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Urbanna Oyster Festival Captain represents Middlesex’s maritime and oyster heritage

Billy Norton at the Ricky Taylor Memorial Pool in Deltaville.

The Urbanna Oyster Festival Foundation has named Billy Norton of Deltaville the Captain of the 61st annual festival that will be held on Friday and Saturday, November 2-3.

Norton has strong ties to the seafood business and boatbuilding in Deltaville, and was a key player in developing the marina industry there. His family had been involved in the area’s maritime business for as long as the Nortons have been in Deltaville.

Billy is the son of the late Edward and Cathleen Norton. In 1948 Edward purchased land on Broad Creek and opened a marine railway to repair workboats, which eventually grew into one of the largest marinas in the area.

Oyster heritage
A 1954 graduate of Middlesex High School, Billy took a job right out of high school working as mate aboard the buyboat “J.C. Drewer” owned by Captain R. Dea Ailsworth.

“We bought seed oysters in the James River and freighted them to York River planting grounds,” said Billy. “Captain Dea taught me how to navigate the bay waters by charts, compass, parallel rulers and protractors. He would put me at the helm and he would sit in a chair in the wheelhouse and snooze. Occasionally he would jump out of the chair if I barely varied off course. I never figured out how he could tell.”

After a stint on the Drewer, Billy bought a partially completed deadrise boat from Lovers Lane boatbuilder Alfred Norris, who was building the boat at his shop. “He had the sides bent, bottom finished and had turned her over to put the sides and raising wood on her when I told him I’d take her and finish her,” said Billy.

His father helped him finish off the boat and Billy worked his boat in the bay’s oyster patent tong fishery for seven years. “I’d oyster in the winter and work with Daddy at the railway in spring and summer,” he said.

Marina business
Edward retired from the railway/boatbuilding business in 1969. Billy purchased the business and began expanding it into a marina for sailboats and powerboats. “The sailboat industry grew and that encouraged me to buy 33 acres at Stingray Point where I built a 250-slip marina,” he said. “Many of those customers fell in love with Deltaville and purchased homes in the area.”

In 1995 Billy sold the family business, Norton Yacht Sales, to his daughter and son-in-law, Carolyn and Ken Schmalenberger. “After I sold the business, I continued to own and operate a small marina, mainly to stay in touch with the boating community,” said Billy.

The Schmalenbergers sold their business on Broad Creek last year, and Billy recently sold his smaller Timberneck Marina.

Civic duty
“During my growing up years, my parents were role models for me in that they would volunteer their time to the community,” he said. “I quickly realized the importance of serving in many organizations.”

He served in the Lions Club, Virginia Marine Trade Association, Tidewater Marine Trade Association, Lower Middlesex Volunteer Fire Department, Philippi Christian Church, and on the boards of BB&T Bank and the Deltaville Community Association (DCA).

In 2011 when a tornado struck Deltaville, Billy stepped forward to help the community by bringing back to life the 50-year-old community swimming pool that had been damaged by the storm. “One of my passions was restoring the pool facility,” he said.

“We live in a great community and I want to do my part in keeping it great,” said Billy. “Deltaville is not an incorporated town and we have to rely on one another to build and maintain community resources such as the pool, tennis courts, community center, basketball courts, playground and our Deltaville Ballpark.

“Working together we solve problems like this in order to keep our community strong,” he said. “Sitting back while others carry the load is not an option.

“When I received a call to be the Oyster Festival Captain I quickly responded by saying, ‘It is truly a great honor to be named.’

“I’m very humbled as I also was when my daughter Carolyn was crowned Oyster Festival Queen in 1973,” said Billy.

“We have strong ties with the festival and I understand what an important role the oyster industry has played in the heritage of our county, and the festival certainly helps celebrate that heritage.”

Joe Heyman, chair of the Urbanna Oyster Festival Foundation, said, “We picked Billy as our captain because he has a strong maritime heritage and because of his volunteer efforts to help the Deltaville community.

“After the tornadoes, he rolled up his sleeves and spearheaded the revitalization of the pool and recreational area,” said Heyman. “He understands what it means to give back to the community and we appreciate what he has done for Deltaville. We are very pleased and proud to name Billy Norton Captain of the 61st Oyster Festival.”

posted 09.12.2018

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