yorktown, virginia: my hometown

Wednesday, August 22:  Yorktown, with its tiny population of 220 people (2000 census), is the county seat of York County, Virginia.  Its claim to fame is the siege and subsequent surrender of British General Cornwallis to American General George Washington on October 19, 1781 in the American Revolutionary War.  Cornwallis’s surrender to a combined American and French force in the Siege of Yorktown led to the end of major hostilities in North America.

Cornwallis Cave: where Cornwallis hid during the Revolutionary War??

According to Remember Yorktown, Cornwallis’s cave, located along the water front, is reported to have been the hiding place of Cornwallis during the siege at Yorktown during the Revolutionary War in 1781.  However, the York County Historical Committee says that contrary to the legend that describes this as Cornwallis’ hiding place at the end of the 1781 siege, it was probably used by a British gun crew to defend the river from the French Fleet. The site is National Park Service property.

the Yorktown Victory Monument

The Yorktown Victory Monument was authorized by Continental Congress, October 29, 1781, just after news of the surrender reached Philadelphia.  Actual construction began 100 years later and was completed in 1884.  The original figure of Liberty atop the victory shaft was severely damaged by lightning.  A new figure replaced it in 1956. The shaft of Maine granite is 84 feet tall; Liberty adds another 14 feet.

a ring of figures on the Yorktown Victory Monument
a view of the York River & one of the schooners from the hilltop where the monument stands

Yorktown also figured prominently in the American Civil War (1861–1865), serving as a major port to supply both northern and southern towns, depending upon who held Yorktown at the time (Wikipedia: Yorktown, Virginia).

the inviting Hornsby House Inn in historic Yorktown

Yorktown has a lot of historic houses including the Hornsby House Inn, a bed & breakfast that has been recently renovated.  It looks similar in style to many houses in the town. (Hornsby House Inn)

Side view of the Hornsby House Inn

I grew up in York County, not Yorktown proper, but as a child and teenager, my friends and I spent a lot of time at Yorktown Beach and on the Yorktown Battlefield, at the Yorktown Pub, on boats on the York River, and at Nick’s Seafood Pavilion, a landmark restaurant until it was damaged severely in a hurricane.  Every year on October 19, Yorktown Day, we went to the town to participate in the festivities, to gawk at the French sailors who came to town, and to eat Brunswick Stew.

this is the park at the far east end of Yorktown Beach where we had our senior class picnic. One of the schooners from the dock is sailing on the York River.
the Yorktown Pub

There are lots of great things to see in Yorktown.  The town is part of the national treasure known as the Historic Triangle of Yorktown, Williamsburg and Jamestown.  Yorktown lies at the eastern end of the Colonial Parkway, built between 1930 and 1957, which links the three communities, shielding drivers from views of commercial development; a major effort has been made to keep traffic signs and other modern roadside items to a minimum, and to make essential signs unobtrusive. There are often views of wildlife in addition to York River panoramas at several pull-offs.

Yorktown Beach with the George P. Coleman bridge in the background
Yorktown Beach in the direction of where the York River empties into the Chesapeake Bay
Yorktown Beach
Yorktown Beach with the fishing pier and Amoco Oil Refinery in the distance
Sea grasses and the George P. Coleman Bridge
Yorktown
Don’t break the rules!

The Yorktown Victory Center, which is the American Revolutionary War museum, shows our country’s evolution from colonial status to nationhood through thematic exhibits and living-history interpretation in a Continental Army encampment and 1780s farm.  People can visit the Yorktown Battlefield, Moore House, Nelson House, Custom House and Grace Episcopal Church.  If you want to visit Yorktown, please see: Historic Yorktown.

a little gallery of butterflies

Wednesday, August 22:  Today, fluttering around the butterfly bushes in my father’s backyard, I finally was able to take pictures of some Swallowtail butterflies.  I have never before been able to get good photos of these colorful creatures, so I was thrilled!!  Here they are:

Swallowtail butterfly
i love the blue coloring on this one! 🙂

Below is the gallery.  To see a slide show, click on any image.  Some are pictures of just the flowers, others are the butterflies.

marlbank farms

Wednesday, August 22:   The history of Marlbank Farms, the neighborhood where I grew up in Yorktown, dates back to the early 1700s.  It apparently began as the 500-acre “Wormley Creek Plantation.”  On October 19, 1781, while General Cornwallis was surrendering to George Washington in America’s Revolutionary War, Washington’s soldiers were likely foraging through Marlbank Farms for game and other food.  The decisive battle that won American independence was fought on the battlefield less than a mile from the plantation.

the overgrown approach to Marlbank Farm, originally the O’Hara’s house

Nearly a century later, in the spring of 1862, the plantation served as the base for Union forces laying siege to Yorktown.  The battle this time was against Confederate forces who were blocking Peninsula approaches to Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy in the American Civil War.

After the Civil War, ownership of the plantation changed.  In 1879, it was sold to William Hughes;  in 1945,  550 acres were sold to L. R. O’Hara.  Mr. O’Hara restored the manor house, named Marlbank Farm, and developed the Marlbank Farms subdivision in the late 1940s.  The O’Haras and descendents lived in the house until 1988.

the O’Hara’s house today… It was so much grander when I was a child. 😦

When the manor house was sold and refurbished in 1988, more houses were built close by.

A more modern house now stands next to the O’Hara’s house. Back in the day, only a huge farm surrounded the O’Hara’s house….. It was quite a grand entrance to Marlbank.
Another modern house built now on the O’Hara’s farmland…

Marlbank refers to the layer of marl (a conglomerate of mud, shells and clay) that lies below the soil surface along the York River. Early settlers used marl as construction material.

our family’s Colonial on Wormley Creek Drive

My family moved to Marlbank Farms in ~ 1966.  At that time, I was in 5th grade and I entered Yorktown Elementary School as the awkward new kid on the block.  My friend Louise loves to tell the story about how I arrived in the middle of the school year wearing a plaid crinoline dress, lacy ankle socks and patent leather shoes.  Yorktown was a different world from where I lived my first 11 years in Newport News.   I remember thinking I had moved out to the country from the big city, although that was far from the truth.

typical Virginia house flag…. on our house

Our family bought a two-story Colonial where my father still lives to this day.  Seven of us lived under that roof during those years: my mother and father, me as the eldest, Stephanie, Joan, Brian and Robbie.  I made the closest friends of my life in that neighborhood: first Martha, Melissa and Nancy; later Rosie and Louise.

the back of our house. It’s had several additions since I moved out.

I’m filled with nostalgia for my Marlbank years. In junior high school, Martha and I spent endless hours playing horses in her backyard, setting up an impressive array of jumps and having jumping competitions on the course.   Indoors, we sent colorful marbles racing down a multi-tiered plastic marble racetrack; each of our marbles was lovingly named after horses from Triple Crown races; many names we concocted ourselves.  We kept notebooks with descriptions of the marbles and their respective horse names.

Martha’s house. They just sold the house in recent years.

In my high school years, I practically lived in my friend Rosie’s house.  We played Yahtzee, watched TV, made tuna fish and olive cheese toast, and lounged around daydreaming about boys.

Rosie’s house, a place where I practically lived!!

We spent our days riding bikes around the neighborhood, swimming on the Marlbank Mudtoads swim team,  flirting with the lifeguards, and playing Marco Polo in the deep end of the Marlbank pool.

the Marlbank swimming pool
Home of the Marlbank Mudtoads

We went to dances at the Marlbank Recreation Association (MRA) building where we danced to songs like “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” by Iron Butterfly.   At slightly over 17 minutes, that song occupies the entire second side of the group’s 1968 In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida album.  I remember wishing certain boys would ask me to dance to that song.  When they didn’t, and I was stuck dancing to it with someone I didn’t like, the song seemed interminable.

the MRA Building ~ home of countless dances 🙂

Sometimes, when I felt sad and wanted to escape the hubbub in our boisterous house, I rode my bike to the pool and swung on the swings, even in the dead of winter.  The swings there today are a newer version of what was there in the 1970s.

swings of escape, and sometimes sadness…. 😦

Some of my friends had waterfront property, or access to docks, on Wormley Creek.  We went crabbing off those docks, tying chicken legs or wings to string and catching crabs with nets.   On hot & humid summer days, we walked through the woods on a trail at the end of Wormley Creek Drive to the creek itself.  There, the creek widened and fed into the York River.  We held our towels over our heads and swam across the creek to a sandy beach on the other side.  Sometimes Martha brought her little outboard motorboat and pulled us behind the boat on a rope dangling from the back.

heading down Wormley Creek Drive to where we used to eventually reach the creek

Nowadays, waterfront homes have been built at the end of Wormley Creek Drive, blocking all access to the creek. 😦  In my view, there should still be a trail down to the creek between the properties.

no more view of the creek because of the waterfront houses
you can catch a glimpse of the creek behind this house
We can’t see the creek, but at least we can see some huge beautiful flowers…
Another waterfront property. This one is about where the path to the creek was….

We did so many fun things over our childhood years; these are memories I will always cherish.

a little welcoming bench near someone’s driveway
ivy and a yellow maple leaf
vine-covered wall
everything grows here at this low elevation

One of the boys, Michael Sim, had a pony he kept at his grandfather’s stable near the end of Wormley Creek Drive.  The pony’s name was Maybe; maybe he’d buck you, maybe he wouldn’t.  This fickle and feisty little pony did whatever he felt like doing.  We used to ride him and jump him over low jumps in the big yard.  The quest was to stay on Maybe through the jumps.  Sometimes, while he was in the air, I lost my balance.  As soon as he hit the ground, he took advantage of my imbalance and started bucking.  Several times I remember hanging on to the saddle for dear life from the underside of his belly!  Another time we took Maybe to the Yorktown Battlefield.  I rode him as he galloped across a wide expanse of grass.  Suddenly, he stopped and put his head down, sending me flying off to land belly-down in the grass.  That pony was crazy, and we were equally crazy to ride him!

someone’s inviting house
my address:  Wormley Creek Drive

Today, 45 years after we moved to Marlbank, I visit my father and his wife Shirley, who, throughout my childhood, was our next-door neighbor.  I take a long walk through the neighborhood, which has changed yet somehow stayed the same.   Mostly it looks overgrown and shabby.  Most of the old-timers are still living here.  Maybe they are too old and just don’t have the energy to keep up their yards like they used to.  Many of the houses from the late 1940s and 1950s are looking a little worse for wear.   No matter.  Marlbank will always be home to me.

Shirley & Dad

Related article: York County, Virginia Community Network: Marlbank Cove Historical Perspectives