- Roy Butler
There are Fredericksburgers living today who well remember the carnival activity of Scott's Island. Most of those interviewed had difficulty pinpointing the exact dates of its beginning and end; however, judging from a handbill from the 1920s, the emphasis appears to have centered around Saturday night.
Obviously a warm weather enterprise of the early twentieth century, the business was referred to as "Southworth's Pleasure Island," and its forms of entertainment ranged well beyond those of a typical carnival of later generations. There were comedians, minstrel troupes, Dixie jazz bands, dancing, boxing and wrestling, shooting galleries, and, no doubt, the usual wheels of fortune and side shows.
These were the days when the horseless carriage was becoming popular. The crystal headset was giving way to the Atwater Kent Radio and the Victor Recording Machine. The telephone was as much talked about as on. Entertainment was an "in person" matter ranging from a quiet checker game, a backyard croquet contest, an evening at the Opera House, to a Sunday afternoon ball game.
But for many, a quick stroll to Scott's Island was a much looked forward to Saturday night outing that offered considerable contrast to the otherwise routine forms of entertainment. No doubt the boxing match of local contestants created a high level of excitement among observers that was comparable to that at any such present day event.
Mr. and Mrs. Willie Sullivan, who operate a service station at Fauquier and Princess Anne streets, recall attending the carnival around 1927. They cite the participation of well known local boxer "Barefoot" Green, who once operated Barefoot Green's Seafood on Sophia Street.
An interview with Mrs. Richard Southworth of 628 Stuart Street in Fredericksburg, whose husband operated "Southworth's Pleasure Island," revealed some interesting information. Mrs. Southworth recalls that her husband ran the concession in the 1920's and that it was open nightly, but Saturday night was the busiest with the Dance Pavilion, boxing and other activities going on at full pace. Mrs. Southworth said that the island flooded occasionally, but it was not a deterrent to continued operation of the concession.
Scott's Island, earlier known as Brown's Island, reached no farther upriver than the present bridge during the early eighteenth century. Siltation has extended it upriver to the Sophia-Lewis Street area, and it continues to lengthen rapidly as urban agricultural run-off increases. Once a busy seaport, the area's direction was long ago altered by siltation and other factors. About the fourth quarter of the eighteenth century, Thomas Jefferson made this comment concerning the Rappahannock River: "Four fathoms of water to Hob's Hole and two fathoms thence to Fredericksburg." (A fathom is six feet. Hob's (Hobb's) Hole is the site of present-day Tappahannock.)
Perhaps the future will see the rejuvenation of the Rappahannock River, and once again the island "Where the birds sing and the cool breezes blow," may resound with the laughter and excitement of an earlier day.
This article first appeared in The Fredericksburg Times magazine and is reprinted here with Mrs. Elizabeth Butler's permission. It may also be found in the collection, Fredericksburg Underground: Archaeological History with Roy G. Butler.