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