Summer’s drawing to a close with Richmonders trying to squeeze one more trip in before school starts. Most of us travel by car or airplane but back in my great-grandfather Harry Stilson’s day, transportation was more varied and often more basic. “Feets don’t fail me now” was more than a vaudeville line. It was a fact of life. Walking was the most common mode of transportation in Richmond and oral histories support that statement. Whenever I ask an elderly Richmonder how they traveled, the answer is the same: “We walked.” The Marshall Street Viaduct was appreciated because it eliminated walking downhill, through Shockoe Bottom, and up to reach Church Hill and for many Richmonders, that route was walked often. The Fountain family walked the viaduct from St. James Street to grandma’s house in Church Hill every Sunday.

"Pick up your bed and walk"

“Pick up your bed and walk”

Streetcars were an option if you had the fare (7 cents). More comfortable and faster than walking, there were still drawbacks. Morris Goldberg told me the West Clay Line was nicknamed “the Slow Dummy” because streetcars were frequently late. Harry’s photo business involved flagging down the streetcar to schedule a photo shoot, usually completed along the route, and then distributed the next day, as Harry ran his route, so it makes sense that streetcars were often delayed. My great-grandfather’s journal mentioned that three cameras were stolen from his car one autumn. I guess that indicated that a camera was always nearby, business was booming, and non-customers just had to wait until the Slow Dummy showed up.

Harris Stilson's streetcar

Harris Stilson’s streetcar

Automobiles careened along Richmond’s streets but most of my older friends admitted that car purchases were impossible for their families. Harry Stilson’s streetcar income, real estate investments, and photography business allowed him to buy a car but automobile ownership was rare and so memorable that every person I interview recalls make, model, and year of the first family ride. Bicycles were more common and even motorcycles were an option. I’d love to know where the garage is in the image below. Notice the horse-drawn wagon in the background, a nice juxtapositioning of old and new. For others, the “family ride” ate hay and required the services of a farrier instead of a garage.

079 car Motorcycle in garage

Horse & wagon

Horse & wagon

When the Stilsons went to the ocean, Virginia Beach or Newport News mostly, they went by train. Richmond’s numerous railroad systems and stations allowed easy access to vacation spots. Harry even took pictures from the train headed to Newport News. If you can identify this scene, please contact me at Richmond In Sight (www.richmondinsight.com) or here at Richmond Views.

Between Richmond & Newport News

Between Richmond & Newport News

If you couldn’t get out of town, you could at least take an excursion boat down the James River. Rockett’s Landing was popular with tourists and commerce and the Severn appears to be casting off for a leisurely day on the water in the photo below.

Severn at Rockett's Landing

Severn at Rockett’s Landing

Air travel was relatively new but World War I created a generation of pilots and applications. This airplane at the State Fair Grounds where the Diamond is today toured the country, perhaps part of a WWI bond drive. Harry’s records of  photo sales of this airplane was evidence of their popularity as souvenirs of a patriotic event.

State Fair Grounds airplane

State Fair Grounds airplane

If you’re planning an end-of-summer trip, hopefully it won’t involve complicated or uncomfortable travel like that of the early 1900s but make it an adventure. You could be following Harry’s itinerary to Endless Caverns, Yorktown, or Portland Michigan or striking out for places Harry only dreamed of visiting. Wherever you go, take pictures and don’t forget the souvenirs. Ninety years or so from now, someone might be sharing them like I do through Richmond In Sight. You never know. Harry Stilson never expected his images to be shared nearly a century later!

Yorktown Sesquicentennial Celebration (150 years)

Yorktown Sesquicentennial Celebration (150 years)

Advertisements