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December 2, 2010.

COMMUNITY LIFE from the Knotts Island Diary written by Sue Fentress Austin

Marsh Causeway in the 1930's and before.

The present road through the marshy area coming onto the Knotts Island community had two popular names in the bygone years - Marsh Road and The Causeway. When the "powers that be" decided to give our community official road names in the 1990s, that particular road was cause for heated discussion. Finally in order to make everyone happy, Marsh Causeway became THE name. In the early years, what served as a road was called by many names and most of them imprintable!!! Too much rain or snow simply made driving across an impossibility. On the last day of December, 1936, Adell writes Came home for the weekend road bad came in boat. Adell was teaching at Bayside Elementary School in Virginia. Bill would meet his girlfriend at the North End of the Island, whenever possible, where a boat landing was located. During the late thirties when the causeway road was being worked on and during inclement weather, this road across the marsh was horrible! Thus, the Islanders had to depend upon their boats and good weather for trips off their Island.

"In the early years,” says Pauline (White) Munden in her article entitled, “Knotts Island Then and Now" (which also gives credit to Judge Hal Bonney, Jr. and Jane M. Brumley for their earlier research), "the only road we had was through the Great Marsh and this followed a cow path and the men of the Island between the ages of 18 and 50 were required to give one day each month to keeping this road passable. Short lengths of tree limbs called ‘punchings’ were placed crosswise and a ditch was dug on each side of the punchings with now and then a wider place for passing. This became known as the “Corduroy Road" and was in use for many years. Several attempts at building a better road were made through the years and after many frustrations we have the Highway 615 .... "

Roy White recalled in 1999 as a young lad, riding across a corduroy road in a horse and cart. Roy was bom in 1918(?).

It appears, according to different discussions about the early road, the present road was established around the mid-‘20s, thanks to the man who owned the Marsh Road Clubhouse which was mostly called Corey’s Club. The hunting club, located about mid-way of the Marsh Causeway, was owned by Mr. William Ellis Corey. Tired of having his car stuck in the mud, he had a decent roadbed built all the way from the Virginia end to where his Club was located. So even though the improved road only went half way across, it was a wonderful beginning! A dredge, brought down for road work, eventually got stuck in goose Pond. In low tide the remains of the early dredge can still be seen. The best date advanced thus far is 1924 as the year the rest of the road came to Knotts Island. "Mr. Knapp shelled (massive amounts of oyster shells), about 30 feet," Colin Doxey thinks, "and these shells were dredged out of the Bay by barges and probably funded by Mr. Knapp.” Shells were taken from an area in Knotts Island Bay known as “the ridge." His Mackay Island roadway was also being upgraded about the same time with oyster shells that were being put on the Marsh Causeway Road from Corey’s Club on over to the Knotts Island community. ‘Twas not a very smooth ride in your Model "T” Ford a-driving on oyster shells either (and was probably bad on the tires too)! Still it was a vast improvement over the corduroy style road of the past.

Tunis Corbell remembered that:

"Mr. William Corey donated the Cannon Ball to the Virginia Community. The Cannon Ball served as a school bus for certain Virginia children who attended Creeds School at that time. Corey, who was U. S. Steel President and earlier had been president of Bethlehem Steel, was probably twice as wealthy as Knapp but was not as good a communicator with the local people. Corey resented the fame Mr. Knapp enjoyed as a benefactor of the area. But maybe his disposition was bad because of his painful stomach problems.

My father worked for Mr. Corey at the same time as Rufus Ballance. Corey spent lots of money on his Club and marshland. He brought dredges and dug out whole lakes in the marsh - Bulh’s/Bahl’s(?) Bay and Lynn's/Finn’s(?) Folley to name two. He hired PhD’s to study the ecology and hired crews to plant grass at the bottom of his lakes. He had incubators and brooders to raise ducks by the thousands to replenish the dwindling population of wild ducks. Then when the ducks would not become wild or even fly away hom the clubhouse, he would go into a rage and order his employees to shoot over their heads, and if they still did not fly, to shoot into the flock. He had a large boathouse and many small motor boats. On some icy mornings he would send one boat after another out into the Bay into the ice until it sank and then send the next one to the same fate. In the end all his employees were busy repairing boats for several days. He would often lay back in his duck blind on "blue bird" days (beautifiil weather which flying ducks don’t particularly like) and curse the universe, God, his employees and anyone else in sight because the ducks were not flying.

Despite his bad temper, Mr. Corey was generous with his employees and encouraged guests to tip the guides liberally. He also gave every employee a $20 gold piece every year for Christmas. After he died his son, Alton, ran the Club for awhile. He and his guests were polite and thanked the help for everything they did for them. But they rarely tipped or gave gifts. In a short time every one of the employees was wishing for their rude and tough old boss back and their generous tips and gifts!

Upton Waterfield was his first Club Superintendent and after his death, Garland Williams (his son-in-law) took over. He used to tell Garland that the more he spent improving the hunting property, the more he would pay him in salary and bonuses. The Island along the Marsh Causeway where Corey’s Club was located was named Balh’s Island, and was quite a bit larger than it is today. Tilford Williams was raised there as his parents were the caretakers, Garland and Lala Williams.

An amusing story used to be told by Lloyd White about Mr. Corey. We used to sell TB Christmas seals in the thirties and Lloyd got Mr. Corey as part of his soliciting assigmnent. Before he went, some wag, l’ve forgotten who the person was, told him Mr. Corey was deaf and he would have to shout out his message. Lloyd shouted for a few minutes until Mr. Corey interrupted and said, "G!D! You don’t have to yell, I’m not deaf” Whereupon Mr. Corey gave him $10 for the cause which was the biggest donation received from any Knotts Island student that year.”

The cars of that day were very lightweight. When the youngg men got stuck (which they frequently did in the mud and mire), they would just pile out, pick up the car and set it back onto the road. The first man Roy White remembers having a car was Charlie Capps, who worked for Mr, Knapp. Bill Fentress also was able to sport a car, but it belonged to his sister, Mamie, who also worked for the Knapps.

Approximately 15 boys, Roy White remembers, had jobs with Corey’s Road, and were making 25 cents an hour. Field work at that time only paid 20 cents and that included all you could eat from the table. Plus on this road job they became acquainted with so many different types of road and water equipment. Field workers were hard to come by during the road work time of 1935-’38. These Club owners were not so concerned with enhancing transportation for the poor Knotts Islanders as they were for their financial gain. They needed the decent roads to being in their rich hunting and fishing friends who lived up North. Both Corey and Knapp were truly responsible for bringing a half-way decent road to Knotts Island though.