Keith Walters - May 2007

Snow Hill Memories
by
Keith Walters

     Carole and I were married on June 17, 1955. Since we were just starting out and were poor as church mice, Carole’s aunt, Edee Barnes, and her husband, Erford, offered to put us up for our honeymoon in their three-story brick Snow Hill Inn, located in the center of the town by the same name near the Pocomoke River. The old Inn has since been torn down and replaced by a single-story hardware store.
      If ever anyone bought the equivalent of tickets on the Titanic, it was when Edee and Erf Barnes bought that old hotel. It had been built in the 1800s, and was old when we stayed there. In the early days, “drummers,” or traveling salesmen, would come from Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia to sell their wares and stay at the local hotels. In later years, when automobiles and better roads made traveling easier, small hotels fell by the wayside.
      The Snow Hill Inn was three stories and had about 12 rooms, plus an attached restaurant and separate dining room. The air conditioner in our room was an open window. Meals were cooked by Edee or her full-time cook, Evelyn. The hotel clerk was Harry Smack. He was in his 80s then.
Edee and Erf had an apartment above the restaurant. Edee’s pet black rabbit, Harvey, was named after an imaginary rabbit in a popular movie of that day. She let the rabbit out a window onto the roof of the restaurant to take care of its business.
      In a small room off the side street, Edee had an antiques shop. We still have some of the items from that shop.
      Erf tried to get fishermen interested in the wonderful bass fishing available in the nearby Pocomoke River by inviting outdoor writers like Bill Burton of the Baltimore Sunpapers to come and fish. Erf had several old rowboats on the riverfront to rent. Anglers would bring their own small outboard motors. The bass fishing was, and still is, great. But anglers found they could make the trip from the cities, fish all day, and return home that same night. They didn’t need to stay overnight.
      Pocomoke is an Algonquin word meaning “dark water.” The water is coffee-colored, stained by the bald cypress trees that line its shores. The Pocomoke is said to be the deepest river for its width in the country; in some places it is 40+ feet deep. Sailing rams carried fertilizer to offload at Snow Hill’s “Worcester Correct Plant Food Fertilizer” plant. There were two sailing rams at the wharf when we honeymooned there in 1955, including the “Jenny D. Bell,” owned by Clarence Heath, uncle of Ellen Bell. The rams carried fertilizer and lumber between Baltimore, Salisbury, and Snow Hill. Ellen Bell said the “white powdery stuff” (fertilizer) “smelled terrible” when she saw the rams as a young girl. In recent years, a waterside park replaced the commercial ship landing where the rams were berthed, and a tour boat is now docked there.
      Carole and I spent some honeymoon time putting around on the Pocomoke in a skiff, using Erf’s small outboard. We caught bass, too. There was, and still is, much to see on the river. It is beautiful, with hardly any development. The northernmost stand of bald cypress stumps and trees line the shores.
      Erf took me bass fishing on the upper Pocomoke River in one of his skiffs. He also introduced me to shad fishing from the upper river bridge they called Porter’s Landing. We always caught fish, but not always the species we targeted.
      I was a klutz-caster. Erf was a classic bass angler, and sniffed at my style of clanging a metal lure off a stump. He cast his favorite Devil’s Horse plug near a bald cypress stump and let it sit for twenty puffs on his cigarette before he’d twitch the lure. Rings went out from here to China before he’d move that plug. Drove me nuts. I caught bass after bass. He finally caught a big alligator gar. We had a time getting it into the boat. It slipped through his rotten net. By the time we released the gar we had shipped gallons of water aboard, but it was worth the hassle.
      In later years, Jack Stovall and I fished in the Pocomoke, and used antique tackle to catch our bass. The drawbridge is so low to the water, we had to pull ourselves under it at low tide to fish the upper river.
      We met many of the local folks every time we visited Edee and Erf. A chap worthy of note was one of Snow Hill’s cops, the late Sidney Brittingham. He was a big man, but he could outrun the peppiest perpetrator, and did. He caught one bad guy, picked him up by his shirt-front, and slammed him up against the brick wall in back of the Snow Hill Inn. Once he got the perp’s attention, Sid had no more trouble from him.
      There was plenty to do and see in that small town, even back then. Since we had arrived in the hottest part of the summer, and we only had a small window for ventilation, Carole and I would jump in our old Pontiac and drive around the country roads when the nights were stifling. One destination, day or night, was nearby Public Landing, a long pier that jutted out into Chincoteague Bay. We’d sit out there at night, and crab with chicken necks off the pier in the daytime, taking our catch back to the hotel to steam and share with our hosts.
      Swimming on the local beach at Public Landing was fun, too. We were often joined there in later years by Carole’s sister, Debbie, and their mother, Margaret. The beach was shallow enough to be safe for kids then, but the water was deep enough to permit some robust swimming.
      Carole and I were told about the old Iron Furnace just outside Snow Hill. In the 1950s it was simply an old abandoned brick iron smelter; in the 1800s ore was hand-dug from nearby marshes, carted to the furnace, and converted to pig iron there. Now a small village, Furnace Town, with tourist-oriented shops surrounds the furnace.
      Snow Hill has become an artist’s mecca in recent years, with several galleries. The old Snow Hill Inn is long since gone, and the town is still changing. That’s a good thing, I suppose, but the river is still a great place to canoe or fish. And if change is slow enough coming, there is some hope to preserve that uncomplicated, slow way of life that is now attracting a new set of folks to enjoy the peace and friendliness that places like Snow Hill still offer.
      For more information, go to www.snowhillmd.com. The town’s web site lists lodging, restaurants, recreation, and anything anyone needs to know about Snow Hill and its environs.