This is a digital re-publication of the interview found in Voices from the Land, A Caroline County Memoir, by Mary Anne Fleetwood.
The text was digitized, edited, and prepared for re-publication by CCHS volunteers Dave Ellis and Don Barker. Copyright for the original text and photos, and this digital publication, is held by the Caroline County Historical Society.
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A crossroads several miles east of Denton, Hobbs is a village which never seems to have moved into the twentieth century. During the past eighty years, the population has remained at fifteen families. Surrounded by a wide expanse of open farmland are several rows of houses, a church, a store, and a meeting house.
In conversation with Elmer Butler
Trim as a poplar, eighty-four year old Elmer Butler never wanted to live anywhere but Hobbs, the village where he married, raised a family, and farmed. Known locally as “Mr. Elmer,” he speaks with a deep, resonant voice and slight drawl. He has been the Superintendent at Ames Methodist Church for many years.
Years back, the older people called it Hobbs Corner because it was just one house. That belonged to Mr. Saulsbury Hobbs and was located where Dale Stafford now lives . The population of Hobbs around the turn of the century was about fifteen families. Still is. I can remember when we had three stores here. (There is presently only one store at Hobbs.) There was a hardware store that stood on a lot by Marvin Butler’s place. That store sold walking plows, corn planters, and the regular line of farm machinery. At that time, it was all horse-drawn machinery they was sellin. There was a blacksmith shop behind the hardware store. Course . . . it burned. Sort of a mystery about that fire.
Can you explain?
Most every evening, the young boys would come down to the store. They’d meet there and talk. Tales were told. These boys who had been there that particular night were walking down the railroad track going home, and before they got to the woods, the store was in flames. They looked back and saw it burning. They just never knew how it got started so quick. Suspicion was it was probably set afire. That was what a lot of people thought.
What about the other two stores at Hobbs?
The general store once operated by Martha Pate stands on the site of an earlier general store that burned in 1913. Roland Chaffinch’s father owned that store. Roland’s father died practically a young man, and Roland came home from school and taken over the business. He sold out about 1916 to Mr. Leander Thomas, who kept the store for fifty years. At that time, there was a post office in the back part of the store. The third store was also a small grocery store owned by Charlie Murphy, and this stood on a lot owned now by Dale Stafford.
What did the general stores at Hobbs carry?
Ummmm . . . you name it, and they had it back in them days. They carried a little bit of everything—a good line of bridles and horse collars, harnesses and plow shares, men’s work clothes, shoes, everything. There was also a lot of farm work done in the stores. (laughs) One could cut so much corn and shock it in one day.
You didn’t do any of that, of course?
I was young at the time. After I got older, I might of joined in some.
What farm-related businesses were at Hobbs when you were younger?
Murphy and Hayes had a sawmill back of what was known as the Amos Scott place. I’ve seen them come by haulin piling down to Hobbs with four oxen to a cart. (Mr. Elmer said there was also a grist mill built in 1881. This burned in the early thirties.)
Was the barter system in use here during these times?
During wheat season, lots of times they would close the factory down, and the men worked in em would go out and help the farmer shock wheat. At that time, they didn’t want any money for their work, but during the winter they would take the money in wheat. They would then take the wheat down to the mill and get flour, and they’d have this for their family that winter.
Did people at Hobbs have to buy much of their food?
People ate mostly food that was raised on the farms. I can remember back when I worked in the Hobbs store. During the winter, you didn’t sell hardly anything to eat. Maybe a little hominy, coffee, sugar, salt, and pepper. We never sold much food.
So people canned and were very self-sufficient?
That is true . . . that is true. People all had gardens, and the surplus was canned. Everybody in the village raised two or three hogs and killed them in the fall and had their meat during the winter. Course at that time, everybody burned wood. There was no oil bills.
Did people also take care of elderly relatives at home?
What role did the railroad play in village life?
The MD and V Railroad went through here, yes indeed. This was a busy station at one time. You see, the railroad brought freight in here to the three stores — the Andersontown store, the Hobbs store, and the Burrsville store. In the summer, people from the outside used to buy local wheat by the carload, and they’d have carloads of grain here during threshing season. After Christmas, or just before, everybody would shell corn. Everybody at that time cut their corn, husked it, and put it in corn bins. It was loaded here at Hobbs to be shipped out. We also had a canning factory, and all the empty cans came in by freight by the carload. They had a slatted car called a “calf car” which they brought every Tuesday. They’d pick up these calves, and they was shipped to the market in Philadelphia. The cans I mentioned, the ones used to put the tomatoes in, they was all stacked loose in the freight car. The mouths of the cans were always at the door of the freight car, and you’d put your fingers in the cans, take em out, put em in crates, and haul them in flat body wagons to the canneries. (See also Bill Rairigh’s interview, which describes another method of moving cans.) At one time, they said that outside of Denton, there was as much produce shipped from this station as any station on the railroad.
That’s what I’ve heard. They also had a calf pen here, and Tuesday used to be calf day. I’ve seen thirty and thirty-five calves here in the pen of a Tuesday.
Can you describe the operations of the basket mills, often a part of the canneries?
The basket part of the Hobbs cannery made tomato baskets and strawberry cups. They’d cut the logs in the winter and haul em in here, make em up into baskets. The operation employed I’d say seven or eight men practically the year around. Women would skin tomatoes at the canning house in the fall, and some of em in the winter made strawberry cups. They took these big poplar and gum logs and run em through this machine and cut what they called “basket patterns.” The women would go through these and pick out the good parts and carry em home. They had basket forms they made berry cups on. I think the price at one time was seventy-five cents a thousand, or seven cents a half hundred. Several of the farmers’ wives and women here in Hobbs used to make em.
What do you remember of your days on the farm as a boy?
In spring, we used to pick strawberries, used to get a cent and a half a quart. You’d get up early in the morning, get wet up to your knees in the weeds. Then you’d have to come home and go to school. Had to be at school around nine. We went to the Oak School, which originally stood at the corner of Paul Royce’s field. After the schools was consolidated, the Ladies Aid bought it, and it’s used as a community house now. Miss Miranda Holbrook was the teacher, and one winter we had sixty-seven children in the school during the winter. At that time, a lot of boys would work on the farms with their fathers until the middle of November. Then they would start school and stop the first of March. These farm boys would go to school just a few months in the winter, and the rest of the children went the regular months.
Was life dull for you here as a young man?
At that time, all these country churches had service on Sunday evening and we used to walk down here to church on Sunday night. There’d be different boys and girls there, and through the week they’d have parties. When we got a little older, we used to play Rook. We were happy. Course we didn’t get far from home, yet we were still happy. We was never used to going a great distance. Now like with me, if I went to Denton of a Saturday night when I was sixteen or seventeen, I had been someplace. I was contented to stay home til next Saturday night and go back. Another thing, when night come, you didn’t feel like doing anything but going to bed. We used to go to bed at nine and get up early in the morning.
Who were some of the colorful people around Hobbs in the old days?
One of em was Mr. Clay Hobbs. His father (Saulsbury Hobbs) started this village, and Clay Hobbs owned the farm where my father and I lived for seventy-one years. Another prominent man was Mr. Harry Nuttle. Course he had a cannery and was a big help to the farmers.
Do you remember Miss Edna and Miss Mary Hobbs as young ladies?
OHHHHHH. . . . yes! I been knowin em a good while. I been knowin Miss Kate Johnson for a long time too, a very fine lady. She used to come out home quite often, and maybe we were eating and she’d get her plate and sit down and say she wasn’t hungry. And you’d think she hadn’t had anything to eat for a day or two. That was Miss Kate, and she was never hungry. (laughs) She’d eat most anything you’d put on the table, my land.
Today you’re Superintendent of the Ames Methodist Church?
Yes, we celebrated the one-hundred anniversary of the church about three years ago. Reverend Tom Turkington preached here for a good many years. At one time in the sixties, we had ninety-seven down here for Sunday School.
I’ve enjoyed talking to you, Mr. Elmer.
Well, I’m not bragging, but I still have a right good memory.
- In 1896, the teacher at Oaks School, Hobbs, was paid an annual salary of $191.92. The fuel bill at the school was $10.95 for the year. Caroline County had seventy-one country schools in 1896. Many had old-timey names, such as Bee Tree, Gravely Branch, John’s, Marsh Creek , Mt. Zion, and Brody’s. Of the seventy-one schools, twenty were listed as colored. (“Detailed Statement of Expenditures for the Public Schools of Caroline County, 1896.”)
- See Appendix A for the names of the fifteen families residing at Hobbs at the beginning of the twentieth century.
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Voices from the Land: A Caroline County Memoir
Text by Mary Anne Fleetwood
Photographs by Hal Rummel
Edited by Betty Carroll Callahan
Sponsored by Caroline County Historical Society
Published by The Queen Anne Press, Queenstown, Maryland
Since Voices from the Land as an oral history is a book about what people believed happened and is accordingly in large part quoting the words of the interviewees, the Caroline County Historical Society, Inc., the Caroline County Commissioners, The Queen Anne Press of Wye Institute, Inc. and Mary Anne Fleetwood are not responsible for any statements of the interviewees which may be inaccurate or false.
Historical photographs courtesy of the Caroline County Visual History project.
ISBN 0-937692-02-6 (cloth)
Library of Congress Card Catalog No. 83-062826
Copyright © 1983 Mary Anne Fleetwood and the Caroline County Historical Society, Inc.