Northern Neck Movies

The next program in the Lancaster Virginia Historical Society’s Zooming In On Local History Virtual Speaker Series will be “The James Wharton Films: An Enduring Record of Northern Neck Life in the 1930s.” The program will be presented by Ms. Joni Carter on Thursday, July 15, 2021, at 3 p.m. via Zoom. Carter, of Irvington, is currently a senior producer for the PBS travel series “Virginia Found.”  In 2016, Carter initiated the Wharton Films Project to bring attention to a rediscovered collection of more than ten hours of 16mm silent films created by James Wharton of Weems. These films captured scenes of everyday people at work and at play in the small towns and rural communities of the Northern Neck during the Great Depression. Carter will share clips from the films and speak about the significance of their contents and Wharton’s work as a filmmaker and local historian.

 Admission is available on the website. All viewers must register in advance at or 804-462-7280. Registration to view the live broadcast closes at noon on the day of the program. Afterwards, people can sign up for access to watch a recording.

 Joni Carter says, “James Wharton took a camera to the people and places of the Northern Neck during the Great Depression of the 1930s. He was making more than home movies and had the eye of a documentarian. He went throughout local communities, black and white, to film daily life including scenes of schools, churches, fairs, baseball games, May Day celebrations, oyster houses, tomato canneries, watermen, and more. He would show his ‘Northern Neck Movies’ during the decade at local community theaters and community centers for the admission price of 15 to 25 cents to the delight of locals, family, and friends.”

 According to LVHS executive director Karen Hart, James Pollard Wharton, who died in 1992, was a writer and local historian throughout his life.

In addition to his films, he left a lasting legacy through his “Lancaster Heritage” quarterly newsletters produced in the 1970s, and the booklet, “Where’d the Name Come From in Lancaster County Virginia.” Wharton spent most of his life at Wharton Grove in Weems. His father, evangelist Dr. H. M. Wharton, was a co-founder of the Wharton Grove Campground, a Baptist revival site and steamboat stop visited by thousands of people starting in 1893. In the 1930s, after Dr. Wharton’s death, James Wharton began running Wharton Grove as a summer resort with his mother and sister.

 Wharton’s movies were largely forgotten after they were made, but the Wharton Films Project is ensuring they can be shared once again and live on as a historical record of local life. In 2016-2017, Carter and a small group of community volunteers had the original films digitized and created a 2-hour compilation of excerpted footage that was temporarily exhibited at the Rappahannock Art League and the Lancaster Virginia Historical Society Museum. According to Carter, the Project plans to eventually produce its own documentary film showcasing James Wharton’s amazing work and the full story of the Northern Neck in the Depression era.

 She says, “A national treasure has been found with the Wharton films and it is of great importance to preserve and protect this rare footage of our past for future generations. It is not only important to preserve our local history, but to promote our historical identity to our young people to encourage a sense of belonging and ownership of our past, and therefore a commitment to our future.”

Upcoming historical society program focuses on one man’s rare, Depression-era films of the Northern Neck