Archive for the ‘Geography’ Category

Denver Allred on Worthville

August 31, 2014
Denver Allred

Denver Allred, at home in Worthville, from the Courier Tribune, September 3, 1984.

One of the reasons I started this blog is that, having collected information on Randolph County history for more than 40 years now, I find that I’ve reached the point where I can’t remember everything I’ve found out.  I have have files I haven’t opened in a quarter century, and while I vaguely remember things people have told me over the years, I forget the specifics.  Here is an example.

In preparing the next post here, on mill village boating, I knew that at some point the Worth Manufacturing Company, owners of the mills in Worthville and Central Falls, operated a cotton barge on the river between the two mills.  But how did I know that?  Where did I find that out?

Happily my son Vlad has been helping me reshelve and clean out my office, which has gradually become the place where all the stuff goes when I won’t let him throw something away.  Able to open the farthest file cabinet again, I found a file labeled “Allred, Denver (Worthville).”  Inside was a surprise, an affidavit I made for Denver in 1985, which I had completely forgotten.  

I was in law school at the time, not yet a lawyer but already a notary, and as part of an investigation into the “navigability” of Deep River, I was asked by Ed Bunch (already a lawyer, and in solo practice) to interview Denver Allred about this question.  [The legal question was whether the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had jurisdiction over Deep River; federal law says that they regulate electricity produced on “navigable” waters.  FERC prevailed; that’s why the Randleman Dam Authority has to pay the low-head hydro operators along the river for the 8 million gallons a day diminution of the flow of the river.]

The Worthville mill pond was briefly drained of water when the cleanout plug failed.  From the Courier Tribune, June 19, 2013.

The Worthville mill pond was briefly drained of water when the cleanout plug failed. From the Courier Tribune, June 19, 2013.

This is a lesson in itself regarding history, when the historian himself can’t remember the daily details of his own life 29 years later.

Here is the document.  Afterwards, I’ve added from my notes in the file the parts of my conversations with Denver on other topics, who was a wealth of information. [He was the father of Worthville historian Becky Bowman, and I use her book on Worthville regularly.  Maybe she could add a lot here!]  I don’t think I ever tape recorded my conversations with Denver, but I might have, and have forgotten even that.  I have a lot of tapes stored away that I haven’t fully transcribed, especially if they weren’t all about Franklinville.

Affidavit

According to my notes, I spoke with Denver Allred on February 1, 1985, from 1:00 to 3:30 PM.  

He told me he was “the oldest man in Worthville.”  He was born in Gray’s Chapel, but his family moved here in 1903.  He said he went to work in the mill when he was ten years old, carrying drinking water to the hands in the spinning and carding room.  He did lots of other jobs, for every company that ever owned the mill.  More women worked in the mill than men; women were weavers and spinners, and the men’s did maintenance work, heavy work.

[The photos marked “Proof” are historic photographs of Worthville restored by photographer Darrell Dennis of Patrick Springs, VA, and available for purchase on his website: http://pictures.embarqspace.com/# .  He has done a great job restoring these old photos, so buy copies from him directly!]

[The photos marked “Proof” are historic photographs of Worthville restored by photographer Darrell Dennis of Patrick Springs, VA, and available for purchase on his website: http://pictures.embarqspace.com/# . He has done a great job restoring these old photos, so buy copies from him directly!]

 

He started working for Hal Worth, when Hal Worth lived in a house at the ballfield.  He worked for J.D. Williamson, who bought the mill from the receivers after the bankruptcy.  He worked for Wiley Ward, who took over after the Depression, when the town was in bad shape, he said he’d take up the financial slack if the town would dis-incorporate.  He worked for Fieldcrest, until they made him retire at 65.  Then he worked some for Baxter-Kelly-Foust after they bought from Fieldcrest.  He was an electrician, a fixer, a bricklayer, and worked once for Simon Varner, a contractor.   

The Worth house was torn down and rebuilt into a house near the cemetery, near the house Cicero Hammer lived in.  The second house across the road from the cemetery.  His wife’s father built the house we were talking in- had it built, by Cicero Hammer’s father, in 1885.  Cicero Hammer, the congressman, was raised in Worthville.  His father was a preacher, and built houses.  

Worthville_Mill_dam_Deep_River

He said the mill in Worthville ran on two turbine water wheels and a Corliss steam engine with more than a hundred horsepower.  It had an eight-foot flywheel and ran the shafts with a 30” leather belt.  He ran the Worthville turbines until they shut it all down.  They were still using the same old turbines.  The belts didn’t work as well as electricity, but it worked.

The mill back then mainly made “Hickory” sheeting and cottonade; most of it went to South America.  They made some seamless bags from waste cotton- sweepings and etc.  The bag looms would weave the bottom in them when they were through; that was sort of a curiosity.  A gadget would flip up, weave the bottom, and flip down.  The bottom was like a selvage, where they could cut the bags apart.  Most of the looms were Stafford looms; Draper looms came later.   

Stafford Bag Loom

[The standard Stafford looms were installed in July, 1915 (Bowman, p. 90) and junked and replaced with automatic Draper looms in August 1937. See Bowman, p. 166.  These first Stafford loom replaced in part the seamless bag looms that had been used since the 1880s.  The Franklinville factory was the first to manufacture seamless bags in North Carolina, starting in 1872.  Their looms were made by the Lewiston Machine Company, Lewiston, Maine, as were the original ones at Worthville.  Stafford also made bag looms, as seen here, but I believe Worthville was out of the bag business by the time they installed Staffords.]

J.A. Williamson was Secretary-Treasurer of the mill after Ervin Cox bought it from the receiver.  Mr. Williamson put in Stafford Automatic Looms; that was a curiosity too.  They used 6 or 8 shuttles stacked up in there; the loom would stop and change shuttles all by itself.  That was the curiosity.  People would come see that work.  Before that, the weaver had to change shuttles, start the loom up by hand.  The weaver had to put in a new quill and restart it.  The filling yarn was on the quills.  

This was the standard loom made by the Stafford Company, of Readville, Mass., after 1900.

This was the standard loom made by the Stafford Company, of Readville, Mass., after 1900.

The Worths here paid the best on the river.  Ramseur was a good town and all, but they just didn’t pay the money that they did up the river here. Weavers were paid by the cut, by the length of cloth on the roll. They’d fold the cloth up in bolts, put a big sticker on it- a Big Game Rooster.  Put it in big packing boxes lined with waterproof paper.  There was a big cheat in that.  They’d fill the bolts full of clay and tallow to make it weigh more.  Clay and tallow put on by a finishing machine.

Cotton came to Randleman or Millboro on the railroad.  They sent it to Central Falls to have it dyed; they dyed the raw cotton; dyed it every color of the rainbow.  Dyed it for yarn for shirting, checks and plaids, and cottonades (that was like gingham).  

It was Mr. Williamson’s idea to run the cotton barge between Mill #1 and Mill#2.  It took the raw cotton down, and the dyed cotton back up.  Then they’d spin it in Worthville.  Williamson brought the idea from Roanoke Rapids, where he was from.  The barge stopped before the first world war.  It quit when the mill company went broke.  

[From Deed Book 159, Page 11: The Worth Manufacturing Company was duly adjudged bankrupt by U.S. District Court on OCtober 30, 1913.  The auction of valuable assets held at Worthville on December 9, 1913 listed “one motor boat.”  C.J.Cox was the high bidder for the property, Mill #1, 57 “tenement houses,” all the machinery and cotton in process.]

The park was “down below the cemetery”, with a concession stand that made and sold ice cream and rented row boats by the hour.  There was a motor boat for rent, too.  But the cotton barge landing was down the river from the park, below the dam and covered bridge.  There was a foot walk across the river until the covered bridge washed out in 1910 or ‘11.  He saw the old covered bridge wash away.  Hopper’s Ford was where the foot bridge was, and that’s where the new bridge is now.  

Worthville Dam with bridge abutment

This bridge abutment on the north side of Deep River was evidently used by both the covered bridges and the steel bridge, all of which were washed away by high water.

[The Worthville covered bridge washed away in the storm of March 15, 1912.  G.E. Hill recalled when a new concrete bridge was under construction in 1939 that he left the mill that morning for his home on the opposite side of Deep River.  “An early spring rain had caused the river to rise to such an extent it appeared dangerous… Mr. Hill was on the bridge when it washed from the piers and when the the structure broke in the middle, Mr. Hill… was dragged from the waters before it was too late…”  Bowman, p. 201.]

The Central Falls dam backed water up to the site of the new bridge.  The barge landed just about where the bridge is.  There was a dock built on a canal, about a hundred feet from the river.  It was a flat-bottomed barge run by a gasoline engine.  There was a cab with a man on top to steer- two men operated it.  They’d run excursions on Sundays, so we could ride to Central Falls and back for a dime.  It was a big Sunday attraction.  One time some courting couples were on it, and a gar fish jumped out at them and scared everybody.  

When the river was up, the water was swift.  The boat would get away from them, and run onto the back.  Once it ran on the rocks and stuck.  They got men from the mill to pull it off on a long rope; Williamson was the boss, directing the operation.  The rope broke and everybody fell except one man.  “Why didn’t you fall, too?” Williamson said.  It was ‘cause he wasn’t putting out!

[The photos marked “Proof” are historic photographs of Worthville restored by photographer Darrell Dennis of Patrick Springs, VA, and available for purchase on his website: http://pictures.embarqspace.com/# .  He has done a great job restoring these old photos, so buy copies from him directly!]

[The photos marked “Proof” are historic photographs of Worthville restored by photographer Darrell Dennis of Patrick Springs, VA, and available for purchase on his website: http://pictures.embarqspace.com/# . He has done a great job restoring these old photos, so buy copies from him directly!]

Mr. Williamson had the first car in town- a big old Buick side-cranker.  When he drove it they’d wear dusters, goggles and hats.  Williamson got the telephone lines laid from Millboro to Worthville and into Randleman.  He was a big man.  So was Hal Worth.  Ervin Cox, who bought the mill from the court.   He owned both places, Worthville and Central Falls; lived at Central Falls.  He built Cox’s Dam, between there and Cedar Falls.  Whoever ran the mill- their politics would sway a lot of people.

The superintendent lived in that big house on the hill.  The first post office was in the Boarding House, below the standpipe- the two-story house on the right.  There was a mail slot in the door to the basement.  The Dowdys lived in the house across from him.  They later went to High Point, started Mann Drugs.  The school was where the Methodist Church is now.  The Union Church was near the office and the store, and the mill.  The Madison Williamson house was right there, too.  It burned in the early 1900s.  There was one big boarding house up behind the stand pipe.  There were three or four others at first.  During the first war, a Dorsett ran a boarding house, ran 3 shifts.  They’d change the sheets on the beds, and another shift would come in and sleep.  

There was lots of entertainment.  Joe Giles, a farmer, would have big corn shuckings, and have all grades of stuff to eat- pie, cakes, chicken stews.  If you shucked a red ear, that meant you could kiss the girl beside you.  He had four children, one boy.  He lived at Franklinville, married and lived at the Fentress place- his wife was a Fentress.  He was a slasher man, put the starch and sizing on the warp.  The Slasher Man was paid most of any machine operator- that was a big responsibility.  His brother Reuben also worked up here; was the Master Mechanic at Worthville.  John Bray was another Master Mechanic; he was a powerful fiddler.  

Lots of people played music then.  Charlie Ward; he was a powerful fiddler and guitar player.  He’s 90; he’s in Asheboro in the rest home.  Mark Johnson, he was a Worthville banjo picker, and a farmer.  He was some relation to Daner Johnson, the banjo man.  It was a special treat to hear Daner Johnson play.  He played anywhere and any time he took a notion.  Nep Johnson was his brother; lived up on the edge of Randleman; was a farmer and auto mechanic.

From the announcement of the annual Worthville Reunion, to be held May 3, 2014, in the  Courier-Tribune, 5 April 2014.

From the announcement of the annual Worthville Reunion, to be held May 3, 2014, in the Courier-Tribune, 5 April 2014.

New Market Inn

March 30, 2013
New Market Inn, from the southeast, circa 1950.

New Market Inn, from the southeast, circa 1950.

During the winter months I try to get out and investigate the parts of Randolph County that are not so accessible when the animal and vegetable elements of creation awake in the spring and summer. Saturday March 30th, 2013, was a beautiful warm and sunny day, and as I was driving down 311 I steered through that odd left-hand crook in the road in Sophia that I’ve wondered about a thousand times. Whether going north just past New Market Elementary School or south just past Marlboro Church Road, cars must jog left as 311 for some unexplained reason swerves in its path beside the railroad. As a historian I’ve long been aware that this is the site of the New Market Inn- the one colonial or federal inn that retained its identity into my generation. For some reason I’d decided or been told ages ago that the inn itself was on the lot where a garage and auto salvage yard now covered all the acreage, but this last Saturday B.U. (Before Undergrowth) seemed like a good reason to double back and check out what my friend Colon Farlow recently asserted to me: that the inn wasn’t on the garage lot, but on the adjacent lot just to the west, a wooded lot now for sale. Not only did I stop and hike that lot, I got the first tick of spring for my efforts, so here’s the story.

New Market Inn, circa 1940.

New Market Inn, circa 1940.

In my book Randolph County: Images of America, the New Market Inn is illustrated on page 70 (and shown above) in a photo taken in 1935. This and one other image of the building in the historic photo database at the county public library document the house after its demotion in status into use as a barn, and before it collapsed or was demolished circa-1960. They show a house that architectural historians would term “Georgian,” the style that takes its name from the 18th century kings of England and is usually reserved to structures built before 1810. Georgian style houses show a strong formal symmetry, often with a five-bay center-hall plan. Georgian proportions emphasize verticality, with tall, narrow windows and steep roofs and boxed cornices which are cut flush to the gable ends. In Piedmont NC such houses were always of heavy timber construction, as brick was too expensive to use for residential bearing walls until the 1830s. Interiors would have had simple finishes, with exposed floor joists, raised panels on doors, mantels and wainscots, and enclosed “dogleg” or “boxed” stairs.
Conversion of the house into a barn has removed most of the decorative information I usually use to date a structure, and there are no photos of the interior known, but exterior photos of the New Market inn definitely exhibit the Georgian vertical emphasis and the symmetrical five-bay plan. The entrance door has been expanded into a barn door, but on the second floor what appears to be an original door opening suggests that the house had a center-hall plan. Most of the windows have been removed and boarded up; the two remaining may have been reused from other locations, as they appear to be short 6×6 sash. Visible through the open center door is another window on the far side of the house; it is located where a door should be, but the shadow appears to indicated a repurposed 9×9 sash. At the lower southeast corner an assymmetrical door and window could be later changes to the original plan; they may also mark the location of a separate entrance to the inn’s tap room.

Sketch of the stone foundations

Sketch of the stone foundations

The second, slightly later photo is a valuable view of the eastern side, showing the steep roof pitch of 10 or 12 inches of rise to every foot of run. The attic floor has two narrow windows crowded into each side gable, leaving space for a large end chimney which, if it existed, has been removed. A shed-roofed one-story addition is visible to the north side; the large barn-like additions on the west which were visible in the previous photo are here hidden behind a large cedar tree. The later photo documents a catastrophic structural failure progressing in the west-central portion of the house, where the inward slump indicates that the floor joists have rotted or been removed.

Corn Crib

Corn Crib

On my exploratory hike, the only standing structure I found was this corn crib/ tractor shed combination, probably dating to the 1930s or 40s and of little interest. Much more unusual was the blooming carpet of purple “Grape” or “Roman” hyacinth, which covered at least an acre southwest of a stone foundation. The briars, brush and vines, even in their temporarily leafless state, did not allow close inspection, measurement or adequate photography of the foundation. By my analog paced measure, the fieldstone foundation is 10-12 inches above grade and measures approximately 30 feet wide by 45 feet long. A water-filled depression indicates a cellar under the western end of the structure, at least 15 by 30 feet. A flat 4 by 5-foot rectangular stone a foot thick lies near the center of the façade, and another one approximately 2 by 4 feet lies at the southeast corner. Both may have been step stones to the doors shown on the photos. Chimney bases are not discernible to the east or west, but a large pile of brick and stone inside the foundation could be the remains of a chimney positioned either at the west end or at the center of the house.

Foundation stones

Foundation stones

Like much 20th-century journalism, newspaper accounts of the house sell romance and nostalgia over actual history. “YE OLD TAVERN, LANDMARK OF PIONEER DAYS, STILL STANDING IN NEW MARKET,” spins an article dated April 24, 1938 from The Randolph Tribune:

A few miles above Randleman on the High Point Road in New Market Township stands one of the earliest landmarks of pioneer days in Randolph County. It is a symbol of the sturdy and cultured type of pioneers who set up well-built homes in a country hitherto uninhabited except by Indians. There is something about this old landmark that seems to shout, “Mine is an interesting story.”

Today the old tavern, known formerly as one of the best on the Plank Road, is a barn, sheltering the owner’s stock and housing the hay and fodder. The chimneys have crumbled to dust, the front door has been replaced by a big swinging barn door, and the steps are gone. An investigator will find that there were eight rooms downstairs besides the dining room and kitchen. On the second floor were a large hall and six bedrooms. At the top of the narrow stairway the third floor consisted of two big loft rooms. The remaining windows are very narrow, the ceilings are low, and the wood has been painted several different colors. There are several original handmade doors. The fireplace used eight-foot logs.   At one corner of the house is a huge, long rock which some say was an “upping block,” others a doorstep.

Hearthstone, Doorstep or Upping Block?

Hearthstone, Doorstep or Upping Block?

This is the only description of the interior, but the writer evidently included the additions and expansions of the house in his room count, as the original block could not have had ten rooms downstairs and six bedrooms on the second floor. It is also interesting that the writer notes only one fireplace.    The article goes on to state: “Just who built this huge house is uncertain, but the earliest known occupants were Sidney Porter and his wife, Ruth Worth Porter, who later removed to Greensboro.” Addison Blair’s 1890 history doesn’t discuss the house in particular, but of New Market itself he writes

This is an old settled place, and was the home of Capt. John Bryant, a Whig, who was shot in his old house by Colonel Fanning. The place afterwards came into the possession of Shubal Gardner, who had a store there and was regarded as a big man. He owned a number of lots in Johnsonville and at one time drove a heard of beeves to Philadelphia. Joseph Newlin bought the property in 1840 and called it New Market and for many years carried on an extensive store and tin shop.

(J.A. Blair, Reminiscences of Randolph County, Asheboro, 1890; p. 49)

In the 1960s, local historian Addison Wall (who lived only a half mile from the site) wrote The Randolph Story for the Randleman Rotary Club, and noted on page 106 that “The inn closed down some time after the Civil War and was converted into a barn.  The lower floor was used as a granary and storage by Mr. Snider who bought the farm seventy-five years ago.  The New Market elections were held for a number of years in the building…. The building was torn down about 1950.”

To fully examine all these personalities involved with the property will take additional posts!

Hoover’s Mill (aka Rush’s Mill, Arnold’s Mill, Skeen’s Mill)

October 31, 2011

Every historic site has both a public and a private history.   In the case of this mill site on Covered Bridge Road in Tabernacle Township, I have a thirty-year personal association that gives me an intimate knowledge of it.  In the summer of 1975 I participated in the archeological excavation of the Mt. Shepherd Pottery which is located about a mile southeast of this site.  At that time the Skeen’s Mill Covered Bridge still stood on Covered Bridge Road, and I convinced some friends to join me in an expedition up the Uwharrie to see if we could discover if there was actually a mill anywhere around the Skeen’s Mill Bridge.  Over the course of an afternoon we not only found a site of surprising natural beauty, but well-preserved evidence of an elaborate mill seat.  And a “For Sale” sign.

Not knowing anything more than that, I convinced my parents to return with me the next weekend, and eventually prevailed upon them to purchase the tract which included the entire junction of the Uwharrie and Little Uwharrie Rivers.  After graduating from college and returning home, I actually lived in a trailer perched high above the site of the dam for two years while researching and writing my architectural history of Randolph County.   The property is still owned by my family.  But for two hundred and thirteen years previously, it had been owned by a parade of other people, and it has taken me years to piece together not just the history of this one tract of land, but the story of the surrounding neighborhood, part of what has been called the “Uwharrie Dutch” community, where this mill and the Mt. Shepherd Pottery were commercial landmarks.

Map of the "Uwharrie Dutch" region from MESDA Journal

The historic layout of the property took some time to puzzle out.  State Road 1406 runs from Hoover Hill Road on the East to Tabernacle Church Road on the West; and the one-hundred-foot-long Skeen’s Mill Covered Bridge (Tabernacle Township Site 18 in my architectural history) spanned the Uwharrie River about twenty feet north of its modern replacement.  It was built before March 1900, when C.T. Hughes was paid $11 for “repairing the bridge at N.R. Skeen’s.”  The bridge was one of only three remaining in North Carolina when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1960s, but it was unappreciated and neglected by its nonresident owner and was destroyed by high water about the year 1984.

The mill was located to the South of both the covered bridge and modern bridge, about 150 feet from the road.  The foundations trace the footprint of a building thirty by fifty feet in plan, with its western side built into the side of a hill where the miller’s house  stood about fifty feet above and 200 feet southwest.  What was initially very confusing is that the mill race ran in the opposite direction that it should have if the dam was located anywhere near the covered bridge.  The tail race obviously flowed back into the Uwharrie River downstream from the bridge, but the head race was dug into the side of the hill, ending at least twenty feet above the mill perfectly situated for an overshot water wheel.  But the race ran south, curling around the hill at the foot of the miller’s house until it bent into a horseshoe shape and began running in a canal paralleling the Little Uwharrie River, where we finally found the evidence of head gates and a dam.

Only iron bolts drilled into the river bed indicate the location of the dam, which ran diagonally across the Little Uwharrie at a 50-degree angle to the flow.  Water was funneled into the head gates, and then ran in a horseshoe-shaped canal approximately 1,340 feet around the hill to the site of the mill, a very impressive engineering achievement for some unknown millwright.   Parts of two sets of mills stones were then in evidence, made of the individually-quarried blocks set in plaster that were characteristic of “French Buhr” stones.   The road which crossed the Uwharrie at the covered bridge stopped at the mill and then continued South, parallel to the river, in deeply-cut double tracks, one wide enough for a horse and wagon, the other just wide enough for a horse.  The tracks converged to cross the Little Uwharrie at a ford just northwest of the confluence, and then continued south west.

Research into previous ownership was the first order of research, beginning with the most recent and going backwards.  The recent history of the entire neighborhood was clear:  the surrounding lots had first been sold  in 1963 as part of the “Thayer Plantation” subdivision (See Plat Book 10, Page 116, Randolph County Registry).   Lee C. Thayer was the operator of a sawmill located on the railroad in Trinity, and owned hundreds of acres in Trinity and Tabernacle townships.  He lived in the Queen Anne style Victorian house at the northwest corner of Covered Bridge and Thayer Roads which was the center of a tract totaling more than 350 acres.  When the business hit bad times, the land was sold , roads were pushed out into the woods and hundreds of small lots were sold at auction.

The Thayers acquired the mill tract in 1943 (DB 386/PG 340); for the previous  thirty years it had been owned by the family of Julian Pearce, who bought it at auction in 1910 (DB134/PG276).  The auction had settled the estate of J.R. Skeen, son of Noah R. Skeen for whom the covered bridge was named.   The Skeen Mill tract consisted of 52 acres on both rivers, and included a tract “bought by N.R. Skeen from John Hill known as Boy Hill in the forks of the two prongs of Uwharrie River just below the Skeen Mill…”

Reaching back into the 19th century the information grew sketchier, but Skeen acquired the mill about 1890 from Penuel Arnold, who bought “Rush’s Mills” from the Estate of Nineveh Rush in 1881 (DB58,P352).  An article from The Courier of 1934 described Rush’s Mills: “the Little Uwharrie came down on the top of a hill just west of Big Uwharrie.  And 120 rods before it emptied into the bigger river it was forty feet higher on a level than the big river.  So Rush, with the help of his slaves, built a small dam on the hill, plowed and shoveled a canal or race around the hill and landed the water on a 20-foot wheel which operated a long saw placed so as to give it speed up and down.”  The grist mill was forty feet further down the race, where “two sets of stones were put in, one for wheat and one for corn.  When it rained enough they could run the saw and the grist mill at the same time.  When rains let up they could not run either one.”  (R.C. Welborn, “First Saw Mill in Tabernacle Dates Back to 1820”)

Rush bought the mill and 300 acres in February 1826 from the Estate of Jacob Hoover (DB16, P319).  Jacob Hoover (b. 1754) had acquired 35 acres, including “the mill seat where Jacob Hoover now lives… in the fork of the Uwharrie”  in October 1794 from the estate of his father Andrew Hoover (DB7, P263).  Andrew Hoover was the anglicized name of Andres Huber, who had purchased 275 acres on both forks of the Uwharrie from Henry Eustace McCulloh in February 1763, when the area was still part of Rowan County (see Rowan DB5, P343).

Andreas Huber was born January 23, 1723 in Ellerstadt, now part of the German Palatine.  As the ninth child of a vintner, Huber saw little opportunity at home, and at age 15 he arrived at Philadelphia.  He lived with a brother in Lancaster County until age 22, when he married Margaret Pfautz and moved to Carroll County, Maryland.  By 1763 he and his large family had settled on the Uwharrie.   After the Revolution he turned the mill at the forks over to son Jacob and moved further down the Uwharrie to the Jackson Creek area, where he died and is buried in the Hoover cemetery. (See Genealogy of the Herbert Hoover Family by Hulda Hoover McLean, published by the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, 1967).

Nothing much was heard of Andrew thereafter until 1928, when his 3rd great- grandson Herbert Clark Hoover was elected President of the United States.  Though Herbert Hoover had been born and bred in Iowa, his distant cousins and proud Republican brethren of Randolph County didn’t miss the opportunity to turn the President’s ancestor into a modern folk hero.  A 1928 story by T.M. Pridgen published in the Charlotte News (“Myths of Prowess of early Hoovers along Uwharrie”) declared that Andrew Hoover was a Quaker and neighbor of Daniel Boone, and Hoover’s mill was “an important granary of the Revolution.”  “The story goes that Andrew Hoover was not afraid of man, beast or devil; that he climbed to the top of Eagle Nest Rock when others were afraid to; that he swam the raging Uwharrie to save the lives of his horses; and he set out to face the headless horseman on the Uwharrie trails, and braved the other ghostly figures that moved like lost souls down the valley.”

It is doubtful whether any of those florid claims are real.   Far from being supporters of the Revolution, the Hoovers were part of the German Pacifist community that clustered around this area of the Uwharrie during the 18th century.  I have written about this before in my article on the Mt. Shepherd pottery [http://www.archive.org/stream/journalofearlyso0601muse#page/20/mode/2up/search/21 ]  Historian John Scott Davenport has extensively researched the area, and asserts that though President Hoover was a Quaker, “the Uwharrie Dutch were predominately Dunker and Mennonite.  The Uwharrie Dunkers [German Baptists] were the largest settlement of that sect in North Carolina, 1778-1782.  Their minister was Jacob Stutzman, who bought Ramsey’s Place from Henry Eustace McCulloh in 1764, and led the congregation until he moved to Clark County, Indiana Territory, in 1801…. Dunkers did not have meeting houses until the mid-19th century; hence Mast’s Old Meeting House [across the Uwharrie just east of Hoover’s Mill; see DB10, P5) was a Mennonite church.  Mennonites, called “Dutch Friends” by the Quakers, fellow-shipped with Quakers, appeared occasionally as witnesses to Quaker weddings.  The Dunkers would have nothing to do with Quakers.  Land problems, brought about by their rigid pacifism during the Revolution, and the influx of Quakers into the Uwharrie following the Revolution, were largely responsible for the removal of the Dunkers from Randolph County.”  (Letter dated November 12, 1976, in the Hoover files of the Randolph Room)

Jacob Hoover (1754-1821) married Elizabeth Stutzman, a daughter of the Dunker minister, and it is likely that his mother Margaret Pfautz was also a member of the congregation.  But Andrew’s family must not have been as strict as others, as their numerous deeds were all properly sworn to and recorded.  It is said that disastrous floods in 1795 and 1798 caused all of Andrew’s children but Jacob and Jonas to move west to Indiana.  Jacob ran and rebuilt the mill, which was alternately washed away by a flood and destroyed by fire, until he was crippled in an accident during a flood.   It seems likely that the unusual configuration of the present mill race stems from a desire to protect it from flood waters; a breach of the dam on the Little Uwharrie would never wash away the mill on the other side of the hill.

Finally, we can take one additional step further back into history:  the 1733 map of North Carolina by Surveyor General Edward Moseley (A New and Correct Map of the Province of North Carolina) depicts both Deep River and the Uwharrie, but the only landmark noted in the whole area of the county is in the forks of the Uwharrie: “Totero Fort.”  This is a reference to the Tutelo Indian tribe, which appears to be far south of where they had been visited in September 1661, when Thomas Batts and Abraham Wood led an expedition from Fort Henry (Petersburg, VA) to Totero Town (approximately where present-day Salem Va. is located).   In 1701 John Lawson visited the Keyauwee tribe living nearby on Caraway Creek at Ridge’s Mountain, but said nothing about any Tutelos.   It may be that attacks by the fierce Iroquois tribe forced the Tutelos to move South, but in 1714 the Occaneechi, Saponi, Eno, Totero and others relocated to Fort Christanna in Lawrenceville, Va.   More research is needed to confirm or deny this single tantalizing reference, but the location- the hill above the bottomland in the forks of the rivers- would be a natural defensive position for a palisaded village.

With a variety of documented stories spanning nearly 300 years, the Hoover Mill site is certainly a landmark of Randolph County history.

Confederate Christmas in Randolph County

December 10, 2010

This is best-known of the autobiographical reminiscences of Nancy (“Nannie”) Steed Winningham.  It is been reprinted over the years in various sources, without much editing or explanation.  Once it was erroneously reprinted as “A Confederate Christmas in Asheboro,” despite the fact that Mrs. Winningham clearly recites the wagon ride to her grandparents home in the country.  As a “Christmas Gift” to you blog readers I am offering the original text here, and will serve up footnotes and explanations in another post.  I hope to track down the rest of the Winningham letters and publish them here, with annotations.

This illustration by Thomas Nast, entitled “Christmas Eve, 1862” appeared in the January 3, 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly, published in New York City.  The appearance of our modern American “Santa Claus” was largely the pictorial creation of Thomas Nast, and this engraving includes two of his earliest depictions of him and his reindeer in both upper corners.

A CONFEDERATE CHRISTMAS IN 1864

By Mrs. James Lafayette Winningham

Note to the original from Miss Laura Worth:  “Mrs. James Lafayette Winningham was the daughter of John Stanley Steed and Rachel Director Swaim. She wrote several letters in 1919 about old Asheboro which were published in the Courier in response to other reminiscences. Her daughter brought the original letters to the Historical Society in 1959. During her last years she lived in Greensboro.“


As I was born in 1857, I can remember Christmas of 1862-3-4. The first two were much the same. My mother always took the children home to her father’s for the holidays. In their home were our three young aunts and a young uncle, all full of life and fun, and about ten grandchildren. Of us there were my three brothers and myself.

On the morning of Christmas Eve what a scurrying there was to get our home-made things packed. A hasty lunch and by the time one of my married uncles came with his team, everything was ready and we arrived in good time for supper, which to us children was a feast indeed, but I suspect it was a little of the pig killed for Christmas, if one was left by that time; lye hominy, sweet potatoes, persimmon pudding, pumpkin fried in pork gravy with maybe a taste of “good coffee” for the elders. This was kept carefully hidden away in Grandmother’s lowboy. The young people had wheat or potato coffee and the children mugs of milk.

Grandmother owned a little black girl who was a year or two older than I. Her mother, a young slave girl, had died at her birth and Grandmother had reared her on a bottle, and kept her for her personal waiting girl. Like most southern children, I loved Harriet as much as if she had been my own sister.

At last, after much excitement, the stockings were all hung — Harriet’s too with the rest, and the sand man came along. Then in about seventeen seconds the pine knots were blazing in the big fire-place and Santa Claus had been there, for wasn’t there the tracks of his sleigh in the big, wide chimney — made by my uncle with the poker “as was a poker”.   In our stockings were “goobers”, as we called the peanuts, walnuts, ginger cakes and Oh Joy! two or three sticks of striped candy. I’m wondering to this day where it came from for we had not seen a stick of striped candy in a year.

After breakfast my aunties started the eggnog; then about ten o’clock their friends, mostly young boys, came in to wish all a merry Christmas, but expressed in those days as “Christmas Gift” and to get a drink of eggnog.  It was there in the big bowl all the morning and we were all given a generous taste.

Just before the one o’clock dinner we were playing in the yard, when from the front porch my aunt Sue exclaimed: “Oh, Look! There they come!” I looked and until my dying day I shall never forget the fear and horror that filled me. There were sixteen or eighteen old bony horses with trappings of anything that could be found, with strings of rags of black, blue, red or white. The riders were young boys, with their coats turned wrong side out and wearing horrible—looking false faces, singing and making all kinds of discordant noises. I made one dash to the side of my boon companion, Harriet, and asked in a trembling voice: “Which is it, the old bad man or the Yankees?” which to a southern child at that time meant much the same thing, the bad man, if anything, playing on the winning team. Being assured it was only the boys, my fears were allayed and I enjoyed the strange spectacle. They rode around the village several times and disappeared. As I look back upon it, I suppose it was a scraggly, pitiful attempt to carry out the old English custom of the waifs of England, which had been handed down from their English ancestors.

After dinner some old men and boys came in with flutes, banjos and fiddles (not violins) and played for an enthusiastic house full of friends and neighbors. Sometimes I almost seem to hear now the sweet, sad music played so martially – “The Bonnie Blue Flag”, “The Girl I left behind me”, “Hurrah for the Southern Rights, Hurrah! Hurrah!” and “Hurrah! for the Homespun Dress the Southern Ladies Wear”.

Through all this trying to have a little fun ran an undercurrent of solemnity and anxiety, and many questions of “Have you heard any more from husband, father or son?” were heard.

Late in the afternoon I passed the open kitchen door and Grandmother stood leaning against a cupboard with her head in her arms crying as if her heart would break and it almost broke mine. I asked Harriet why she was crying and she said, “Mars Luther Clegg had drinked too much eggnog” — her baby boy, just a youth. I wondered why she allowed them to make it but it was a Southern custom hard to break.

My father and my uncle owned and operated a large tannery, shoe and harness shop. They had a contract with the Confederate government to furnish shoes to some of our soldiers and that kept them in the service at home.  Early in 1864 my father sold his interest in the business to my uncle and in a few months was drafted and sent to eastern Carolina, where he was in the service, though not in the line.

It seemed to me that Christmas in 1864 began about December 10. We were told on getting up in the morning, that our mother was sick and during the day she became much worse. One of our kind neighbors brought her black woman, “Aunt Patsy”, and they stayed through the night. Soon they sent for our faithful family physician, who on account of advancing years bad about given up his practice until the war began and the younger doctors were all in the service of their southland. He gave my mother tender care and attention, with no thought of ever rendering a bill- his payment being the service of my father to the flag. On the morning of the 10th we were told we had a little brother named for his daddy. Oh! I suppose he was welcome but Christmas loomed darkly ahead. No daddy, no trip to “Grampys”, no shoes, no clothes hardly, no picture books, no dolls, no candy and just no “nuthin”.

On Sunday morning my uncle rode by while we were playing in the road, and be asked: “Boys, where are your shoes?” “We haven’t got any”, my brother answered. He told them to go to the shoe shop Monday and be measured for shoes. I was sorry my own were not a little better or else worse so that I could have a new pair.

There was a man in our town called Captain Pragg, who owned a dry goods store. A few days before Christmas he sent one of his men to the house to tell my mother that if she would send for it he would give her a nice ham for a present. She was very pleased and never forgot the courtesy.

My aunt from the country came and brought us all something for Christmas.  My present was a balmoral (petticoat) which she had carded, spun and. woven herself. I never told anyone but I could never drum up enough patriotism to like that coarse, scratchy petticoat. And that wasn’t the only thing I could never learn to like.

To this day when my husband occasionally likes a supper of milk and mush or corn bread and milk, the vision of a big, grayish-brown earthenware jar of milk and a bowl of mush or the plate of thick corn pones, with perhaps smudges of ashes on the brown crust, that depending on the skill of the one who lifted the lid with its burden of coals and ashes from the skillet, comes to me and I say “You may have it all,” I’m afraid it will give me indigestion.

And the Christmas baby — well, his father never saw him until he came home after General Lee’s surrender and by that time he was almost five months old.

Notes on A Confederate Christmas

December 8, 2010

“Santa Claus in Camp, 1864” by Thomas Nast in Harper’s Weekly.

Introductory Note:
“Mrs. James Lafayette Winningham…”
On 24 May 1876 Nancy Hannah Steed married James Lafayette Winningham (ca. 1853- 1930), the son of Siebert Francis Marion Winningham and Laura Ann Lyndon.  Winningham was born at Union Factory, now Randleman, North Carolina.  [Internet geneaological research on the Winningham and Steed families was largely posted by Donald Winningham.]

“…was the daughter of John Stanley Steed and Rachel Director Swaim.”
John Stanley Steed (22 Feb 1829 – 3 May 1899) was the son of Charles Steed (15 May 1782- March 1847), who served Randolph County both as a member of the North Carolina Senate and as a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives.  His mother Hannah Raines (born circa 1788- died after 1850) married Charles Steed on 25 Jan 1806.  John Stanley Steed married Rachel Director Swaim (15 Nov 1835 – 27 Nov 1880) about the year 1852.

Paragraph 1:
“As I was born in 1857…”
Nancy “Nannie” Hannah Steed was born 14 June 1857.

“My mother always took the children home to her father’s for the holidays”
Rachel Steed’s parents were Joshua Swaim (1804-1868) and Nancy H. Polk (1808 – 14 April 1865), who married in Guilford County on 1 September 1824, but lived in the Cedar Falls area (the area west of Franklinville, south of Grays Chapel, and east of Millboro).  The Christmas of 1864 may have stuck in Nannie Steed’s memory because it was the last she would have with her maternal grandmother Nancy Polk Swaim.

Maternal grandfather Joshua Swaim was the son of William Swaim and Elizabeth Sherwood, and nephew of the Clerk of Court Moses Swaim (1788-1870).   Joshua and Nancy Swaim were buried in the old Timber Ridge cemetery near Level Cross.  Here is a link to photographs of their tombstones: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~davidswaim/TimberRidge.htm

“In their home were our three young aunts and a young uncle, all full of life and fun, and about ten grandchildren.”
Nancy and Joshua Swaim of Cedar Falls had the following children, several of whom had moved West before the time of the Civil War.  Numbers 7 through 10 are Nannie’s “young aunts and uncle”:
1.  James Polk Swaim (November 21, 1825 – February 04, 1890); m. Sarah McDonald about 1848; died in  Franklin County, Ark.
2.  Elizabeth Swaim (September 30, 1827-  June 28, 1846).
3.  Margaret J. Swaim, b. March 22, 1829- February 29, 1848.
4.  Mary Swaim (b. ca. 1831); md. Mr. Glass before 1854.
5.  William Walter Swaim (February 10, 1833 – died October 17, 1905 in Eldora, Hardin County, Iowa); m. Mary Ann Davis, ca. 1859, in Hamilton Co., Indiana.
6.  Rachel Director Swaim, (November 15, 1835 – May 27, 1880); m. John Stanley Steed on October 07, 1852.  [Nannie’s Grandma Swaim]
7.  Luther Clegg Swaim (b. ca. 1837, d. ca. 1868) [Nannie’s Uncle “Luther Clegg”]
8. Susannah Swaim (b. ca. 1840); m. J.L. Coble, September 04, 1862.
9. Hannah Swaim (b. ca. 1841); m. Henry C. Green, October 06, 1864.
10. Martha Swaim (b. ca. 1847).

{The family information is Included in the Polk family genealogy, posted by Kathy Parmenter at http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/POLK/1999-07/0931116431 }.

“Of us there were my three brothers and myself.”
As of this time in the story, John and Rachel Steed had the following children:  Emily, born 1853, who died in infancy; Wiley Franklin, born 1855; Nancy Hannah, born 1857; Henry Luther, born 1860; Joshua Nathaniel, b. 1862.

Paragraph 2:
“The young people had wheat or potato coffee…”
Imports of coffee and other delicacies were reduced almost to the point of nonexistence by the federal blockade of southern ports.  According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffee_substitute ), Roasted acorns, almonds, barley, beechnuts, beetroots, carrots, chicory, corn, cottonseed, dandelion root, figs, okra seed, peas, Irish potatoes (but only the peel), rice, rye, soybeans, and sweet potatoes have all been used as coffee substitutes.  Roasted and ground wheat as a non-caffeinated substitute for coffee was popular again in the United States during both World War I and II, when coffee was sharply rationed.   “Postum”  was the brand name of an instant-style coffee substitute made from wheat bran, corn and molasses which was popular in North Carolina in the 20th century, but production was discontinued in October, 2007.

Paragraph 3:
“In our stockings were…ginger cakes…”
Ginger is a tropical root imported from Africa, Jamaica, India or China.  It was a much-loved spice during the Civil War era; ginger beer, ginger ale, and all sorts of ginger cakes and breads were popular.  Some recipes could be rolled out, cut into shapes and hung on the tree; some were soft like bread and others were hard and crisp.  The following recipe from a Civil War reenactor group makes crisp, sugar- coated cookies suitable for putting in a stocking:

3/4 cups shortening

1 cup sugar

1 beaten egg

1/4 cup molasses

2 tsp. soda

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ginger

2 cups flour

Combine shortening and sugar into a cream; add the egg and molasses and mix well. Sift together the dry ingredients and add to the shortening mixture. Mix until combined. Roll into walnut sized balls and roll in sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 7 – 10 minutes.

Paragraph 4:
“…my aunties started the eggnog…”
Various milk punches were known in Europe and brought to America, so the exact orgin of Egg Nog is obscure.  “Nog” is an old English word with roots in East Anglia dialects that was used to describe a kind of strong beer which was served in a small wooden mug called a “noggin”.   “Egg nog” is first mentioned in the early nineteenth century but an alternative British name was “egg flip,” a punch made with milk and wine, particularly Spanish Sherry.
Internet sites repeatedly cite an unnamed and unsourced English visitor who wrote in 1866, “Christmas is not properly observed unless you brew egg nogg for all comers; everybody calls on everybody else; and each call is celebrated by a solemn egg-nogging…It is made cold and is drunk cold and is to be commended.”
The English author Elizabeth Leslie regularly published cookbooks on both sides of the Atlantic from 1837 to 1857.  Her Directions for Cookery, published in 1840, introduced the concept of the “sandwich” to America.  This recipe for Egg Nogg comes from the edition of 1851:
“Beat separately the yolks and whites of 6 eggs. Stir the yolks into a quart of rich milk, or thin cream, add half a pound of sugar. Then mix in half a pint of rum or brandy. Flavor with a grated nutmeg. Lastly, stir in gently the beaten whites of three eggs. It should be mixed in a china bowl.”

Perhaps the last word on Confederate egg nog would be the recipe of Mary Custis (Mrs. Robert E.) Lee herself::

-10 eggs, separated

-2 c. sugar

-2 1/2 c. brandy

1/2 c. and 1 tsp. dark rum

-8 c. milk or cream

Blend well the yolks of ten eggs, add 1 lb. of sugar; stir in slowly two tumblers of French brandy, 1/2 tumbler of rum, add 2 qts new milk, & lastly the egg whites beaten light (very fluffy).  Allow to “ripen” in a cold but not freezing place; an unheated room or porch was the common location for Mrs. Lee.

From The Robert E. Lee Family Cooking and Housekeeping Book (UNC Press, 2002), by Anne Carter Zimmer.

Paragraph 5:
“…expressed in those days as ‘Christmas Gift’…”
The phrase “Merry Christmas” was popularized around the world following the appearance of the Charles Dickens’ story, A Christmas Carol in 1843.  Robertson Cochrane, Wordplay: origins, meanings, and usage of the English language, p.126. (University of Toronto Press, 1996).  “Christmas Gift!”  is an earlier Southern tradition, used as a greeting.   The first person saying it on Christmas morning traditionally received a gift.  See “Whistlin’ Dixie: A Dictionary of Southern Expressions” by Robert Hendrickson (Pocket Books, New York, 1993).

Paragraph 6:
“Which is it, the old bad man or the Yankees?”
She is using a euphemism for “the Devil,” a word considered to be so much a curse word at the time that a well-bred young lady was not allowed to use such language.  The Devil was on the side of the Yankees, just as God was supposed to be on the side of the Confederacy.

“Little Christmas Waifs Are We”- 19th century Christmas Card

“…the old English custom of the waifs of England.”
It is unclear whether Nannie has here conflated two distinct Christmas rituals from medieval England, or whether the traditions had previously merged in the antebellum South.
The surviving English tradition is of the Christmas “Waits,” musicians and singers who go from door to door “waiting,” or caroling.  According to the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica, “wait” is the name of a medieval night watchman, who sounded a horn or played tunes to mark the hours.  By the 15th century waits had become bands of itinerant musicians who paraded the streets at night at Christmas time, and became combined with another ancient tradition, “wassailing”.  It gradually became expected that the musicians would receive gifts and gratuities from the townspeople, and often “those who went wassailing would dress up like street waifs or ragamuffins.”  http://www.cafepress.com/+christmas_waifs_sticker,320599343
One other British custom of the Christmas season was specifically aimed at soliciting alms.  “Thomasing” anciently occured on 21 December (St Thomas’s Day) when the village poor people visited the homes of their better-off neighbours soliciting food and provisions to help them through the winter. Also called “Gooding,” “Mumping,” and “Doleing,” the earliest reference is from the year 1560, but the custom gradually declined through the 19th century as poor relief was institutionalized, and laws were passed against ‘begging’.
In the South this tradition may have inspired a tradition of inviting local orphans or “waifs” to spend Christmas afternoon with rural families or in urban church socials. [books.google.com/books?isbn=0253219558 ]  In 1864 the “ crowning amusement” of Christmas day for the Davis children in Richmond was “the children’s tree,” erected in the basement of St. Paul’s Church, decorated with strung popcorn, and hung with small gifts for orphans.   (First Lady Varina Davis’s 1896 article “Christmas in the Confederate White House” makes an  interesting contrast to Nannie Steed Winningham’s story of Christmas in rural Randolph County;
http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/on-the-homefront/culture/christmas.html ).

The First Confederate States Flag

Paragraph 7:
“ The Bonnie Blue Flag”
-is a marching song associated with the Confederacy.   The song was written to an Irish melody by entertainer Harry McCarthy during a concert in Jackson, Mississippi, in the spring of 1861 and first published that same year in New Orleans.  The song’s title refers to the unofficial first flag of the Confederate States, the symbol of secession from the Union bearing the “single star” of the chorus.   The “Band of Brothers” mentioned in the first line of the song is a reference to the St. Crispin’s day speech in Shakespeare’s play Henry V.
[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bonnie_Blue_Flag]
Here is the song:  http://www.gutenberg.org/files/21566/21566-h/music/bonnie.midi

“The Girl I left behind me”
-is a popular folk tune.  The first known printed text appeared in an Irish song collection in 1791; the earliest known version of the melody was printed in Dublin about 1810.   It was known in Britain as early as 1650, under the name “Brighton Camp”.  It was adopted by the US regular army as a marching tune during the War of 1812 after they heard a British prisoner singing it.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Girl_I_Left_Behind
The song can be heard here:  http://www.contemplator.com/england/girl.html

“Hurrah for the Southern Rights, Hurrah! Hurrah!”
-Hurrah! Hurrah!/ For Southern rights, hurrah!” is actually the first two lines of the chorus of  “The Bonnie Blue Flag.”  ‘Hurrah! Hurrah! For the Southern Rights, hurrah!’ is an alternative reading of the line that is only found in Gone With The Wind, page 236.  Both undoubtedly reflect the way singers at the time added ‘the’ to mirror the same article in ‘the’ Bonnie Blue Flag.

“Hurrah! for the Homespun Dress the Southern Ladies Wear”
-”The Homespun Dress,” also known as “The Southern Girl,” or “The Southern Girl’s Song,” is a parody of The Bonnie Blue Flag that oral historians have found in variant versions all over the South.  Most authorities attribute the words to Miss Carrie Belle Sinclair of Augusta, Georgia.  See Songs of the Civil War, by Irwin Silber, Jerry Silverman; Dover, 1995, p.54.  The lyrics can be found at http://www.lizlyle.lofgrens.org/RmOlSngs/RTOS-HomespunDress.htmlv

Oh, yes, I am a Southern girl,

And glory in the name,

And boast it with far greater pride

Than glittering wealth and fame.

We envy not the Northern girl

Her robes of beauty rare,

Though diamonds grace her snowy neck

And pearls bedeck her hair.

CHORUS: Hurrah! Hurrah!

For the sunny South so dear;

Three cheers for the homespun dress

The Southern ladies wear!

Paragraph 8:
“…Mars Luther Clegg had drinked too much eggnog.”
“Mars,” short-hand for “Master,” was used by enslaved people as a general title of respect, in the same way that white people would use “Mister.”
Luther Clegg Swaim was born in Cedar Falls in 1837.  On February 1, 1866 he married Dorcas Aretta Odell (1828-1918), daughter of James Odell and wife Anna Trogdon.  This was the second marriage for Dorcas Odell, the sister of J.M. Odell and J.A. Odell who worked for George Makepeace in the factory stores at Cedar Falls and Franklinsville.  John M. Odell was the first Captain of the Randolph Hornets, Company M.  Her brother Laban Odell became Major of the 22nd Regiment, and was killed at Chancellorsville.  Her first husband was her second cousin, Solomon Franklin Trogdon, who died in 1860.  She had two sons in the first marriage, and a daughter with Luther Clegg Swaim before he died in 1868.  Dorcas’s son Williard Franklin Trogdon became the original geneaologist of the Trogdon family, publishing the family history which provided this information in 1926.

Paragraph 9:
“My father and my uncle owned and operated a large tannery, shoe and harness shop.”
The J. S. Steed family is the very first one listed in the Western Division of Randolph County’s 1860 census; his occupation is listed as “Tanning,”  and a 17-year-old boarder living with them is listed as “Apprentice Tanner.”  Family #2 in that census is David Porter, a buggy manufacturer and grandfather of author William Sidney Porter.  I believe the Porters lived on the southeast corner of the intersection of Salisbury Street and the Plank Road (Fayetteville Street)- where First Bank is today.

The 1860 Census  of Manufacturing for Randolph County lists “J.W. & J.S. Steed” as engaged in “Tanning… Boot and Shoe Making…[and] Harness Making.”  6 employees in 1859 cured “1400 sides of harness, sole and upper leather” worth $2000; made 40 pair of boots worth $300; 250 pair of shoes worth $500; and 50 setts of harness worth $900.

The Steeds probably lived on Salisbury between Cox and the Plank Road, but the location of his tannery is unclear.  The only tannery I am aware of that was ever located in or around Asheboro itself is the one located on the site of the present-day Frazier Park, across Park Street from Loflin Elementary School.  The branch that heads in a spring (now piped underground) on that site is called Tan Yard Branch.

“My uncle” probably refers to the “J.W. Steed” listed on the Census of Manufacturing; this was Joseph Warren Steed, born ca. 1806, and little else is known about him.   It could also refer to John Stanley Steed’s brother Nathaniel Steed (3 May 1812 -10 Nov 1880).  In 1832 Nathaniel married Sarah (“Sallie”) Redding (9 Oct. 1811 -10 Aug. 1852), daughter of John Redding and Martha Jane Swaim.  They are buried at Charlotte Church, on Old Lexington Road west of Asheboro.

“Early in 1864 my father… was drafted and sent to eastern Carolina, where he was in the service..”
[Some of you Civil War experts, trace his service record, please.]

Paragraph 10:
“…our faithful family physician, who on account of advancing years bad about given up his practice until the war began…”
Could this have been Dr. John Milton Worth, (28 June 1811 -5 April 1900), who studied at the Medical College in Lexington, Kentucky and practiced in Asheboro up to the time of the war?  A substantial part of Dr. Worth’s war years were spent overseeing the Salt Works near Fort Fisher, so this may be some other faithful family physician.

“On the morning of the 10th we were told we had a little brother named for his daddy…”
John Stanley Steed, Jr., born December 1864.  The Steeds would have five more children over the next 15 years.  Rachel Steed evidently died during childbirth in 1880.

A view of antebellum New Bern from the Neuse River

Paragraph 12:
“There was a man in our town called Captain Pragg, who owned a dry goods store…”
The name “Pragg” is not found in the Randolph County census records for 1860 or 1870, but “Isaiah Prag” does appear in Randolph County marriage bond records for April 19, 1865, when he married “Mrs. Jane Sugg.”  This was apparently the second marriage for each of them, as according to family genealogical records “Mrs. Sugg”‘s maiden name was Jane Adaline Andrews (1841-1907).  She may have a family connection to Lt. Col. Hezekiah L. Andrews of western Randolph, who was killed at Gettysburg.
Isaiah  Prag was born 20 October 1824 in the town of Hadamar in the state of Hesse, Germany.  He first appears in America in the 1850 census of Annapolis, Maryland, with wife Rose Adler (1827-1864), and a new baby, Mary.  Prag would ultimately have 8 children by his first wife, and 7 by his second.  By 1860 Isaiah and family have relocated to New Bern, NC, where he is in business as a “merchant.”   From June 1, 1861 to February 10, 1862, the state Quartermaster’s office paid receipts totalling $13,113.20 for purchases from Isaiah Prag.  He evidently provided most of the “dry goods” or clothing needed to equip at least two companies of Craven County volunteer troops: Company F and Company K (The Elm City Rifles):  98 suit coats and pants; 74 flannel shirts and 199 striped shirts; 218 caps, 141 pairs of “drawers” and 160 pairs of “pantaloons;” not to mention 556 overcoats- enough for 5 companies!
Isaiah Prag is also listed as an “Ordinance Sergeant” in Company B of Clark’s Special Battalion of the North Carolina Militia, but further details of his military service are not yet known.
Prag’s initial connection to Randolph County is also unclear.  It is possible that he was involved with the local factories in the production of underwear under contract to the Quartermaster.  His work supplying the army may have forced him to leave New Bern after its capture by federal forces on March 14, 1862.  It doesn’t seem likely that Prag would have been allowed to frequently cross enemy lines if his family remained in New Bern, but  Rose Adler Prag is said to have died in New Bern on July 20, 1864.
The 1870 census finds Isaiah and Jane Prag in Calvert County, Maryland.  The 1879-80 city directory of Baltimore (p. 625) lists 6 separate families of Prags, with Isaiah listed as selling furniture.  The 1880 census finds him settled in Cambridge, Maryland, the seat of Dorchester County on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay.  This is where family records place him at the time of his death, April 18, 1889.
It appears that Isaiah and Rose Adler Prag were Jewish, and may have been one of the first Jewish families to reside in Randolph County.  That may be why Isaiah gave the Steed family as valuable a gift as the ham would have been in 1864- religious dietary laws would have prevented him from eating it.
[Sources:  US Census records for the years cited; Randolph County Marriage Bonds; Miscellaneous Records of the North Carolina Quartermaster’s dealings with Isaiah Prag or Pragg, preserved in the National Archives at Confederate Papers Relating to Citizens or Business Firms, 1861-65 ; the Park Service online list of Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System, at http://www.itd.nps.gov/cwss/>; Prag family geneaology records on Ancestry.com at http://trees.ancestry.com/pt/person.aspx?pid=1078239925&tid=16758860&ssrc= .]

Paragraph 13:
“My present was a balmoral (petticoat) which she had carded, spun and woven herself…”
A Balmoral was a long woollen petticoat which was popularized by Queen Victoria at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.  Usually of striped fabric, it was worn immediately beneath the dress so that it showed below the skirt.

The woman wearing a Balmoral in this “carte de visite” is Rachel Bodley (1831-1888), the first female chemistry professor at Philadelphia’s Women’s Medical College from 1865 to 1873.

Paragraph 14:
“…a bowl of mush or … plate of thick corn pones.”
Corn Meal Mush was made two different ways, and it appears that Mr. Winningham liked both of them.  The first was prepared in rolls like sausage or in loaf pans like modern liver pudding.  The cook would cut it in slices, dredge in egg yolk, dust in flour, fry and serve with butter, molasses, syrup or powdered sugar.  The second method was to boil the corn meal in a saucepan just as if preparing raw oatmeal or grits.  It was then served hot in a bowl topped with milk, sugar, fruit, raisins, nuts or ice cream.
“Corn Pone” is corn bread made without milk or eggs, and either baked in hot coals (as described by Nannie Winningham) or fried.

Modern Corn Pone Recipe (makes 4 servings):

Ingredients:  3 cups cornmeal; 3 teaspoons salt; 2-3 cups water; 3 tablespoons lard

Directions:  Bring water to a boil in a medium sauce pan. Add cornmeal and salt and immediately remove from stove. Mix well.  Melt half of lard in a baking pan to coat. Stir remaining lard into corn meal mixture. Pour mixture into baking pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes, or until golden brown.

Reuben Wood’s Library

March 27, 2010

[Because of the length of this research paper, I divided it up into five sections; actually six now, because the footnotes wouldn’t register with the blog software, so I but them in a separate post.  I and II deal with Reuben Wood and his family and career; the footnotes follow; and II, IV and V is the inventory of his library, transcribed by me from the handwritten text in Will Book 4.  Not every title has been recovered- if you have any ideas for one of the odd titles, email me.]

With no diaries and other first-hand accounts available to tell us of daily life in 18th-century Randolph County, one of the only alternative sources is to look in the Will Books maintained by the county Clerk of Court.  The series of books, dating back to the formation of the county in 1779, preserve more than just the Last Will and Testaments of county residents; those who died without a will (“intestate”) often provide even more information.  A typical first step in the administration of any estate was compiling an inventory of the deceased’s personal property, and one of the next steps was often to sell it all at a public auction.  These inventories and sale accounts are the best window into early American domestic life we have as local historians.

While looking for something entirely different many years ago, I noticed that one of the very first inventories in Will Book 4 (the blank book was started in November, 1812) was the “Inventory and Account of the Sale of the Estate of Reubin Wood, Esq., Dec’d”, which took up 14 of the first 15 pages in the book.  I knew nothing at the time about Reuben Wood, other than he appeared to have owned a remarkable number of books, and the fact that many of them were law books indicated that he must have been an attorney.  I filed the Reuben Wood papers among the many hundreds of interesting Randolph County curiosities pending further research.

[Home spinner- a dozen yarn ends at the time]

Last fall I stumbled across it again, because one of the items of farm equipment sold at Wood’s 1812 auction sale was an unusual piece of textile production equipment.  “1 spinning machine — 9.0.0 [9 pounds sterling/ no shillings/no pence] ” was purchased by Benjamin Elliott, an Asheboro merchant who would go on, with his son Henry Branson Elliott, to convert his grist mill at Cedar Falls into Randolph County’s first textile mill.  Every estate at that time included numerous items of textile production equipment, and the Wood estate also sold “1 loom & apparatus” at 2.10.0, two spinning wheels (at 0.18.7 [probably a flax wheel] and 0.7.0 [probably a cotton or ‘walking’ wheel]), and one “flax machine” at 0.5.0 (probably a flax “brake,” an ironing-board-sized contraption that removed the hard outer husk from raw flax).

[36 yarn ends at once- more like a factory!]

The “spinning machine” was by far the most expensive piece of textile equipment, and was probably what was commonly called a “spinning jenny” or “plantation spinner,” used by slaves to mass-produce cotton yarn needed to weave clothes and domestic textiles.  This is the only reference I have seen to such a device in Randolph County estate records.  Its presence raises a number of questions:  was it meant to be used by the family’s slaves (there were nine)?  Does it indicate a long-standing family bias against imported English or European textiles?  Did Reuben Wood perhaps affect cotton “homespun” clothing, as Thomas Jefferson and North Carolina’s congressman Nathaniel Macon?  Or was this a recent acquisition indicating the effect of anti-English trade embargoes preceeding the War of 1812?  We’ll never know.

[Colonial Williamsburg coachmakers build a riding chair]

The Spinning Machine caused me to take a closer look at the Wood inventory.  One other unusual item stood out:  “1 Riding Chair”, purchased by the widow Charity Wood at the premium price of 22.0.0 Pounds Sterling!  (compare “1 Waggon,” at 15.0.0, or “1 Cart with Oxen” at 16.5.0!).  This indicated the upscale status of the Wood family just as much as the fact that Reuben Wood owned nine slaves at the time of his death.  Just recently the wheelwrights at Colonial Williamsburg reproduced a riding chair for the collection of George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and explained that

[Child’s riding chair for horseback use]

“Riding chairs were popular in the 1700s… These vehicles typically had two wheels and seated one or two people…  Riding chairs were more comfortable than riding on a horse…  In a riding chair, you could move a bit, shift your weight. You didn’t have to sit on the back of a sweaty horse in August.  Also, it was easier on the horse, which didn’t have the weight of a human on its back. ”  [See http://www.history.org/foundation/journal/Winter04-05/wheel.cfm#webex ]

Not so extraordinary for the times was that a slave auction was part of the sale– in fact, the major financial aspect of the whole estate.  70.86% of the total auction proceeds of 2,272 pounds, 7 shillings, 11 pence represented the value of nine human beings (1,610 pounds, 12 shillings, 6 pence).  All but one of the nine were purchased by the widow or by family members, so this particular sale did not represent the catastrophic separation of slave families that many such auctions did.  No comparable research has been conducted in other Randolph County estates, so it is not clear whether the high proportionate value of the enslaved blacks was unusual in this case.

What was without a doubt unusual was the high proportionate value of Reuben Wood’s Library to the total value of his estate.  Almost fifteen and three-quarters percent of the total auction proceeds was made up of the price paid for books.  While that may not sound impressive, look at it this way:  when the value of enslaved people are subtracted from the total estate, the sales total just 661 pounds, 9 shillings and 9 pence; and out of that total, 357 pounds, 9 pence represented books—54% of all personal property excluding slaves.  Two hundred twenty-three separate titles are listed by name, and due to the book-binding practices of the time, it can be safely assumed that the vast majority of these titles were multi-volume sets.  My study of the collection indicates that it probably represented approximately 800 volumes, a large private library even by modern standards.

To understand how mind-boggling this percentage is, we must check out other Randolph County estate inventories.  A comprehensive comparison was beyond my available time these past 6 months, but a random check of 50 or so estates in the first four will books indicates that not one in three Randolph County decedents at the turn of the 19th century even listed books as part of their estates.  Typical of those was Joseph Hill (d. 1794, WB 2, p.18) and Barnaby McDade (d.1812, WB4, P17), both of whom list simply”1 Bible.”   Elizabeth Wright (Feb. 1813, WB4, p.22), lists “1 Hymn book” and “3 books.”  Stephen Cox (August 1814, WB4, p.92) listed “1 spelling book” which sold for 4 shillings, 7 pence and “1 Arithmetick & Testament” worth 1 shilling.

Only four take the trouble to list books by title, as did Joseph Wilson when he inventoried the Wood estate.  Haman Miller of the Farmer community, who died in  1814 (WB4, p.97), was one of the wealthiest men in the county.  His wife listed “1 Testament”, “1 Hymn Book,” and 18 assorted law books in her inventory, indicating his status as a Justice of the Peace (what we would today consider a county commissioner).  His sale listed “1 Dictionary… 1 Pilgrim’s Progress… 1 Little Boston Collection… Acts of Congress… Acts of the General Assembly… and Laws of the United States.”  Col. John Brower, another JP (d. 1814, WB4, p.100) had an estate sale which raised $2,312.48, of which just $37.41 was attributed to the sale of his 71 books, including “Dutch [German] Books,” “Acts of the General Assembly,” “Martin’s Justice,” “Hutchinson’s Works,” and “Carver’s Travels” comparable to those Reuben Woods’ collection.  William Tomlinson (1812, WB4, p.74) unhelpfully lists “1 lot of old books” and “1 lot of pamphlets” and a book on Landlord-Tenant law, but also features a volume of “Christian Philosophy” and 4 volumes of “Newton’s Works” (Sir Isaac Newton? Unclear).  In none of these estates is the proportion of books to the total anywhere near that in the Reuben Wood estate.

Before researching the man himself, I decided to look closely at the contents of his library.  As best I could, I transcribed each title, alphabetized them, and then sought to classify them by subject matter.  It became obvious that the inventory had been based on the short title embossed on the leather spine of a book or series, which was probably called out aloud by one person while being transcribed phonetically by another- a process that inevitably led to mis-spellings and odd transpositions.   I attempted to match each short title from the inventory with the author and exact title of an edition which might have been the one listed.  The most useful resource for this purpose was the British Library’s English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) of items printed before 1801 [ http://estc.bl.uk/ ]; I also used the Law Library of Congress Rare Book Collection [http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/awhhtml/awlaw3/rare_book.html ] for specialty law titles.  Three early-19th century library catalogues provided interesting comparisons:  the 1822 printed catalogue of books in the UNC-Chapel Hill Philanthropic Society library; the 1828 catalogue of the University of Virginia library; and the 1831 catalogue of Harvard’s Porcellian Club Library.

Twenty-eight titles have so far defied my analysis- either no specific title was given [“A Lott of Books”/ “A Dutch Book”/ “A French Grammar”]; or the original listing is perhaps in error [Grolisque?  Canuclad?]; or the information given was vague or inadequate [“A Small View,” “Christ”?], or I have been unable to match the title to any known comparable book [“Astrolhology,” “Sullivant’s Lectures,” “Thiston’s Memorials,” “Jennings Works,” etc].

Undoubtedly more titles will become clear with additional research, but some things are obvious.  At least 67 titles were those used by a working lawyer, representing what appears to be one of the largest private law libraries in Piedmont North Carolina.  Four books were reference works [such as Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary] and six were in German or French.  Sixteen were Classical Literature, with Greek and Roman authors in translation.  Ten related to religion, with a strong bias toward Presbyterianism, with a large number of titles from the Scottish Enlightenment.  Another 18 can be classified as contemporary philosophical and ethical works, including Locke, Helvitius, Lavater, Chesterfield and Edmund Burke.   Twenty-one titles would then have been classified as “Political Economy,” titles that were standard currency among the Founding Fathers: Junias, Burke, Adam Smith, Burlemaqui, Joseph Priestly, Thomas Paine.  Twenty-eight titles were in the realm of History and Biography: not just ancient history, but a number of contemporary works indicating an interest in foreign policy, especially of France, Ireland, Scotland, India, and Prussia.  Finally, twenty-three titles were purely for entertainment, with classics of English Literature such as Paradise Lost, The Spectator, and The Rambler; early novels such as Clarissa Harlow, Tristam Shandy and Tom Jones; and a number of volumes of poetry.  Oddly missing are standard titles and authors such as Shakespeare [neither plays nor sonnets], Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Homer’s Iliad or Odyssey.  Perhaps these titles were in the “1 Lott of Books” which sold for the amazingly large price of 37 pounds, 2 shillings and 6 pence- more than the Riding Chair, more than “1 Bay Horse, 26.10.0” and half the price of “1 Negro Girl, Eleanor, 75.0.0”.

Reuben Wood’s Library II

March 22, 2010


When I turned toward researching Reuben Wood himself, I was surprised to discover that a genealogical sketch of his life had been written by none other than Senator Sam Ervin, Jr., of Morganton, a great-great-great-grandson of Reuben Wood.  An entry in the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, summarized a manuscript written by Senator Sam, which stated :

“My mother’s… great-great-grandfather, Reuben Wood [was] an old-time lawyer of Randolph County, North Carolina, who practiced as a trial lawyer in virtually every superior court and county court of pleas and quarter sessions which sat in the vast region lying between his home in Randolph County and Jonesboro, Tennessee.”

It appears that Reuben Wood was the first resident of Randolph County actually licensed to practice law in Randolph County. How had this man been so thoroughly forgotten in his own home county?

Reuben Wood’s father, John Wood (b. 23 May 1716- May 3, 1794), was a native of Middleborough, Massachusetts. He had four children by his first wife Sarah Clement, one of whom, Zebedee Wood (26 Feb 1745- 11 July 1824), became Reuben’s partner in Randolph County government.  Soon after the birth of Zebedee, John Wood moved his family to the town of Mendam in Morris County, New Jersey, where his next son was born and Sarah died, perhaps from complications in childbirth. With four children under ten, John Wood quickly remarried and father four more children by his second wife Sibbel [Sybil] Wilborne. Reuben Wood (circa 1755- July 1812) was born to John and Sybil in New Jersey, but his brother David, who arrived in 1759, was born in North Carolina, indicating that the family had moved once again.

Surely the boy Reuben came to North Carolina with his family; but the “History of Morris County, New Jersey” lists a Reuben Wood from Mendham as a member of Captain Cox’s Company of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment in 1776. Perhaps he returned to attend school—Princeton is close by—and lived with his mother’s relatives. Even if so, both Reuben and Zebedee were soon involved with the militia in Randolph County. Zebedee Wood was one of Randolph County’s first militia captains in 1779, at a time when the militia captain’s district was the fundamental governing unit of the county.  In 1779 Reuben served as lieutenant (second in command) of Captain Thomas Clark’s infantry company, which “rendezvoused at Salisbury & marched to Charlestown under Col. Archibald Lytle a Continental Col. & joined General Lincoln” in the defense of Charleston. Whether Reuben was still there when Charleston fell to the British in May, 1780, is unknown, since in November 1779 he had married Charity Hinds, probably a sister of his militia commander Captain John Hines, whose “Light Horse” Company Wood joined as lieutenant in 1780.  Hinds was one of the most active captains in the new county, and spent a great deal of time in 1781 and 1782 jousting with the Tory guerrillas led by Colonel David Fanning.

By 1782 Wood was no longer serving in Hinds’ company; he must have taken time in the early 1780s to further his education.  There is no mention of him in county court records before1782, and those minutes are missing between 1783 and 1787; but suddenly when Book 3 opens in September 1787 Reuben Wood is listed as “State’s Attorney,” the equivalent of the modern District Attorney.  The educational gap between 19 year-old militia lieutenant in 1779 to State’s Attorney by 1787 was not as deep then as now; no law schools and graduate degrees were available, so a prospective lawyer apprenticed to his trade by “reading” law with an established attorney. It could not have hurt his chances for employment that brother Zebedee was by then one of the Justices of the Peace who ran the county court.


[Rowan County Courthouse in Salisbury]

Where Reuben Wood received his legal education is an open question, but closely available was his immediate predecessor as Randolph County State’s Attorney. When the county was formed in March 1779, one of the very first orders of business was to hire as State’s Attorney Spruce Macay [McKay] (?-1808), who also served as the Rowan County State’s Attorney. Macay was the son of Rowan County Sheriff James Macay, and graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1775. He served as State’s Attorney in Rowan until 1785, when he may also have resigned his Randolph position. Macay left the practice of law in 1790 when he was elected a Superior Court Judge, but in the 1780s at least one soon-to-be-famous lawyer read law with him: Andrew Jackson (1767-1845). The 17-year-old Waxhaw native moved to Salisbury to live with McKay and study the law in 1784. After two years with Macay, Jackson moved on to study one more year with another Salisbury lawyer John Stokes (March 20, 1756 – October 12, 1790), a crotchety veteran who would emphasize his points in court by banging the silver knob that replaced a hand he lost in the Revolution. In September 1787 Jackson was licensed to practice law in Rowan County, and on December 11, 1787, “Andrew Jackson, Esquire, produced a license from the Honorable the Judges of the Superior Court of Law & Equity Authorizing him to practice as an Attorney in the Several County Courts.  Took the Oath prescribed and proceeded to practice in said Court.” One of the Justices of the Peace sitting at that session of court was Zebedee Wood, and Reuben had been practicing as States Attorney for the County since at least June of that year. So perhaps Reuben Wood and Andrew Jackson were classmates in the law office of Spruce Macay; that they were practicing members of the Randolph County Bar at the same time is a fact.


[Bust of Andrew Jackson, ca. 1812]

Reuben Wood temporarily resigned his office as States Attorney several times in the 1788 so that other attorneys could handle particular cases. One of his replacements in 1788 was John Louis Taylor (1769-1829), a Fayetteville resident and graduate of William and Mary. Taylor became a Superior Court Judge in 1797 and in 1810 was appointed the first Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. Part of the reason Wood couldn’t represent Randolph full time was that he had also been appointed State’s Attorney in Burke County for the years 1788 and 1789. Burke County then encompassed all of western North Carolina, including the huge undeveloped territory which would become Tennessee. Burke County’s quarter sessions began on the first Monday of the month, so Wood may have had trouble getting back home in time for the regular second Monday beginning of Randolph Court.


[Burke County Courthouse]

There are claims among some secondary sources that Reuben Wood and his brother Zebedee were both attorneys. I have seen nothing to indicate this, and the confusion apparently begins with a misreading of the suffix “Esq.” which court records attach to both their names. In modern American useage “Esq.” [an abbreviation for ‘Esquire’] indicates that the subject is a lawyer. In the 18th century America it was used to denote anyone who held an office of trust under state government, such as Justices of the Peace, Sheriff, Clerk of Court, Register of Deeds, etc., also including all attorneys. In English useage of the time, “Esquire — A rank next below that of Knight… this title is held by all attendants on the person of the Sovereign, and all persons holding the Sovereign’s commission being of military rank not below Captain; also, by general concession, by Barristers at Law”. Reuben Wood was entitled to the honorific as an attorney; Zebedee Wood as both a militia captain and as Justice of the Peace. According to NC law at the time, an attorney was not allowed to practice as an attorney if he accepted a commission as a Justice of the Peace, so obviously in the Wood family, brother Zebedee was the politician and brother Reuben the lawyer.

That didn’t mean that they didn’t serve together at times. Both were among the county’s delegates to the North Carolina Constitutional Conventions of 1788 and 1789.
The first, meeting in Hillsborough, considered the arguments of Federalist party managers and overwhelmingly rejected ratification of the proposed U.S. Constitution. The Anti-Federalists, who feared a strong central federal government, objected to the document without some guarantee of basic personal freedoms. Ratification was rejected by a vote of 184-84, with six members abstaining to vote. Interestingly, Reuben Wood was Randolph County’s sole abstention; the rest of the county delegation voted unanimously to reject.

The second convention, meeting in Fayetteville, ratified the Constitution upon the promise of the future Bill of Rights. An attempt to add amendments to the Constitution strictly limiting the Federal government’s control over the states was defeated 187-82. Then the Constitution was ratified by a vote of 194-77. On this occasion, Reuben Wood voted with the majority both times, and Zebedee Wood voted with the losing Anti-Federalists. Nathan Stedman, their Randolph County co-delegate who had voted against ratification in 1788, abstained from both votes- therefore not siding with either brother!


[Early Buncombe County Courthouse]

Their tours of service together didn’t end with the Constitutional Conventions- in 1791 both brothers were elected to represent Randolph County in the General Assembly: Reuben in the House of Commons and Zebedee in the State Senate. The next year Reuben continued his long-distance commutes to court, as he was hired by the Justices sitting at the organizational meeting of the Buncombe County Court to serve as that county’s first State’s Attorney. With Randolph court being held beginning on the second Monday of each quarter, and Buncombe court being held beginning on the third Monday of each quarter, Wood’s travel time on horseback must have made continual service in both next to impossible. But riding the circuit of the county courts became Wood’s professional life. As Sam Ervin writes in the DNCB:


[Jonesboro,”The Oldest Town in Tennessee”]

“With horse and saddlebags, Wood attended virtually all of the courts that sate in the vast territory between his home in Randolph County and North Carolina’s westernmost county town, Jonesboro, which now lies within the boundaries of Tennessee. He was among the lawyers considered by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1788 for appointment as attorney for the Washington District, embracing practically all of the territory that subsequently became the state of Tennessee.” The man Reuben Wood lost the Tennessee District Attorney job to: his brother at the bar, Andrew Jackson, who used it as his springboard into state politics and ultimately, the Presidency.


[President Andrew Jackson, 1844]

Reuben Wood resigned the Buncombe County position in April of 1795.  He was at least 40 years old at the time, and either the harsh demands of life in the saddle or his growing family must have dictated that he stay closer to home. The number his books which were authored or published in the 1790s also argue that he then had more time to read and expand his library. Starting in the 1780s Reuben and Charity Wood had a family of eight children, four sons and four daughters, half of whom were still living at home at the time of the Census of 1810. With more than 600 acres of land to tend in the Polecat Creek/ Sandy Creek area, with eight children, and with the head of the family often gone for weeks or months at a stretch, it’s understandable that Reuben Wood gradually became a substantial slave owner.


[Burke County looking towards Tennessee]

Senator Sam Ervin observed of his ancestor, “Unlike most of his contemporaries at the early NC bar, he devoted his chief efforts to the law rather than to politics. As a consequence, he became noted as a wise counselor and skillful advocate.” Wood’s politics in truth may not have been suitable for either federal or state politics: his vote in the 1788 constitutional convention did not benefit the Federalist positions of James Iredell/ Alfred Moore/ William R. Davie, who later received appointments from Washington and Adams; his vote in 1789 also would not have endeared him to the Jeffersonian party where his brother Zebedee had voted the straight line. One political plum that Reuben Wood did receive late in his career was an appointment by the legislature as a “Counselor of State” from 1800 through 1806, which apparently was a something of an “in-house counsel” position giving advice to the Governor.

It’s possible that one reason he accumulated such a large personal collection was so that he could accept young men as law students.  When Andrew Jackson switched over to study law with John Stokes, he was following Spruce Macay’s recommendation to study with the man whose law library “exceeded any other in the region.” Wood’s collection would certainly have given him that reputation; even in 1821 the library of the Dialectic Society at the University in Chapel Hill was just a little more than twice its size.  Looking at the men who married his daughters gives us some evidence that Wood set about training a new generation of lawyers.  Joseph Wilson (1782-1829), a Quaker native of Guilford County, was Reuben Wood’s only confirmed student; he was licensed to practice law in 1804 and settled in Stokes County, where he served in the legislature. From 1812 until his death he served as State’s Attorney in the western district of North Carolina, the same job Reuben Wood had started twenty years before. Wood became so identified with bringing law and order to Western North Carolina that he was subsequently known as “the Great Solicitor.” Wilson’s brother Jethro Starbuck Wilson also likely studied with Wood; he married Wood’s daughter Laura (b.ca.1786), became a lawyer and went into practice in Charlotte. Further along the distaff side of the family tree, Senator Sam Ervin’s mother Laura Theresa Powe was the great-grandaughter of Mary and Joseph Wood’s daughter Laura Theresa Wilson (1808-1848), a family line which included five additional lawyers.


It’s not clear that any of Reuben Wood’s own sons followed him into the practice of law.  In fact, their relationships do not appear to have been close.  Oldest son John L. Wood was excluded from the draft will his father wrote, and appears to have left Randolph County for the western territories at an early date. When his father died, he was contacted in Tennessee, and his descendants settled in Arkansas.  Son Albert L. Wood was left only a life estate in part of the family property by his father, and soon followed his brother West; his family settled in Missouri.  There is some indication Joseph Wood became a frontier doctor; his family settled in Texas.  Youngest son Edwin may have been his father’s favorite; could he have been working to follow his father into the law?  Unfortunately, Edwin only survived his father by two years, the only one of the children to die so young.

Some sudden illness apparently came upon Reuben Wood in the summer of 1812; as is the case with many lawyers, his own personal affairs were not in good order.  He owed a number of outstanding debts, and he was owed payment for work done for clients on credit.  He drafted a will, obviously on his sick bed, which was not properly signed or witnessed, and was never probated.  Reuben Wood died at home in late July, 1812. Though he had wanted young Edwin to settle the estate, his brother-in-law Joseph Wilson took over, appointing guardians for the three minor children, settling the widow’s petition for dower support, conducting the inventory and the sale of Wood’s personal property. It is unknown how long Charity Wood survived her husband. All of the children had left Randolph County and all of Reuben’s real property had been sold by 1825, and so far no reliable records mention Charity. The location of the burial plot of Reuben Wood, Edwin Wood and perhaps Charity Wood is also unknown. Brother Zebedee and his family, who lived not far away from Reuben, are buried at Shiloh Methodist Church, near Julian.


Trying to reconstruct a man’s private and professional life almost 200 years after his death is not an easy task even when sources are plentiful. With the early founders and leaders of Randolph County, the sources are scattered, many puzzle pieces are missing, and without personal letters, journals or diaries, intellectual opinions and internal motivations are hard to imagine from the bare legal records that remain. Reuben Wood’s library offers a rare window into his mind, his interests, and his education- the only insight available, since absolutely nothing remains of his home, his grave, his physical existence. Perhaps the list of his books in Will Book 4 really is Reuben Wood’s most appropriate memorial.

Thankfully, the internet has now made research into Reuben Wood’s library much easier than it was just a decade ago. A study of the books Wood read and chose to purchase adds color to the picture of him outlined by Senator Sam Ervin in 1972: not just a hard-working, circuit-riding trial lawyer, but a philosopher of the law, a deep thinker on topics of constitutions and government, economics, and ethics. Well-educated in the classical tradition, and committed to educating others, he established a tradition of professional and public service that has endured down to the present day. Even after uncovering, sifting, and organizing all this information about Reuben Wood, it still surprises me that he and his brother Zebedee have been so completely forgotten by the county they served. A contemporary of the Founding Fathers, Reuben Wood should have been remembered as our Randolph County Adams, Jefferson or Madison. This is an attempt to correct that oversight.

Franklinville Methodist Cemetery

May 24, 2009

Franklinville M.E. Church Cemetery, ca. 1900; taken by George Russell?; author’s collection.

On this Memorial Day weekend I am speaking to the good people attending the Homecoming Services at the Mount Tabor United Methodist Memorial Chapel in Jackson Creek, and in a few days I’ll post pictures of that interesting little church and cemetery.

Appropriately, Memorial Day was originally (in 1868) begun as a way to honor the Yankee war dead, as family members “decorated” their graves with flowers. I’m offering here my favorite historic photograph of a cemetery, to illustrate the MASSIVE changes that have taken place over the past hundred years in our attitudes about honoring the dead. (The name wasn’t changed to Memorial Day until 1882, and for historical completeness I will note that Confederate Memorial Day in North Carolina occurred each May 10th, the anniversary of the death of Stonewall Jackson).

This photo shows the Franklinville Methodist Church Cemetery, part of the original 1830s village. It now crowns the hill top across from my home, the Coffin-Makepeace House, built originally by Elisha Coffin and for generations the home of George Makepeace family (for a thumbnail sketch see http://macwhat.googlepages.com/franklinvilleresidences – someday I’ll have a much longer post).

The “Factory House” in Franklinville was in full operation by March, 1840 [ Southern Citizen, 21 January 1840]; also in operation by that time was the Franklinville Methodist Church. On August 14, 1839, Elisha Coffin deeded a 1.64 acre tract to Phillip Horney, Alexander S. Horney, Elisha Coffin, Bethuel Coffin, and J.M.A. Drake, “Trustees for the Methodist Episcopal Church…who shall erect thereon a house or place of worship.” [Deed Book 24, page 190, Randolph County Registry]. The Quarterly Conference of the Randolph Circuit was held in the Franklinville Church on March 2, 1840, the church having been rapidly completed over the winter.  The congregation was five years old before a cemetery became necessary.  The oldest known burial is that of William Arnold (1786-1844), just east of the brick cemetery.  That grave, however, was not included in “half an acre laid out for a burying ground” deeded from Elisha Coffin the Phillip Horney, Alexander S. Horney, Benjamin F. Coffin, John M. Coffin, John Miller, John Hendricks, Joshua Pool, Trustees of the Franklinsville Methodist Church, on November 2, 1844.  The next oldest known burial is that of “Marcara” McCuiston Coffin (1778-1845), wife of Elisha Coffin.  Mrs. Coffin’s grave was specifically included in one-quarter of an acre deeded by Elisha Coffin to members of his family on July 5, 1848, and now known as the “Brick Cemetery”.

The Brick Cemetery, enclosing the grave of Marcara McCuiston Coffin, the Horneys, and the Makepeace family.

The Brick cemetery (a 4-foot-tall brick wall about 15 by 30 feet) isn’t visible in the historic photograph, but it is an example of the first rule of pre-20th century cemeteries: they were all enclosed with walls or fences, to keep out the horses, cattle and swine which ranged free across the landscape up to the time of the enclosure votes of the 1890s. The “Stock Law” votes reversed the ancient custom of stock ranging free on the ‘common lands,’ and thereafter livestock were required to be kept inside their owner’s fence. The wooden pale fence that still enclosed the entire Franklinville cemetery in 1900 is visible in the upper right background, and was the only part of the cemetery that was maintained by the church; by the 1920s it had been removed.

Maintenance of a cemetery has always been the responsibility of the “owner,” but the conception of who owns a cemetery has changed during the 20th century. At the time of the photograph, Franklinville residents would have said that the family of the deceased owned the plot that their loved one was buried in. Therefore, it was the family’s responsibility to keep the plot properly maintained. This picture shows us what proper maintenance looked like in the 19th century: 1. Each burial plot is individually marked with both headstone and footstone; 2. Each burial plot is properly mounded with dirt, to hide the inevitable sinking of a plot as the coffin and its contents decomposed; 3. The marble markers are kept clean and polished; 4. No weeds or grass are allowed to desecrate the surface of a grave.

At least once a year, but especially around Decoration Day, families would assemble in the cemetery to whitewash the fences, straighten the stones, repair or replace wooden markers (since only the wealthy could afford store-bought marble and granite), haul in extra dirt to top off the mound, and hoe out the invasive grass and weeds. That grew into a tradition of returning to the old family church for Homecomings and Dinners on the Ground, a tradition of country churches all over the South now coupled to Mothers Day or Fathers Day instead of Memorial Day (now more the starting gun for summer vacation than for remembering our war dead).


Franklinville Methodist Cemetery, May 24, 2009. Taken by the author from the same position as the historic photo above. The camera position is just off the southwest corner of the brick cemetery, looking west from the driveway separating the brick cemetery from the Victorian section of the grave yard.

As Americans became more mobile in the 20th century, families no longer lived in the community and attended their traditional family church. Gradually the church itself began to assume responsibility for maintaining the cemetery, and maintenance by committee revolutionized the look of country cemeteries. The first and the biggest change was in the grass- or actually, in the end of the complete and total lack of grass. Modern cemeteries are maintained, a great expense in time and energy, in the same fashion as 20th-century lawns came to be maintained- as open monocultural fields of non-native perennial grass. This resulted in shaving away of the mounds of dirt above each plot, and the loss of all footstones, so that lawnmowers didn’t have to negotiate these hazards. (Such things aren’t allowed on a golf course, so obviously they shouldn’t be allowed in a cemetery- right?) And as push mowers became riding mowers, and as riding mowers became bigger and bigger, even headstones were considered hazards. (This is why modern “memorial parks” require headstones flush with the ground, so mowers can ride right over them), and examples of these can be found right beside the brick cemetery).


More and more, headstones in cemeteries are considered obstacles to traffic, and only certain approved types of markers are allowed. The cast iron, painted wood and pottery markers that many Randolph County cemeteries once sported are long gone (some of the pottery markers have been preserved in museums, ironically).

Another change began in the 1980s, as shrinking small engine technology produced light-weight string trimmers (a/k/a “weed eaters”). This has also been deadly to tombstones, especially the oldest slate and soapstone markers, stones which were chosen because they were soft enough to be easily carved in the days before mass-market marble and granite. In any contest between soft stone and weed eater, the centripetal force of the nylon string will win. Early string trimmers ran between 3000 and 5000 RPM; 21st century trimmer commonly turn 10,000 or more RPM.


The result is ancient monuments being worn away where the base meets the ground surface, until they look like sharpened pencils. Then the weakened stones become even more vulnerable to riding lawnmowers driven like bumper cars.

There are of course people who argue against treating historic cemeteries like golf courses; the National Park Service recently hosted a national conference about cemetery preservation (http://www.ncptt.nps.gov/index.php/cemetery-landscape-preservation-workshop/ ). But even well-meaning people can go off track: I think of a large church cemetery north of Franklinville which raised money to sandblast its collection of headstones. It cleaned the mildew and moss off the marble, making them pearly white in the sun. But sand-blasting eroded the carving so that many markers are now almost impossible to read. Discolored marble can best be cleaned with a mild abrasive hand cleaner, a plastic bristle brush, a bucket of water, and some effort. Lichen and mildew can be killed by brushing a Chlorox solution on the stone.

I know of no historic cemetery which has been ‘restored’ in the way buildings have been, but it’s not impossible. We would just have to recover an appreciation for what our ancestors considered respect to the dead and responsibility to our ancestors. Instead we homogenize our cemeteries to remove all of their historic character.

NOTE:  Here is a blog showing the ongoing restoration of the old First Presbyterian cemetery in Greensboro, now the back yard of the Greensboro Historical Museum.  It is a fascinating read, and just the kind of thing I wished to see above.  The restoration company, Stone Setters Gravestone Repair [ http://www.stonesetters.biz/index.html ] are doing fantastic work.  I wish I had the money to set them loose on our Franklinville Methodist cemetery! (August ’09)

Bridge at Dunbar’s Ford, Uwharrie River

April 9, 2009


“Dunbar’s Bridge” was the name of this 1920s-era steel bridge over the Uwharrie at the time of my 1979 architectural inventory. A few years later it was the subject of a controversy when it was demolished by the Department of Transportation over the protests of local residents.  It has never been replaced, leading to the logical question of why it couldn’t have been left as a pedestrian bridge.  It continues to be a sort of controversy in the area, as neither printed nor online maps make it clear that the connection is broken and that the roads on each side of the river have become dead ends.

The origin of the bridge is found in the following petition of 132 southwestern Randolph and 31 southeastern Davidson residents, one of a number of similar documents located in “Miscellaneous Road Records,” North Carolina State Archives file C.R. 081.925.18. The petitioners are asking the county justices to spend county money on this project. A petition was the common method of the time to seek the construction of any public improvement, whether courthouse, jail, mill, road or bridge.  The Randolph County files at the state Archives in Raleigh have a number of such original petitions, given that our courthouse never burned and our courthouse personnel never threw anything away!

At the February 1832 term of court the county Justices appointed John INGRAM, James HODGIN, Jonathan REDING, John HENLEY and A. CUNNINGHAM to be commissioners for building a bridge at Dunbar’s ford.  Construction of the bridge was awarded to the lowest bidder John DUNBAR. When completed the bridge itself was 275 feet long; stone abutments on each end combined for a total length of 313 feet. The final report of the commissioners, filed February 5, 1833, showed the total cost of the bridge to be $600.00. The Justices took action based on the following petition asking them to spend county monies to build a bridge at that location. The petition was signed by 132 citizens of Randolph County, and interestingly, also by 31 citizens of Davidson County- virtually a census of the prominent taxpayer of southwestern Randolph.

I don’t know of any photograph of the Dunbar Covered Bridge; email if you do. The petition follows, after one last view of the steel bridge (both of these can be found in the Randolph Room collection at the Asheboro Public Library).


State of North Carolina

To the worshipful the Justices of the Court of pleas and quarter sessions for the County of Randolph: Greeting. We whose names are hereunto annexed having long Laboured under great inconveniance, and in common with divers others of the good citizens continuing to, and believing it not only to be within the power of the County Court, but your will, to redress the grievances of your fellow citizens wherever it may be expedient, respectfully show to your worships: that the river Uharie, a deep and rappid stream passing through the western part of the County, is often danger[ous], and commonly difficult of passage; that there is a portion of the citizens repectable for their numbers, residing in the western and southern part of the county, who feel the weight of the difficulties alluded to the more forcibly, being frequently prevented the privilege and advantage of attending at the seat of Justice for their own County, at times when it is necessary for them to do so. Much inconvenience is also experienced by the citizens on both sides of the Stream, in their common interaction one with the other.

Your petitioners would respectfully show to your worshipful body, that a good and substantial Bridge across said stream at some point at or near the place called Dunbar’s Ford, would produce a remedy for all their grievances. Further, we would show that there is an extensive and fertile section of county, embracing parts of the counties situate to the west of us, whose citizens labour under much inconvenience in the transportation of their produce to market, having the deep and rappid stream to pass, which is not susceptable of a Ferry, and yet not supplied with any Bridge. We would further show to your worships that a Bridge at the above point would produce a remedy for this; it being the most direct, and would then be the most commodious, rout[e] to Fayetteville, and other Eastern markets. It is also shown to your worships, that there is much inconvenience experienced by many persons traveling northwardly and southwardly. The road which of late is most traveled in that direction, leading directly down the Uharie on its Eastern side, being often obstructed where it passes the many small creeks near their conflux with the river, they being rendered impassable by the eddy in times of freshets in the river, which is frequent in the winter and all rainy seasons. If there [were] a Bridge at or near the aforesaid place, travelers would be spared this inconvenience, as they might pass the river here and proceed unobstructed.

Other cogent reasonings might be brought forward to how the great utility -and nesesity- of a Bridge at the aforesaid place, but without attempting to address them, you[r] memorialists beg leave to present their petition, with confidence that your worships will here and determine, and grant such order to be made as in your wisdom may seem right and expedient: And such only would your petitioners ever ask.

Apl. the 15th 1831.

Jeremiah JOHNSON                Z. RUSH

Jesse STEED                    David M. BURNEY

Jno. LEWIS                    Hezekiah ANDREWS

Robt. CHANDLER                Isaac KEERANS

Tristram COGGESHALL            Samuel G. WINSLOW

Henry HENLEY                [?] GOSS

Henry FULLER                Henry LYNDON

Stephen SCARLET

Thomas LOW

===

William Thompson                Thomas NANCE

E.M. (?) HARRIS                Wm. DENNIS

Peter STOUT                    Wyatt IVY

William F. WOOD                Mariedeth RIDGE

Allen KEERAN                James TAYLOR

John HALL                    Hudson NANCE Jun.

Solomon JACKSON                Marshel NANCE

Isaac JACKSON                Rowland ANDREWS

William JACKSON                Wilson HOWARD

Thos. LASSETER                John JACKSON

William INGRAM Jr.                Jesse GIBSON

Wm. ARNOLD                J{?} IVY

Isaac KEARNS Sn.                Eleazer WINSLOW

Silas KEARNS Sn.                Benjamin COOPER

P. WOOD                    D. WELBORN

Ivy KEARNS                    John HAMMON

Joseph TOLBERT (?)                Wood ARNOLD

Josiah KEERANS                Thos. BRANSON

Benj. JACKSON                Wm. BRANSON

Clement ARNOLD                Philip HORNEY

Whit ARNOLD                Benjamin BROOKSHIRE

Jonas K. WOOD                Z. NIXON

Edmond McGEEHE                D. GRAVES

Daniel THAYER                David HIX Sn.

Benjamin NANCE                Joseph LAMB

B.M. THAYER                Manaring BROOKSHERE

J.R. SEARY (?)                John LARSON (?)

John ARNOLD

===

Willus BROOKSHERE            Martin VUNCANNON

G. NIXON                    Daniel WILLIAMS Jr.

Jesse HUSSEY                Quintin LOWE

Thomas T. BROOKSHERE            Jesse DAVIS

James HALL                    A. FULLER

Allen SKEEN                    Stephen SCARLET

Cornelius LOFLIN                Davis HIX

David JACKSON                William BRANSON

John INGRAM                Davis HIX Senr.

Henry BOYET                Elijah JACKSON

John CRAWFORD                Joseph CONER

James M.A. DRAKE                John CONNER

Abner LEWIS                    Joel ROBINS

Hamon MILLER                Manaring BROOKSHER

Eli YORK                    William RIDGE

John JACKSON                P.N. NIXON

Penuel WOOD Junior                Thos. INGRAM

John KEERAN                Clement ARNOLD

Henry JACKSON                Joseph HENLEY

Thomas Low                    Alexr. GRAY

George W. GIBSON                Jno. HENLEY

Wyatt NANCE                Isaac THOMPSON

Miles FLOYD (his mark)

T. (?) HANCOCK

D. WILBORN

Jacob LUTHER

Michael LUTHER

(132)

===

A List of Petitioners Names

from Davidson County N.C.

R. HARRISS                    Solomon SNIDER

Ms. HARRISS                Z. YARBOROUGH

Calvin J. HARRISS                George GALLIMORE

Lewis SNIDER Jn.                Benjamin LENIER

Fras. DANIEL                John SNIDER

Jesse HARRISS, Snr.                Jesse GALLIMORE

James HUGS (?)                John HEDRICK Jn.

Simeon MORRIS                Philip GARDNER

David MYERS                Henry GARNER

Lewis LINIER                Redmond PIERCE

Sion HILL                    Samuel HUGHS

George GARNER                James WILLIAMS

Wm. A. GALLIMORE            Claton WRIGHT

Samuel SHORZ                Lewis WARD

Thos. KARNER

(31)

Water Fences and Check Dams

February 14, 2009

Caraway Creek Dam

Caraway Creek Dam

Warren Dixon provided the photo above, which is of a dam on Caraway Creek he was called on to investigate by the property owner.

He was interested by the fact that it is virtually identical to another dam he’d recently seen on nearby Taylor’s Creek, and by the facts that, though both dams are intact, neither impounds a pond or lake due to the carefully-designed and engineered drain in the center of the stream bed, and that neither dam has an associated foundations of structures or a mill.

I told him they looked like what old timers used to describe to me as “water fences.”

A “Water Fence” as I understood the term is a stone structure that was built across a waterway to decrease the speed of stream flow and to allow sediments to drop from the water.

Caraway Creek Dam- view 2

I think the correct technical engineering term is a “check dam” or silt-retention dam.   Temporary ones are called “silt fences;” they are the ones built of logs or rocks or hay bales staked across ditches to trap soil particles in run-off water during construction.

I’ve always thought of them like sediment ponds that impound water so the silt drops out, but large permanent ones like this would also have a flood-control function to eliminate destructive floods that would scour out the stream channel. Everything but the center hole is exactly the same as a permanent dam.  The carefully engineered spillway doesn’t strike me as necessary for a check dam, but unless there is a head races coming off the dam somewhere, and a way to open and close the center hole, I don’t see how these dams could have functioned to power any kind of mill.

Unlike a regular dam, a check dam isn’t mean to impound water permanently.   I think the large hole in the center base of the dam is to insure that the stream channel remains open and doesn’t clog with silt behind the dam.    Even during floods, water would continue to come out the center hole, and even at times pour over the spillway on top.

At least, this is how it was explained it to me. But soil conservation and erosion prevention are legacies from the Great Depression, and I’m not sure how worried people were about it 100, 150, 200 years ago.

When it comes to the time, effort and expense of building a stone dam like these, did property owners really do all that just to fertilize the fields with the silt? The trapped silt would act like annual fertilizer, and the dam would allow it to spread across the bottom land instead of building up behind the dam.  Today we’d also recognize that it allows the water to stay long enough to recharge ground water. Maybe that would have made it worthwhile.

Caraway Creek Dam panorama

Caraway Creek Dam panorama

I know there are more dams like these around Randolph County. What did you all out there think?