Varnamtown celebrates 60th oyster roast

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By Laura Lewis, Reporter

For the 60th year, Varnamtown is getting ready to celebrate a shell of an oyster season.

This Saturday will mark the 60th anniversary of the Dixon Chapel United Methodist Church Oyster Roast in the fishing and oystering village overlooking the Lockwood Folly River.

Marlene Varnam was there when the first oyster roast took place at her hometown church.

“Oh yeah, my dad was living at that time,” recalled the Varnamtown native and longtime operator of her late husband’s namesake business, Carson Varnam Oyster Market. “It started out as a Thanksgiving gathering for church members, and they’d have it on Thanksgiving.”

Then the oyster roast caught on with people in the community. As more people found out about it, the church started charging a fee.

At that first gathering, there were maybe eight to 10 bushels of oysters served.

“Now we’ve got up right close to 175 a year,” Varnam said. “We’ve done 220-some one year. That’s the highest we’ve done. That’s roasting a lot of oysters.”

Oysters are roasted over an open fire using oak wood furnished by local resident Dale Clemmons.

“He brings a couple of loads and donates them every year,” Varnam said.

Oysters this year are good, and the harvest season has been good, too, she said.

“They must be good, because we can’t hardly keep oysters here,” Varnam said. “We’re selling about as fast as we can get ‘em.”

The season started Oct. 15. By midweek this week, there should be plenty of oysters out there for harvesters to pull in for this Saturday’s oyster roast.

“You’d be really surprised what goes on at that oyster roast,” Varnam said.

People start standing in line at the church at 190 Varnamtown Road as early as 9:30 a.m. As the line grows, they wait patiently until the noon hour strikes and they’re gradually admitted and seated at one of the long tables where the oysters are served.

Tickets are sold at the church the day of the roast, and it’s first come, first served. Plate prices are the same as last year: $20 for adults and $8 for children. Plates include “all you can eat” oysters, sweet pickles, hushpuppies and coffee, with soft drinks available for purchase.

The pickle tradition began because a lot of people used to make homemade sweet pickles that continue to be served with the oysters. Varnam also urges people to bring their own favorite dipping sauces to eat with their oysters.

Varnam and other church members will arrive at the church Saturday morning to start setting up.

There will also be a bake sale, crafts, and sale of the Dixon Chapel Ladies Club cookbook, “Feeding the Flock,” selling for $10 per copy. Festivities continue until 5 p.m.

“That book is selling real good, too,” Varnam said, adding it has a recipe for oven-baked oysters.

“It’s the next-best thing to an open fire,” she said.

Dixon Chapel United Methodist Church was established in 1921.

“It won’t be long before we’ll be doing our 100th anniversary,” Varnam said.

It started out as a Sunday school mission church from Sharon Methodist Church. Varnam remembers going to Sharon with her father in a horse and cart.

And last Thursday, Oct. 24, marked the fifth anniversary of her husband Carson Varnam’s passing.

“He was always the one making sure the church had oysters,” Marlene said.

These days, the Varnams’ grandson, Mike Fulford, is carrying on the tradition in his granddad’s footsteps.

“He’s trying to keep our oyster roast going and keep our oysters going for the church as long as we can,” she said.


Laura Lewis is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.