Tag Archives: North Carolina

Brunswick Town, North Carolina

One thing I’ve learned about historic sites is that the smaller and more obscure places often end up being the most interesting ones. Not that Gettysburg and Mount Vernon and Independence Hall aren’t interesting – they are. But when one visits the “big” sites, one often enters with preconceived notions. On the other hand, when one visits a place barely known, then the tablet is clean, and one is free to learn about the place without the voice of one’s high school history teacher echoing through one’s head.

I did have knowledge of Brunswick. After all, I taught one year of North Carolina history to fourth graders. But in an elementary school study of our state, the story of Brunswick was just a footnote. And now I know that the importance of the site is worth more than a passing nod. And I bet that children in Eastern North Carolina get a better look at Brunswick, just as students in the western part of the state are more likely to study about Thomas Wolfe and the Cherokee Nation.

Spanish Attack on Brunswick,by Claude Howell, 1964-1967

I’m not going to try to tell the entire story of Brunswick here, because my point is actually more generic. In a time when travel is risky, seek out the out of the way places, off the main tourist trail. Brunswick Town State Historic Site is only twenty-two miles from Wilmington, but it’s a bit off the beaten path. The only people there were the few people who sought it out. That made for a great experience both inside the museum and the grounds of the village.

But calling it a village is not really accurate. To see the town of Brunswick you would have to go back in time to around 1770. Today, all that’s left are the excavated foundations of some of the sixty-odd homes that were there in the eighteenth century, plus the walls of St. Philip’s Church. What was once a thriving port on the Cape Fear River was done in by a British attack in 1776. The town was once the winter quarters of the royal governors, and one, Governor Dobbs is buried under the ruined church.

Brunswick was still a thriving port when in 1765 the local merchants staged a revolt against the Stamp Act. Why do students not learn about that in history? It’s always Boston, Boston, Boston!

But upriver Wilmington was gaining in importance, and in 1770, royal governor Tryon moved his quarters to a new “palace” in New Bern. The decline of little Brunswick was sealed when the British burned it in 1776.

The site was abandoned until the Civil War. The port of Wilmington needed protecting, so an earthen fort, Fort Anderson, was built on the bank of the Cape Fear River. It did not fall to the Union until February, 1865. That led to the fall of Wilmington several days later. With its capture, the last important port of the Confederacy was closed.

Today the earthen banks of the fort are still there. It’s easy to see from the position just how important this obscure fort was for the survival of the Confederacy. Between this fort and several others along the river, Wilmington was well protected.

The trail that circles the site of Brunswick and Fort Anderson also includes a bit of a walk by the river and a small adjacent swamp. There’s a sign, “Caution, Be aware of wildlife.” In case you didn’t realize, there are alligators in this part of North Carolina.

And we were lucky to see two babies in the swamp. Look closely! I was just glad that their mama was nowhere around at the time.

Our visit to Brunswick encourages me to see more of out state historic sites. I have a few already in mind. Brunswick was hard hit, first from Hurricane Florence, and then from the coronavirus shutdown. When visiting these small sites, visit the gift shop and spend a few dollars to help out. Books are always a favorite with me.

I felt like the museum could do a better job of telling the story of all of the inhabitants of Brunswick. There are practically no mention of the women, and the people enslaved there were mentioned mainly as being “stolen” during a Spanish raid (seen in the mosaic above} and as workers at Fort Anderson. Of course, this is how history has been interpreted for the past millennia, but let’s hope that money will become available that will allow public funded sites to do a better job of including the stories of all people.

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Dressing for the Occasion at the Carl Sandburg Home

The last home of writer Carl Sandburg is located in Flat Rock, NC, and I’ve visited the home, now a national historic site, many times. Besides taking hundreds of fifth graders to see where the great poet lived, it’s a great place to hike and have a picnic. The last time we took the tour through the house, it was a bit disappointing because most of the furnishings had been removed for renovations. The house felt naked.

When Sandburg died in 1967 his widow Lilian sold the house and most of the contents to the US Department of Interior, with the goal of opening it to the public. As a result, the house has the feel of the family having just stepped outside. Someone on today’s tour called it a time capsule, but it is much more than that. It’s almost as if the house retains the spirit of the Sandburg family.

With the renovations complete, I wanted to see how the newly spruced-up house looked. To my great joy and surprise, for the first time clothing of the Sandburgs was also on display. Most are the property of the house, while some are in the possession of the Sandburgs’ granddaughter, Paula.

The house, Connemara, was built in 1839 as a summer home for Charlestonian Christopher Memminger. The house has been altered somewhat by subsequent owners, but if you look closely, you can see that this is an antebellum house. Memminger was quite wealthy, and he served as the secretary of the treasury for the Confederacy from 1861 to 1864. And while the Wikipedia article on Connemara refers to them as “servants”, Memminger kept enslaved persons on the property. A building identified as the wash house, and later a chicken house, was originally housing for the enslaved, which is acknowledged by a Park Service sign.

But to visit Connemara today, you don’t get the feeling that it is a fine house. It simply feels like the Sandburg home. I loved taking my fifth graders here because they always questioned how someone so famous could live in such an ordinary house with ordinary furnishings.  They were amazed at how “lived-in” the house was.

But back to the present, I must say the old house looks great with its new paint and freshly cleaned rugs, and whatever else was done. In the living room we see Carl’s chair, and one of his many hats. And books. The house contains thousands of books, all cataloged by the Library of Congress, and many still retaining the small slips of paper Carl used to mark the place of  passages he liked.

Probably the grandest thing in the home is this grand piano.  Carl often played his guitar in this room in the evening. And he was quite fond of plaid shirts.

Carl’s office is next to the living room, and in it are more books, of course.  I learned not to make assumptions after seeing his sweater and set of silk scarves. I assumed they belonged to Lilian, Carl’s wife.

But no, these belonged to Carl who enjoyed a bit of silk around his neck! He also wore the green visor, a holdover from his days as a newspaperman.

This denim chore jacket and skirt belonged to Lilian who wore them while working with her herd of prize-winning goats.  Mrs. Sandburg never wore pants.

These two garments belonged to Sandburg daughter Margaret, and were on display in the dining room. Yes, even the walls of the dining room are covered with books. This room has a wall of windows, and the family also used it for bird-watching. The brown suede jacket was Margaret’s birding jacket. Margaret was the family librarian, and often served as her father’s editor.

Carl had a small room beside his bedroom which he used for writing. He wrote at night, went to bed around 5 AM, and then joined the family for lunch at noon.

The house curatorial staff did a good job showing the Sandburgs wearing similar clothing in photographs. Note Carl’s green visor.

This dress belonged to daughter Janet. Janet helped with the goat farming. This looks like a quite youthful style, but Janet would have been in her sixties when she wore it. Neither Janet nor Margaret ever married, and they remained in the home until their father’s death. The third daughter, Helga, lived in the house with her two children until 1952, when she remarried and moved to Washington, DC.

This is Margaret’s bedroom. I wonder if this dress was made on the sewing machine in the background.

Lilian had the best room in the house.

The dress shown in this room was worn by Lilian on a visit to the White House. That’s her wearing the dress, with Carl on the grounds of the White House.

When the Sandburgs bought the house in 1946, the kitchen was located in a separate building, a practice common in antebellum houses. Lilian had a modern 1940s kitchen installed inside the house.

This is a view of the guestroom, which featured Lilian’s dressy silk frock from 1935. And, look! Another sewing machine!

Carl often took his books and writing to the out-of-doors. What could be a nicer place to write?

I have a few words to add about visiting historic sites. While the group which which I toured the house was small (fifteen), there were some things that probably drove the volunteer docent to drink. The last thing she said was to silence phones. We stepped into the house and, you guessed it, someone’s phone rang. The guy ignored it, and so the person on the other end began yelling into the voicemail. The docent finally had to unlock the front door and let the guy out to take his call.

Then there was the family – two little boys of around two and four and their parents. I usually cut parents of small kids some slack, but the docent had to continually tell the kids not to climb on the furniture, swing on the rope barriers, and keep hands off the artifacts. And the parents did nothing at all to keep the two in line.

In comparison, there was another family of older kids, maybe six and eight, and they were really well-behaved, and even asked questions. It was fun being with them, or would have been if not for the other family. I got the gist of the real problem as the tour was coming to an end and the docent asked if there were any other questions. The father piped up, “Yeah. Can we leave now?”

It was perhaps the rudest thing I’ve ever experienced in a museum or historic setting. But boy, does it not explain a lot about his kids?

 

 

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Air and Light: The Photography of Bayard Wootten

I was recently in need of a museum day, and so I drove out to Cullowhee, NC to the Mountain Heritage Center.  I was interested in seeing a group of photographs by North Carolina photographer Mary Bayard Morgan Wootten, whose archive is held by the library at UNC Chapel Hill.  Wootten’s is not exactly a household name, not even here in North Carolina, but I’d read enough about her to know I wanted to learn more.

The very short version of her biography is that she was born (1875) and reared in New Bern, NC, was educated at what is now UNC Greensboro, which was at the time a school to train women to be teachers.  She did teach art for a while, and eventually married and had two sons.  Her husband went off to the West, looking for fortune, leaving Bayard and the small boys abandoned.  Back in New Bern she worked as a decorative painter, but realized that there was more money to be made in photography.

She set up a photography studio in 1904, and her biggest money-maker was taking the portraits of guardsmen at nearby Camp Glenn.  Her reputation grew, and in the 1920s she moved her studio to Chapel Hill, where she was the official photographer of Yackety Yack, the UNC yearbook.  But her interest went beyond the studio, and during the 1920s through the 1950s, she traveled the Carolinas documenting people as they lived.  As a result, there is a vast archive of photographs showing the people of the Carolinas.

These top two photos are of Bayard, and were probably taken by her brother, George Moulton, who was her partner in the Chapel Hill studio.  The Wootten Archive contains over 90,000 items.  Unfortunately there was a fire at the studio in the early 1930s, so most of the photos and negatives post-date the fire.  Still, this was the time when Wootten did most of her documentary work.

All the illustrations for this post are my photos of the exhibition, so please pardon the reflections.  All the photos can be enlarged with a click.

Information for each photograph was somewhat limited, and I’m not sure if that is due to curatorial decision or the lack of documentation in the archive.  This photo was labeled Mrs. Wilma McNabb’s Porch, Western North Carolina, 1930s.  I love Wilma’s stylish dress, and the fact that it reputes the idea that mountain women were still in sunbonnets and prairie-style dresses in the twentieth century.

Gossips, [Western North Carolina] 1930s

Wootten was often commissioned to make photos to illustrate books.  This one can be found in Olive Tilford Dargan’s 1941 book, From My Highest Hill: Carolina Mountain Folks.

Weaver at Penland, North Carolina, circa 1934

Wootten also made many photos of crafts people at work at Penland School of Crafts.  Located near Spruce Pine, NC, Penland was founded by a cousin of Wootten’s, Lucy Morgan.  In this case we know that the weaver is Mae Gouge.

This photograph was labeled as being in a Greensboro textile mill, 1940s.  It’s actually earlier, as evidenced by the clothing and hair of the women workers.  They are inspecting the bolts of cloth.

Late 1920s, early 1930s is my estimate.  And even though child labor laws had been enacted, look at how young some of the girls are.  And even though their pay was very small, these young women managed to be somewhat fashionable, even on the job.

This is a textile spinning room, possibly in the same mill as the above one.  By the 1930s, mechanization had reduced the number of workers needed in a spinning room, and the spindle tenders were often very overworked.

This was probably my favorite of all the photographs.  Taken in Crossnore, NC, the surgeons are doctors Mary and Eustice Sloop.  Mary Sloop wrote a book about her experiences as a mountain doctor, and the formation of a school in Crossnore.  The couple preferred to operate outdoors due to the poor lighting in the buildings.  The presence of the three women in street clothing is a bit puzzling.  Maybe they were family members of the man on the table.

The Mountain Heritage Center is part of Western Carolina University.  The exhibits are in temporary quarters in the library, but will be moving to a new visitor’s center when it is completed.  That’s good, because right now the set-up is so limited, being split across two locations in the library.  And there is a quite large collection of artifacts concerning Western North Carolina, most of which are not on display.  There are also thousands of print items, some of which are available for viewing on their website.

All original images are copyright of the North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.

 

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Mount Airy, NC and The Andy Griffith Museum

Last week we found ourselves with a few hours to waste, and we happened to be near the small town of Mount Airy, NC.  Mount Airy is like thousands of other towns across the USA, except they have a big advantage in that an a celebrity, Andy Griffith, was born and reared there.  In the early 1960s Griffith had a hit TV program, The Andy Griffith Show, in which he starred as a sheriff in the small North Carolina town of Mayberry.

In case you aren’t familiar with the program, it is one of those that continues to live on in reruns, but more than that, it seems to symbolize to fans the small town America that so many people feel has been lost.  As such, the show still has many fans, most of whom seem to be of a certain age.

Of course this small town paradise, though actually based on the town of Mount Airy, was complete fiction.  It was the early and mid 1960s in the South, and most of American television showed few Blacks or other racial minorities, and Mayberry was no exception.  There were Black extras on the streets of Mayberry in many episodes, but not until the near of the end of the show’s run was a black actor actually cast in a guest role.

But what is authentic is that in the early 60s in most small towns in the South there would have been very little interaction between blacks and whites.  Andy would not have had a Black deputy and Black children would not have attended the same school as his son.  (I first attended school with Black children in 1966.) So like many other books, movies, and TV programs from the mid twentieth century, The Andy Griffith Show reflects a reality that most people would not find acceptable today.

It seems like I’ve been watching this show all my life.  I’m old enough that I watched the episodes when they first aired, in their original form.  Today when reruns are shown, the shows are cut so badly that much of what made it great has been lost.  Fans like to go on and on about how the program shows “a simpler time” but that isn’t what made the show great.  And it wasn’t the plots.  It was the tiny little interactions between the actors, and unfortunately, it’s those parts than tend to be replaced by ads for the latest miracle drug.

But back to Mount Airy.  It’s as though there is a complete Andy of Mayberry industry.  The downtown is full of businesses that sell souvenirs and memorabilia about the show.  There are the usual tee shirts and coffee mugs and such, but there are quite a few show-specific things that only a real fan of the show would understand.

This is a poster of a portrait that was in an episode about a haunted house.  That’s Old Man Rimshaw.

Another interesting item was this jar of pickles.  Aunt Bee was notorious for her horrible pickles.

Of course there is an Andy Griffith Museum, and I was quite amazed by some of the objects, even if presentation left a bit to be desired.  Especially interesting were the costumes.  The suit above was Barney Fife’s (as portrayed by actor Don Knotts) best suit, “the old salt and pepper” .  The suit has a label from the Cotroneo Costume Shop with Knott’s name typed on the label.

Andy Griffith almost always wore his sheriff’s uniform that included this shirt.  What a surprise to see that the shirt had a Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors label!

Probably the most interesting thing to me, though concerns two dresses worn by Maggie Peterson who played Charlene Darling in the program.  The dresses and matching shoes were not worn on the program, but were worn by Peterson on a variety show special in which she appeared with Griffith.

The museum also has the original sketches from designer Bob Mackie.  Who would have ever thought there would be Bob Mackie costumes in a small town in North Carolina?

A new exhibit at the museum features items from actress Betty Lynn, who played Thelma Lou, the girlfriend of Barney Fife.  Among the items she had donated to the museum are a USO uniform , trunk, and pistol she used while touring Asia near the end of WWII.  She was only seventeen when she joined the USO.

The museum was quite entertaining, but it really suffers from being in too small a space.  The walls are completely covered in memorabilia, much of which is redundant.  I’m pretty sure I saw the same photograph of Andy with his classmates in front of his school about three times.  Since visiting we learned that the museum will be in a larger space by the spring of 2017.  I sincerely hope so.

 

 

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North Carolina – Variety Vacationland

Here in the North Carolina mountains we are sort of between tourist seasons.  The summer season is over and it is another month until the fall leaf season gets crazy.  So while things are quiet around here, I thought I’d share a bit of vintage NC, from a booklet the state published.  There’s no date anywhere, but there is a note from Governor Gregg Cherry, who served from 1945 to 1949.  (Side note:  In Gastonia, Cherry’s hometown, it was said that sober he was the best lawyer in town, and drunk he was the second best.)

For those of you unfamiliar with my state, North Carolina starts at the Atlantic Ocean and ends at the crest of the Appalachians (app uh lach uns).  It’s a long, very diverse state.  People tend to confuse it with South Carolina, which is an entirely different place. It’s Charlotte, North Carolina, and Charleston, South Carolina.

I live in the mountains.  For long weekends I like to go to the coast, and in doing so pass on the highway people from the coast going to the mountains.  It’s a good system as it keeps the state even.  According to this brochure, there are also places to visit in the middle of the state, such as looking at the Old Well on the UNC Chapel Hill campus and riding to the hounds at Sedgefield. Somehow I think I’ll stick with the beach.

Mount Le Conte is along the crest of the Appalachians, right on the Tennessee line.  I’ve hiked that trail, and I can tell you that I did not do it in  a dress as the hiker above did.  This is very wild country, though in the summer there is a steady stream of people going up to spend the night at the Le Conte Lodge.

There’s another silly hiker wearing a dress.  I don’t know the location of this trail, but it looks a bit dangerous to me, and I’m used to mountain trails!  The dude ranch is probably the Cataloochee Ranch, which is still in operation.  It’s a beautiful place.

Cherokee is just west of me, near the entrance to the Great Smokies.  No, the Cherokee did not wear feathered headdresses, but a guy has to make a living.  Even today there are Cherokee “chiefs” set up along the side of the road waiting to be the tourist’s next photo op.

As you can see, Dry Falls are not really dry.  The name comes from the fact that one can walk behind the falls without getting wet, well, at least not much.

This is the Blowing Rock, which is near Boone.  There are all kinds of “legends” about the rock, most of which involve lovelorn Indians.

Lake Junaluska is just down the road from me, and it is a lovely little lake.  It is the site of the Methodist Assembly which was started in 1913.  The old camp style auditorium still stands, as do two old hotels from the era.

Now this is interesting.  Neel’s Creek, which is near Mount Mitchell, really was open for fishing only to women.  There were creeks nearby where husbands and boyfriends could fish, but men were not allowed at Neel’s Creek.  In the mid 1940s it was so popular that there was talk of making another trout stream women only.

I was just joking earlier about the middle of North Carolina being just a place to pass through.  The golfing is world class, and there are plenty of historic sites.

Pivers Island looks like a nice place in the late 1940s.  Today the little island is almost covered by a NOAA facility and the Duke University Marine Lab.  Behind the two women you get a glimpse of Beaufort, which is a fishing and sailing center, and a nice little historic town.

Happy sailing!

 

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Lily Mills of Shelby, North Carolina

We tend to think of the textile industry as makers of fabrics, but there really is a huge range of products that can be classified as textiles.  My state, North Carolina, has long been a grower of cotton, and much of the industry here involved the production of cotton products.  Much fabric was made, especially in the big denim mills like Cone, and also jersey knits were an important product.  Equally important were products like towels, socks, stockings, and bedding.  But one of the largest components of the industry was the spinning of yarns.

Lily Mills was located in Shelby, on the edge of cotton country in the piedmont of North Carolina.  It was founded in 1903 as the Lily Mill and Power Company by John Schenck.  It was one mill of a growing industry in the area, and by the 1940s, there were twenty spinning mills in the Shelby area, some of which were also making products that were then marketed by Lily Mills.

The range of products made by Lily is pretty amazing, everything from regular sewing thread to yarns for handweaving to heavy rug yarns.  To help promote their yarns they also published instruction booklets and marketed small looms for the home weaver.

Probably one of the most interesting things about Lily Mills was their relationship with the Penland School Of Crafts.  Penland, located near Spruce Pine, North Carolina, continues to be a highly regarded school for craftspersons.  In the late 1940s Lily Mills helped finance the Lily Loom House at Penland.  Weavers who attend classes today still work in the Lily Loom House.  In return, weaving instructors at Penland wrote booklets for Lily Mills, such as Practical Weaving Suggestions.

By the looks of the variety of booklets on eBay and Etsy, Lily Mills must have published booklets for every yarn they made.  There is an astounding amount of material.  And though I’ve never seen an example, I’ve read that during the 1940s they also marketed sewing patterns.

I found these sample cards a few weeks ago while traveling through the area.  I was struck at how fresh the colors remain.

There was no date on either card, but I’m guessing that the code at the bottom of them dates them to 1961 and 1962.

And while it has nothing to do with textiles, the Lily Mills has an important connection to the development of bluegrass music.  In the early 1940s banjo player Earl Scruggs worked at Lilly Mills and stayed with a fellow musician.  The area around Shelby was evidently a hive of three-fingered banjo pickers.  The style Scruggs developed became the standard for the bluegrass banjo.

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Wellco Shoes, Boots and Slippers

Photo copyright and courtesy of Small Earth Vintage

I’ve known about Wellco for a long time.  The factory used to be located just up the road a bit in Waynesville, North Carolina.  I guess I’d never considered doing a post about the company because in my mind they are makers of combat boots for the US military.  But there is a very interesting story behind Wellco, and some very pretty slippers.

The story revolves around Heinz Rollman who was a third generation shoemaker in Cologne, Germany.  In the 1930s he and his brother Ernst and two cousins,  Walter and Curt Kaufman, were working on ways to mold and attach rubber soles to leather uppers.   Because they were Jewish, in 1935 the family shoe factory was confiscated by the Nazi regime and was “aryanized.”  They then left the increasingly hostile atmosphere in Germany and settled in Brussels, Belgium where they formed a corporation to protect their patents and try and grow their business.

But by 1939, Germany was at war, and Belgium was being threatened.  The partners chose Heinz to go to the US to see if it was reasonable for them to relocate there.

In the US Heinz Rollman got in touch with rubber manufacturers, and found an ally in A.F. Friedlander, the owner of Dayton Tire and Rubber.   Together they scouted out for a location for a new rubber processing factory, and found the idea spot in Western North Carolina.  Friedlander built a factory, which became Dayco, and Rollman’s shoe operation was located in a wing of the factory.  Ernst Rollman was able to get to the US in 1941 with his wife and daughter, and after the war they were joined by the Kaufmans who spent much of the war in Switzerland.

Over the years the company was involved not only in making shoes and slippers, but also in research.  They held many patents on the vulcanization of rubber and  its application in shoe manufacturing.  In the 1960s they developed a combat boot for the US military that was suitable for the wet conditions of Vietnam, and ironically, many years later they developed a boot for the desert conditions of Iraq.

The most interesting part of this story is the man, Heinz Rollman.  He was known for his generosity and helpfulness, and many credit him with the original idea for the Peace Corps.  He wrote two books, My Plan for World Construction in 1952, and The Observer Corps, a Practical Basis for Peaceful Coexistence in 1957 that outlined how people from various countries interacting and helping one another might be beneficial for world peace.

I was pretty amazed at all the information there is on the internet concerning Heinz Rollman.  I found stories about his generosity on various local chat boards.  One told how he would visit a local store and spend $5000 a time on gifts for employees.   When the factory burned in the 1960s, Rollman paid the workers for the days they missed, and very quickly found a new building and machinery to get people back to work.  When people today lament the loss of American jobs, they are remembering businesses like Wellco and men like Heinz Rollman.

Wellco passed out of family hands several years ago, and the community was upset when the new owners abruptly moved the operation to Tennessee.  The slipper division was sold in the 1980s, but Wellco continues to make boots in Tennessee and elsewhere.

I want to thank Jan Schochet for alerting me to the Wellco story.  Jan co-wrote The Family Store, a book based on her research of Jewish businesses in Asheville.  Her family owned a store called The Bootery.  They sold Wellco shoes, mainly because Jan’s father was so impressed and moved by Heinz Rollman who personally traveled around the area with his suitcase of samples.

Correction:  I have corrected the name of Jan Schochet’s family store where Wellco shoes were sold.  It was the Bootery.  They also owned A Dancer’s Place.

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