Monuments and Memorials in Randolph County

February 15, 2021
Original 1946 plan of War Memorial Park in Asheboro; none of the features shown were built as designed.

[The following was part of the report I gave to the county commissioners at a public hearing held Aug 30, 2017. The other two sections, dealing with the Confederate monument, I put on my blog soon after. For some reason this first section never made it here until now. -Mac Whatley]

Randolph County has a rather meager history of any kind of monuments or war memorials.

Faith Rock DAR plaque 1928

The oldest privately-erected marker in the county dates from around1928 and commemorates Andrew Hunter’s Revolutionary War-era ride down Faith Rock in Franklinville. It consists of a bronze tablet installed by the Guilford Battle Chapter of the D.A.R. on the concrete bridge across Deep River built in 1925 just north of the rock. When a new bridge was built in 1986, the plaque was moved to a stone at the footbridge across the river south of the upper mill. It is inscribed “In Memorial, Randolph County Patriots. Faith Rock, 200 yards down the river is where Andrew Hunter in 1781 escaped from David Fanning, Tory, rode Fanning’s horse, Bay Doe, down the rock into the river and to safety.”

Daniel Boone marker, Staley

Another from the early 1930s commemorates Daniel Boone, who otherwise has no known connection to the county. Between 1913 and 1938 J. Hampton Rich of Davie County established the Daniel Boone Trail Highway and Memorial Association to raise awareness of the need for better roads in North Carolina, educate the public about the pioneer era and promote patriotism. Rich erected more than 350 stone markers across the state with an plaque inserted of Alonzo Chapel’s illustration of Boone and his hunting dog. Every plaque included some bronze from the battleship USS Maine, the sinking of which in Havana Harbor in 1898 triggered the Spanish-American War. Only about 100 of Rich’s markers still exist. At least two were once in Randolph County, both located on the route of US 421. Marker 32 was located in Liberty until destroyed in a traffic accident in 1959, and never replaced. The other still stands in the center of Staley, near the railroad tracks. [See www.danielboonefootsteps.com and www.ncdbht.org. ]

About 1950 the Randolph County Historical Society erected a series of painted wooden markers at sites around the county, but none still exist.

Dedicating the marker to Gov. Worth, 1937.

There are at least 12 state Highway Historical Markers, including one to Governor Jonathan Worth, which is on the Salisbury Street right of way on the courthouse property.1 This program has been operated since 1936 by the Office of Archives and History in the Department of Cultural and Natural Resources, and has no connection with and requires no input from the county.

Randolph County Commisioners 1993

The Sheriff’s Department has a Memorial Wall listing every Randolph County Sheriff. There are no memorials or even public lists anywhere on county property of the names of county commissioners, justices of the peace, Clerks of Court, Registers of Deeds, or other elected officials. Group photographs of the boards of county commissioners since 1984 are displayed on the wall leading to the county manager’s office at the Randolph County Office Building so that visitors will have a historical image of those who made the decisions that have helped Randolph County get to where it is now, but no group photographs of the boards of commissioner prior to 1984 have not been found.

There are and have been a number of Veteran’s Memorials erected in the county both on public and private property. There are no known memorials or monuments to veterans of the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War, or Spanish-American War (although there is, on the grounds of the State Capitol, a monument to the first casualty of the Spanish-American War–Worth Bagley, the grandson of Governor Jonathan Worth). There are, or have been in and around the Randolph County Courthouse, monuments and memorials to veterans of the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War and subsequent national conflicts.

The Randolph County Veterans Memorial

For many years the Pilot Club of Asheboro honored county veterans by placing paper bag luminaries on the sidewalks in front of the 1909 Courthouse. Beginning around 1993, Frank Rose,organizer of the Randolph County Veterans Council, together with members of the local Vietnam Veterans chapter, proposed building a Randolph County Veterans Memorial on the courthouse grounds. This was evidently triggered by the emotional popularity of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall which opened on the National Mall in Washington, DC, in 1982. This was one of the first war memorials in the United States to list the names of all servicemen and women who were casualties of a war.

Their original plan of the local veteran organization was that donations from the public and contributions from family members could fund the memorial, but this did not prove feasible. At the Randolph County Commissioners’ meeting held in January, 1995, the commissioners approved spending $31,700 for construction of a granite monument to be built on the courthouse lawn. At the request of County Commission Chair Phil Kemp and County Attorney Alan Pugh, Superior Court Judge Russell G. Walker, Jr. approved the final placement of the 900 square-foot memorial in a grassy area at the entrance to Courtroom C. Rose stated that the memorial was “open to all honorably discharged Randolph County veterans who served in any branch of the military since 1898 during war or peace.” At that time Rose stated that there were 11,310 living veterans in Randolph County, comprising more than ten percent of the population.

The monument was designed to look like the veterans memorial in Hillsville, Virginia, and was built by Wiley Brothers Marble and Granite Works. When dedicated on Veterans’ Day1995, it included the names of 3,333 living and deceased Randolph County veterans whose families or descendants applied for inclusion and paid a fee to have the name engraved on the granite panels. Four hundred additional names were added on Memorial Day, 1996. In 2003 the names of some 20 soldiers killed in action were added, and in 2004 two additional granite panels were added to provide space for as many as 1800 more names.

The Randolph County Commissioners approved spending $8,439 for the expansion in November 2004. At that time it was clarified that to be added to the wall a veteran“must be a native of Randolph County, a county resident for at least two years, or have been inducted locally with active military service of at least two years;” members of the National Guard and Reserves are eligible only if called to active duty. The new panels were dedicated with 544 new names on Memorial Day 2005. Frank Rose stated at that time that the memorial honored 3,899 military personnel. Names have subsequently been added so that the memorial currently honors more than 3,900 persons, including the names of 165 service men killed in action. It is recognized that this does NOT include the name of every Randolph County casualty of war since 1898.

Rotary WWII Plaque

World War II

A concerted effort was made by North Carolina during World War II to keep track of service men and women and of the casualties of war. A War records committee was appointed with representatives from every county. In 1942 Mrs. Laura Worth, the county historian, was appointed War Records Collector for Randolph County, and Dr. C.A. Barrett, Principal of the Randolph County Training School,was appointed to collect “Negro War Records.” Worth and Barrett regularly forwarded materials to the state archives.

Every town had a Wall of Honor; in Liberty and Asheboro, pictures of servicemen were posted in storefronts. In Franklinville a large wooden sign was erected on the baseball field. In Asheboro the names of everyone in service were painted on 4×8’ sheets of plywood erected in a grove of oaks at the present location of Wachovia/ Wells Fargo. The newspapers of the time printed short biographies of every serviceman, particularly when killed or wounded, and Miss Worth clipped those and created scrapbooks for the Army, Navy/ Marines and other topics.

There are also handwritten casualty cards for 113 men and women reported killed or missing in action. Reports of deaths were slow to be released by the military, and trickled out into public knowledge. By late 1943 enough deaths had accumulated that the Asheboro Rotary Club decided that some official memorial needed to be erected, and the club paid for a wooden plaque to be constructed by Lucas Industries, builder of furniture for the army. That plaque was dedicated at the courthouse in a public ceremony on April 28, 1944. Names of those who died in service were engraved on bakelite plates and affixed to the plaque, which was inscribed– “IN MEMORIAM: Dedicated to those men and women from Randolph County who have given their lives in service of our country during World War II. Erected by the Rotary Club of Asheboro.”

The Courier Tribune article about the plaque stated that it would be updated to “contain the county’s war dead to date.” But as the war continued, the names outgrew the space on the plaque. So another, larger plaque was made, and it was suggested that the smaller plaque could be converted into a memorial for the dead of the First World War (this was evidently never done). By the end of the war the plaque had 75 names affixed to it; but the official count as released by the Army and Navy lists in 1946 showed that there were at least 135 Randolph County residents killed in action or who died in service. And that list evidently did not include all of those missing in action. But evidently there was little interest in finalizing the list of war dead, and neither plaque was ever completed as a World War memorial. When the court house was renovated in 1964, the plaques were given back to Joe Ross, historian of the Asheboro Rotary Club. He stored them in the basement of his building at 100 Sunset Avenue. These plaques are now located in the lobby of the Historic 1909 Courthouse.

Several other projects began locally immediately after the war to memorialize those who fought and died in Europe and the Pacific.

Ramseur Ranoca Garden Club at Blue Star Highway plaque

Blue Star Highways

During World War I, families with relatives in service flew flags with a gold star for each loved one fighting overseas. In World War II (and still today) a blue star is used to designate a home with active military members; a gold star replaces the blue star to indicate the home of immediate relatives who die in service. In 1950 the Garden Club of North Carolina designated US 64 as a “Blue Star Memorial Highway,” in “tribute to the National Armed Forces who served in World War II.” Two Bronze markers designed by the National Council of Garden Clubs were erected in the county. One in Asheboro is in Oak Lawn municipal cemetery beside Asheboro Middle School; the other now stands near Fidelity Bank in Ramseur, its third location since it was erected in 1950. That marker was just the fourth erected in North Carolina.

future site of War Memorial Park, Asheboro, 1946

Asheboro Memorial Park

Construction of the swimming pool, Memorial Park

The Asheboro Memorial Foundation, Inc. acquired 12 acres of property in 1945 to build “An Everlasting Memorial to our Service Men and Women;” promoted to be “A Tribute to Our Heroes of World Wars I and II.” Officers of the foundation were W.C. Lucas, President; A.I. Ferree, Vice President; Cleveland Thayer, Secretary; H.A. Millis, Jr., Treasurer; Roy Cox, Fundraising Campaign Chair; C.C. Cranford, D.W. Holt, J. Frank McCrary; S.B. Stedman; and W.L. Ward, Directors.

In a radio address, Idol Ferree announced that the Foundation would build “a recreational park consisting of a swimming pool, softball and tennis courts and grounds adequate for outing and picnicking. It will be a memorial to all ex-servicemen and women.”

the Never-built community building, now the site of tennis courts

Grand plans were made for the park, but fundraising difficulties required these to be severely curtailed. Initial development was limited to the pool and two clay tennis courts. A substantial element of the fundraising campaign were the proceeds from the annual Kiwanis Easter Monday Horse Show at the county fairgrounds.

Construction of Church Street extension to the park
Breaking Ground, 1946

Groundbreaking was held June 15, 1946, and grading work on the $100,000 project began in August. The contractor was A.H. Guion Co. of Charlotte, with concrete provided by the Cox-Lewis Hardware Company. Fundraising for the construction of the bath house, built by S.E. Trogdon, delayed the completion of the facility. The T-shaped, 82-foot long, 235,000-gallon pool opened in June 1948, and featured a three-meter diving board and 70-foot lap lanes in the deep end.

Dedication of the pool, 1948

A “kiddie” or wading pool was completed in 1949, and a bronze plaque in honor of World War veterans installed there, but when that feature was later removed, the plaque disappeared.

A miniature railroad, the “Asheboro Flyer,” was opened in May 1955, circling the park on a 1300-foot track. Three passenger cars capable of seating 45 children or 35 adults were pulled by a gasoline-powered engine. Within ten years the train and tracks had been removed for the construction of additional tennis court, but the curved “round house” were it was stored survived until the 1970s.

For a quarter century this was the only “public” pool in the county. The smaller pool at the Acme-McCrary gym, built about the same time, was normally limited to employees of the company, not the general public. Asheboro Country Club, also founded in 1946, did not built a pool until 1964, and Pinewood Country Club was opened with its own pool in 1971. The Asheboro Memorial Foundation transferred officially transferred ownership to the City of Asheboro in September 1968; at which time the use of the pool was also opened to black citizens.

the finished pool

In his 1949 radio address, A.I. Ferree recalled that “When I was a boy, Henley’s swimming hole, a typical one, was the most popular place to go swimming in the summertime. Sundays, holidays and many week days found us paddling around in an attempt to satisfy that desire in man to go swimming in the summertime…. A swimming pool is something that every boy and girl is interested in. there was a time when only boys frequented the old swimming hole. The girls were left out of the picture. We have long ago abandoned that idea and custom. Today we are building for the enjoyment and development of the boys and girls.”

Summer Fire Hydrant Day at Central School, circa 1955.

In practice that meant the enjoyment and development of Asheboro’s white boys and girls, although I have not found that stated in print. The Memorial Park Foundation was set up to own and raise money to build the park, while the Town (now City) of Asheboro was responsible for its upkeep and operation. This created the legal fiction that the park was a private club, which made it easier to exclude African-Americans from using the facilities and give the City plausible deniability. While the plans for the park may have been progressive in the sense of allowing coeducational use by males and females, it would be twenty years before black citizens could use it, and still longer until private clubs accepted minority members.

World War I and the First National Bank Veterans Clock

Belk Department Store Windown, Asheboro ca. 1943

The first veteran’s memorials listing the names of veterans were erected privately during World War I. In Asheboro a list of the members serving in Company K, the local National Guard unit, was displayed on a painted wooden sign erected in the small park facing Fayetteville Street north of the Bank of Randolph. When a soldier was reported killed, a star was painted by his name. This list did not include all of the more than 1600 Randolph County men who served in World War I, but only those in Company K. Similar public lists were maintained by local municipalities such as Ramseur and Franklinville. When the war ended, these sign boards were not maintained and eventually were taken down.

Liberty store window, ca. 1943

During World War II, an elaborate window display of the photographs of servicemen was maintained by Belk Department Store on Sunset Avenue in Asheboro. A similar exhibit was erected in a store window in Liberty. These also were removed at war’s end, but efforts for a more permanent monument were soon begun by veterans of the first war through their “American Legion” and “Forty and Eight” organizations.

On July 4, 1946, a bronze clock mounted on the corner of First National Bank at the southwest intersection of Fayetteville Street and Sunset Avenue was dedicated as a World War II Memorial. The dedication brochure states that“This beautiful and very living Memoral we are unveiling today was made possible by the graciousness of Mrs. J.B. Ward, Jr.”

The clock was made by the O.B. McClintock Company, which made street clocks, but specialized in bank clocks because they also made bank alarm systems. There was a mahogony Seth Thomas master clock inside the bank, and the mechanism of the clock repeated that time, with Westminister chimes striking each quarter hour. The iron frame of the clock was covered by a bronze and copper skin, with stained glass panels were customized for each locality. The four faces of the Asheboro clock had three slogans: “Honoring All Who Served”/ “Lest We Forget”/ “It’s Later Than You Think”. [The fourth side

The last was from a poem by Robert W. Service, published in 1921 about an author in Paris–

Lone amid the café’s cheer,

Sad of heart am I to-night;

Dolefully I drink my beer,

But no single line I write.

There’s the wretched rent to pay,

Yet I glower at pen and ink:

Oh, inspire me, Muse, I pray,

It is later than you think!

The dedication brochure goes on to state–

Lest We Forget Those Who Served… This big and useful clock is dedicated to those who served in World War II in any capacity whatsoever. As the years go by, may its chimes bring comfort to those whose sons did not come home. The victory is won. Now, we must not forget our obligation to those who shared in its cost.

The ideals on which America was founded still oppose aggression. Our sons and daughters of Randolph County took a large part in preserving America’s freedom. We still believe that all men are created equal. To pay tribute to them, we regard as a privilege.”

Asheboro and Randolph County’s memory for this kind of thing being not much more than a generation long, the clock was dismantled in 1968 when First National Bank was rebuilt. The clock was given back to the American Legion, where it lay outside until it was vandalized and stolen by metal scavenger thieves. The wooden master clock hangs on the wall of the bar inside the Legion “Hut”.

White privilege and systemic racism

December 29, 2020
East Market Street facade of the Greensboro S&W.

Martin Evans Boyer Papers, 1910-1993 (UNCC MC00094), J. Murrey Atkins Library Special Collections at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte

There are events which happen in our lives that are so startling that we immediately feel the breath of history in the air.  2020 has already had more than its fair share- the current Black Lives Matter protests; COVID-19; the presidential impeachment trial. I can count back to 9/11; to the Challenger disaster; to July 4, 1976; to the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and John F. Kennedy. Events such as those are such radical departures from normal life that we know some part of our lives will never be the same again.

Lobby of the S&W.

Martin Evans Boyer Papers, 1910-1993 (UNCC MC00094), J. Murrey Atkins Library Special Collections at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte

But not every event feels all that ‘historic’ at the time.

When I was about 8 years old, something happened to me that I barely recall, but my parents never forgot. Our family lived in Asheboro, but at least one Friday night each month we would drive 25 miles north to Greensboro, the Big City, to eat out and go shopping. For the shopping part my preference was the tiny peanut shop beside Wills Book Store on South Elm, or the big downtown Sears store where we saw Santa Claus and the Christmas decorations.

8 year old Mac

When we ate out, my preference was always the glittering palace of the S&W Cafeteria, attached to the Belk store but with its main entrance off a side street. S&W was a Charlotte chain, long gone now, except the surviving shell of the magnificent Asheville Art Deco cafeteria, now condos and lofts, like the rest of Asheville. I didn’t know all this at the time, but the Greensboro S&W, all aluminum and glass curves with shiny terrazzo floors and a broad swooping staircase up to the mezzanine, was a masterpiece of the 1930s and ‘40s style known as Art Moderne, popularized in the movies by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and actors who always dressed in white tie and tails.

S&W Lobby and second floor mezzanine dining room.

Martin Evans Boyer Papers, 1910-1993 (UNCC MC00094), J. Murrey Atkins Library Special Collections at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Barely 8 years old, for some reason I loved that place, its cafeteria line, its mezzanine, its public bathrooms intriguingly located down in the basement. There was nothing like it, not even close, in Asheboro. But my favorite thing was the revolving glass entrance door, thick as bullet-proof glass but balanced so that even I could push them like a merry-go-round, and I always made sure to be the first one through. 

One Friday night in May, 1963, our family- my mother, father and younger brother- went on our jaunt to the Big City and headed to the S&W. I really remember nothing except pushing my way into the revolving door and some young man jumping into the compartment with me, walking the circle behind me, and then being grabbed by a policeman as we stepped inside.  I don’t remember being scared, though my parents certainly were, trapped outside, the door held shut by the police, who wouldn’t let anyone else inside.

The circle at the bottom of the Lobby plan is the revolving glass entrance door.

They told this story over and over through the years, me running ahead, ‘that black man’ jumping into the revolving door with me, them stuck outside.  When I asked about it in later years, they just said it was a bunch of students, protesting, nothing to worry about. 

As a historian now, I realize that I was caught in the middle of some history that night.  Friday, May 17th, 1963, some five hundred protestors attempted to enter the downtown Greensboro movie theaters and the Mayfair and S&W Cafeterias. It was part of an 18-day confrontation with the Greensboro police and power structure, organized by CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality, and its leader A&T football star Jesse Jackson. With the Woolworth Sit-Ins two years in the past, little progress had been made in Greensboro in integrating private businesses. As recounted in the book Civility and Civil Rights, CORE’s tactic in Greensboro was to pressure public officials and the Chamber of Commerce to open downtown businesses to black residents by filling the jails and exhausting police.  Two hundred college students from A&T and Bennett Colleges had been arrested just two days before when they blocked the entrance of the S&W after being refused admission. That Friday night the manager of the S&W only unlocked the revolving doors for white customers as they walked to the entrance, so the protestor could only enter by jumping into the revolving turnstile with me. I don’t know who he was or where he came from, but he was one of more than 850 students arrested that week, so far overflowing the capacity of the city jail that they were housed in a defunct polio hospital on the outskirts of the city. 

Mayor David Schenck had described Greensboro as “a city of liberal tolerance,” but after three weeks of protests he was actively considering cutting off the public water service to A&T and Bennett in order to clear out the students. Even Governor Sanford became involved, asking the heads of each school to damp down the protesters. It came to a head on June 5th when Jesse Jackson was arrested at a local church for inciting a riot, and even more protestors began to march. Mayor Schenck finally wrote to the Chamber of Commerce, “How far must city government go to protect your private business decisions? Now is the time to throw aside the shackles of past custom… Let us now more to restore to Greensboro the progressive spirit which is rightly ours.” 

Downtown Greensboro protesters, June 1963.

By June 13th, a quarter of the city’s restaurants had agreed to open to African-Americans, as well as four theaters. The changes were not as sweeping as those in Durham, or as violent as protests in Lexington. But “past custom” had been cracked open by nonviolent protests, and equality ratcheted forward another few notches. Monuments today memorialize the Greensboro Four who refused to leave the counter at Woolworth’s, and rightly so, but the thousand or so who were arrested in the protests of May and June 1963 are just footnotes to history.  

That was the racist environment where I grew up in Asheboro, in North Carolina, and in the South in general. It wasn’t as overt and ugly as it was in 1860, or in 1960, but it was everywhere. I grew up in a North Carolina where black people were not allowed to eat in restaurants with white people, or use the same bathrooms, or sleep in the same hotels. That was in the air we breathed in 1960 and the water we drank, the norms that were taught us by our parents and grandparents.  I don’t remember much about that night in 1963, but if I asked my mother and father why that young black man couldn’t eat in the restaurant where black men and women cooked and served the food, I’m sure they must have said, ‘that’s just the way things are.” 

Jefferson Square “sit-down” in Greensboro, June 1963.

Things aren’t exactly that way today, but racism has been all-pervasive in the South, justifying why black people, brown people, Asian people, gay people, can be considered inferior to whites in ways large and small. Our Randolph County community was never part of the stereotypical South, our black community always less than 6% of the population, and the influence of our anti-slavery Quaker community always strong. But it was never strong enough to overcome the pervasive, systemic racism of the entire South. That’s why thousands of local Quakers moved West before the war, trying to get their families away from the stagnant, intolerant racist environment. The ones who stayed made valiant attempts to change the system from within, supporting the Underground Railroad, or the Abolition movement; voting against joining the Confederacy; refusing to serve in the rebel army; joining the Red String anti-Confederate secret society, and later joining the national Radical Republican party. 

But it was still a racist environment they lived in, home to the Ku Klux Klan, the Grandfather Clause, Jim Crow, Separate but Equal and Segregation. It’s still a racist environment we live in, with Obama’s Birth Certificate, Charlottesville White Nationalists, Ferguson Missouri, the Charleston Church Massacre, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd… 

Greensboro employees being told the restaurant was closing and they were out of a job, 1975.

We chip away at the institution of racism in many different ways. Find yours. I let a black man squeeze into the revolving door at the S&W Cafeteria, and I try to find the truth of Randolph County history.  Someone else in the last week, the great-grandson of a man drafted into the Confederate Army against his will, who deserted and joined Union Army, hired the only African-American driver in NASCAR, who drove a Black Lives Matter car at Martinsville, and triggered NASCAR’s first-ever ban on Confederate flags and symbols. 

Our community was never part of the stereotypical South, and it’s up to us to be more than passive participants in history. It happens all around us whether we realize it or not.

Greensboro S&W being dmolished, 1976.

POSTSCRIPT: This was written as a letter to the editor of our local paper, the Courier-Tribune, which can trace its origins back to 1876. It was published in June, as one of the last accepted submissions from local people. By December, the last staff reporter retired, leaving the news room empty and what remained of the paper supplied by Gannett stringers. This winnowing-out of local newspapers happened over and over in 2020, making we local historians wonder what will be the source of local news in another 10, 20 or 50 years. I’m republishing this here at the end of 2020 lest it disappear forever.

East Market St. facade, 1976.

The S&W chain was founded in1920 by Frank Sherrill and Fred Webber, who opened their first Cafeteria in the Ivey’s department store in Charlotte, NC. The restaurant served Southern buffet-style food at a low cost, and quickly expanded to locations all across the major cities of the South, from Washington, DC to Atlanta, GA. The Greensboro protests triggered the integration of the entire chain in June 1963.

Charlotte architect Martin E. Boyer, JR. (1893-1970) designed most of the restaurants. The Knoxville, TN and Asheville NC locations are considered Art Deco masterpieces, and both are now on the National Register of Historic Places. The post-WWII Richmond, VA, and Greensboro (built 1947) locations were similar in appearance, with swooping Art Moderne staircases and mezzanines. The Greensboro location closed in 1975 and was torn down in 1976. After being a vacant lot for longer than the restaurant existed, a parking deck is now (2020) under construction at the site.

Washington DC S&W serving line, 1936.

The illustrations of the pristine, new S&W are to be found in the Martin Evans Boyer Papers, 1910-1993 (UNCC MC00094) in the library at UNC Charlotte, and now digitized by NC State. Historical photos of the sit-downs can be found at https://greensboro.com/gallery/civil-rights-era-historical-photos/collection_a08bdf22-a7f8-11e4-98a1-9f4e22e1d3cc.html#5 . The sad record of the building’s destruction can be found in the Greensboro News & Record in 1976: https://greensboro.com/gallery/news/photos-a-look-back-at-the-s-w-cafeteria-closing-and-demolition-in-downtown-greensboro/collection_6c49828a-8e83-5077-baf0-d94b88a0a93d.html#10 .

A Family Tradition: Working more than 175 years in North Carolina’s Textile Industry.

May 28, 2020

Franklinsville Mfg Co. 1874

The Franklinsville Factory, as rebuilt after the 1851 fire.

The textile mill started by the original Franklinsville stockholders in 1838 wove its first yard of cotton sheeting in March 1840 and its last yard sometime before Easter 1978.  During that 180-year span the mill not only wove millions of yards of cloth but trained thousands of workers in the craft and technology of spinning and weaving, The skills learned and used by those workers spread all over North Carolina to a degree that became invisible and unrecognized.

When I first became interested in Franklinville in 1978 I met Margaret Williams, the always helpful and voluable clerk at the Franklinville Store Company. Margaret and her sister Katherine Buie (the retired Town Librarian) were lifelong residents and between them knew everything that went on in the mill village. They welcomed me, encouraged my curiosity about Franklinville, and let me spend many hours with them, talking and asking questions, being directed to other residents who’d know more, and looking at their many photos of the mill and community.

Margaret Buie Williams

Margaret Buie Williams on duty at the Company Store

In that situation, as is common with oral history, they toldme more than I knew I needed to know, more than my ability to assimilate. Thankfully I was able to record some of those conversations, and looking back at them thirty years later, I’m able to make connections and recognize many things I was too overwhelmed to understand at the time. One such is the fact that Margaret and Katherine’s own family, the Buies, were and are one of primary examples of how family traditions of textile work have shaped the economic development of North Carolina.

The Buies were among the 350 Scots who emigrated to North Carolina with the so-called Argyll Colony in 1739. An Archibald and Daniel Buie were with that group, as was my own ancestor Alexander McKay, all settling on the Cape Fear River between Cross Creek and the Lower Little River near what was then known as Campbelltown and now is Fayetteville.

In 1788 on Big Juniper Creek in what is now Moore County, a John Buie was born, son of Neill, grandson of John, and probably grandson of Archibald, though the exact 18th century connections for us all have become obscured. Lots of Scots came to America to start a new life, and records show a number of John Buies.

But Margaret Buie was the historian of her family, and her contribution to the book “The Family Buie: from Scotland to North America” (1980) shows that her great-grandfather was John A. Buie, born 7 April 1812 in Moore County (now Lee County). A tailor by profession, he married Mary Jane Campbell (b1822) and had at least seven children.

Spring Lake/ Manchester

Spring Lake, the former Manchester, flooded during Hurricane Florence.

The 1860 census of Cumberland County shows that John Buie and his family were living in Manchester, a mill village named after the great manufacturing city of northern Britain. All of Buie’s children, ages 6 to 19, were listed as “factory operatives” by the census taker, and must have worked in the Little River Manufacturing Company, which was the focal point of the village of Manchester. It is not clear what jobs the children may have had, but it was not uncommon for children as young as 6 and 8 to work as sweepers and doffers in a mill. Coincidentally another John Buie, born in North Carolina, is listed as a “Manufacturer” in the 1850 census of Prattville, Alabama, home of a large cotton mill and cotton gin factory. Several of his children were also listed as “Operatives,” showing that factory work was a Buie family tradition well before the Civil War.

The Manchester factory was one of three new Cumberland County mills authorized by the legislature in January 1841. By 1850 there would be seven factories ringing Fayetteville, making it the largest manufacturing community in the state. Little River is a tributary of the Cape Fear River, big enough to power a small mill capitalized at $35,000 while the nearby factory on Rockfish Creek was valued at four times that. The railroad from Fayetteville to the Deep River coal mines in Chatham County passed through Manchester, but the community has today vanished inside the town of Spring Lake just east of Pope Army Airfield at Fort Bragg.

Boys doffing a slubber at Cherryville Mfg. Co.

The Little River mill and all but one of the other Cumberland mills would be burned by Sherman’s troops in March, 1865, and it wasn’t rebuilt until 1869.  The destruction of their home and workplace must have caused the Buie family to relocate to Randolph County, where the  mills had all survived the war. [When James Buie died in 1934 his obituary stated that he had lived in Franklinville for 69 years, indicating that the family moved from Manchester in 1865.] The 1870 census shows John Buie and wife Catherine living in Franklinsville, 66 miles west of Manchester, where he was again occupied as a tailor. Their children Matthew G. (“Gib”), John A., Catherine E. (Kate), Nancy and William all lived at home and all but youngest worked in the cotton mill there.

Card Room (1916).

Card Room Hands (1916). James Buie sits in the center.

It was usual for children in a mill to start with the most menial jobs, such as sweeping up cotton dust and lint, or oiling the machinery. Older boys and girls could “doff,” or remove full bobbins of yarn from a spinning frame (while it was running) and load empty bobbins in their place. Such jobs gradually gave young employees knowledge of the various manufacturing operations, and they could be put to work in the specialized ‘rooms’ of equipment. The mill had a hierarchical structure, with sections of each room under the supervision of “Second Hands,” who reported to the Overseer or “Boss” of the Room, who reported to the Superintendent of the Factory; who reported to the owners and stockholders.

Weaving Room Hands (1916). Hugh Buie stands in left foreground.

Weaving Room (1916).

It isn’t known what jobs the Buie children may have done in the Manchester factory, and the Franklinville employee records are fragmentary so far back, but it is clear that they grew up working in cotton mills, and became good at mill work. Jane and Lettie worked in the Weave Room; Catherine (known as Kate), Nancy (Nannie) and John Allen Buie never married, and lived together into the 20th century, all working standard wage jobs in the mills.

M.G. Buie
Overseer of Spinning, 1882-1883
Overseer of Weaving, 1882-1912
Died October 10, 1912

Their brothers William, James and Matthew Gilbert (“Gib”), however, all became higher level supervisors in various departments. The early career of William, the youngest brother, is not known but in 1900 he was listed as the “Boss Weaver” of the Lower Mill. He held that job for 55 years, indicating the stability and job security enjoyed by skilled technical workers in the early industry. His son Lacy Buie served as Chief Engineer of the factory at Cedar Falls, and other children worked in factories in High Point and Hamlet.

James Buie 1915

James Buie
Overseer of Spinning, 1877-1882.
Overseer of Carding, 1882-1923.
Died June 13, 1923.

James Buie House

James Buie House, 159 Rose St., Franklinville

In 1870 James was working in the mill as a machinist, but in 1877 at age 23 he was made Overseer of the Spinning Room at the Upper Mill; he transferred to the position of Overseer of the Card Room in 1882, a job he remained in for the next 43 years.  When James went to the Card Room his brother Gib was made Overseer of Spinning, but he only held that job a year until he was made Overseer of the Weave Room, perhaps the most important supervisory position in the mill under that of Superintendent. Gib Buie served as “Boss Weaver” until 1916, when his son Hugh Buie took over that job. Hugh had been a loom fixer in the mill when he was promoted to Second Hand in the Weave Room in 1912. Hugh had tried jobs outside the mill- in 1903 he was running a store and livery stable in Franklinville- but obviously the pull of family connections in the mill brought him back into the dynastic structure of the factory. When he died in 1934, Hugh Buie was both Overseer of Weaving and Foreman of the Finishing Department.

Joe T. Buie
Book-Keeper, 1912-1923.

Gib Buie’s other children also had careers in the mill. His son Joe became the mill book-keeper and office manager; daughters Jane and Fannie worked as weavers, and Blanche and Mattie were Drawing-In Hands, hooking the warp yarns through the heddles and reeds to create weave patterns. Fannie left the mill to marry George Russell, then the Chief Engineer of the Upper Mill, and later its Superintendent.

Hugh B. Buie, Overseer of Weaving, 1912-1923.

Hugh Buie’s children included my friends Katherine, the original Franklinville Librarian, her sister Margaret, who married Clyde Williams and worked in the Company Store. Youngest son Mack Buie was working in the Lexington Silk Mill when he was drafted in 1942, and son Charles (1906-1960), began working in the Montgomery County mill town of Capelsie by the time he was eighteen years old. He became Superintendent of the Aileen Mills in the nearby town of Biscoe, and ultimately was President of Spring Mills there. His son Charles Jr. in 1967 opened Charlescraft, Inc.- originally making kitchen towels, dishcloths and potholders, but gradually diversifying into polyester and blended industrial yarns. Today the family-owned and operated company is one of the country’s best-known manufacturers of high-performance flame-resistant and cut-resistant yarns and fabrics, spinning Aramid fibers such as Kevlar and Nomex for commercial and military applications.

Drawing-In Hands (1916).
Miss Mattie Buie
Miss Ellie Martindill
Miss Blanche Buie.

So a North Carolina family which started to earn a living in textile trades in Cumberland County in the 1840s, then moved to Franklinville in the 1860s, has remained heavily involved in the state’s textile industry ever since. I’m not sure if there are other North Carolina families who can match this record of service, but certainly the Buie family of Franklinville can be proud of one of our longest traditions in the state’s textile industry.

 

The “Spanish Flu” Pandemic

April 18, 2020

Sp flu ward 2The worst pandemic to hit the United States before COVID-19 was the “Spanish” influenza epidemic that followed the end of World War I.  The parallels between that epidemic of one hundred years ago and today are striking, and show both how American society has advanced and regressed.

Though commonly called Spanish Flu, was first widely known among the troops in Europe, and was called ‘trench fever.’  Though wartime censorship makes it hard to track, it may have been endemic to German troops on the eastern front in late 1917; in the spring of 1918 they postponed a western offensive until influenza subsided in 3rd week of March. The Kaiser himself fell ill with the flu in July, 1918. It evidently took the name “Spanish” flu because Spain was neutral in the war and had no press censorship, so the first mentions of the severity of the illness came from Spanish newspapers.

Sp Flu liberty bonds

Modern studies attempting to track the spread of the virus think that it may have arrived in America via Chinese workers being sent to work on the war front in France; a “serious outbreak of pneumonia” was noted in Shantung province, on the Mongolian border in December 1917, and pandemic influenza struck Shanghai in May 1918.

An army cook at Camp Funston, Kansas is considered to have been the first U.S. influenza victim, dying in March 1918. In April 1918 the USS North Carolina docked at Norfolk, reporting 100 mild cases of the influenza.

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Communicable diseases were not uncommon in one hundred years ago. Many were deadly, and most were debilitating. Before the flu arrived in the fall, there had been more than 2200 deaths in NC in 1918 from typhoid fever and tuberculosis.  Older forms of influenza were seldom deadly- called “the Grippe,” it was most dangerous to the weak and elderly. North Carolina created a State Board of Health in 1877 but the first local health department was established by Guilford County in 1911.

A bulletin from the U.S. Public Health Service (The Courier, Asheboro, 10-10-18, Page1) noted that-

“Epidemics of influenza have visited this country since 1647. It is interesting to know that this first epidemic was brought here from Valencia, Spain. Since that time there have been numerous epidemics of the disease.  In 1889 and 1890 an epidemic of influenza, starting somewhere in the Orient, spread first to Russia, and thence over practically the entire civilized world. Three years later there was another flare-up of the disease. Both times the epidemic spread widely over the United States.”

sp flu wardThe difference with the influenza of 1917/18 (now called the Influenza A Strain) was that it triggered a virulent reaction in the immune system of those who were strongest- those twenty to forty years old, young and fit; in many cases it killed in less than 48 hours from first fever to last breath.  As its victims’ lungs filled with fluid and their respiratory systems failed, their skin, starved for oxygen, turned blue- giving the tabloid headline name the “Blue Death” to the new influenza.

The virus came in 3 waves, the first breaking out from October 1918 to Feb 1919 and eventually spreading to every corner of the earth. A second wave occurred in the summer of 1919, and the third wave in 1920 claimed another 100 thousand. As many as 40 million people may have died and half the world’s population was infected.  No vaccine was ever created, and even today no treatment would be available for this type of flu.

In April 1919 Dr. William Rankin, secretary of the State Board of Health, reported that more than a third of the state’s 2.5 million citizens had been infected, and 13,644  had died, including 17 doctors- 13 times the number of Tar Heels killed by the Germans in WWI.

The influenza first appeared in North Carolina in Wilmington on September 19th, 1918, and within a week it had overwhelmed that city’s hospital, considered one of the state’s best.  The contagion spread West from Wilmington into the heart of the state along the railroad lines, ravaging military camps across the state.

Flu dangerous as poison gas

On October 3, 1918- Governor Thomas Bickett issued statement from the Board of Health on dangers of sharing eating and drinking utensils, unrestrained sneezing or coughing; he issued an order recommending curtailing social functions and public gatherings, and proposing quarantine for those infected- they were prohibited from leaving home without a doctor’s note

Although we are missing many issues of the local newspaper for the years 1917 and 1918, the first mention of the flu from the Asheboro Courier is found on October 10, 1918, just three weeks after it was first noted in Wilmington. “Spanish influenza is rapidly spreading in this county, and the schools have all closed, as well as all other public gatherings. We think that the prohibition of the Greensboro fair was right and proper.” (Courier, 10/10/18, pg4).

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Surgeon General Blue

A interview with Surgeon General Rupert Blue (called “Uncle Sam’s Advice on the Flu”) published a week later noted- “In contrast to the outbreaks of ordinary coughs and colds, which usually occur in the cold months, epidemics of influenza may occur at any season of the year, thus the present epidemic raged most intensely in Europe in May, June and July….

“In most cases a person taken sick with influenza feels sick rather suddenly. He feels weak, has pains in the eyes, ears, head on back, and may be sore all over. Many patients feel dizzy, some vomit.  Most of the patients complain of feeling chilly, and with this comes a fever in which the temperature rises to 100 to 104. In most cases the pulse remains relatively slow.

Sp flu stop spitting“In appearance one is struck by the fact that the patient looks sick. His eyes and the inner side of his eyelids may be slightly “bloodshot” or “congested,” as the doctors say. There may be running from the nose, or there may be some cough. These signs of a cold may not be marked; nevertheless, the patient looks, and feels very sick….

“No matter what particular kind of germ causes the epidemic, it is now believed that influenza is always spread from person to person, the germs bring carried with the air along the very small droplets of mucus, expelled by coughing or sneezing, forceful talking, and the like by one who already has the germs of the disease. They may also be carried about in the air in the form of dust coming from dried mucus, coughing or sneezing, or from careless people who spit on the floor or on the sidewalk.” (The Courier, Asheboro, 17 Oct 1918, p6)

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Rupert Blue

An interesting sidelight is that Surgeon General Rupert Blue was a native of Rockingham, in Richmond County, North Carolina.  Blue (1868-1948) entered the US public health service in 1892, and made a name for himself coordinating the federal response (yes, there was one even back then) to the San Francisco bubonic plague outbreaks of 1900-1904, and again after the earthquake of 1906. He was also involved in efforts to control yellow fever in New Orleans in 1905. He was appointed Surgeon General by President Taft in 1912 and served until March 1920, and oversaw the dramatic expansion of US public health services during WWI. The U.S. Hygenic Laboratory which Blue established created vaccines against tetanus, diphtheria, typhoid and smallpox, and after the war, laid the foundation for the creation of Veterans’ Administration hospitals and clinics. So it is no exaggeration to say that the foundation of our modern health care system was put in place by Surgeon General Blue. [And I might interject, that he is probably some kind of relative of my father’s mother, whose maternal grandfather was Evander McNair Blue of Moore County.]

flu ad 4

Back on the home front, the Randolph County Board of Health took decisive action based on years of knowing what had worked to stem the spread of incurable communicable diseases. Schools were closed. Both live and moving picture theaters were closed.  There were no bars, as prohibition had ended alcohol sales, and there were few restaurants, as most people cooked at home. The Randleman Chrysanthemum Show was cancelled.  Joel Trogdon, minister of Charlotte Methodist Church, announced that the Richland Circuit quarterly conference was cancelled, as well as the associated preaching services. He rescheduled for the next month, “we hope influenza will be subsided by this time, if not perhaps we can hold our meeting out of doors.” (Courier, 24 Oct 1918 p5)

In Asheboro, “The influenza situation in Asheboro has greatly improved over what it was last week. The people have been using precautions and should continue to do so…. Much anxiety is felt in Asheboro and Randolph County for the Randolph boys in France and especially for those in the Thirtieth Division, as they have evidently been in the thick of the fighting during the recent battles. One boy has written that he has been in the trenches sixteen days at a time.” (id)

In Trinity, “Trinity High School has suspended on account of Spanish influenza. Some of the older people say, this is the first time the doors of Trinity has been closed in October for over 70 years. In other words, the school has been in progress here for 70 years, probably a little longer. The doors were not closed during the Civil War.” (id)

And in Franklinville, the war also precluded too much worry about the flu: “The last report of all Spanish influenza cases in the community are on the mend, and it is not expected that any cases will prove fatal…. Our farmers are busy gathering and husking corn, and preparing to sow a large crop of wheat this fall and are doing all they can to help our boys push their way to Berlin.” (id)

Sp Flu ambulance stationBut the same edition of the paper showed that local people were dying.

“Private A.M. Phillips died at Camp Joseph E. Johnson, Jacksonville, Florida, last Tuesday morning at ten o’clock from pneumonia following an attack of influenza. The deceased had been ill about two weeks. The fact that he had suffered from four previous attacks of pneumonia probably made it harder for him to combat the disease. Mrs. Phillips and Miss Kate Phillips were with the husband and brother when the end came. The body is expected today, after which the funeral will follow. Private Phillips went to Camp Hancock, Augusta, Ga, July 26, last, with an increment of Randolph men, and was later transferred to Camp Johnson. He was at home on furlough just a few weeks ago.

The deceased is survived by his parents, Mr. and Mrs L. C. Phillips, Asheboro; one brother, Mr. Hal Phillips. Asheboro: and four sisters, Mrs. Walter Davis, Randleman Route; and Misses Kate, Lizzie and Alice Phillips, Asheboro; besides his wife, who was Miss Erma Lynch, of Asheboro Route 1, and to whom he was married about six mouths aero. A large circle of friends throughout the county sympathize with the bereaved family.”

And-

“Mr. Gurney Davidson died at his home west of town last Thursday from pneumonia following an attack of Spanish influenza. The burial was at West Bend church the following day…  Mrs. Gurney Davidson died in the evening of the same day her husband was buried from the same fatal disease, and was laid to rest at West Bend on Saturday… Mr. Davidson was about 35 years of age… Three small children, the oldest only six years of age, are left orphans by these deaths.”

A week later, the headline was that flu had claimed the President of the University of North Carolina.

Sp Flu Edward_Kidder_GrahamDr. Edward Kidder Graham, eighth president of the University of North Carolina, and a prominent educational figure in the nation, died last Saturday night at his home, Chapel Hill, from pneumonia following an attack of Spanish influenza. Dr. Graham had been ill less than a week, the disease assuming the most malignant type and turning to the dread pneumonia in two or three days. The funeral was held at Chapel Hill, Monday afternoon. There was no service at the church or home, but a simple service at the grave… All work at the University was suspended for the day and the faculty and students attended the funeral in a body. [The Courier, 10-31-18, p7.  Marvin Hendrix Stacy, the chairman of the faculty, became the acting university president after Graham’s death. On 21 January 1919, Stacy also died from influenza. [https://exhibits.lib.unc.edu/exhibits/show/going-viral/unc ]

Archives

On October 31, the State Board of Public Health reported that “Taking the State as a whole, the influenza situation is looking better, the reports showing marked improvement in a number of towns. On the basis of imperfect reports, it is estimated that the number of cases in North Carolina, dating from the first outbreak in Wilmington, will pass a quarter of a million before it runs its course. The death rate in Raleigh so far has been about three per cent of the cases, as estimated, and on such a basis the ravages of the disease will kill 7,600 North Carolinians.”

But the end of the war brought a setback. Social distancing restrictions were loosened following Armistice Day, with unintended complications. By the end of the month, T. Fletcher Bulla, the Secretary of the Board of Health, put even more restrictions were in place.

“On account of the influenza situation and the danger of spreading the disease, the County Board of Health has decided it is inadvisable to hold the regular term of court for the county scheduled to begin December 6th. After a conference with local officials, the members of the local bar, and Judge Long, I am directed to say that the term has been called off. Parties, witnesses and jurors are all hereby notified that they need not come.” [The Courier, 11-28-18, pg5].

“Ramseur has been struck with influenza the past two weeks. Over two hundred cases have been reported, with three fatalities. We hope the worst is behind us now. It seems to be abating but we find this is a very subtle thing, it come unawares and spreads like fire. Let us be as careful as we possibly can lest it takes a heavy toll from us yet.” [The Courier, 12-12-18, pg1].

In January 1919 the Courier reported that it was unable to print the newspaper on schedule.

“INFLUENZA RAGING IN ASHEBORO ATTACKS COURIER FORCE.  During the past few days many people of the town have been stricken with influenza, few homes having every person confined to bed. The disease seems in lighter form than it did during the first epidemic which was visited upon the town during the first of November. The Courier force has been so afflicted, having three members out, that we are unable to appear in usual form. We feel that our readers will understand the unfortunate situation. It is under difficulties that we appear at all. We hope’ next week to make our usual appearance.”[The Courier, Jan. 16, 1919, pg1]. Neither of the paper’s linotype operators, L.B. Lambert and C.L. Scott, had fully recovered by February 6th.

Sp flu nurse masksThe second wave of flu had disappated by May, 1919, but then reappeared full blast in the winter of 1920. “For more than two weeks the epidemic of influenza has been in full blast at Coleridge. Practically everybody in the town has had it, there being more than 250 cases. Up to date only two deaths have occurred, that of Mrs. L. B. Davis, and Mrs. A.M. Poole. Mrs. Davis died the latter part of last week. She was 35 years of age, and a daughter of the late Gurney Cox. At the time of Mrs. Davis’ death her husband was seriously ill with influenza. Mrs. A.M. Poole was a daughter of Mr. W.A. Poole, of Coleridge. She is survived by her husband and three children.” [The Courier, 5 Feb 1920, pg1.]

When the Randolph County Board of Health met in February 1920 “a number of schools, churches and Sunday schools of the county were closed on account of the prevalence of influenza. Among the schools that have closed are: Coleridge, Pleasant Grove, Brower, Richland, Grant, Columbia and Tabernacle townships, also Miller’s school and Wheatmore school in Trinity township and Central Falls school in Franklinville township. It was further ordered that the stores in the county be closed at 7 o’clock p.m. and unnecessary congregating in cafes, barber shops and other public places be prohibited. It was also ordered that all moving picture shows of the county be closed for a period of two weeks. Another order was that all the children in a family where there is a case of influenza be kept out of school for two weeks. The matter of losing other schools in the county and taking further precaution to prevent the spread of influenza was left in the hands of Messrs. W.L. Ward, T.F Bulla and Dr. C. A. Hayworth, who were authorized to take any steps that they deemed wise without consulting the county board of health further.”

In late March, one of Asheboro’s best known citizens died of the flu. “The news of the almost sudden death of Capt. A.E. Burns at his home in Asheboro on Wednesday of last week was a distinct shock to his many friends in Randolph County. Capt. Burns had influenza but was improving and at the time the call came he was sitting up in bed, talking to some friends, assuring them he would be out in a few days…. Mr. Burns was the son of B.B. and Fannie Moss Burns. He was born in Asheboro and has spent his life here, consequently was known by every body- to his old friends he was known as “Eck Burns”… At the age of eighteen years Mr. Burns went in the employ of Southern Railway and came in to Asheboro on the first train as baggage master. Twenty five years ago he was promoted to conductor and has served the railroad in that until his death… “  [The Courier, 25 March 1920, p1]

flu ad 1During the 1920 epidemic, the Fletcher Bulla recommended 9 suggestions for good public health.  Some show that some major improvements have occurred in a century-

“Don’t use public drinking cups that have not been properly sterilized. Every school child should carry an individual cup… while at school.”

Others would be familiar today, human nature having not changed that much-

“Avoid coughing, if you must cough or sneezing, place a handkerchief over your mouth.

“If you go into a room where any patient is confined with … gripe or colds, use a mask or handkerchief over your mouth and nose and wash your hands if you have touched the patient, bedding or other furniture in the room.

“Promiscuous kissing should be avoided.”

Sp Flu sign

*Final note:  I know of no official statistics for the number of Randolph County citizens who died during the Spanish Flu pandemic. Because of wartime censorship, the figures that might have been available were not published, and because of the lack of testing and treatment facilities, the number was probably much higher than was known at the time.  Some day perhaps, a comprehensive review of death certificates might give us a ball park figure. But the number was shockingly large, even to a generation used to sudden death and incurable disease.

For more information on the 1918 pandemic, see the following excellent sources:

Cockrell, David. 1996. “A Blessing in disguise’: The influenza pandemic of 1918 and North Carolina’s medical and public health communities.” NCHistRev 73 (3) 309-327

Pettit, Dorothy Ann. 1976. “A Cruel Wind: America Experiences Pandemic Influenza, 1918-1920. A Social History. Univ. New Hampshire PhD Diss., 1145.

Plague and the Pest House

April 15, 2020

Pest House patientI am writing this from my home in Franklinville, NC, in the midst of COVID-19 self-isolation. For most of America, home isolation is designed to “flatten the curve”- to impose community isolation measures that slow the spread of infection and keep the daily case load at a manageable level for our existing health care resources.  In my case, it’s to protect me in the wake of my recent heart surgery, and keep me from the risk of pneumonia on top of asthma and post-anesthesia breathing issues.

All this was getting underway as I entered the hospital, and ten days later was in high gear in North Carolina, with public schools and university classes cancelled or forced online; public libraries, museums, historic sites and non-essential businesses closed; restaurants and bars reduced to drive-through and take-out service, if at all; and Americans all over the country urged to practice ‘social distancing’ by not meeting in groups or religious services, wearing masks and gloves, and maintaining a six-foot distance from one another.

Pest House isolation

As I write this, these measures have had some success when adopted early, as in San Francisco, but have failed to stem the tide of infection in cities such as New York and Philadelphia. They seem to be helping in North Carolina, despite vocal opposition from a minority who consider any such restrictions overwrought, bogus, or unconstitutional.

It has been accepted in modern America that the fall of every year brings the onset of ‘flu season,’ and persons susceptible to lung problems are urged to get prophylactic flu shots developed to take the edge off last year’s version of the flu. People die every year from complications of the flu, and, like gunshot victims and automobile accidents, are accepted as part of modern life.

Pest House Dr McCoy

I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer!

The current pandemic, affecting virtually every country on earth, is different because it is NOT last year’s flu, but something new, and the traditional flu meds don’t seem to be working. It is also different because our national ability to respond to this kind of crisis has been nibbled away by lack of funding, or crony capitalism, and simple complacency.  Even though 2019 was the centennial of the worst pandemic in modern history, we came to believe that such things just didn’t happen any more, that modern medicine and modern technology could whip up a vaccine at the same speed Dr. McCoy could cure the malady of the week in one episode of Star Trek. This is not the case as a look at the history just underneath our present day will show.

Pest House Yellow Fever

Yellow Fever in New Orleans

When I first moved to Franklinville I interviewed a lot of people about the history of the community, and one of the first things I learned was that, while life wasn’t exactly cheap, death was always just around the corner. Families were large, but would have been even larger without the regular deaths of young children from incurable diseases such as mumps, measles, whooping cough, and polio.  At any point of the year, ancient adult diseases such as smallpox, yellow fever, typhus, cholera, typhoid fever and tuberculosis might flare up and take friends and family away with little or no warning.

Pest Gleason_cooling_board_ad_reduced

Death was so common, and so accepted, that there was a rote process for dealing with it. In the weave room of the Lower Mill, I was told, a 3×6-foot wooden tabletop was stored in a rack over the windows- the “Cooling Board,” the community catafalque. When someone died, the cooling board was taken to their house and set up in the largest room, to clean and embalm the body and hold the coffin for the wake. After the funeral, the cooling board was taken back to its rack in the weave room.

Pest House Burlington KY

A mill village, an urbanized community with houses set closer together than in country living, was especially vulnerable to communicable disease. While Franklinville had its own doctor, it had no hospital, and indeed, there was no hospital in all of Randolph County until the 1920s.  What Franklinville did have was its “Pest House,” short for ‘Pestilence House.’

Pest House London 2

London Pest-House, St. Giles Cripplegate

As community health-care facilities, ‘Pest Houses’ date back to medieval times. Daniel Defoe in A Journal of the Plague Year, states that in 1165 London “it was a great mistake that such great city as this had but one pest-house.”

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In fact, many if not most North Carolina towns and counties of the early 20th century had their Ppest Houses. A look through contemporary state newspapers of the time shows that Wilmington spent $350 building a frame pest house 50 feet long by 20 feet wide. Charlotte in 1914 built a new one with ten rooms “divided into male and female compartments.”  High Point, Lexington, Concord, Gastonia, Asheville, Alamance County, Durham, Oxford, Raleigh and New Bern all budgeted for the operation of their pest houses, paying cooks, cleaners, wood choppers, and guards for both day and night shifts during peak periods of operation- which at the time were chiefly during smallpox epidemics.

Pest House Lynchburg VA

Lynchburg, Virginia Pest House

So common were the annual outbreaks of small pox that Raleigh in April 1899 voted to change the name of its Pest House to the “Raleigh Small Pox Hospital.” Said the city Superintendent of Health, “The people of Raleigh are now, I believe, ready for compulsory vaccination. It has been shown in other places- Charlotte and Rocky Mount have used it to good effect…. At Charlotte, one man was put in jail for refusing to be vaccinated, and at Rocky Mount, two were sent to the roads.” [i.e., the county jail road maintenance gang].

Pest House lysolMiss Kitty Caviness, a retired teacher, first told me about Franklinville Pest House, which was in the hollow between her house and the Lower Mill. It was a small cabin or “fever shed” with beds, and if the illness was something that could endanger the whole village, the patient was taken there under quarantine.  I never saw the building; as far as anyone could remember, the Franklinville Pest House was last used during the “Spanish Flu” epidemic of 1918-1920.  “It smelled like sulpher,” said Miss Caviness, and undoubtedly this was due to the common practice of the time of disinfecting the air by burning sulpher in open pans in each room.

Pest House wardI’m told that Randleman also had a Pest House, perhaps shared with Worthville, and this may have been a feature of all the Deep River Mill villages.  Universal vaccination for communicable deadly diseases gradually did away with the need to isolate patients from their neighbors, but the sudden rise of the “Spanish Flu” in 1918 brought them back into wide use for a few years- and triggered a movement to build community hospitals in rural areas.

More on this in a separate entry.

Heart Surgery in the Plague Year

April 5, 2020

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There are times when events gang up on us and deliver punches to the gut so that we have no choice but to recognize that ‘this is history’ – we’re experiencing something we will look back on as a turning point, a life-changing event.

The swift and radical upheaval of society triggered in early 2020 by the COVID-19 Coronavirus is certainly one of those time, locking down nursing homes, flooding emergency rooms and ICUs; prematurely ending school years and college careers; closing businesses and squeezing restaurants and bars into drive-throughs, take-outs and food truck equivalents; and forcing families to stay inside at home as if beautiful spring weather was the same as ice-bound snow days.

signboard informing unavailability of sanitizers

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

The pressure for this started in China at the end of 2019, and built up gradually in January and February 2020. By the first week of March it was obvious that major challenges were on the horizon in the USA, despite the ‘fake news’ assurances of the Administration.  The fact that this is a global pandemic is brought home to me by the fact that it affects my son Roman in Moscow and my son Vlad in the army in Iraq just as much as me here in North Carolina.

person holding a mug

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

But my own personal story of 2020 has taken a turn that sent me on a different, yet oddly parallel course. Back before Thanksgiving I had my annual physical where I told Dr. Dough I had noticed something going on with my breathing- that walking fast, walking uphill, working hard out in the yard, caused me to have shortness of breath and tightness in my throat. No pain, just odd pounding heart beats. He scheduled me to meet with a heart specialist, Dr. Munley, who proposed a CT scan at Moses Cone. In February, after it had finally been approved by my insurance, I drove myself to Greensboro and had the scan inside the big magnetic doughnut. The next day Dr. Munley called and wanted me to come back to his office; he was recommending that I have a heart catheterization as soon as possible. The CT scan on March 12th showed that the arteries in my heart had some serious blockages, and the cath procedure could pinpoint where they were, and even insert stents to open them up if they were mild or moderate. He recommended that I go back to Moses Cone for the next available catheterization slot, not only because the results were worrying, but because the thundercloud of COVID-19 was blowing up on the horizon. He didn’t want me to delay and at best risk being hospitalized with virus patients and at worst having to delay surgery until the pandemic was over. That weekend the coronavirus began to assume the aspect of a real crisis, as cities and states began to cancel public events, close restaurants and bars, and event cancel entire school years and professional sports seasons.

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On Tuesday, March 17th, my sister Jill drove me to Greensboro. She had come up from her home in Morehead City because I wouldn’t be allowed to drive home or be by myself after any procedure. It seemed lucky that I would have Dr. Kelly doing the catheterization on St. Patrick’s day, and I hoped I would get a stent or two and be on my way home by dinner time.

That didn’t happen. I was awake during the catheterization, watching on a big TV as they pushed a wire through my wrist and poked around inside my heart, using dye to show blood flows and blocks. The bad news was that four of the arteries feeding blood to my heart had blockages; one of they was almost 95% closed. They set me up for the next available heart bypass surgery, two days away.

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Swept up in events, I became something little more than an interested bystander to my own health care. The surgery schedule was being pushed not just by my condition, but the looming spectre of the potential collapse of the health care system. After I became a piece of the puzzle on March 17th, events rapidly began to cascade. The hospital was closed to all ‘elective’ surgery (cardiac problems were considered mandatory); visitors were limited; and the news from other states began to look grim.

Those two days waiting were filled with tests, so many different tests that had to be done before surgery that I began to wonder how anybody suffering an actual heart attack ever got into surgery in less than 48 hours. They said they can hurry it up when they have to, and it was unusual that I had the luxury of time. Everyone seemed to agree that it was odd that I hadn’t had chest pains, or any other symptoms besides shortness of breath. They also said I was an odd cardiac patient in that I was generally healthy, did not smoke and did not have diabetes. What I did have, though was a family history of heart issues: my father died at age 59 of his first and only heart attack; his father died in 1964 at Moses Cone of complications from heart disease; my brother had had a catheterization years ago. I didn’t eat read meat and barbecue; I thought I had a pretty healthy diet. Just as some families share histories of cancer, others just have cardiac problems written into their DNA, the doctors said.

Very early that Friday morning I was awakened for a shave, not of my beard but of my legs, chest and anywhere else they’d be sticking needles or cutting. They rolled me into an operating room about 7:15, I met Dr. Gearhart and about two dozen other mysterious masked and gowned figures, and that was pretty much all I remember for 12 or 15 hours. I woke up in what I soon knew as the ICU with a breathing tube stuck down my throat, and about two dozen other wires and tubes anchoring me pretty securely to the hospital bed. Time telescopes in that situation; I can’t say how long I lay there in a gradually lifting fog. The nurses said that I began to come out of the anesthetic surprisingly quickly, responding to questions and instructions. I think the breathing tube came out some time Saturday morning; maybe it was earlier in the night. After that I could talk, with some difficulty

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At some point Saturday afternoon I was standing by the bed; early Sunday I up and walking around the room. The rehab people are very insistent on walking and moving ASAP, as this helps the rest of the body get back to normal. As I learned, my bodily functions had pretty much been turned off for about 8-10 hours while I was on the heart-lung machine. My breathing stopped, my lungs deflated; my intestines and digestion had stopped; my heart was stopped while they sewed four grafted veins to bridge over the blockages. The longest piece of vein, about 14 inches, came from my left leg; I was surprised to learn that it wasn’t all that necessary, and that blood flow out of the leg would reroute through other veins. Another piece came from my chest, as the most major part of the surgery was sawing my breast bone in half to get at my heart. This leaves me with a scar about 15 inches long that is the badge of honor of CABG (i.e., Cardiac Artery Bypass Graft, or open-heart surgery) patients. I’m told that this Frankenstein-esque scar is what puts us in the “Zipper Club,” though these days there are no railroad-track stitches or staples, they use super glue on the skin and it’s not so obvious over time. Underneath, however, there is stainless steel wire holding my chest together for 6-8 weeks while the bone heals, something I’ll have to declare to airport security from now on.

e57f9c51-e1f5-4538-a287-5fbe1f69647aRecovery in the ICU is measured not just by walking and talking, but in getting tubes and wires removed day after day. The electrocardiogram leads were the first I got, 8 of them even before surgery (another 8 during surgery, which came off Friday). Then there were IVs in both wrists, one in the left arm and one in the groin, which came out pretty soon. There were left and right chest tubes, to drain post-operative blood and fluid from the operation site. There was a Foley catheter, so I didn’t have to get out of bed to pee. And there was the “Central Line,” on the right side of my neck, a large IV-type tube that went straight into an artery and had about half a dozen other tubes branching out of it for various purposes. That, my sister said, was the thing that looked the worst.

IMG_1184The things that felt the worst, though, were those chest tubes. I’m sure my body was in some shock from the chest cutting and etc., but as I discovered, there was a morphine drip, and soon, Oxycodone taking the edge off that. But the chest tubes interfered mightly with breathing, and rehab people were very insistent on me breathing. Not that I wasn’t; a lifetime of asthma has taught me to be very aware of my breathing; but these tubes made it amazing difficult to breathe deeply or cough. (Or, God Forbid, to sneeze!) As if this wasn’t bad enough, what turned out to be my only major complication started Saturday afternoon and continued all through Sunday- burps, belches and hiccups. That doesn’t sound so bad, you say? Well, as I learned, when you’re cut open for hours laying on your back in the operating room, air gets into places in your body where air doesn’t normally go, and sooner or later it has to come out. Also, while open heart surgery doesn’t usually go anywhere near the diaphragm, which is a major breathing muscle behind the navel, the chest tubes to poke around in there and irritate it. And when the diaphragm is irritated, sometimes in some people, it responds with hiccup spasms. I was one of those lucky people. The older nurses knowingly said this often happened with women who get C-sections, and there is little to do short of Haldol, usually used to treat schizophrenia. Since I’d already had my first brush with all the scheduled pain killers I used to talk about in criminal court, I decided to avoid the Haldol. But dealing with those hiccups was agony, as every upheaval felt like I was about to pop open my chest stitches.

IMG_1220Gradually they became less frequent and finally stopped; One chest tube came out Sunday; the other on Monday, and that helped with the hiccups and breathing. Gradually my kidneys started to work again and get more of the meds and anesthetic out of my system. This was important as they had given my lots of IV fluids for several days, and when I finally weighed on Sunday I was 17 pounds heavier than when I went into the hospital- all water, they said, as I wasn’t really eating. On Monday that began to balance out, as diarrhea showed my digestion getting back in the game and eliminating lots of water at the same time.

By Monday I was out of ICU and on a regular ward, but by then no visitors were allowed of any kind, as the virus precautions progressed. What I saw on TV made being inside Fort Moses Cone look pretty good, as I walked around the hallways. As I had tubes removed I could try getting in and out of bed by myself, still a painful process which they drilled into me was helped by clutching my heart-shaped red pillow over my chest ‘wound’. The central line was removed on Monday, with a couple of the IV patches. The last thing to go on Tuesday were the pacemaker wires, which had been left inserted into the heart just in case they were needed before I left.

Tuesday afternoon I was given the green light to leave the hospital; I was progressing at least a day better than average, and Dr. Gearhart thought it would be prudent for me to go home before more virus patients started to arrive (Guilford county had 5 at that time; Randolph had 3). So I called my sister and she and Nina Foust came to get me. (First they had to send my clothes up through security, as when she left a week ago, they had her take everything with her). I was wheeled out to “Valet Parking,” valeted no longer, but access limited by police cars with flashing blue lights. That sobering first look at the way the outside world had changed in a week was my reintroduction to the new normal, life under lockdown.

Jill stayed with me at my house for another week, as I learned to move and maneuver, and as the pain and soreness lessened. The weather is beautiful, spring has sprung, and the end of March and first of April would be awesome except for the shelter-in-place, go out only as absolutely necessary rules. Not that I’m trying to push the envelope- doctors said not to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk (8 lbs), not to rake, weed-eat, chain saw or otherwise work outside; and especially not to drive for at least 30 days, or until the doctor gives me a written release. (Twisting the steering wheel back and forth isn’t good for that broken breastbone, the one major issue that supersedes all other movements).

IMG_1206So I’m on the mend from open-heart surgery in the COFID-19 plague year, trying to heal up, deal with seasonal allergies that also limit breathing, and trying very hard not to get the virus that can lead to pneumonia. Hard enough to recover from one of the most major invasive surgeries, but now I must worry about an even worse problem potentially arising from every social interaction, Amazon delivery or grocery store visit. I’ve seen three actual people in the last week, one of whom took out the last chest tube stitches.

So March 2020 seemed to be about six months long, for a multitude of reasons. While this sudden illness has hit me hard, I’m on the road to recovery faster than most. And the fact that there are worse things out there than heart surgery was underlined the other day when I got a call from a newspaper reporter. “Do you have the Corona?, “ he asked. No, I said, I just had open-heart surgery with four bypass grafts. “Oh,” he said with obvious disappointment, “I heard you had the Corona!”

I’m thankful that I had an old traditional standby, heart disease, and that I had doctors and nurses and institutions so well versed in its diagnosis and care that I never had a heart attack, never killed any heart muscle, and should be radically improved by the end of the summer. I hope we are all radically improved by the end of the summer.

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The Power of Water: Hurricane Florence in Randolph County, September 2018

July 24, 2019

Hurricane Florence from space- NASA.

People often ask me why we don’t have a Randolph County museum. The short answer is that a decent museum would cost a lot of money and need staffing, neither of which the county wants to sponsor. Even private efforts take a lot of time just trying to raise money for one exhibit, as the following story will show. This is the text of a grant application I wrote to the NC Humanities Council last fall seeking to get the right to host a Smithsonian Institution travelling exhibit on “WaterWays.”  It would have been a great way to jump start a museum gallery and major exhibit in Randolph County, specifically in Franklinville, as the text indicates. It was tied to the amazing display of water power we all witnessed in September 2018 as Hurricane Florence blew through the area. Like 12 out of the other 14 applications I wrote last year, it was denied with a one paragraph letter. But the application is a bit of modern history that I am proud of writing.

Franklinville footbridge across Deep River, Sept. 18, 2018 (Tom Allen).

Preface

Recent events have underscored the fact that North Carolina cannot ignore the impact of water on human activity. According to radar estimates from the U.S. National Weather Service the slow passage of Hurricane Florence during the weekend of September 14-17, 2018 dropped 8.06 trillion gallons of rain on the state. That’s almost enough water to completely fill Lake Mead, the reservoir behind the Hoover Dam in Nevada.

When the Florence floodwaters peaked in Randolph County that Monday about noon, the Cedar Falls and Franklinville communities had water at or near the 500 year flood level- yet 160 year-old mill buildings and 140 year-old railroad bed were “high and dry.” Being just 30 miles from the source of the river, those communities were fortunate: as high as the waters rose, the flood actually came and went in less than 24 hours. By Tuesday the cleanup was underway in Randolph County, but the same hurricane waters wouldn’t find their way back to the Atlantic for at least a week.

Drone shot of the Deep River at the Upper Mill, Franklinville, showing the mouth of Walnut Creek where it enters the River. (Tom Allen)

Over three days Hurricane Florence put about six inches of water into rain gauges in Franklinville, where the average annual rainfall is 46.6 inches. That more than a month’s worth of rain fell in those 4 days was not in itself catastrophic: the greatest single day total in state history was the 21.15 inches of rain that fell on the town of Highlands in Macon County on July 29, 1879. Communities in Craven, Carteret and New Hanover counties received more than 30 inches of rain from Hurricane Florence, and then over the next ten days were forced to cope with even more water flooding down the estuaries of the Cape Fear toward the sea.

Florence floods Englehard, NC.

While it lasted, the blocked roads and flooded parks along Deep River attracted hundreds of spectators, looking out at scenes not seen in more than 50 years. One of the most common questions was “Why did they ever build a factory beside a river? That was stupid!” The vivid answer was in front of them, but 21st century residents have become so divorced from their history that the lesson was invisible. The river was the entire reason these mill communities came into existence: to harness the power of flowing water.

The Upper dam during Florence- the head of the dam is about 35 feet above the grist and cotton mill a quarter mile downstream. (tom Allen)

Head

To calculate the power of a river, we need to know the height it falls from source to exit point (the ‘head’) and the amount of water that travels down the stream channel in a given period of time (the flow rate). How much water is in a river depends on the land area which slopes toward the river; the drainage basin or catchment area describes the area that collects surface water and channels it toward a single discharge point into the ocean. The flow rate varies with both the amount of water in the channel, and the slope of the channel from point to point.

Deep River alone is 125 miles long; its twin the Haw River begins in northeast Greensboro and flows through Alamance, Orange and Chatham counties for 110 miles. The Deep and the Haw converge at Mermaid’s Point near Haywood in Chatham County, where they form the renamed Cape Fear and flow an additional 80 miles to meet the ocean at Bald Head Island.

The Deep, the Haw and the Cape Fear estuaries together make up the largest watershed in North Carolina, containing 27% of the state’s population. The name Cape Fear comes from the 1585 expedition of Sir Richard Grenville, and marks the southernmost tip of Smith (now Bald Head) Island. It is the fifth-oldest surviving English place name in the U.S (after Roanoke, Chowan, Neuse and Virginia.) Spanish explorers had named it ‘Rio Jordan’ in 1526, and the English tried renaming it the Charles River (1664) and the Clarendon River (1671), before reverting to the original name.

The Deep and Haw Rivers unite at Mermaid’s Point to form the Cape Fear River, which enters the Atlantic Ocean at Southport.

Deep River heads in a spring near a runway at the Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, elevation 925 feet above sea level. In 202 miles the water merges with the Atlantic Ocean.

It leaves Guilford County below Jamestown, where the reservoir lake level is maintained at a constant elevation of 675 feet from there to the Randleman Dam. After the dam, the river’s elevation is 600 feet at the US220 bridge in Randleman; at the Old Liberty Rd. bridge at Central Falls, it is 575 feet; at the lip of Cox’s Dam it is at 560 feet; and it descends to 500 feet by the time it reaches the Loflin Pond Bridge at Cedar Falls. Water flows over the Upper Dam at Franklinville at 475 feet; the Lower Dam at 450 feet; and at the US 64 bridge just below the mouth of Sandy Creek the water level sinks to at 439 feet.

The US Geological Service monitoring station at Gabriel’s Creek, the river’s only flow monitor in Randolph County is located just upstream of the Brooklyn Bridge in Ramseur, where the water is 425 feet above sea level. The drainage area above this point includes 349 square miles. From there the river continues to fall gradually; reaching 420 feet at Buffalo Ford; 400 feet at the Coleridge Dam; and 325 feet at the Moore County line just north of Howard’s Mill.

At Gulf in Chatham County the water level is 270 feet; at Moncure 213 feet; at the Buckhorn Dam at Lockville, where the Deep meets the Haw River to form the Cape Fear, the level has sunk to 160 feet above sea level. The drainage area above this point now encompasses 3,157 square miles. At Fayetteville the river elevation reaches 213 feet; at Lumberton 131 feet; until at Wilmington it is just 38 feet above the ocean. Southport, where the fresh water of the river reaches the Atlantic, is less than 15 feet above sea level. More than 9,000 square miles of North Carolina, 17% of the state’s total land area, drains into the Atlantic through the mouth of the Cape Fear.

Trash backs up behind the bridge at High Falls in Chatham County during Florence.

Flow

The power of flowing water is measured in cubic feet per second. The US Army Corps of Engineers maintains a gauge at Gabriel’s Creek near Ramseur that has been operating continuously since 1985, and can be checked in real-time on the internet. This monitoring station can record floods of up to 26 feet above normal river level, and discharge rates of up to 20,000 cubic feet per second. The median daily flow at the Gabriel’s Creek usually finds 60 cubic feet of water flowing downstream every second. The daily flow varies according to drought and rainfall; in 1943 the lowest recorded flow was just 6.5 feet per second at the meter; the largest flow in the last 60 years was 2,410 cubic feet per second in 1960.

Whiteville, NC.

The night of September 16, 2018 saw records broken at the Gabriel’s Creek station: both the flow and the height of the river exceeded the operational limits of the monitoring devices. The US Geological Survey Service estimates that the river that day crested at more than 31 feet above flood stage, with an estimated discharge of 32,000 cubic feet per second.

Power

The theoretically available power from falling water can be expressed as Pth = ρ q g h, where

Pth = power theoretically available (W)

ρ = density (kg/m3) (~ 1000 kg/m3 for water)

q = water flow (m3/s)

g = acceleration of gravity (9.81 m/s2)

h = falling height, head (m)

Fayetteville Police Dept. camera showing the flood cresting at the railroad bridge over the Cape Fear. The bridge is normally more than 40 feet above the water.

After converting cubic feet to cubic meters, we can estimate that on September 16th the 1,225 cubic yards of water flowing down Deep River, falling 100 feet from the Gabriel’s Creek station to the county line, represented 1,081,553 kilowatts of energy. Since a megawatt is 1,000 kilowatts, the flood waters of Hurricane Florence equaled a thousand megawatts, or a gigawatt of energy flowing through Randolph County; gathering force and heading into eastern North Carolina.

For scale, a gigawatt is enough electricity to power 700,000 homes, and in 2017 there were just over 62,000 housing units in Randolph County. Using another scale: a single modern nuclear reactor can generate about 1 megawatt. The largest nuclear installation in the United States, with multiple reactors, generates 4,000 megawatts. This means that, if harnessed to generate electricity, the 2018 flood waters of Hurricane Florence flowing down just one North Carolina river, would have equaled the output of a million nuclear reactors.

A sobering fact: since record-keeping began in 1901, Hurricane Florence is only the third highest flood peak on Deep River, slightly below Hurricane Hazel of 1954, and far below an unnamed storm in September 1945, when the peak flow at Gabriel’s Creek was estimated to have reached 43,000 cubic feet per second, or nearly 1.5 gigawatts of energy leaving the county.

This was the reason mills were located along rivers. The power of falling water, harnessed mechanically, can do the work of many men and many animals- even many nuclear power plants.

Franklinville Industrial History is powered by Water and Steam 

The new S. Morgan Smith waterwheel being delivered to Franklinville Manufacturing Company in 1909.

Our community’s history has been intertwined with the power of the river from its very beginning, and still today Deep River powers local businesses.  A large part of Franklinville was included within the National Register Historic District in 1985, and dozens of structures dating from antebellum times still stand in the town. Our new branding motto is that “History Lives Here.” But when we consider the community’s relationship to the river, we might just as well say “History Works Here.”

When Deep River ran free toward the sea, shad, herring and sturgeon were commonly caught here.  Fish such as these lived their lives in the ocean, but came upstream to lay their eggs in freshwater rivers and creeks. About halfway between Island Ford and Sandy Creek, an aboriginal fish weir, used to funnel fish into woven baskets, can still be seen at low water.

A medium-sized Atlantic sturgeon caught in the Pee Dee River in 2017.

Prehistoric native Americans left the Deep River area before settlers began to arrive and record Indian names and legends, but geography can hint at their travel patterns. From Bush Creek to Sandy Creek on either side of Franklinville the river drops sixty feet in a series of rapids and shallows that created two crossings used by natives for hundreds or thousands of years. At the lower (downstream) crossing known as Island Ford, “Crawford’s Path” ran from the Great Indian Trading Path near Julian South to Cheraw, South Carolina. The “Ellison Road” crossed at the upper ford, branching off Crawford’s Path and running west towards Asheboro, Salisbury and Charlotte.

Settlers began arriving in what is now Randolph County in the 1740s, when the area was part of Bladen County. In 1752 it became Orange County, which in 1771 became Guilford and in 1779, Randolph. The earliest known settler in the Franklinville area was Solomon Allred, who in March 1752 applied to purchase 640 acres “at the mouth of Sandy Creek, including his improvements.” To the West, Herman Husbands in November 1754 entered 402 acres on Deep River “called the Cedar Falls.” In between Hercules Ogle, a blacksmith, received permission to build a grist mill on his property near Solomon Allred in 1759.

The first settler on the actual site of Franklinville was Jacob Skeen, who entered title to 400 acres on Deep River including the mouth of Bush Creek and “his mill seat” in December 1778.  This is the first indication that the obvious waterpower potential of the falls above Island Ford was already being developed, using the kinetic energy generated by falling water to grind corn and wheat, gin cotton, card wool, saw wood, and smelt iron ore. Another miller, Christian Moretz, rebuilt the mill in 1801, and Elisha Coffin, another miller, bought the property twenty years later. The community which grew up around this mill became known “Coffin’s Mills on Deep River,” and later Franklinsville (the final ‘s’ was dropped in 1918). The wheat and corn mill survived until 1913 when it was replaced by a roller process mill. The ‘Roller Mill’ made both plain and self-rising flour, sold under the “Dainty Biscuit” brand name until a year before the mill burned in 1987.

The three oldest cotton textile mill villages on Deep River are Cedar Falls (1836), Franklinville (1838) and Island Ford (1845), all located within three miles of one another. When Franklinville was incorporated by the legislature in 1846 it was North Carolina’s first textile mill community to become a municipality. The original Franklinsville factory was spinning yarn by late 1839, and began to weave cloth in February 1840. Another cotton mill was added at Island Ford in 1846, apparel production lines cut and sewed undergarments for soldiers during the Civil War, and for a time wool spinning and sock knitting took place. Textile production continued in Franklinville until the mills finally closed in 1978.

The mill first installed a supplement to the river’s power in 1883, when a wood-fired boiler began to run a mechanical steam engine. A later 1898 Harris Corliss engine still exists.

Worthville Covered Bridge abutments after the bridge was washed away, 1912

The river was first used to turn an electric generator in Worthville about 1886; Franklinville acquired a generator and put electric lights in the mill in 1895. In 1919 a steam turbine generator station fired by coal began supplying electricity to the entire Franklinville community. Deep River Hydro, headquartered in Franklinville, even today operates low-head hydroelectric generators there and in Coleridge which send electricity to the Duke Energy grid. The cotton mills may have closed in 1978, but Deep River is still powering homes, businesses and industry in North Carolina today.

Pier destroyed at Wrightsville Beach by Florence.

Our Pitch

From the 1770s to the present, Franklinville has been putting Deep River to work. This is why we want to host Water/Ways. 2018 is the 240th anniversary of the first known use of waterpower in our community. 2020 will be the 180th anniversary of using the river’s energy to weave cotton cloth. There is no county history museum or exhibit gallery in Randolph County; several communities have tiny local museums but none has any space appropriate for hosting a SITES display. Hosting Water/Ways would be a huge vote of confidence in our effort to brand Franklinville as the home of history in Randolph county.

Randolph Heritage owns 15 acres on Deep River including the site of the grist mill and 1838 cotton mill. The 1919 Power House located at 1295 Andrew Hunter Road includes a 1400 square foot space with 20-foot-high ceilings that can be configured to house the SITES show and additional exhibits. The Power House is part of a complex of buildings that we plan to configure into a visitor’s center and gallery space to tell the story of Franklinville and its water-powered industry. There are also plans to rebuild the adjacent Cotton Warehouse into four large multi-purpose spaces.

The Power House complex is located on the Deep River Rail Trail, a hiking and biking trail being built on the former right-of-way of the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railway. It also adjoins the Deep River Blueway, a state paddle trail, and a kayak and canoe access point is planned for another part of the Randolph Heritage property. All these points are planned to be connected by a string of wayside signage marking significant points in Franklinville’s relationship to the river—the dams, the head and tail races, the sites of water wheels, wool carding machines, cotton gins, and saw mills.

Local exhibits will make use of the Randolph Heritage collections, which include oral history recordings, archival photographs, historic textile machinery, and historic water wheels and turbines.

We are creating a special collection of Hurricane Florence images, including spectacular aerial drone video of Deep River in flood through Franklinville on Monday September 17, 2018.

A sailboat is shoved up against a house and a collapsed garage Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018, New Bern, N.C. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

In conjunction with the exhibit, the Town of Franklinville and Randolph Heritage plan to construct a series of tours, lectures, events and programs that will allow the visiting public to explore water from both scientific and cultural perspectives. Our purpose here is to begin to reconnect local residents to the value of the waterway, and so give them the ability to be better guides and ambassadors for the heritage of the river. We hope to build a core group of engaged parties who will work together to reclaim, restore and reinvigorate our waterside communities. We will create these programs and activities in collaboration with local schools, 4H clubs, the Franklinville Public Library, the Franklinville Volunteer Fire Department, the Randolph County Public Health Department, and others.

Florence flooding the Cape Fear in downtown Wilmington.

Potential program and event topics include:

*Engaging students water quality monitoring, watershed ecology and environmental stewardship;

*The hydrology of water power, from dam to tail race.

*The power of steam.

*Tours of the Sandy Creek drinking water treatment and the Franklinville wastewater treatment plants

*The history of Busk Creek ironworks and exploring how it used water power to smelt iron ore

*Exploring the local history of alcohol production from moonshining apple brandy to brewing beer

*A fishing tournament at Sandy Creek- discuss what lives in the river, licenses needed, etc.

*How clean/dirty is our river water? Are there toxic legacies in Deep River mud and sediment? Randleman, Asheboro and Franklinville all at times used river water to bleach, dye and finish cotton cloth. Older residents remember when the river would run blue, green, yellow and red, based on what colors were being used upstream.

North Carolina National Guard soldiers sandbagging a bridge near Wilmington.

We believe that hosting Water/Ways will be an appropriate way to open our renovated gallery space and to kick start our campaign to bring the history of Franklinville and Deep River to vivid life. We hope that the Humanities Council and SITES will to partner with us to champion the incredible ongoing story of the power of water in North Carolina.

A Cajun Navy air boat rescuing a family near Kinston, NC during Florence.

The “Factory Branch” of the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railway

May 3, 2019

The Franklinsville Depot, about 1900

The Main Line.

When the Civil War began Randolph County was without any direct rail connections. The North Carolina Railroad had opened in 1856, passing just 2 miles north of the county line and creating the new city of High Point. The Western Railroad to the Chatham coal fields was complete from Fayetteville to Sanford in 1861. In 1862 a proposal was made in the legislature to extend that line through Franklinville and Asheboro, all the way to Winston-Salem, but this never happened.[1]


The Cape Fear & Yadkin Valley Railroad was chartered in 1879 as a merger of the Fayetteville & Western Railroad and the Mt. Airy & Ore Knob Railroad, having plans to build a line stretching from Wilmington through Fayetteville and Greensboro to Mt. Airy. The original proposal was to build the main line up Deep River through the factory villages, but the final route ran directly to Greensboro through Staley and Liberty, with a future branch line to Franklinville.[2]


The original company suffered financial difficulties, went into receivership, and in July of 1883 was reorganized into the Cape Fear & Yadkin Valley Railway. Construction of the track south from Fayetteville finally began in 1883, reaching Bennettsville, SC by the end of 1884. The northern line reached Greensboro by 1884 and Mt. Airy by 1887; the line to Wilmington and the “Factory Branch” to Ramseur were complete in 1890.
The expense of building this network, together with a general financial depression in 1893, forced the railroad into foreclosure in 1894. The line was initially purchased by the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and operated under the name of Atlantic & Yadkin Railway. However, the legal and corporate turmoil was only resolved by the North Carolina Supreme Court in 1924, when Southern Railway obtained the line from Fayetteville to Mt. Airy, while the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad retained the southern portion.

The Factory Branch
When the CFYV Main Line bypassed Randolph in 1879, efforts began almost immediately to extend the Western North Carolina Railroad from Raleigh to Pittsboro and on through “the thriving Franklinville section”[3] to Salisbury, “following the old stage road.”[4] The route was surveyed, but the line was never built.[5] In 1883 the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley sought legislative permission to borrow funds to build the factory branch, using “convict labor.”[6]
The Deep River line was approved in 1884,[7] but right-of-way acquisition only began in 1886.[8] The initial plan was to run from “the 85 mile post, about midway between Pleasant Garden and Julian” [the future community of Climax], south about nine miles “to a point about 1 ½ miles from Worthville, as the most convenient point to all the factories.”[9] In 1887 that convenient shipping point took on the name “Millboro,” and for several years that was the literal end of the line.[10]

Uniform Button, Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railway Co.

Controversy arose in 1887 over the CFVYRR’s use of forced labor, at a time when “a great many laboring men of [Wilmington] would otherwise be idle.”[11] The company took pains to assure eastern North Carolinians that convict labor would only be used to complete the Main Line to Mt. Airy, and the branch line to Franklinsville, else “the company shall immediately forfeit all right and claim to work convicts, and they shall be immediately returned to the authorities of the State penitentiary.”[12]

Final extension of the Factory Branch from Millboro was approved in 1889, with survey of the route beginning in June,[13] and construction quickly following, with “four hundred convicts” put to work grading the trackbed.[14] In August a news article announced that “Work on the Millboro & Columbia Branch of the Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railroad is being pushed with great energy by Col. Hick. A new squad of 140 convicts was brought down last Friday and placed in the new stockade erected between Franklinsville and Columbia Factory. The force at present numbers over 400 strong, and additional force is expected… Dirt is being thrown as low down the line as the town of Cedar Falls, and all along the line above that point the work is going on.”[15]

Trestle Toward Cedar Falls (over Bush Creek)

Grading was completed to Cedar Falls by December 1890, with work continuing on the line to Ramseur, “formerly known as Columbia Factory.”[16] In March “The Asheboro Courier says that Franklinsville rejoices over the near approach of the railroad… It would not surprise the Courier to see one of these days Cedar Falls, Franklinsville and Ramseur linking together and consolidating as one big bustling and stirring manufacturing town.”[17] The first train running north from Franklinsville arrived in Greensboro on Monday morning, May 19, 1890. J. M. Ellison, one of the first passengers, said that “Franklinsville people are very proud of the railroad.”[18]

The Franklinville Riverside business district looking east from the Depot

——
1-Fayetteville Semi-Weekly Observer, 22 Jan. 1863.
2-The Chatham Record, 13 Nov. 1879.
3-Goldsboro Messenger, 12 Feb. 1880.
4-The Chatham Record, 27 Nov. 1879.
5-The Chatham Record, 4 Aug. 1881.
6-Alamance Gleaner (Graham, NC) 25 Jan. 1883.
7-The Chatham Record, 31 Jan. 1884, quoting the Asheboro Courier.
8-The Chatham Record, 10 June 1886.
9-The Chatham Record, 1 July 1886.
10-The Chatham Record, 25 Aug. 1887. Oliver F. Cox was the first “post-master.”
11-The Morning Star, Wilmington, 11 Feb. 1888.
12-Id.
13-The Leader, Jonesboro, NC, 5 June 1889.
14-Fayetteville Weekly Observer, 4 July 1889.
15-The North State, Greensboro NC, 15 Aug. 1889. Forty years later the site of that stockade became the Civilian Conservation Corps camp at Midway.
16-The North State, GSO, 25 Jan. 1890.
17-The North State, Greensboro, 20 March 1890.
18-Ibid, Thursday 22 May 1890.

A&Y Route Maps from the Library of Congress

WWI Aviation Mechanics: Ralph Whatley

November 11, 2018

Ralph Whatley 1st MM Brigade

Ralph Whatley, seated on the ground, lower right, with French and American members of the 1st Motor Mechanics Brigade of the US Army in France, 1918.

When the contents of my great-grandparents’ house in Ulah were finally distributed among the family, my father got a box of letters that my grandfather had mailed home to his parents and siblings from 1917 to 1919.  There are more than a hundred letters, all numbered so that the recipients could figure out if any were missing, and many are fragile, written on acidic YMCA notepaper which ages badly.

My grandfather, then about 26 years old, was not an introspective or particularly observant writer. He was obviously no worry to his Captain, whose job it was to censor his men’s letters, as few if any of Ralph’s notes and cards were redacted. Now that I have my own son in the army, I recognize the “I’m doing fine, the Sergeant says I should write home” style of correspondence.  Occasionally I could pick out some details of what he was experiencing in France, and these are set out in the article  published on the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources blog on World War I.

What began to interest me as much as the family connection was his membership in a forgotten pioneer groups- the very first American aviation mechanics. Ralph Whatley was one of several dozen North Carolina boys who were members of the 1st Motor Mechanics Brigade of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Under an agreement made between and US and France, his company spent the entire war embedded with French pilots and aviation battle groups, so that French mechanics could build the planes American pilots needed to get into the air.

Raph Whatley uniform jp

Ralph Whatley in uniform, 1918

I barely remember my grandfather even mentioning his World War service. My father and uncle heard a few stories, but by the time they repeated them to me, they were rather garbled. For example, my uncle was sure that my grandfather had gotten the flu in France, and that my great-grandfather had gotten a pass from his friend Josephus Daniels to visit my grandfather in his hospital in France.  In fact, my grandfather had scarlet fever, but at Camp Hancock in December 1917. My great-grandfather did visit him in the hospital, much more conveniently located near his cousins in Augusta, Georgia.

As most of the US Army records were destroyed in the disastrous fire at the St. Louis National Archives in 1972, piecing together not only my grandfather’s service record but the entire unit history is rather difficult. Fortunatley, ancestry.com has digitized the passenger lists of all of the ships which took soldiers overseas.  When I found the list of the U.S.S. President Lincoln, it disclosed the names and hometowns of the entire Motor Mechanics Brigade. I’ve tried to track down some of his fellow soldiers, but so far it appears that my grandfather’s letters, and his many photographs, are some of the few records of this unit that have survived.  I’d love to hear from anyone who has letters, diaries or photographs that can help flesh out this fascinating story.

Civilian Casualties of War, 1863

August 13, 2018
[Public Domain clip art from
https://www.wpclipart.com/American_History/civil_war/Various/hanging_during_civil_war__by_Pyle.jpg.html%5D
     The history of Randolph County’s turbulent civilian life from 1861 to 1865 is an aspect of North Carolina’s Civil War history that was first explored by Bill Auman in his meticulous and influential research, sadly only published after his death.  Auman recounted numerous stories of organized resistance to the war effort, often amounting to civil insurrection, that plagued local and state government all through the war.  Examples that made it into publication in contemporary newspapers have been known for many years; the well-known episode of Deputy Sheriff Alfred Pike’s torture of William Owen’s wife to find his hiding place has recited and published in numerous articles and books- perhaps the county’s best-known example of poor behavior during the war.
    Asheboro was the headquarters of the government and the military during the war, and Asheboro at the time had no local newspaper.  Events are only known when residents wrote to other newspapers, in Fayetteville, in Greensboro, or in Raleigh. Most events were never recorded in the news at the time they happened, and many stories are virtually impossible to confirm.  Such stories survived, if at all, as oral history.
    Local writer Ralph Bulla recorded one long after the event, the death of Alson Allred in 1863.  Bulla heard Allred’s story and was guided to his grave by elderly residents of the Coleridge area 113 years after it happened.  Alson, supposedly “hiding out” from the Confederate draft, was captured near Deep River South of Coleridge, taken to Buffalo Ford, tied up, stood on horseback, and hanged from a large maple tree.  Allred’s 17-year-old wife arrived after the execution, and members of the local Bray family who witnessed it could not forget her “hollering and screaming.”  Allred’s crime was said to be that “He laid out, they caught him and killed him,” and so it was justifiable.  [“Civil War Hanging Recalled,” by Ralph Bulla. The Courier-Tribune, Asheboro N.C., 2 June 1976, p10A.]
The basic facts of the story are easy to confirm. Alson G. Allred’s grave is to be found in the Gardner-Moffitt Graveyard, Brower Township, on the East side of Riverside Road, just past 5151 Riverside Rd., about 0.3 mile south of the bridge over Richland Creek.  The location is about a mile and 3/4 east of Moffitt’s Mill, the local post office located where SR 1004 crosses Richland Creek.

His tombstone shows that he died January 5, 1863, and was 20 years old (born 18 August 1842).  The graveyard is apparently in the close vicinity of what was the Elisha Allred homeplace.  Allred’s parents and close family members are buried here. In the 1860 census, the Elisha Allred family were neighbors of James and Louisa Gardner, who are also buried here. (Louisa or Levisa Allred, b. 1826, was Alson Allred’s oldest sister).

[Randolph County, 1865]
According to the story, Alson Allred was captured at or near the present site of 5795 Riverside Road, about a mile further South from the cemetery. The site is some 3.5 miles south of Coleridge, which didn’t exist in 1860, and about 6 miles south of Buffalo Ford as the crow flies.  Although I have yet to find official confirmation, the school house at Buffalo Ford was apparently used as a regional headquarters for the Home Guard, a base for their searches for conscripts and deserters, and a detention center for those captured.  After his arrest, Allred must have been taken directly past his own home on the way to Buffalo Ford.
    There is no record of Alson Allred’s wife’s name, or indeed of his ever being married.  There is no record of his service in the Confederate military, nor any record of his desertion.  Ralph Bulla’s record of the local oral history is literally the only record of Allred’s life and death that has been found.  Since no official record of his execution has been found, a fundamental question must be raised: was Allred’s death a legal execution, or an extrajudicial lynching?  Was he a civilian casualty of the war, or a harsh example of military discipline?
    The first step in answering the question lies in understanding the Confederate conscription system. In the federal system, devised for the Union army and used in every war since, men subject to “the draft” received a number chosen at random, and those lottery numbers are used to induct only the selected men into service.  The Confederate system was oddly and radically different.  In April 1862 the Confederate Congress created a program of compulsory national military service for all white males which required an elaborate, centralized governmental enforcement effort.
    Every white male within a stated age range was automatically considered to be in Confederate service unless released by a medical board or exempt as a public official (Justices of the Peace, Sheriffs, Constables, Coroners, Clerks of Court, judges, postal clerks, ministers, etc.)  Quakers were not exempt as conscientious objectors (they could pay a fee or hire a substitute). Men engaged in businesses or industries considered vital to the war effort were not exempt, but were considered soldiers “detailed” to work in their usual jobs unless and until called up for actual military service. Thus supervisors in cotton mills, millers, miners, blacksmiths, foundry workers, coopers, and etc. were “Detailed Men,” working at their prewar occupations.
[New York City draft riots, 1862]
    Randolph County is fortunate in that voluminous records of the 7th Congressional District Home Guard have been preserved in various institutions, and this gives us names of hundreds of “recusant conscripts” (what we now call ‘draft dodgers’) and deserters. Most of these relate to later periods of the war, 1864 and 1865, and nothing has yet appeared that relates to the possible capture, court martial trial or execution of Alson Allred.
    One fact argues that his death was in fact an execution: no records of an inquest into his death can be found in the Randolph County court records in the State Archives.  The Coroner or his deputies were legally required to assemble a jury and review the circumstances of any “unnatural death” in the county.  Two examples from the period are illustrative:
    When D.F. Caudle of Yadkin County died at the home of Claiborne Allred in Franklinville in September 1863, Acting Coroner Alfred Pike held an inquest, assembled a jury of prominent local men (headed by George Makepeace, the superintendent of the cotton mill), who heard evidence and determined that Caudle met his death “by exposure.”  [The legal record is bare of some of the most interesting facts: David F. Caudle married Mary Cooper in Yadkin County on 18 Sept. 1856. A conscript into service, he was listed as serving in the Confederate Navy in Wilmington as of 19 July 1863, yet within 6 weeks he is dead in Randolph County.  I believe that “death by exposure” during one of the warmest times of the year means that Caudle deserted his post in Wilmington, and on his way back to Yadkin county, contracted pneumonia walking home and was probably suffering from malnutrition which led to his death in Franklinville.  See Yadkin Men in the Military, 1861-1865, p 197; RC Gen. Journal Fall 1997, p 25.]
    When word of the death of Peter Garner was received by Coroner Ransom Lowdermilk, apparently weeks after the event, his body was exhumed on May 13, 1864 and a jury of southern Randolph County men assembled to view the cause- “Various gunshot wounds to the left side of head and body,” and to bring in a verdict of murder by person or persons unknown. [On April 24, 1864, Garner (“a detailed soldier from the army”) guided the Sheriff’s posse to arrest the leader of an outlier band (“the notorious Bill Owens has at last been captured,” said the Fayetteville Observer.)  Garner, born in 1833, was listed as an “overseer” in the 1860 census, and was known by the nickname “The Hunter” for his work in finding and capturing outliers.  Within a week of his assistance in the capture of Owens, he was assassinated while fishing in Richland Creek by some of Owens’ men.]
    When no inquest is conducted into the circumstances of a death, the assumption is that it occurred by natural causes– unless it was a public execution.
    A deeper examination into the family of Alson Allred also raises questions.  His parents Elisha and Barbara Allred had a family of five boys and four girls.  One other boy is buried in the Gardner-Moffitt graveyard, James M. Allred, born 6 October 1845, died 4 April 1865. What was a twenty-year old white male doing home in April 1865? There is no record of a Coroner’s inquest into his death, either- was it from natural causes? A note on his tombstone in the online service “Find a Grave” erroneously reports that he was a member of Company M in the 22nd NC Regiment- that is James A. Allred, who survived the war. The only record of a “J.M. Allred” among North Carolina troops is on the list of “Major Hahr’s Battalion” published in Walter C. Hilderman, They Went into the Fight Cheering: Confederate Conscription in North Carolina (Boone: Parkway Publishers, 2005), pp233-234).  Major Frank Hahr’s two companies of “light duty men” were part of Colonel Peter Mallett’s conscription bureau. In October 1864 they were sent to Wilmington, where they were stationed during both attacks on Fort Fisher, in December 1864 and January 1865.  The roster of Company B contains the name of “J.M. Allred,” listed as “Deserted.” If this is our James M. Allred, he must have made it back to Randolph County by April 4th, when he died- whether of disease or by execution, can’t be determined.
    In fact, a military service record can be found for only one of Alson Allred’s four brothers: William Harrison Allred, born 11 June 1840.  He is listed in Confederate payroll records as a teamster in Tennessee and Georgia in the fall of 1863, but on May 16, 1864 he was wounded in the shoulder at Petersburg, Virginia and taken prisoner.  He was sent to the military prison in Alton, Illinois, where he signed the Oath of Allegiance. He married Martha Moon in Randolph county in 1868, and died in 1925 in Benton County, Arkansas. [Fold3, Confederate conscript records. There appear to be two different Oaths signed, which may indicate that there are two different William H. Allreds  in the file.]
    None of Allred’s other brothers (Henry Branson Allred, b. 1825; Clarkson L. Allred b. 1827; and John Tyson Allred, b. 1831) have military service records.  Clarkson Allred is listed on a list (attributed to the Fall of 1864) of the hands detailed to work at the Salt Works near Wilmington.  Were the others “hiding out” from the army? Was Alson the only one caught, and executed as a lesson to his brothers?  Was James also caught and executed?  None of these questions have easy answers.
    One final quirk to the story of Alson Allred: on March 24, 1865, two weeks before the death of his son James, his father Elisha Allred committed suicide.  We know the facts, because, once again, Coroner Ransom Lowdermilk conducted an inquest. The body of 62-year old Elisha Allred was found hanging in his barn, his mouth filled with cotton. His wife Barbara testified that he left the house to feed their stock, “after having expressed the previous night his indifference to living.” Their daughter-in-law (perhaps Naomi Moffitt, who married Clarkson Allred on August 7, 1855) discovered the body.  The verdict was “death by hanging, having jumped from the tailgate of his wagon.”
    What made Elisha Allred so despondent that he took his own life? Why put cotton in his mouth- the rope around his neck would make it impossible to cry out. Was it because he had said something he felt remorse over?  There is only so much we can do to fill in the blanks around the life of Alson G. Allred- but the real story is no doubt much deeper and richer, and more sad, than the single newspaper account we have.
    And I believe that there were dozens of similar stories in Randolph County between 1861 and 1865, most of which we will never see even this much evidence to document. Randolph County during the Civil War was itself a battlefield, and there were dozens of casualties, whether civilian or military.