Vivian Allwine Ford lived as a child at Abingdon Farm, the estate that was built by Martha Washington’s grandson, John Parke Custis. She reminisced in 2005 about her childhood at Abingdon and the Allwine family living in what was then Alexandria County. It offers a glimpse into the life of this young girl at the turn of the last century. The interview is in the Arlington Public Library Center for Local History archives.
ARLINGTON COUNTY LIBRARY Oral History Program
NARRATOR: Vivian Allwine Ford
INTERVIEWER: Sara J. Collins
DATE: March 24, 2005
INTERVIEWER: This is a recording for the Virginia Room at the Arlington County
Library for the historical record, an interview with Vivian Allwine Ford at her house at 623 South 19th Street in the Virginia Highland section of Arlington County, not far from Route 1. Vivian is now 92 years old and will be 93 in December of this year. Living in her home and her good memories of family life and the neighborhood of Abingdon. Maybe you’d like to tell us about your parents. I have Daniel Thomas Allwine and Jeanette Janusky Mudd. Is Janusky right?
NARRATOR: That was my mother’s name.
INTERVIEWER: It was her middle name, wasn’t it?
NARRATOR: Her last name was Mudd.
INTERVIEWER: Where does the Janusky come from?
NARRATOR: Well, she always said a gypsy woman took her out of a baby carriage and had her christened Janusky. Now
what truth that is I just don’t know. That’s what my mother said.
INTERVIEWER: That’s part of the family lore. And her last name was Mudd. And I think you mentioned that she may have been related to Dr. Samuel Mudd.
NARRATOR: She was. We have his book.
INTERVIEWER: How was that? Is she the great, great granddaughter?
NARRATOR: No. She must have been a grand niece. She was not a real close relative but she is in his book that he wrote.
INTERVIEWER: She probably at one time or the family probably lived in Maryland.
NARRATOR: The Mudds are in Maryland.
INTERVIEWER: You want to tell us about your dad? Daniel Thomas Allwine. Talk about your dad.
NARRATOR: He was the superintendent of the brickyard that was on Abingdon farm. He at one time was assistant sheriff of Arlington County. I don’t think they called it assistant. What would they have called them?
INTERVIEWER: Deputy. Maybe a deputy sheriff.
INTERVIEWER: Somewhere we saw in the record that he worked for a feed company that was on the Abingdon grounds. But it was not a feed company, it was a brickyard.
NARRATOR: It was a brickyard. Feed company, I don’t know anything about that.
INTERVIEWER: That was in the article. Would have been the New Washington Brickyard?
NARRATOR: That’s right. [Notation by narrator: Earlier in D.C.]
INTERVIEWER: Did he come over here to Alexandria County from Washington to work for the brickyard?
INTERVIEWER: That’s what brought him to Alexandria County?
INTERVIEWER: Tell us about his family. He was the son of Hans Joseph Allwine and Katherine Watkin Allwine.
NARRATOR: I think so; I’m not real sure about that. I don’t know where you got that from.
INTERVIEWER: I just wanted to check that with you. You would not have met his parents?
INTERVIEWER: They were deceased before you knew him. Tell us how you met your husband.
NARRATOR: He always sat on the fireman’s steps since he was a fireman at No. 5. Us kids, we were kids at that time, always went down and played in front of the firehouse because it was all concrete then. We could skate on the concrete. So I met him there. The firehouse was on 23rd and Eads Street.
INTERVIEWER: Was he a volunteer fireman?
NARRATOR: Volunteer fireman, yes. When they had fireman’s carnival I always went to the carnival and I saw him there all the time. I made up my mind I was going to have him as my husband.
INTERVIEWER: Good for you. Were you in school together at Arlington?
INTERVIEWER: This was after you were through school.
INTERVIEWER: Where did they have the carnivals?
NARRATOR: On the corner of 23rd and Route 1.
INTERVIEWER: Was that farmland or just open fields?
NARRATOR: Open fields.
INTERVIEWER: Going back to the family that you grew up in at Abingdon, you had four living brothers. I understand George Franklin was the oldest?
INTERVIEWER: And people called him Frank.
NARRATOR: That’s right.
INTERVIEWER: Do you know when he was born?
NARRATOR: March 11.
INTERVIEWER: He was born before you were?
NARRATOR: Oh yes. I was the last child.
INTERVIEWER: I see. So these were all older brothers and sisters. So he probably was born in the late 1800s.
NARRATOR: I imagine he was born in Washington, D.C. I’m just surprised that I don’t really know that stuff.
INTERVIEWER: I think those are things that could always be looked up in records. You probably have records and the public records too. And then another brother. Who was next in the family? Was it Lee?
NARRATOR: Lee, William Lee. He was called Lee and he was born on March 11.
INTERVIEWER: Was he really? Both of them.
NARRATOR: Both of them was born on March 11, a different year of course.
INTERVIEWER: Isn’t that amazing. And then the next one, Robert Edward. Was he named after Robert Edward Lee?
NARRATOR: I don’t know about that. Probably so.
INTERVIEWER: Maybe he was since you say you had Lee family connections. And then the next one was Alfred Frederick that you called Freddie.
NARRATOR: That’s right.
INTERVIEWER: Is that the brother you were closest to?
NARRATOR: Yes. Because we were near the same age.
INTERVIEWER: So that was a playmate too.
NARRATOR: Yes, oh, yes. When I was living in Abingdon he was the only one around to play with. Everyone else lived too far away.
INTERVIEWER: What kind of things did you play? You had a lot of space, didn’t you?
NARRATOR: Yes. We played jump rope most of the time and then I had so many doll babies that my brother built a very rugged playhouse in the backyard. I had a cook stove, little toy one, it was iron and dishes that went with it and we would pretend that we were cooking dinner. We’d pull up weeds and stuff and decide that we were going to have that for dinner. Then of course when it rained we had to bring the doll babies and everything inside the house.
INTERVIEWER: When you say the backyard, is that the side of the house facing the river or the side away?
NARRATOR: Facing the river. That’s what we called the backyard but we found out that when Washington had it that that was the front of the house. They used that for the front and the back was what we called the front.
INTERVIEWER: When it was the home of the Alexander family or the Hunters or of the Custis family, in those days they would have arrived home by boat, wouldn’t they, from the river front? They would have traveled by boat.
NARRATOR: Well, I guess so. That was very easy to do because we used to walk to the river, it was that close. We didn’t ride very often.
INTERVIEWER: You could see the river from your house?
NARRATOR: Oh yes.
INTERVIEWER: The river of course nowadays is fill in there for the airport but in those days the river came up much closer—
NARRATOR: The river was closer to the house then. I would say a quarter of a mile
maybe. I could walk it. I left there when I was ten years old so when I was very small we would walk down to the river. That was no big deal.
INTERVIEWER: Is all that area down to the river part of the Abingdon Farm or house, plantation? That was all part of the grounds?
INTERVIEWER: How many acres would have been there then when you lived there?
NARRATOR: Really I don’t know.
INTERVIEWER: But it sounds like you had farm fields.
NARRATOR: We had a big garden, I know that.
INTERVIEWER: You mentioned orchards. Did you have an orchard?
NARRATOR: Well, we had apple trees. Not what you’d call an orchard, and black
walnut trees. But that was all. We didn’t have grapes or things like that. And there was a pear tree too. I thought that was good.
INTERVIEWER: Was your father actually farming that area? He had a barn there and he had horses.
NARRATOR: Yeah. And he had mules. They pulled wagons that dumped clay to make the bricks.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, that was for his work.
INTERVIEWER: But he didn’t really farm on a very big scale at Abingdon, did he?
NARRATOR: Yes. They had cornfield, big cornfield and then they had tomatoes and peppers. I can’t remember if it had anything else. On Saturdays or Friday, I don’t know which day it was, we would go into Washington where the old Center Market was and we would sell our crops that we had to the people that were selling to the public and they would buy ours. And then they always I imagine charged a little more so they would be making something off of it.
INTERVIEWER: So Saturday activity was going to market. Did you participate in that?
NARRATOR: I can remember that I would get tired of walking and so I would buy some dried apples, you don’t see dried applies very often now. I would just sit in the wagon and eat dried apples until my mother and father was finished. I thought that was a big deal.
INTERVIEWER: I suppose they got there over the 14th Street Bridge.
NARRATOR: Oh yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have animals on the farm besides the donkeys and the horses?
NARRATOR: We had a cow. I can only remember one cow that we had and goats.
INTERVIEWER: How many goats, do you remember?
NARRATOR: I don’t. That was before my time that they had the goats.
INTERVIEWER: There weren’t any goats when you were living there.
INTERVIEWER: You mentioned the family had goat milk.
NARRATOR: Chickens. And my mother raised turkeys. She loved to raise turkeys, the little baby ones were so cute. I remember that.
INTERVIEWER: Did you help with some of this?
NARRATOR: No. I more or less stood off and looked.
INTERVIEWER: There’s an advantage to being the youngest child and being a girl in a family of boys.
NARRATOR: Oh yes.
INTERVIEWER: So from the farm when you started school, was that at age five or six?
NARRATOR: No. You had to be six years old before you could enter school.
INTERVIEWER: And you started with first grade up at Hume? That’s quite a hill to go up to get to Hume School.
NARRATOR: Well, I didn’t mind walking from Abingdon up to Hume School because everybody else was walking those days too. Then when the weather was bad or something like that my dad would get the surrey we always called it, I don’t know if that’s a proper name for something you ride in or not. He’d hook up the horse and drive us to Hume School in bad weather or when it was real hot, we didn’t have to walk. And then he later got a Model T truck. He was just so proud of that truck. And my mother driving. That’s the funny part of it. My mother tried to drive it and she was zig-zagging, she couldn’t keep it on the road so she gave it up. She said she’d stick to the horses.
INTERVIEWER: I don’t blame her. It must have been hard to drive too with the road so crude. Well if you had a surrey that sounds like a carriage that had a roof on it.
NARRATOR: Yes it was.
INTERVIEWER: And that’s probably how you went visiting?
NARRATOR: Yes. When we did we went with that.
INTERVIEWER: And that carried how many people?
NARRATOR: I guess just four, maybe five. It was a small container, vehicle. . .
INTERVIEWER: Did you or family members ride horseback around the area?
NARRATOR: No. Several times they would pick me up and put me up on a horse and walk the horse around. But going on horseback riding by myself, I never did that.
INTERVIEWER: I bet your brothers did.
NARRATOR: Oh yes, I’m sure they did.
INTERVIEWER: But you had a horse as well as a mule.
NARRATOR: Yes they had horses.
INTERVIEWER: So did you ever get over to the brickworks?
INTERVIEWER: Was that close to your home?
NARRATOR: That was nearer to Route 1. It wasn’t up close, although I can remember that they were getting very close digging out clay and stuff. We could run from our house out to the edge of a hill I guess you’d call it. We had fun doing that. Another game we’d play was tag. There were so many places that you could hide. We could stay hid for maybe an hour before somebody would find us.
INTERVIEWER: So jumping rope and tag and probably hiking around—
NARRATOR: Ball and jack.
INTERVIEWER: If you had cement or a hard surface ground for that.
NARRATOR: Well we could do that on the porch.
INTERVIEWER: The porch faced the river, didn’t it?
INTERVIEWER: And was the barn back there too?
NARRATOR: Yes. It was back there towards the river, (ca. 1925?). I think that the
people that had lived there built the barns. I don’t imagine they were there when Washington was there.
INTERVIEWER: But Washington visited his stepson John Custis at the house, from what I understand. Were a lot of people interested in the house, and come by to look at it?
NARRATOR: Oh yes. We always was having people come and wanted to go through the house and see how it was, and my mother always let them come and go. On Easter we had all of our family that would come from Alexandria or Washington for rolls out, and they would actually roll down the hill. I thought it was sort of stupid. They would roll down the hill and then we had eggs and they could roll the eggs down the hill. They were always there for a meal it seemed like, too. My mother was always cooking.
INTERVIEWER: It must have been the centerpiece of family gatherings at Abingdon.
NARRATOR: There were some people who would come and say, “Would you mind
digging out here by the chicken house because we understand that money was hid there.” And they would dig and make a hole and we always made them cover it up before they left. They never did find any money. But they tried.
INTERVIEWER: Treasure hunters. I wonder what treasures they expected. Was the attraction to the place because it was Nellie Custis’ house?
NARRATOR: Yes.INTERVIEWER: She was the best known of the family, probably. Everyone knew Nellie. I can remember your telling me about your mother and your grandmother. Now your mother, if I have the name correct here, Jeannette, and her maiden name was Mudd. What was your grandmother’s name?
NARRATOR: Well, her name was Emma Virginia because they all called her Ginny.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember her last name?
NARRATOR: Mudd. I wonder if the maiden name was Grinder?
INTERVIEWER: Is that a family name?
INTERVIEWER; We’ll have to check on that, but your mother and grandmother lived in the Toll House on Columbia Turnpike.
NARRATOR: She was in charge of the Toll House there and she always had buckets of lunch fixed up. And my mother would go on the boat on the canal to take the lunches to the men at the brickyard.
INTERVIEWER: All the different brickyards along the Alexandria Canal?
NARRATOR: No, just the New Washington Brick.
INTERVIEWER: Well, that was quite a distance, wasn’t it, from Columbia Pike down to the brickyards, the New Washington Brickyards? That must have been quite a ride on the canal. And that’s how they sold the food.
NARRATOR: Yeah, I guess so. Or maybe they fixed soup or something. I never was
inquisitive enough to ask what was in the lunch boxes.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever see that Toll House?
INTERVIEWER: It was gone by the time you were around here. Wouldn’t that have been interesting? Do you have a picture of that Toll House?
NARRATOR: I don’t have a picture of it.
INTERVIEWER: We’ll have to keep our eyes open for that. That would be interesting to see. But they collected the tolls from people using the Columbia Pike. I think that’s interesting that they would sell the lunches. That was how they kept income in the family, wasn’t it?
NARRATOR: I guess so.
INTERVIEWER: Amazing, isn’t it? There is something else I wanted to ask you. You were born at Abingdon but you had a doctor. There must not have been many in the area.
NARRATOR: He was in Washington but he would come out to Abingdon when my
mother was having babies. And I was told that I was found in a cabbage and I was fool enough to believe that [laughter].
INTERVIEWER: But it was Dr. Walters who delivered you and other members of the family. Then when you went to Hume – I understand there were two classrooms on that first floor.
NARRATOR: Yeah. Two rooms.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember your teachers?
NARRATOR: Miss Hancock. She was the first grade teacher. Because when I would get there my hands were frozen. She would take my hands and stick them down her bosom to get them warm. She visited Abingdon a lot. We had here for dinner a lot of times.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember her first name?
INTERVIEWER: Miss Hancock. And everyone called teachers by their last name and never their first name I suppose.
NARRATOR: I’m trying to think of some of the other teachers. I guess I remember that because she used to warm my hands.
INTERVIEWER: And you probably had a wood stove in the building. Were the classes divided according to ages? Maybe the youngest students in this room and the older ones in the other room?
NARRATOR: Well it was according to what grade: one, two, and three was in the first room and then four, five and six was in the next room. There was never a lot of children in the fifth and sixth grade. At one time, there was an overflow of students that used the second floor room.
INTERVIEWER: Why is that?
NARRATOR: I don’t know. I guess they went to some other school or maybe they were taught at home. I have no idea why but there were never a lot of older children.
INTERVIEWER: At some point you went to the Mt. Vernon School.
NARRATOR: Yes. That’s when I was there from the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth grade. I had to quit in the eleventh because I was sick. I was going to go to night school but Johnnie came around so I never got to go. I never went to night school.
INTERVIEWER: You never went back for that. Where was the Mt. Vernon School located? It’s on Mt. Vernon Boulevard?
NARRATOR: You go to Alexandria you have to go by it.
INTERVIEWER: Is it still there?
INTERVIEWER: I know what you mean, I think. And that was a grade school and high school?
INTERVIEWER: Or middle school and high school..
NARRATOR: Middle School, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: I’ve seen that school down there. Do you remember any of the children who were in school with you at Hume School and later?
NARRATOR: Yes. Audrey Newman, Eddie Newman, Stanley Newman, all the Newman family.
INTERVIEWER: And where did they live?
NARRATOR: The same street as the Beckwiths. Florence Sealor. She had a
brother but I don’t remember his name. Must have been William because they called him Will. The children were Florence, Will and Mary.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. When you went to school, were there children who stayed in the area like you, and you probably stayed friends with them.
NARRATOR: Kidwell. They had a house on 20th Street and they all died
off, they’re all gone.
INTERVIEWER: Who was in school with you in the Kidwell family?
NARRATOR: Harold Kidwell. And then his older brother was Acton. He would have been in the other grade, in the other room.
INTERVIEWER: How did the teacher get to school?
NARRATOR: That’s a good question.
INTERVIEWER: Did she live near here?
NARRATOR: I have no idea.
INTERVIEWER: At some point I’ve heard that teachers came in a horse and carriage and kept the horse in a stable behind the school.
NARRATOR: I don’t remember that. That was before my time.
INTERVIEWER: And you didn’t have running water at the school?
NARRATOR: We had a pump out in the yard.
INTERVIEWER: In the front?
NARRATOR: Yeah. School faces this way, doesn’t it?
INTERVIEWER: I guess northeast.
NARRATOR: Well, the pump was right over here, outside of the front door, to the right. You asked “Could I get a drink of water?” They say, “Yes, who do you want to go with you?” because they had to pump the water while you held your cup down there and got it full. And we had to make our own cups out of paper that we would do lessons on.
INTERVIEWER: That was recycling, wasn’t it? That sounds better than what you typically think of as a tin cup that everyone used.
NARRATOR: They never had tin cups. You had to make your paper cup and take it out with you.
INTERVIEWER: That sounds better, healthier. Some people talked about the school doctor coming by. Was there a school doctor or dentist?
NARRATOR: Oh, yes. The dentist would come. They had an eye doctor that would
come and you would sit so far away from the paper that had the numbers on it.
INTERVIEWER: A chart. A chart on the wall.
NARRATOR: Uh-huh. I was glad when the dentist come. He would examine my teeth and tell my mother that I had to have some filled or some pulled, mostly pulled. They believed in pulling teeth then.
INTERVIEWER: I don’t suppose many children had braces back then like they do now.
NARRATOR: Oh no, I don’t know of anyone that had braces.
INTERVIEWER: They just pulled out the offending teeth. But when the dentist came, he didn’t fill the teeth there, you had to go some place for that.
NARRATOR: You had to go to a dentist and have your teeth pulled.
INTERVIEWER: Where did you go to doctor and dentist, in Washington?
NARRATOR: From way back when, I think it was Alexandria.
INTERVIEWER: And you could get to Alexandria pretty easily.
NARRATOR: Oh yes.
INTERVIEWER: You had a trolley. Where did you catch the trolley?
NARRATOR: They had a trolley car that traveled and later there were buses. Mr. May started a bus.
INTERVIEWER: Robert May.
NARRATOR: And of course when automobiles were the phase my older brothers had cars and they would take us where we wanted to go.
INTERVIEWER: Was your shopping, your grocery and clothing shopping mostly in Alexandria or in Washington?
NARRATOR: In Washington. My mother dealt at Kahn’s Department Store. I can remember one time when I ran in there and tried to get a coat. She took the salesman over to a side and my hearing was very good then. My mother was telling the saleslady that I still believed in Santa Claus. So I had her fooled because I knew there wasn’t any Santa Claus.
INTERVIEWER: But it was a good game to play along with.
NARRATOR: If that made her happy well that was okay with me..
INTERVIEWER: That’s funny. Grocery shopping. There weren’t any grocery stores nearby, were there?
NARRATOR: No. My mother opened a grocery store in the old car station place right there on 23rd Street where the fire house was. Of course that was way long back and they sold half loaves of bread.
INTERVIEWER: So that was next to the fire house.
NARRATOR: The fire house wasn’t there at that time. We didn’t have a fire house then. That was way back years ago. I’m wondering where she got the food to sell. She probably went into Washington for that, I don’t know. And then of course it wasn’t just a grocery store. She had needles and buttons. I can’t find that now but I had a card with crocheted buttons on it that was sold. I don’t know what happened to that.
INTERVIEWER: Isn’t that interesting? What did she call the store?
NARRATOR: I have no idea.
INTERVIEWER: She was very enterprising. Sounds like you have a family of strong women.
NARRATOR: My brother Lee worked at a spark plug place, Express Spark Plugs that used to be down at the corner of 18th Street, which is 18th Street now. It later moved to Alexandria, at Eads Street in South Arlington. He assembled express spark plugs.
INTERVIEWER: Did he run the business; he owned it?
NARRATOR: No. He just worked there then. And my brother Frank he worked in an automobile division of government, fixing trucks and things like that.
INTERVIEWER: What did most of the people in this area do for a living?
NARRATOR: You know I have no idea. I imagine a lot of them worked for the
INTERVIEWER: And most of the women probably were at home taking care of houses.
NARRATOR: I can’t remember a woman working back then when I was a child,
INTERVIEWER: When you started going in seventh grade to the Mt. Vernon School, could you walk there?
NARRATOR: We would walk home most of the time but we would ride the trolley car. It stopped right there where the school was.
INTERVIEWER: I think I remember your saying that was five cents.
NARRATOR: We would save our money and buy something to eat which was a pickle or— . You know people don’t buy pickles anymore to eat like that. Just have a pickle and eat it. I thought it was a very good idea.
INTERVIEWER: Would that have been in a grocery store, you’d stop and get a pickle or a candy bar?
NARRATOR: Yeah. I don’t think I ever bought candy. I think I always bought a pickle because I loved pickles.
INTERVIEWER: Was there a store near the Mt. Vernon School?
NARRATOR: I don’t remember how I got that pickle.
INTERVIEWER: Sounds like there may have been a general store down there, too.
NARRATOR: Probably so.
INTERVIEWER: When your mother had the store on 23rd Street, was that when she was living at Abingdon or after she moved?
NARRATOR: In Abingdon. And my oldest brother had charge of selling because she always said if it wasn’t for Frank I would be (this is when we lived on Abingdon). If it wasn’t for Frank, I should never have let him have charge of it, because it seems as though they went in arrears and had to give the store up. You just can’t trust teenagers, you know, even way back then.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember any of your teachers or classmates down at Mt.
NARRATOR: Oh yes. Mr. Knight. He was a seventh grade teacher. And he had a shriveled arm. His hand was right up here.
INTERVIEWER: Up to the elbow.
NARRATOR: Shriveled arm was all I heard tell. But he could really teach. He was a
INTERVIEWER: And he taught, you said math?
NARRATOR: And then Mrs. Ransom was another teacher in Mt. Vernon, And Miss. Swicker, too. I took up sewing, I don’t know what they called that class now.
INTERVIEWER; When I was in school they called it home economics.
NARRATOR: Home economics, yes. Miss Swicker.
INTERVIEWER: She probably taught cooking too?
NARRATOR: Yes. Cooking and sewing. I was a rather good sewer, I’ll say that much for me. I could really sew. I made my mother’s clothes because she was so tiny and little it was hard to find clothes to fit her. So I made her a coat one time and then I got so that I could make hats for her.
INTERVIEWER: Amazing, that’s wonderful. When you lived at Abingdon were there other farms around you in the neighborhood of Abingdon? Were there working farms? [See interviewer’s note on Norton’s Farm at the end of
NARRATOR: If I walked through a path east through the cornfield there was rows of houses over there. There was two houses sit here, two houses sit here. They were joined together. Must have been three. Stokes lived in the first one. Then my grandmother come to live there. I think, I’m not sure about this but I think she lived in the first one and his house was there and then her house was there. But I don’t know who lived in the other houses down that way.
INTERVIEWER: Would this have been between Abingdon and Washington, D.C, in that direction or toward Alexandria.
NARRATOR: Towards D.C.
INTERVIEWER: So that sounds like a working farm.
NARRATOR: No one had children. It seemed like they were all adults that went to those houses because I can’t remember any playmates I had.
INTERVIEWER: You were lucky to have a brother to play with at your house.
INTERVIEWER: You mentioned too that there was a black community of African-
NARRATOR: You had to go across a bridge over the railroad tracks. On this side of the bridge there was a row of houses for the black people. And then on the side facing Washington, it was near Washington, on that side of Abingdon, down near the river was another set of houses for the black people. If they had a name for them I don’t know what it was. I just know that’s where the black people were, between Abingdon and Route 1.
INTERVIEWER: Wasn’t there a black man who lived on Abingdon and took care of some of the work there?
NARRATOR: Old Ed West they called him. He had a club foot. He was the one that resurrected me the time when I went out the back door and slid right on the snow to see Ed West. He always cooked for the pigs. We had pigs too. So when my mother went looking for me, he was holding me up to the fire, drying me off where I was all wet.
INTERVIEWER: Where did he live?
NARRATOR: He must have lived down on one of those houses that was near the bridge.
INTERVIEWER: Down toward the river from you and near the railroad bridge.
NARRATOR: He didn’t live where we lived. He could have very easily have lived in the room in the brick building.
INTERVIEWER: So he came every day?
NARRATOR: Oh yeah. He could do other work around the house too. I guess maybe he fed the horses and stuff, I don’t know. But I just know that he had fire in the fireplace where he cooked the food.
INTERVIEWER: Inside? When you lived there where was the kitchen? Was it outside or was it part of the house?
NARRATOR: It was attached to the house on the right hand side. It would be facing the river.
INTERVIEWER: As you facing the river, it would be on the right hand side.
NARRATOR: The kitchen door opened up on the porch. You could go out the door on the porch and then turn right and go down steps and walk around to where it was.
INTERVIEWER: So from the house you couldn’t go into the kitchen without going outside?
NARRATOR: Oh no. In the dining room there was two steps that went down in the
INTERVIEWER: I see. So it was attached to the house. And there were evidently indoor bathrooms too in the house?
NARRATOR: No. They didn’t bathrooms in the house. It was outhouses. And we called ours “Mexico.” Which one put the name to it I don’t know but when we were kids, “We have to go to Mexico.”
INTERVIEWER: That’s funny. There was never running water inside the house.
NARRATOR: Yes. My father fixed it so that there was water in the kitchen. We had an iron sink attached to the wall. The pipe must have been run out to the pump. I know there was a motor out there too when they wanted to fill up. I don’t know. I better not start into that because I don’t know anything about it.
INTERVIEWER: Well, those were very complex things. It sounds like your father was very inventive.
NARRATOR: In those days you had to know how to do a lot of things.
INTERVIEWER: And his job at the brick factory was supervising—
NARRATOR: He was superintendent. He’d see that all the workers were working and if they needed stuff and all and what else I don’t know. I just know he was superintendent of the brick yard.
INTERVIEWER: Do you know where the brick was used? Was it used in Washington buildings?
NARRATOR: It was sold to different places, whoever wanted to buy brick.
INTERVIEWER: How many brick works were there? There were many along the Potomac. Do you remember others?
NARRATOR: I know the kilns were round like that but how many was there I don’t
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember West Brothers brickyard?
NARRATOR: I remember where West Brothers brickyard was but I don’t know anything about it. The Kidwell family worked at West Brickyard.
INTERVIEWER: There must have been a lot of open space all around.
NARRATOR: Oh, it was a lot of open spaces around.
INTERVIEWER: Was the railroad always there when you were?
NARRATOR: As far as I know the railroad was always there. During wartime Freddie and I would go down to the tracks where the soldiers would throw their trash out the windows of the train and packages (they were soft packages then) of cigarettes and we would pick them up and take the silver aluminum off of it and we’d make it into balls and you could sell those. I can’t imagine my mother letting us go down on the railroad tracks like that and do. Maybe she didn’t know it. [Laughter.]
INTERVIEWER: Mothers don’t know everything. That was during World War I.
NARRATOR: My brother Lee was in that. The other brothers didn’t but he was in it.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember the flu epidemic. Did that affect this area?
NARRATOR: My mother was very very ill with the flu.
INTERVIEWER: Who took care of her?
NARRATOR: She had a colored lady that I know would come in and help her. When we had lace curtains to all the windows and they had to be put on stretchers when they were washed. I hated that time because she thought that I could learn how to do that and help her. So she got the colored lady a job over—I don’t know the name of the hotel now, taking care of the linens. So she didn’t come to work for us very much then. She had a job. My mother got her the job.
INTERVIEWER: Did she live near you?
NARRATOR: I really don’t know, probably so.
INTERVIEWER: Did a lot of people in this area have the flu?
NARRATOR: I think it was getting bad.
INTERVIEWER: We were talking about the flu epidemic too and did people have to stay home and not get out or gather in the churches?
NARRATOR: I don’t know.
INTERVIEWER: Of course you were little. You weren’t making those decisions then.
NARRATOR: I wasn’t interested in anything like that.
INTERVIEWER: Of course. What child is. You talked about having a basement at Abingdon, a cellar?
NARRATOR: It was called a cellar because it was just ground, it wasn’t concrete or
anything like that. In the winter time we kept cabbage and food stuff in there. We ate an awful lot of molasses. We had molasses. It was a barrel I guess you would call them that had the—well, my brother and I would go down there. It was an outdoor entrance to it and there was also an inside entrance to it. We thought it was fun just to use our finger where the molasses came out. That was very good. One time I got a bellyache from eating too much of it. And I guess that stopped me from going down the cellar and getting molasses.
INTERVIEWER: I bet it did. You had a sweet tooth. This looks like it’s almost stopped here.
INTERVIEWER: We were just talking about the cellar at Abingdon. That’s where the family kept the molasses and Vivian and her brother used to like to go in there and sample the molasses until she got sick on it. You probably had canned goods in there too. Did your mother can a lot of things?
NARRATOR: Yes, she did. And plenty of apple sauce. Today I don’t really care for
INTERVIEWER: You had your fill of that. Because you had a number of apple trees at Abingdon.
NARRATOR: Well, I can only think of two apple trees that was on the place. Probably had more than that when those other people lived there.
INTERVIEWER: The article in the magazine, the title of this article, “Vivian Ford,
Abingdon’s Last Living Resident.” But there was a family that you’ve mentioned that lived there after you.
NARRATOR: The Beckwiths.
INTERVIEWER: The Beckwiths. Actually, someone, a niece of the Beckwiths, a [Napier?] brought in some papers and some pictures to the library of the Beckwith family, that was Edward W. Beckwith who was married to Hollis A. Phillips and that they lived there when the Allwine family left for several years, from 1923 to 1927.
NARRATOR: Well their house burned down and they moved into Abingdon but they only lived there a couple of years because then they moved down here on 21st Street.
INTERVIEWER: Oh yes. 621 21st Street. Were they relatives to you?
NARRATOR: No, no relation.
INTERVIEWER: So when you left Abingdon, that was in 1922?
INTERVIEWER: And you were about ten. You moved to a house in the area. Where did you move? Oh, perhaps the house on Route 1?
NARRATOR: That was on Route 1. My father had been going all over Arlington trying to find a house where he could have his horses and mules and he never could find one. There was a feed store (maybe that’s where the feed store came in) for the animals.
INTERVIEWER: It wasn’t his feed store, it was someone else’s.
NARRATOR: No, it was for the brickyard. We moved due to the railroad buying the property. There was another house, small house, right down from this feed store and so he asked how we would all like to live, like we were camping out in the feed store until we got the house built over here on 20th Street. Well, we thought that would be a lark. They painted up the feed store and closed it up and made it livable. It has two rooms and at night we slept on cots. They went into the big room and one on top of the other. My mother had her bed of course there. We all slept in that one room. It was terrible for my mother to move from our house as big as it was, Abingdon was, and come down to something like that. Then at night, these cots were moved out, but we were in the other room which was different furniture. This was our living room up here, this was our dining room and kitchen was down here. We ate in the kitchen all the time. As I said, we moved the cots out in the other room where we slept. We had a great big pot bellied stove out there, just that
one stove, but it kept that feed store warm enough for us to live there. I guess we lived there for a year, year and a half, something like that.
INTERVIEWER: I’m trying to picture where that was. What’s there now?
NARRATOR: That was near Route 1. You turned off of Route 1 and went right up to what we would call our front yard. If it was a street that went all the way over it would have been 18th Street.
INTERVIEWER: So not far from here where you are now.
NARRATOR: No. And then when my grandmother died, she left some money to my mother. And so my mother bought lots over on 20th Street, and so then we bought a Sears & Roebuck house, and we had to wait until that was all put together. And then we moved in on 20th Street.
INTERVIEWER: Is that house still standing?
NARRATOR: Oh yes.
INTERVIEWER: What’s the address of that?
NARRATOR: 708 20th Street.
INTERVIEWER: Were you around when the house arrived by train?
NARRATOR: No. I don’t remember it coming in, or anything. I just remember that I picked out my bedroom and told them that was going to be my bedroom.
INTERVIEWER: After it was put up.
INTERVIEWER: Did your dad put the house up?
NARRATOR: No. We hired a man to do that. But my dad and my brother Lee made the cement block for the foundation, mixed the concrete. It was a thing like that, about that high all around.
INTERVIEWER: Maybe about three feet tall.
NARRATOR: And they did one at a time, one at a time. But they made them all.
INTERVIEWER: And the house is still there. Were there a lot of Sears houses in the area?
NARRATOR: There’s quite a few. There’s one over on 23rd Street and there’s another one at maybe it’s 18th Street, I don’t know.
INTERVIEWER: When you moved to your new house you didn’t change schools? You were still going to Hume?
INTERVIEWER: Were any of the streets paved around here then?
INTERVIEWER: You mentioned too that when you were moving out of Abingdon your folks gave away some of the furniture.
NARRATOR: Yeah. That was when I lived on 20th Street. She gave the organ to the
INTERVIEWER: That was the Catholic Church in the neighborhood here.
NARRATOR: It’s over on 23rd Street, 23rd Street and Hayes I guess that is. I don’t know but it’s on 23rd Street.
INTERVIEWER: And that was your father’s church.
NARRATOR: My father went there, he was a Catholic. My mother was an Episcopalian. We used to go by trolley car into Washington and then get on another trolley car there and go out to where her church was. That was out in Southeast.
INTERVIEWER: That must be the neighborhood that she grew up in. She stayed with the church.
NARRATOR: Probably so. But then when we got too much work or something, we
stopped going there and they started this Methodist Church over here. We started going to that and that’s how come we got to be Methodists.
INTERVIEWER: I’m trying to think of the name of that. I’ve seen that church. That’s near here, isn’t it? But I don’t see the name of that church here, the Methodist Church.
INTERVIEWER: Calvary Methodist. I have been there. So it was when they were leaving their house on 20th Street they gave away some furniture.
NARRATOR: Well, we had to give away a lot of stuff when we left Abingdon. My
father did burn a lot of stuff, had a bonfire there. And I know the people from all over here would come up there thinking it was Abingdon that was burning.
INTERVIEWER: Was that scary?
NARRATOR: Yeah. And then nobody will believe me but there was a great big square hole made in the earth. As you were walking down to the river you walked right by it. Maybe in olden times, maybe they put vegetables and stuff in it. I think that’s where my father threw a lot of stuff, was down in that hole.
INTERVIEWER: It sounds like a root cellar.
NARRATOR: Yeah. That’s all I remember about that.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember a stockyard being in the area? There used to be a stockyard on the Abingdon plantation. I think that was long before you were there. [See interviewer’s note at the end of this manuscript on Norton’s Farm.]
NARRATOR: It must have been, because I don’t know anything about it.
INTERVIEWER: It was next to the Waterloo Brickyard and I think Waterloo Brickyard may have preceded New Alexandria.
NARRATOR: I just found out that there was another brickyard there before, Washington Brickyard.
INTERVIEWER: Maybe that was Waterloo.
NARRATOR: Yeah, I think so.
INTERVIEWER: Something else I was going to ask you about that too. Do you remember Luna Park or were you too young?
NARRATOR: I don’t remember anything about a name. It was before my time.
INTERVIEWER: I think it burned when you were about three.
NARRATOR: Because I don’t remember ever going to Luna Park.
INTERVIEWER: Did you see the fire at Abingdon when it burned in the thirties?
NARRATOR: Oh yes. I was at Hume School during that time. We just thought that it was just a brush fire and then somebody in the school said, “Oh, that’s Abingdon House.” That’s when I jumped up and went to the window and looked. It was Abingdon House.
INTERVIEWER: That must have been heart wrenching.
NARRATOR: It was.
INTERVIEWER: But you and your family knew that that was a very historic place. Did other people know that too?
NARRATOR: Yes. There was a lot of people, as I said before, would come there and
want to go through the house to see how big it was.
INTERVIEWER: And other people around the neighborhood knew it was historic and important.
NARRATOR: Yes. That lived over here.
INTERVIEWER: Then you said you met John Ford because he was a volunteer fireman.
NARRATOR: He was a fireman and in the summertime he did a lot of sitting on the steps of the firehouse and we would just go down and just as young kids will do, they still do it today. And then I went to carnivals and there he was.
INTERVIEWER: I understand that you got married in 1939 and went to Snow Hill.
NARRATOR: Snow Hill, Maryland.
INTERVIEWER: You want to tell why that was?
NARRATOR: That was a trip, I’m telling you. My brother and his girlfriend went with us to be witness for the marriage and before we got to Snow Hill we stopped at a store. We got something to drink or something, ice cream or something, I don’t know what it was but westopped there. And so Freddie asked John why do we stop here and he says, “Well, I decided we were going to get married. We’re not going to get married today.” And he said, “What do you mean you’re not going to get married today?” And he said, “Well, I’ve just been thinking about it and I just don’t want to be married.” Then of course somebody had to a crack smile and know something about it. “No, we just stopped to get something cool.”
INTERVIEWER: Was he teasing?
NARRATOR: Yes. He was teasing. He had told me what he was going to do. Then when we got to Snow Hill, I don’t know if it was before we were married or after we were married that the preacher’s wife had fixed us a lovely luncheon for us. I don’t know where we got on the boat but we got on a boat and could take the car with
us and went over to Virginia Beach. That’s where we had our honeymoon. That hotel burned down and the name of it, I hate for anybody to ask, “Do you remember the name of the hotel where you stayed?” “Oh, yes. Gay Manor.”
INTERVIEWER: [Laughter.] I see.
NARRATOR: Then we had to get on another boat and go up somewhere, I don’t know where it was, but we had a very fine wedding. I was on a boat all the time.
INTERVIEWER: But you weren’t married on the boat?
NARRATOR: No. We were married in a Methodist Church. That preacher was stationed up here at this church at one time and his mother had said, “If you ever get married John, I wish you would let John marry you,” his name was John too, “because of all the people he’s married through life none of them has ever gotten a divorce. They’re still married to each other and I want yours to be like that too.” So that’s why we went to Snow Hill.
INTERVIEWER: And your minister was John Townsend.
NARRATOR: Aha. And he and his wife are both dead.
INTERVIEWER: And you joined that church in 1928. The church must have been new then, was it?
NARRATOR: Yes it was. Not this church because this had been all remodeled. The other church you entered from 23rd Street. See this one you enter on Grant Street.
INTERVIEWER: So your husband before you were married, he lived in the area.
NARRATOR: His mother died during the flu epidemic and his aunt and uncle was living at Virginia Beach at the time. Not Virginia Beach, Colonial Beach. I knew I was saying the wrong thing. So they took John and [?Carroll?], his brother, and moved up here. His uncle went in the business of building houses and so John quit school to help his uncle at building houses and things.
INTERVIEWER: And I understand the uncle’s name was Walt Lee?
NARRATOR: Watt. Lee.
INTERVIEWER: That must have been the Lee connection to the Virginia Lee family.
INTERVIEWER: They lived on the 1000 block of South 20th, the next block that way. Evidently John was a carpenter and a painter.
NARRATOR: He started out being a painter and then he got so that working in close with so much paint he was allergic to it. So then he started carpenter work and I think he did real good at doing carpenter work. He built my book case, it sits up there by the front door. He helped to build this house that we live in but it wasn’t for us. It was for another person that had bought this land. He was really good at building things.
INTERVIEWER: He didn’t stay in the home construction business. What did he do after that? After he was building houses he worked someplace else, didn’t he?
NARRATOR: You mean my husband. He went to work for Ft. Myer, working up there. They were building houses on the grounds. Then he left there and went to Washington to work with a contractor building houses, building onto the hotel. There’s a big hotel near the Union Station and that’s where he got hurt. He had casts on two legs. We didn’t get very much money out of that accident that happened. So the preacher here at the church asked me if I thought that I could start a school in the church for four and five year olds and I said yes. I’ve always taught Sunday School all of my life it seemed like. He had put me to teaching boys that was older than I was but that didn’t last very long. So I started a school up there for them and I taught there for two years until Johnnie got well and could go back to work again. But those are the only jobs that he had. He worked with the contractors, Corning Construction Company.
INTERVIEWER: I understand he was in World War II, in the military.
NARRATOR: Yes. In the Navy.
INTERVIEWER: With the Seabees?
NARRATOR: Seabees. That was construction.
INTERVIEWER: He was at Midway Island?
NARRATOR: Midway Island.
INTERVIEWER: How did you happen to get this home, then? You mentioned John had worked on it.
NARRATOR: The man that had this built lost it, because he got piggish and bought the lots on the other side and he couldn’t make the payment on them, he couldn’t keep them and so he lost it. Uncle Watt got this house back. During that time luckily it was empty. So Uncle Watt said if you kids want—I went steady with him for ten years waiting for him to get $1,000 in the bank and he never did get $1,000 in the bank.
INTERVIEWER: That would be a hard thing to do in those days.
NARRATOR: So anyway, he said, “If you want that house I’ll let you have it cheap. ”That meant an awful lot to Johnnie, me too. So that’s how come we got this house.
INTERVIEWER: It means a lot to you, this house does.
NARRATOR: I would have rather had one that he owned on 20th Street up in the 900 block but of course that wasn’t empty at that time. It had to be this one.
INTERVIEWER: And this one has served you well.
NARRATOR: We’ve lived right here all the time.
INTERVIEWER: This wasn’t a Sears house, was it?
NARRATOR: No, John helped to build this.
INTERVIEWER: Who was Jerry Feneske?
NARRATOR: He is my ex-son-in-law.
INTERVIEWER: I wasn’t sure. I saw that name some place. And still friendly?
NARRATOR: Oh yes.
INTERVIEWER: Good. I wanted to ask you when you lived in view of the river, were there a lot of boats or ships or whatever, river transportation?
INTERVIEWER: You didn’t see much river transportation. So mostly it was trains.
INTERVIEWER: And of course the trolley. What about swimming? Did people go swimming in the river?
NARRATOR: Oh yes.
INTERVIEWER: Did you?
INTERVIEWER: Where did you go swimming?
NARRATOR: There was a girl that was going to teach me how to swim so she got me out in the water and lifted me on her arms like this and then dropped them. So I dropped too and it scared me to death. So I got out of the water then. I can’t realize, I guess I did go back in and wade in the water and splash around but I didn’t want to learn how to swim anymore if you have to do that.
INTERVIEWER: That was enough of it. Did the river ever freeze over enough to go ice skating?
NARRATOR: Oh yes. It froze over one time and Robert and Freddie walked on the ice over to the speedway, it has another name now. It was always called the speedway when I was—
INTERVIEWER: Was this in Maryland?
NARRATOR: No, over in Washington, D.C.
NARRATOR: But I know my mother was going to whip my brother Robert because he had no business taking Freddie on the ice over there because he was just a small boy. “And you had no business going over there either but if you wanted to take the chance that’s entirely up to you but you had no business taking Freddie.”
INTERVIEWER: Did people get out and skate on the river?
NARRATOR: I don’t know. Somebody must have been ice skating because I remember there was a pair of ice skates at the house so somebody must have, maybe it was Robert’s.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have sleds?
NARRATOR: Oh yes. We had so many hills up there at that time that it was real good sledding.
INTERVIEWER: You mean at Abingdon?
INTERVIEWER: So good sledding there. And then after you moved—
NARRATOR: Moved over here. We used to use 20th Street hill. I never did know why we didn’t use 23rd. Maybe they kept snow off of 23rd but didn’t bother with 20th Street. But we’d all gather up at the top of the hill there and get on a sled and go, oh, we must have come down almost to the 800 block. Maybe the hill was bigger then, I don’t know.
INTERVIEWER: Or it seemed big to a little person.
NARRATOR: Something happened to it.
INTERVIEWER: Anything else you think you should tell us about here?
But anything else that you can think of to tell me about. What it looked like or felt like living at Abingdon and then into the neighborhood here.
NARRATOR: Well I know at one time the black people had Abingdon as a church and they used it as a church.
INTERVIEWER: Was anyone living there at the time?
INTERVIEWER: Must have been after the Beckwiths moved out.
NARRATOR: I think it was before then. It was before we went there.
INTERVIEWER: Is that right. Do you suppose any of them could have been former slaves of the Hunter family or other owners?
NARRATOR: Oh I’m sure they had slaves. We never did have any.
INTERVIEWER: But that could have been maybe people who lived on the plantation as slaves. Maybe they stayed there in the neighborhood.
NARRATOR: Could have been.
INTERVIEWER: Interesting to know what some of the names were of those families.
NARRATOR: Well, I know that Christmas time at Abingdon was a big deal with us. We always had the biggest Christmas tree in my playroom. That was a room that was next to the dining room. One Christmas eve, my brother and I heard this great big noise downstairs. It was something terrible. So the next morning, Christmas morning, when we got up my father wanted to know if we heard Santa Claus when he came. That he made such a big noise delivering all of his toys and stuff. But it wasn’t that. My father fell over on the Christmas tree.
INTERVIEWER: He was trying to cover up.
NARRATOR: Yeah. He knew that we could hear it. He fell on the Christmas tree and that was a big Christmas tree that year.
INTERVIEWER: You mentioned that relatives came at Easter time for the egg rolling but where did you have relatives, who were they, and where did they live?
NARRATOR: Well, of course my oldest brother was married then and he would come. They didn’t have a child then. There was cousins, aunts and uncles of the older people that came. But I imagine they were just cousins.
INTERVIEWER: Do you know any of the names? Were they Allwines or – ?
NARRATOR: Yes. I used to know them but I don’t know any of the names now.
INTERVIEWER: Abingdon must have been the center of a lot of activity.
NARRATOR: They were all Allwines I know that and maybe they brought friends in, I don’t know, but I know it was an awful big crowd.
[INTERVIEWER’S NOTE: Norton’s farm is shown on maps of the 20’s near Abingdon. Vivian remembers the Nortons in a nice house and they had a meat processing plant (dead animals), made soap, building on the river. The house was frame, closer to the train tracks. Vivian went through her farm’s fields to get there. The Beckwiths lived east of Abingdon. Their house burned down and they lived at
Abingdon after the Allwines left until they could find another home.]
This oral history is used courtesy of the Arlington Public Library’s Center for LOcal History.