A Slice of Time Gone By

H. Lee Waters was a studio photographer from North Carolina. He grew up working in a textile mill and also worked running the projector at the local movie theatre and apprenticed at a local photography studio which he would later purchase. During the recession, he made extra money by traveling through North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia filming small towns and showing the films at those same small town movie theaters. He made money through ticket sales and the sale of advertising.

The black and white and silent film linked below is from the small town Damascus, Va., close to where I grew up. It is roughly 23 minutes in length. There are several reels taken in Damascus. I have scanned them all closely, wondering if I might catch a glimpse of my grandparents or even my father, but sadly I have seen neither.

What I have been able to see were many of the storefronts my family frequented, me often following along in their wake. N.S. Wright & Co., the only department store. L&S Grocery where my grandmother faithfully shopped for monthly groceries. And Brown’s drug store where we enjoyed a Vanilla Pepsi or a Cherry Coke at the lunch counter. And the rock school house where both my father and I went to school.

Mr. Waters made a total of 252 films of 118 communities now archived at Duke University. They are such a slice of rural America. Scenes like these were the backbone of my family and my upbringing. I almost said it was a ‘lifetime’ ago – which actually it was. I did not find the faces of my ancestors, but I imagine how fortunate for the many families who were captured in these films.

Damascus, Va. 1940


16 thoughts on “A Slice of Time Gone By”

    1. It was a long-shot and I will go back and watch the streams of the kids in school. My father would have been 11 or 12 years old at the time. I doubt he is there, but there is something I connect with in the faces regardless.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I love it, too, Ron. I often think about the differences – some good and some not so good – but it was how we grew up and I personally recall those times fondly.


  1. I just watched the film, and loved that history. The boys wheeling the tyres is something we also did in London in the 1950s. Luckily, there is so much film archive about London, I can watch my own past for as long as I like. Even though nobody I know is in the films either. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Pete, I am delighted you enjoyed the film. I have watched it many times and each time seem to find another familiar place or activity. I thought about the tires when I watched it because I have seen the same in films of other places. I also remembered fondly drawing a circle in the dirt and shooting marbles. I think every kid had a sack of marbles and there were definitely favorites. I might need to write a post about that. I would love to see a film of London in the era in which you were growing up. If you can direct me to one, I would love to see it.

      Liked by 1 person

          1. Pete, I could not imagine a much starker contrast in the two places in which we grew up. I have never been much of a city girl, the largest city I ever lived in being Orlando/Tampa. I really enjoyed these films. Your life must have been much more complex than mine.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. I know what it’s like scanning pictures or videos of places where you might see some relatives. Anytime I see a picture or video of the old Maxwell Street Market in Chicago, I look for my father-in-law.

    That’s a great video. I’ll come back and see the others later.

    Liked by 3 people

I appreciate those who read and I enjoy your thoughtful comments.

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