Life in Sperryville, Virginia,

at the Turn of the Century

Sperryville, 1910 - Main Street looking west

The following is a transcription of a letter from Carrie Lee Woodard Barham to her brother, Hayward Woodard, written over 100 years ago. The details within give us a poignant view of life in a small rural town in 1901 or 1902.

Dear Brother,

I will try and write you a few lines to let you hear from me. I am not very well at this time and am very weak. Well, my health is very poor lately. I hope when these few lines comes to hand they may find you all well. Elmer, May and Mary are well and fat as pigs. May says tell you she can read everything in her first reader and write her name. Elmer says to tell you he is not old enough to go to school but he can learn his Sunday School lessons. They both go to Sunday School every Sunday. Miss Annie Wood is May's school teacher. They are going to have a fine commencement this Monday. Well, I am still living in Mrs. Swindler's office. There has been lots of sickness and deaths around here. Typhoid fever is just raging . Jet Menifee, Gilbert Compton, Cleveland Jefferson, Jim Estes little boy and Mrs. Swindler's cook, Ada Malkes, have all died lately. Two deaths in one day and, Elis Brown is just alive and lots more are very sick. Well, there has been a fine church built here and a new street opened and three new house put on it. It is powerful dry here. Most gardens need rain bad but mine doesn't because I haven't any. I am not sorry. This hot weather we can buy vegetables as cheap as we can raise them. I would like to come down and see you all this summer and bring the children. Tell Willie I think he might write to me Some time. I got one letter from you some time ago and you did not give me your address and I could not write until Mother wrote to Fannie and I got the address from her. Tell Mama to write. I think you all might write. I am up here by myself. Papa is staying at Mrs. (Miat, Muiat, ?) Woods. All the kids send their love to you all. Tell mama that my little girls are called the prettiest girls in town and Elmer is a mighty pretty boy. Love to all ? write real soon. Tell me where Isaiah is. Give my love to him and Will and tell them to write.


The above photographs are of Major Swindler's home and "Office" in Sperryville, Virginia, taken in 2001. The Major's residence, the photograph to the left, is on the right side of Main Street, near the Thornton River bridge, facing west with the Woodward Road intersection immediately across the street. The small building (or office as it was called) in the photograph on the right was Carrie's residence.

Carrie's Lee's husband, Benjamin F. Barham, bought the small outbuilding in the rear and to the right of the main house for $50 per year for two years. His daughter Mary remembers that he renovated the building himself. The "Office" has undergone considerable change since then with the roofed concrete porch and attached shed added later. The original entry door, still there but now unused, was on the right side and is not visible in this view.

The Thornton River, actually a small stream, is directly behind the building and one can easily see Carrie's son, Elmer, throwing Major Swindler's spare wooden leg into the water because he and his sisters were afraid of it. The Major lost a leg in the War Between the States and wore a wooden leg thereafter. He apparently forgot one of his spares, leaving it in the attic of the office where the children found it and threw it into the river.

We do not know how long Carrie lived in this small house but Benjamin was not there with her for much of the time. They moved to Washington a year later where their son, Daniel, was born on December 19th, 1903.

The individuals mentioned in the letter:

  • Mama /Mother is Lucy Elizabeth Fincham Woodard (living in Washington).
  • Papa is her husband, Benjamin Franklin Barham
  • Will/Willie is her 15 year old brother (also living in Washington).
  • Isaiah is her 20 year old brother (living in Washington).)
  • Fannie is "Aunt Fannie" Wigginton who lives on FT Road, who was mid-wife at Elmer's birth in 1897.
  • May, Elmer and Mary are, of course, her children.

Many thanks to Pete Estes, a lifelong resident of Sperryville, whose help was invaluable in finding the Swindler and Woodard houses, the Woodard cemeteries and in doing general research in Sperryville. The Jim Estes in Carrie's letter was his grandfather

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