where it was.
G: Was it a dirt road at that time?
M: Dirt road, it was dirt. And we had to walk out to Providence Road to catch the school bus. In fact, the road would get so muddy sometimes, you would put the car wheels in the rut and it was just like a railroad track – it would take you right on in to where you were going, it was so muddy. Mother got a petition up and had them pave the road, and had the school bus brought down the road. But I was a big girl when that happened; I probably was in the third, fourth grade.
G: So it was paved during your time there?
M: It was paved most of the time; rock and tar. When we walked that road there was a family lived there by the name of Yoder – they were Mennonite people. They lived about half-way up Woodstock Road and they had a black Chow dog, and he would chase us, and we would have to – we’d stop and look to see if we could see that dog and then we’d run past their house or ride our bicycles past their house, hoping he wouldn’t see us!(Laughs)
And Jimmy Steele  lived next door to them for a while. He built a little small shack of a place, and then after that he moved to Indian River Road. He lived next door to the Yoders for a while because he sold his place to my grandfather.
G: So after he left that little white house, he still lived in Woodstock, just in a different…
M: in a different place, next door to the Yoders. My grandfather sold his place to Mayo , and he moved out to Holland Road and he bought a farm out there; but he was never happy. Right after he moved there, he went hunting with some friends from Plymouth (he loved to hunt), and he got lost in the woods – stayed gone for several days. And they got the Army out looking for him –the Army Reserves, and they finally found him, and he got real sick after that. And right after that he moved back and that’s when he bought Jimmy’s place. He had sold Jimmy the property , and then he moved back to that house that Jimmy had built, and that’s where he was living when he died.
G: Jimmy only lived there for about a year?
M: He didn’t live there very long, 'cause granddaddy didn’t live down on Holland Road very long. After he got lost in the woods, and came back and he found out Jimmy was going to sell; he said, “Jimmy, I’ll buy that place from you.” And that’s when he bought it.
G: That white house is still there, by the way.
M: Is it really?
G: Probably one of the only houses from that era, from the 40’s anyway, that’s still there.
M: Is that right? Well right in front of that house was daddy’s hog lot, where he would feed the hogs, in the woods back in there. I haven’t been back there so I don’t know what they’ve done.
G: It’s a residential neighborhood now.
M: I can imagine! But that’s where they fed the hogs. My dad had a big garden area there, and then on the right hand side he had the hogs,and then from there on out was a big field where we had corn and things like that. He would fence in all that property and then just let the hogs roam, you know, all around that area, on his property.
G: So why did your family leave and move to Ballahack Road?
M: After my granddaddy and grandmother died, mother wasn’t happy there. Daddy said “there’s a guy at the plant” (he said his name was Warren) “they’re wanting to sell their place; and I think I’m going to go look at it, and see if we can buy it.” And so that’s when he put his place up for sale and moved out to Ballahack Road. I was very disappointed that he sold it because I loved it there. It was a beautiful yard; we had huge oaktrees, and as you came in our lane there was a huge oak tree, and then on down he had a plum tree that was always loaded; peaches, apples, and we had a circle driveway in the front yard that you could put flowers in. And then we had a big pine tree that wasfull of guineas, and every time somebody would come up in the yard those guineas would yack! And in the back I had big oak trees, I had a swing; oh, it was just a beautiful place, beautiful yard – daddy had the barn over to the left of the house. There’s a house on Battlefield Blvd. when you turn on Centerville Turnpike, off of Battlefield Blvd. you turn coming from our house here [in NC] and you turn on Centerville Turnpike and you go around the bend, there’s a house sitting there that looked just like the house that I was raised in – had a rail around the end porch, big columns; it was a beautiful place. I’m just so sorry that daddy sold it. But then we got out to Ballahack and then that house burned down! We lost all of our pictures, and everything.
G: Where did you attend school?
M: Kempsville. Kempsville Elementary . And the high-school was there too – Kempsville High School. And we were called “Blue Devils” – they don’t call them that anymore. Why they got that name, I don’t know! But the elementary school was beautiful; had real pretty white columns in the front steps, it was beautiful. It had wooden floors, and they oiled them. Our cafeteria was way back in an old wooden house, and you could go along and pickup Yoder Dairy’s milk; and you could buy a little bottle of chocolate milk –it was so delicious, but you can’t buy that anymore. But that’s where we ate, in that little green building. They wouldn’t allow us to do stuff like that today! (laughs)
G: Where did you go to buy things? Where were the principal areas of commerce?
M: We would go to downtown Norfolk – we didn’t have anyshopping centers.
G: So you had to go all the way down...
M: …all the way to downtown Norfolk. Put a dime in the meter, or a nickel in a meter, and that’s how we shopped. We had a Rice’s, and a Smith & Weltons, Cluskey’s; we had Woolworths dime store, we had – a lot of the stores are out of business now, there on Granby Street.
G: So there were no commercial areas to speak of around Woodstock?
M: No, no. In fact, this is funny – when you go out of Woodstock Road, turn right on Providence, and then right back on Indian River Road, there was a little country store there; and we would hook up the mule and cart (we were kids, you know) and go out to that little store and buy nickel candy bars. Nickel, no tax: a nickel for a Pepsi, you know, and ride to that country store and then come back (and that was Sam, our mule). And I would beg daddy to hook him up; “You all hook him up! I’ve got too much to do!” And I remember trying to hook him up; I’d catch him and hook him up to the cart, and I didn’t hook him up right and I’d holler “whoa mule!” and the cart would keep going and bump him in the back and then he would keep – he walked and I’d holler “whoa mule!” and the cart would keep – I didn’t have it right; and finally they came out and hooked it up – Belford did it, came out and hooked it up for me.
G: He didn’t want you to kill yourself!
M: No! I know, but that’s – he was a good old mule.
G: How about entertainment? What did you do for fun?
M: We went to church a lot, and we’d go on church picnics, and church outings, and we played games. We had horse shoes, daddy built us a merry-go-round and we’d get on and swing around, we had swings, I had books – I loved to read! And I would read books – a dill pickle and a book, or a swing. And you know, we played parlor games back then – Rook, and – I wasn’t allowed to play with playing cards – now what’s the difference? Daddy was very strict; no drinking, no smoking, no saying bad words.
G: Did you say you were from a Nazarene background?
G: What church did you attend?
M: We went to a church in Berkley – they’ve torn the church down. My dad, every time that church door was open, he was there. And see, he was a good musician. He could play anything you would put in his hands. And my sisters played the piano and organ; they were very, very good. We all took music, but it didn’t take with me for some reason, you know? But they could play. My sister Doris, she’s played at the Scope! If anybody came to town that needed somebody that could transpose music or whatever, they would always call Doris. And Doris, she could look at a piece of music in one key and play it in another. You know, that has to be a talent. It has to be a talent.
G: Did you spend much time in the river?
M: Yea, we did. We’d go out in the river. I’d go out with mygranddaddy. He liked to fish, and we went out in a row boat. Sometimes we would have to fight off a snake, and my sister Doris would take the oar and hit him – isn’t that crazy?
G: Well, it’s a river!
M: We were crazy! And we’d get in the rowboat and go out, you know. She was spunky – she would do anything!
G: Tell me about some of the other people who lived on Woodstock Road.
M: Burt and Della Hunter. She was as wide as she was tall! And he was as skinny, like Jack Sprat. They had a daughter named Helen, and they lived right across from our grandmother . She would come outside and decide which direction she wanted to go, and she was the neighborhood gossip. And she would look both directions, and my grandma didn’t like her to come because it would tie her down so she couldn’t get her work done. And Mrs. Hunter would get on the piano and play “You Are My Sunshine.” She couldn’t play very many pieces, but that was one she used to play. They had a washing machine that he made; and you put your clothes in a tub of water and you would stand there and do it like this and that would wash his clothes! A hand-operated washing machine. They just had that little place, and they didn’t even have a bathroom in their house – they had an outhouse. And she didn’t like thunder and lightning. You could say, “watch out now for thunder and lightning!” – and you’d see Ms. Della, she was going to go run for that bathroom! We had a place in South Norfolk called Modern Laundry (my aunt owned it) and sometimes we would send our clothes to the laundry because mother worked some when I was little. And they would bring them back, and one time we got back some clothes that were not ours – it was these HUGE underpants and we – my sister Doris was a prankster – she says “I’m gonna go hang them on Ms. Della’s line!” So she did! She went over there and hung them up on Ms. Della’s line and Ms. Della came out and she hollered, “Burt! You forgot to bring in my drawers!” (laughs!) And she fussed at him, but they weren’t her drawers.
|Della Hunter, Mary Oliver. Photo courtesy of Debbie Yancey.|
Down where the Hunters lived there were a lot of little houses, just small bungalow types, and there was a family named Yeates , one named Ford , then the Yoders , and the Davis’ that lived down on the left ; and then there was a Harry Davis that was no relation to the Davis’ on Woodstock Road. But Harry Davis lived at the very end of Woodstock Road , and his mother’s name was Ida – Ida Davis. She died when she was about, almost a hundred years old. But she drove an old Model T Ford, and she was going down Indian River Road and got to that bridge, the Campostella Bridge, Norfolk Highlands, and went off the road! He wouldn’t let her drive anymore after that. But he lived there with his mother, and his wife didn’t – couldn’t get along with his wife – her name was Lucille, and she took off. He was in politics. They lived there and we loved him to death. We’d go in the yard and he’d rake leaves, you know; and he’d hide us in the leaves, and we’d hide and he’d look for us, you know, just a nice, jolly man, oh just so nice. And Ms. Ida. They had an old dog named Major; he was a Great Dane. And if we had to use a telephone, or anything like that, we would always go to their house to use a telephone because we didn’t have telephones back then – no telephones, nothing! Nothing! (laughs) And we’d have to walk down there to catch the school bus and we’d catch the school bus right at his driveway. And then sometimes if we’d ride bicycles we’d park right there inside of his yard, behind the hedge.
G: The Steeles?
M: Their house was next to the marsh. Dorothy had crippling arthritis all of her life, right after Carolyn was born. She had Marie Strumpell disease, I think that’s what they called it. When she was living with us, Doris would play ragtime and she would do the rubber foot, dancing – they were always cutting up! They got married, and in fact Tommy was boarding at our house when he came from West Virginia, and daddy got him a job at the Ford Plant, and he didn’t work there very long – he went out on his own. And then he of course met Teenie there, and I was only about three, but I can remember because I loved Tommy! And they would say “Teenie is going to marry Tommy” and I’d say “Nah! I’m going to marry him!” I didn’t know what married was, I was three years old, you know! (laughs) He died about a year-and-a-half ago. He was living with his daughter. Wonderful man. Christian man. I mean, everybody needs to be like Tommy – never raised his voice, never got mad about anything.
I used to walk over to see Tommy's mother every day when I was little. And I would hide, you know, under the bed and she said, “Punkin” (I was called “Punkin” when I was little) “Punkin, where are you? Have you gone home? Oh me, you’ve gone home.” And I’d be hiding under the bed...
G: and she knew you were there!
M: ...and she would pretend like she was looking for me! Sweetest lady, oh my goodness. She could rock me, and you could just cuddle up to her, and I just loved her. We called her mom, mom Steele. Sweet Christian lady, I know she’s with the Lord; just the most wonderful person, good disposition.
1. From 1931-1938 John and Mary Oliver owned 56 acres between what is now Woodhaven Court and New Song Fellowship Church. Most of that farmland was used as a borrow pit during I-64 construction in the early 1960's, and is now a man-made lake.
2. In 1938 the Olivers relocated just a short distance north on Woodstock Road, across the street from the Harrisons. Their farm was bordered by the river to the north, Walker Road to the south, the Walker Farm to the east (now Sterling Road, approximately) and Woodstock Road to the west.
3. The Howe/Harrison house, located on the property of what is now 5912 Woodgrove Lane, was destroyed in a fire in January, 1986.
4. Belford Thomas Armstrong, born January 1, 1894; died January, 1982.
5. New Light is located on Indian River Road between Lake James and Centerville Tpk.
6. ca. 1947
7. James Steele was the older brother of Tommy Steele, and the brother-in-law of Dorothy Johnson Steele.
8. September, 1944
9. The Olivers sold a half-acre lot at the south end of their farm (the corner of Woodstock and Walker Road) to Jimmy in August of 1944
10. Check out my follow-up article on Kempsville schools
11. The Hunters received the 1 acre lot on the south side of Walker Road in May, 1941 from Jesse Parkerson in exchange for services rendered.
12. Property at 604-612 Woodstock Road. The house no longer exists.
13. Property at 614-618 Woodstock Road. The house no longer exists.
14. Property at 712-722 Woodstock Road. The Yoders were a presence on Woodstock Road until the mid-1990's.
15. Property at 764-782 Woodstock Road.
16. For more than a century, the Davis family owned a farm between Indian River and Providence Roads, on the land now occupied by Woodstock Park, Providence Park, and the Park-and-Ride. For more info on Harry Davis, go here.