Annie T. Powell: A Special Ocean City Woman
Annie Powell in her flower garden
Annie Truitt was born in the year 1863 in a small town outside of Ocean City, Maryland called Taylorville. Her mother, Mary Truitt, was accepted by local farmers as a midwife, doctor, minister or other capacity as needed. She traveled by horse over the small sandy roads. Her pay was in many forms such as produce and meat, but very little money.
Not much is known about Annie's father Ned who could possibly have died in the Civil War or of an early illness. Annie had two older brothers who were fishermen. As a child growing up it was a life in the backwoods of Taylorville, until she met and married my grandfather, Thomas Powell. He was also a fisherman off the Ocean City shores.
Annie's Caroline Street home
During the years nine daughters were born in the home-a tenth child did not survive. Growing up each child had their chores and responsibilities such as caring for each other. The garden, fish, canning and baking was part of their life as well as the guidance of Mother and Father. The daughters all married and had children. Some settled in Wilmington, Delaware and three lived in Ocean City.
In 1925, my grandfather Powell died and she was in shock to realize she was alone at age 60 and had to provide for herself. She started selling flowers and produce from her garden (her livelihood) to the few hotels and seasonal trade that came to Ocean City,
Many of the fishermen who knew my grandfather Powell would stop and make sure she had enough fish and also in the summer, farmers from the mainland with their wagon loads of produce would stop and she would buy at lower prices and get the news of the people she knew. This is how she lived on to age 96 in the same old home.
Some of the boardwalk hotels where we sold our flowers were the Hastings, Atlantic, Stephen Decatur and the Commander which was built by Aunt Minnie Lynch-a close friend of Grandmothers and whom we called Aunt Minnie.
Annie's vegetable garden
In 1929, she suffered the loss of the small account she had in the Ocean City Bank. After that she never trusted the bank, but had her special hide-away place for her bank. She would say, "I know where it is to pay my taxes."
During January of 1930 she came to Wilmington to visit with her girls. Our home was the first stop on her visit. She had planned to stay a week or two. On the first night there was an explosion in the basement of our apartment building and the fire quickly spread to our apartment.
The firemen were able to get my Mother, Father and Grandmother out. I was able to jump from our building to another rooftop to save myself. It was a horrible night. My mother, Emma, died three nights later from her injuries.
My Grandmother had third-degree burns on her arms and hands, also her throat. Both she and my father were hospitalized for a long period of time. Needless to say this tragic thing sealed my love and closeness to her. I then went to live with my brother during the winter and with her during the summers at Ocean City. It was a terrible shock to her and to me. For her the loss of a favored daughter, and to me the loss of a beloved mother. The summers with her lasted until I was 23 and then it was into the Army in WWII for 5 years.
Henry Ward Stradley age14
In those days the few people in Ocean City were close and in touch through their church and thus deep friendships were formed. She attended the old Methodist church on Third Street, until the walk was too far for her to go, and then changed to the Presbyterian Church which was just a short walk away from the house.
Annie with her grandchildren
She was a very conservative person. It is interesting to note that she made soap for years and the soap kettle sat in the back yard like one of the family. Oil lamps also were an important part of life. Her family had to respect its purpose and safety. Her day started at first light and ended at dark working at many things, but never outside her home. In all her years she never owned or drove or desired to have a car. She was always concerned about paying her taxes and she said as they once placed her in an ambulance, "Make sure they don't charge me too much. I need to pay my taxes."
With progress and the growth of Ocean City, the little cottage on 207 Caroline Street became surrounded with concrete streets and sidewalks and the massive Route 50 Bridge was built just forty feet from her front porch. My Grandmother and I, in the early 40s, were aghast to watch the building of this bridge whose entrance into Ocean City came right across her front yard. And all she could say was "Oh my. Oh my."
Most Ocean City people in the early days would not leave their homes during the storms and Grandmother was one of them, until the big one that cut through the Ocean City Inlet. Seems the backwater of the bay flooded up to her porch and so the story goes. The Coast Guardsmen, in a boat, came to pick her up to take her to the mainland. She said "No." One of the men said, "Mrs. Powell if you don't get into this boat I'm going to pick you up and put you in." She replied, "No man is going to pick me up! So if you wait, I must make sure my chickens are safe on the back porch, then I'll get in your boat."
As kids, when she sensed a storm, she would send us up to the Coast Guard Station to ask about it. They would say, "Tell you Grandmother we are in for a blow, so button up." I can still remember how they would fly the flag for a storm.
Her youngest daughter, Annie Powell Outten, lived with her and was one of the few women that heroically manned the Bell Telephone switchboards during the storm that cut the Inlet in 1933.
The last ten years of her life saw many changes for her. She now had electricity, a radio, a television, newspapers and a bathroom. Annie helped in all of this. The last great joy was that she could rent a room in her house on weekends for $5. What a thrill, paid all her taxes.
Annie Powell in her living room
The last time I saw her before her death she ask me to be at her funeral which I promised to do. However, I was in the hospital and was not told she had died until a week later. I was very saddened.
Her life was devoted to love of her family and of Ocean City. Needless to say, I will always have happy memories to cherish of Ocean City.
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