Dispatches from Lambert’s Point


This week’s Short Listen (above) profiled a project called “Mapping Lambert’s Point”, which is putting local history on the map — quite literally.

You can see the map for yourself over at MappingLambertsPoint.org. But we wanted to share a few of the stories that caught our eye here for you as well.


Martha Monroe

Mrs. Martha Monroe was believed to be Norfolk’s oldest inhabitant. Her obituary states that she was born when Napoleon was spreading terror in Europe and America was entering into its second war with Britain, and recounts how her unfaltering memory kept alive the events surrounding Nat Turner’s rebellion as well as the nebular shower of 1837. Mrs. Monroe was considered a mother of the First Baptist Church of Lambert’s Point, of which she was a founding member. She died in 1926.


Isla Bly’s Residence, 1932

Many Lambert’s Point residents, especially women, also operated home businesses during this era, serving as sales persons for beauty and health products. Mrs. Ida Bly was an agent of the Sumner Medical Company who sold products that were “guaranteed” to cure a wide range of ailments from rheumatism to constipation, “female weakness” to bed wetting, as well as “special treatments for weak and overworked men” (likely a coy reference to their virility). That Mrs. Bly took out a personal ad rather than an actual advertisement speaks both to the limited budget with which she likely operated as well as the questionable nature of the products she was selling, which would likely not have passed FDA standards.



The Drowning Epidemic, 1929

Ashley Shambrey, aged 17, his two brothers, and their friends took boats out off the foot of 42nd Street for a Labor Day swim. When their boats capsized they were rescued by a fisherman who could only haul eight of the youth to shore in his small boat. Ashley volunteered to stay in the waters so that their rescuer could “save the small boys first!”

The tragic story serves both as a covert commentary on race relations and a plea for municipal intervention into a drowning epidemic. The Norfolk Journal & Guide not only repeatedly emphasizes that the boys’ rescuer was white but also contrasts his heroics with those of four other white fishermen who ignored their pleas for help. The article also notes that the drowning total that summer had reached 25 people while pointing out that none of boys were expert swimmers but had few other options for cooling off. Unmentioned were the lack of public swimming pools or supervised beaches for African-Americans in Norfolk.


Ruth Clark’s Beauty Salon, 1945

While Madam Ramsey sold hair care products to Lambert’s Point residents via Martin’s Drug Store, there were also a number of beauty salons in the neighborhood. An ad announcing the arrival of Sarah Thrower Wiley reveals the importance of pedigree and reputation to the profession. Not only is Ms. Wiley’s schooling listed in great detail, but her accompanying photo was likely intended to persuade neighborhood women of her ability to style Black hair and makeup.



Vernon Fareed on JJ Smallwood School

It was sort of hard to compare what you were getting in contrast to what someone else was getting, because we couldn’t see what others were getting [in terms of education].

As children, we didn’t have the level of understanding to know that our books were of inferior quality; that our school was of inferior quality, even the bricks and mortar of the school was of inferior quality. We can’t say the same for the teachers. We felt that the teachers were excellent. They might not have been as highly educated in some instances but the care and attention that they gave each child was important enough that that child would excel, that child would learn, that child felt loved because of the special attention that the teacher’s gave the children. And the teachers knew the parents.

The teacher could have been just like my aunt, and the teacher could call my house, or come by my house for that matter, at any time.

Today, it would be considered… child abuse, but if you acted up at school you would get whipped with a ruler by the principal, Mrs. Bunch. I’ve gotten a whipping by the principal herself and the ruler was thick enough that it wasn’t going to break any kind of way. And they would then call your parents and let them know this is what he did, and this is what I did to him, and then you could expect that when you got home there was more punishment waiting for you.


The Shot Houses

There is a history of Lambert’s Point that many urban neighborhoods had that people would not necessarily want to talk about: the numbers runners, the drug dealing, the shot houses.

Right across from [the grocery] store was a big two-storey house. It was a shot house, where you could go and buy a shot of liquor… You would have people go to the liquor store and buy a whole bunch of liquor and then bring it back to the shot house and [sell] a 50 cent shot in a little shot glass.

People just hung around. And that was how the person who lived there made their money. They sold shots of liquor and there were games going on: craps , card games… It was just a part of the neighborhood.

You didn’t have a lot of problems with the police… You didn’t need to pay the cops off. There was one particular police officer known for that. He had a reputation. They called him Jimmy the Law but he was a rare breed… It was a part of the culture. It wasn’t hush-hush.


Want more? Head to MappingLambertsPoint.org and explore. And if you want to hear our full episode on working class histories, just hit play, below.

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