Remembering Vinton–Vintage Valentines

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VINTON–Valentine cards had their beginnings in the Middle Ages. The oldest known valentine dates back to 1477 and is a love letter from Margery Brews to her “well-beloved Valentine” and fiancé John Paston. It is preserved in the British Library.

According to the library, in the message she reveals to him that she asked her mother to pressure her father to increase her dowry. However, she asked that if Paston loves her, he should be prepared to marry her whether her father agrees or not. It is thought that the couple did eventually marry and had two children.

The tradition of Valentines became popular in Europe where handmade cards were exchanged instead of gifts. In the early 1800’s Valentines began to be assembled in factories where workers painted black and white pictures on the cards.

The cards from the early 1900’s made in Europe were extravagant and included 3D, pop-up, and fold-out cards created in Germany.

Esther Howland is given credit for the first Valentines in America. She began making them by hand in her home and then enlisted her brothers in creating an assembly line production.

The first commercial valentines were manufactured by the Norcross Card Company in the early 1900’s. Today Valentine cards are more popular than any other cards except those given at Christmas.

Judy Harris Cunningham of Vinton has a treasured Valentine made in Germany which her father, William Henry Harris, presented to her mother, Katie Alice Stanley, in 1924. They were married in December of 1925.

William Harris sent this Valentine to Alice Stanley in 1924.
William Harris sent this Valentine to Alice Stanley in 1924.

The vintage Valentine presented by William Harris to his Alice is very extravagant and exquisite in detail. Cunningham believes it was purchased in Roanoke, but isn’t sure where. She also has a long-ago Christmas card which her mother gave to her “sweetheart.”

Alice Stanley sent this Christmas card to her "sweetheart."
Alice Stanley sent this Christmas card to her “sweetheart.”

Harris was born in Appomattox on August 19, 1902, on the Civil War battlegrounds—the youngest of eight children. He came to Roanoke with his brother Joel around 1920 from Appomattox when contractors were building many houses in Roanoke.  William went on to open a meat market in southeast Roanoke.

Alice Stanley was born on May 17, 1903 in Bedford. She came to Roanoke with two of her sisters to work at the Viscose plant in southeast Roanoke.

According to Cunningham, her mother had always wanted to be a nurse, but being the oldest of 14 children she couldn’t afford to go to school.  However, she did a lot of nursing taking care of family members.

“When she was in the nursing home, she was always trying to do for other patients so we would say she was fulfilling her nursing desires,” said Cunningham. “She would have made a wonderful RN – patient, compassionate, and a hard worker.”

Alice and her future husband met at Belmont Baptist Church and dated for quite a while before they married at Virginia Heights Baptist Church in Roanoke on December 9, 1925. They had two children—Judy and her sister Willardeen Harris Hendricks. Her parents eventually settled in Vinton, where Harris opened the Harris and Huddleston Supermarket on Pollard Street in 1940.

William and Alice Harris are shown on their wedding day in 1925.
William and Alice Harris are shown on their wedding day in 1925.

William Harris was active in church, serving on many committees and became a Lifetime deacon at Vinton Baptist Church. He was a charter member of the Vinton Lions Club. He also organized and served as the first president of Vinton Chamber of Commerce.

Alice was active in Vinton Garden Club. Flowers of all kinds – indoor and outdoor–were a big part of her life. There was hardly a Sunday year-round that she didn’t take some kind of live flower to church for the children to see and then to give away.

She often furnished the flowers for the sanctuary on Sunday morning and always furnished flowers for the William Byrd High school graduation when it was held at the school.

She was quite a homemaker preparing home cooked meals, sewing, cleaning, and so on.  Cunningham said that her mother had to do most everything around the house as her father was always working.

William passed away on April 18, 1977. Alice died on November 23, 1991.

William and Alice Stanley were on their way to a banquet in 1961 when this photograph was taken.
William and Alice Stanley were on their way to a banquet in 1961 when this photograph was taken.