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‘Apache’ to the rescue!

In 1935 much of the Rappahannock River and its tributaries were frozen solid during one of the worst blizzards in history. In the old photo above, members of the ice cutter “Apache” assist marooned Tangier Island oystermen in Urbanna Creek. The men were transported home to Tangier Island and came back later when the ice had thawed to get their boats and finish the oyster season. (Photo courtesy of Kerry Robusto)

by Larry Chowning

An online purchase of a 1935 photo negative brings back memories of one of the coldest winters in memory and gives us a glimpse into the rich oyster heritage of the Town of Urbanna.

Kerry Robusto of Urbanna recently purchased a photo negative of a group of men out on the ice, in a boat with an A on the bow. The seller indicated the photograph was taken in the Rappahannock River near Urbanna.

The mystery surrounding the photo was solved when Robusto did some research by talking to Carl Dize of Urbanna, a native of Tangier Island. Dize recalled a bad freeze in 1935 when the Coast Guard cutter “Apache” rescued several Tangier Island oystermen whose vessels were marooned in the ice on Urbanna Creek.

With further research, the story of “Heavy Ice in Bay and River” published in the January 31, 1935, issue of the Rappahannock Record newspaper in Kilmarnock revealed more about the exciting event and further explained the photo.

The article stated that 50 oystermen who were “marooned on a number of small (oyster) boats in the ice in the Rappahannock River and Urbanna Creek, were rescued . . . by the Coast Guard Cutter Apache.”

The 50 men, along with 17 others rescued from boats on the Potomac River off Dahlgren, were taken home to Tangier. The article stated the Cutter Apache was “ordered to the rescue after receiving reports from the Naval Proving Grounds at Dahlgren that the Tangier Island oyster fleet had been tied up in the ice (on the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers) since last Wednesday’s storm (eight days). Chesapeake Bay has been hit by sub zero weather since the snow storm. Most of the upper bay has been clogged with ice,” stated the article. “The rescued men said their boats had been frozen-in since Thursday and they had exhausted practically all of their provisions. The Apache supplied them with food and it is understood to have prepared a considerable quantity [of food] to be sent to shore at Tangier.”

Read the rest of this story in this week’s Southside Sentinel at newsstands throughout the county, or sign up here to receive a print and/or electronic pdf subscription.

posted 08.09.2017

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