Monday, April 20, 2015

The Gardener and Our Driveway - William W. Wyatt (1902-1971)







My family and I are fortunate enough to spend the next couple of months living in a historic home on our local military installation until we close on our new, permanent home a few minutes away.  Our time here will total five months; plenty of time to enjoy the views of the York River and the spring greening taking place more and more each day.  The house itself is an entity.  Huge, overwhelming, and beautiful.  Dusty, creaky, and drafty.  Almost like living in a museum.  Wind blows off of the water at the end of the day, whistling through the windows.  Stinkbugs surprise me at every turn.  Sun shines through the entry windows in the morning to create a warm glow that will stay with me forever.  It was the best of times...it was the worst of times shall we say?

Now, what I do absolutely LOVE is the yard.  This lovely piece of property - and the acres surrounding this area - are supremely historic.  It would take me an hour to type out the history, so feel free to read about it HERE.  And do!  It's truly amazing!  I walk the dog each morning around the yard, breathe the fresh air, and think about the footsteps walking this property hundreds of years ago.  A casual glance at the bare earth beneath the trees hints at communities past...from the glass fragments to the salt-glazed pottery shards...to the arrow points. 

Something that intrigued me as soon as we arrived was the street sign at the beginning of our driveway - "William Wyatt Lane".  A quick online search yielded a few answers HERE.  William Wyatt (1902-1971) was once the gardener employed by the installation to care for the beautiful landscape.  I'm not 100% sure if he had another position on base, but most of what I found shows that he was the gardener here.  During his tenure at Navy Mine Depot Yorktown (now called Naval Weapons Station Yorktown), he was able to meet several distinguished guests.  Most famously, he presented then President Harry Truman with fresh rockfish he himself caught in the York River:
10 Oct 1950, "The Daily Notes", Canonsburg, Pennsylvania

According to an article I found in the Fredericksburg, VA "Free Lance-Star" published on 5 October 1950, Truman was enjoying a woodland stroll through the base along with Commanding Officer Captain William Longfellow (pictured above) when Mr. Wyatt met up with them and surprised Truman with the fish.  A touching moment captured in time.  Longfellow apparently was the catalyst for naming the driveway leading to the commanding officer's quarters after gardener William Wyatt. 

SO - genealogical work put to the test.  What could I find out about Mr. Wyatt?  My main reason for writing this post is that this street name is honorary and is not searchable on any map.  Extended family might not even know about this sign or history.  Why not preserve it for future Wyatt generations?  A pay-it-forward sort of thing :).  I've been on the receiving end many times of genealogical serendipity.  My time to serve!

Here's what I know.  William and wife Mattie Wyatt lived in the area just outside of the military installation - an area called Lackey.  In 1930:

US Federal Census, Nelson District, York County, VA accessed via Ancestry.com

...and in 1940:

US Federal Census, Nelson District, York County, VA, accessed via Ancestry.com

They had two children, Theodora and Norman.  William Wyatt's highest level of education was 8th grade - and he and his parents were all born in Virginia.  I looked further  back to try to locate William in the 1910 and 1920 censuses, but I couldn't find a record I could identify 100%.  There are a handful of William Wyatts in Virginia...and I'll have to evaluate the records to be concise.

Mattie and William are both buried at the Rising Sun Baptist Church cemetery:

Rising Sun Baptist Church Cemetery, Lackey, VA, from FindAGrave.com  


Here's to hoping that someone - anyone - from William Wyatt's family tries to search for information about his work at the Navy Mine Depot and finds this blog post :).  Now that we are in the middle of spring, I enjoy his handiwork daily as I admire the blooming bulbs and flowering trees.

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