Americana Found…… at a Hardware Store.
I am not sure what struck me about my first exposure to Watsons Hardware Store. Probably strolling by one late salty mist afternoon in the historic Chesapeake bayside town of Cape Charles and seeing about ten or twelve folks all gathered around on the sidewalk rocking comfortably in their favorite rocking chair auspiciously and proudly holding the finest in ice chilled double insulated tumblers. While they were wetting whistles and spinning yarn I noticed that some of the rocking chairs had engraved name plates on them. This sidewalk social has enough brain power, muscle, southern charm, and determination to get a president elected, but, only if they wanted to. This hallowed communal community ground is a true American sidewalk. A walk that lands at rest as the afternoon sun dips westward below the burnt orange horizon of the Chesapeake Bay.
This store front sidewalk social group is one of legend with regulars and select invited guest to harbor the celebration of days end. These gentlemen are truly the afternoon protectors of an American tradition and heritage of a bygone era that we only see splinters of today in our modern society. To look through the aged beveled glass windows that stand behind the purveyors of sidewalk Americana was a wonder. To walk through the doors was a journey through a passage of time. A time when political correctness was not even in the English language and the words family, honor, dignity, integrity, and “we are closed on Sundays”, actually meant something.
Welcome, to Watsons Hardware. Americana found.
Location: The Town of Cape Charles on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
Departing northward from the Elliot’s Creek area by automobile and getting to Cape Charles is a lovely start to this sneak peak in Americana hardware bliss because,
……..This is the Eastern Shore.
Driving at only 25mph in a 40mph posted limit is not because I am wishing to drive like my sweet dearly departed Grandmother affectionately known as “Nanna Baugh”. Even cruising the highway, Nanna never broke 20mph. This gave her time to appreciate the flowers in the median. Something I too learned to appreciate in my later years.
My speed reduction while navigating the back roads of the Eastern Shore is for simple reasons like lower speeds make it easier to dodge the bucolic deer that seem to be in endless supply. They are only second in popularity to the wild red and grey foxes, raccoon, geese, and of course the antler hunters who come out in four wheel drive droves to try and find and conquer their catch.
If they only looked by my mailbox, there is 10 of them!
Hunting for Deer on the Eastern Shore should not be called hunting, rather it should be called, “Checking your mail” when you see one at the mailbox, talk nice to it and it will follow you home. Once off the back roads and on 13, I felt a little more comfortable picking the speed up to 55 and getting into Cape Charles without antlers in my windshield. Nanna would be proud.
This area is an outdoor enthusiast dream! Kiptopeake State Park, Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge, Barrier Islands galore, migratory flight paths of Zen like nature. But………..
I need a Pizza Pan.
This is what led me eventually to the tribune “esk” ritual of Watsons Hardware in Cape Charles. Yes, it is Friday and Jim is making pizza for pizza night and his lovely Donna does not have a pan that I MUST have in order to do my diligent kitchen duty. No problem, I will just run up to the store and get one. Well, after a brief visit to the “Food Dilemma” grocery store chain where I had about as much luck finding a pizza pan as a match.com profile finding a current photograph, I decided to move on to the next store in the parking lot. Enter, the Dollar General.
We got close! There was a pan, only five bucks, but I wanted round not square so I ventured off to Cape Charles. It was only later I found out that the Eastern Shore in Crisfield was having rash of dollar general robberies. This I could not figure out? If your going to rob a store, would you not rob one that advertised more than a dollar?
Finally I arrive in rustic Cape Charles and enter Americana nirvana, Watsons Hardware. Now THIS was a throwback in time.
The cool thing about this old store is not only is it over 100 years old, but the place has just about anything you would need. If they don’t exactly have what you are looking for, they will have something close. Sure enough they had a pot and pan section with plenty of crab steamers. They did not have an array of pizza pans, but they had one. I bought it and was very pleased with the product, price, and the attentive service.
This old store truly, at least in concept, reminded me of what an old trading store use to be like. Think back to the movie “The Outlaw Josie Whales”. Clint rides up to the provision store and the grocery list is pretty interesting. Buckshot, yeast, sulfur, flour, feed, chew, beans, lard, and of course, beef jerky.
A hardware store sells hardware. Watson’s sells what you may need to get threw life, including the wood stove.
I have not been to many hardware places that have a fairly complete bicycle and fishing section. This does make sense considering Cape Charles is located on the Chesapeake Bay and everyone rides bikes everywhere in town. The nearby bike trails and scenery around the marinas is something to see. Sure enough, if your gonna need that wiggle worm or maybe an inner tube, you can conveniently find it in one place. Watson’s
Is that a Walmart Cart?
Traversing back towards the center of the store I noticed an opening in the wall of Americana Nirvana. Two open doors that let to a cavernous pickers dream. This area was a cross between a store, yard sale, antique shop, and junk yard.
A true pickers dream.
Browsing around I saw just about everything. A 19th century reed pump harmonium with wood pedals that actually worked. Then there was the plastic boat for two and the infamous round malleable blue swimming pool hovering over a stack of chairs.
Then I glanced over and I saw it, a bit confused I had to ask myself,
“Is that a Walmart Cart or a Walnut Cart?
Sure enough there awaits in front of me an entire shopping cart filled with walnuts. Sold by the pound or the cart!
Heading out of pickerland, I went to a different section of this memorable store. How about this for an end cap. Here in one small section is:
Water skis, an axe, a duck decoy, tennis racket, hard hat, minnow bucket and deer antlers. Now THAT is a selection.
Before I left with my prized shimmering Teflon glazed Watsons Hardware Pizza Pan, I had a nice chat with the fellow who was behind the counter. He came out from behind, greeted me in a warm Southern Virginia style and said,
“Hello, my name is Bill Watson, can I help you?”
Certainly out of respect I immediately introduce myself and told Bill I was thinking about writing a little story about his historic family store. Certainly this place was even worthy of Nanna Baugh driving 20mph to get to. I was just so intrigued with the place I wanted him to know that this store had certainly peaked my curiosity.
“That is fine Jim, you know the New York Times once did a piece on this old place and so did Coastal Living! You go right a head and over here is a little bit of history about the building.”
The hardware store and building have been a family business since going way back to the early 1900’s, 1906 I believe. It is fascinating to think of the changes that have occurred during that time. Many changes, yet some things still remain the same. There are countless pictures hanging in the store of customers, family gatherings, and of course the “who caught the biggest fish” picture. All a welcome sight as you pass through the isles of days gone by.
There are not a lot of places left like Watson’s Hardware store and it is a true slice of Americana. If you are traveling along Rt. 13 on the Eastern Shore you may want to make a special trip to Cape Charles and check on the monochrome auld lang syne world of yesteryear at Watsons. If you’re coming across the Chesapeake on the Bay Bridge Tunnel or planning a trip to Bay Creek by water, do take the time to plan an excursion to Watsons Hardware. I am sure you will need to pick up something while you are there anyway.
…….Just don’t go on a Sunday.
Gather all yee friends and neighbors!
“Say honey! Hey baby since you are going out this afternoon going shopping and getting your hair done, and seein how I have completed all my chores this morning, I think I’ll gather up the boys for a little yarn spinnin. Catch up on some fishin stories. Think I am gonna call the buds, stop by the libation store, and fetch a bag of clams to steam up on the wood stove. I know Cletus will bring us all some real fat stogies to smoke. So I will catch up with you later dahlin, if you need us we will all be a sittin around the hot stoked burnin stove at the…………….. Home Depot, Isle 11.