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

8 thoughts on “marlbank farms

  1. Lovely trip down memory lane. That area is so picturesque! The overgrown bits add to the charm and naughty houses for blocking the creek! May the swamp beast visit the creek and eat their houses 🙂

  2. Thank you Marco. That neighborhood holds so many great memories of my carefree days of childhood. It is so overgrown there; since the elevation is near water level, the humidity is very high and weeds and every plant imaginable grow in profusion. It’s almost like a jungle! I don’t know how residents keep nature under control. Most often they don’t! And yes, a swamp beast just may be the answer for those waterfront homes that block the creek. Sometimes private ownership, especially if you’re NOTthe owner, sucks!

    1. I’m afraid I’m fresh out of swamp monsters so I can’t send you one, well, at least not this week but I can dress up a cat or to and let them stomp around the place a bit? Mayve sprinkle the houses with catnip, ha ha!

      Ah yes memories – such fun.

  3. Thank you for sharing your life in Marlbank. We are recent immigrants and hope to create our own history here with our children. Nostalgia may well be the origin of bitter-sweet. So many things we treasure never stay the same. Constant repetition of the Serenity Prayer while appropriate does little impact the harsh reality of another palatial brick facade obscuring the beauty we once knew.


    1. I’m sorry I’m just now seeing your comment, Red. So where are you living in Marlbank? I’m sure you will manage to create many great memories with your children. I have wonderful memories of my childhood there. I’m sorry about the “palacial brick facades obscuring the beauty.” It’s so frustrating that so much waterfront property is now privately owned that us regular people can’t even enjoy the water.

  4. My husband grew up here on Poplar Pt. & then Three Pt. Ct. I, too, am a local, growing up in Seaford. In high school, I spent many a weekend in Marlbank, as parties were constant here. A few years after we were married, we moved to Marlbank Cove, a place my husband swore he would never move to because they destroyed the Boy Scout trails he used to play on as a child. However, a couple of years ago, we were fortunate enough to find a waterfront property towards the end of Wormley Creek Dr. (Yes, send on the swamp monster, and no, it is none of the homes pictured here, though I wish.) The deal we had was, we would only move if we could find waterfront property in Marlbank Farm – a very tough prospect since it seems nobody ever moves away from here. However, we both grew up on the water, so it was a must. I must say, it is great to be a “Farmer”. However, the creek is still available to MRA members here. The MRA dock is located at the end of Harbor Dr. It has been in disrepair since Hurricane Irene, but there is an effort to raise funds to rebuild it. The Marlbank Kayak Club is heading up the effort.

    1. Hi Cindy, thanks for dropping by. Did you go to York High School? If so, what year? I’m in China now, but my home is in northern Virginia. I come to Marlbank every so often to visit my father, who still lives there. I have great memories of my childhood in Marlbank. I’m envious of you your waterfront property on the Farm! 🙂

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