Chapter 14 "The New Era"

Chapter 14


SOCIAL activities had always gone on sporadically in the county, and now began to be more pronounced. The continued growth and development of towns and communities-Burlington, Graham, Mebane, and the others-led to an increase in group and community social and cultural functions.

In the rural sections of the county, the old American custom of visiting was very popular. Communications were poor and the farms were isolated, so the country people looked forward eagerly to the visits of neighbors and friends and the exchange of news. Sometimes traveling peddlers would vend their wares through the county; their "foreign" clothes and accents brought curious stares and hesitant questions from the untraveled people of the land. They seemed strange and exotic and interesting, with their "Yankee brogues" and their casual mention of far-away places like Philadelphia and New York and Boston.

Sports held a prominent place in the social life of the county during this period. Hunting and fishing were popular among the men, and self-styled marksmen often matched their skill at "turkey shoots". Wagon, buggy, and horse races were often held, and brought great excitement to the spectators. It was a stirring sight to see pairs of fine horses thundering along, raising clouds of dust and roars of encouragement and ovation.

Baseball was in its infancy then, but it has become extremely popular in the county. Each community had its team, and rivalries were keen. The game as it was then played was rather crude and unperfected, and the scores were usually large. In 1887, for instance, the Graham Mutuals defeated Company Shops by the score of 41-38. Rounders, a form of baseball, was often played when a regular game couldn't be organized. In this game, each player



started at left field and, as batsmen were retired, played each position until he came to bat.

Whenever groups of people gathered for festive occasions, such as auctions, physical contests were held for entertainment. Rough and tumble wrestling, boxing, high jumping, broad jumping-all were popular interludes in the day's business. For those who preferred less strenuous exercise, "barnyard golf," or horseshoe pitching, had its attractions.

The first Alamance County fair was held in a warehouse on Davis Street in Burlington on October 10-11, 1888, and was attended by a large crowd. The same year, the County Fair Association signed a 30-year lease for 12 acres of the county poor house lands to be used as a permanent fairground. This land lay between Graham and Burlington at the present site of the Cloth Finishing Plant of Burlington Mills, near which a small section of the old race track can still be seen.

Annual fairs were held here for many years, and people came to Alamance from some distances to attend them. On the morning of a fair, the grounds would begin to fill early with eager and expectant people. Some walked, some rode horses, some came in buggies or wagons, and some pedaled awkward and tricky "wheels", or bicycles. A long table was set up inside the race track, and here the picnic lunches were spread.

The speech was the featured part of the fair, and in that day of no loudspeakers those who were interested gathered around the dignitaries, while those who were indifferent retired to a shady spot and lit a pipe or bit a "chaw of plug". When it became time for the horse race, the track was cleared and the spectators watched the line of handsome horses prance into position.

The fair was famous for its fine pure-bred horses. One well-known horse was Esperanza, from the stables of Colonel Julius Harden, and another was John R. Gentry, from L. Banks Holt's Alamance Farm at Graham. In 1894, the latter horse, at Terre Haute, Ind., paced a mile in 2:03 minutes to set a new record for stallions.

Livestock, farm, and home exhibits were held and the midway operated, but for children of all ages the big thrill was the balloon flight. They watched excitedly as the big bag filled with



hot air from a kerosene burner, then soared skyward with the balloonist doing stunts on a suspended trapeze. Soon he opened a parachute and floated back to earth, while the balloon rose a few hundred feet, was turned upside-down by sand bags on one side, and quickly descended under a trail of smoke.

For the gentler sex, entertainment during this period ran to croquet, spelling bees, quiltings, and dances. In the rural sections of the county, barn-raisings and corn-huskings brought together groups of both sexes in a festive spirit.

It is interesting to look back into some details of daily life of this period in Burlington and the county. These glimpses seem quaint and curious today, but old-timers will remember them with perhaps a twinge of nostalgia.

Take a walk down Main Street of the Burlington of 1900. Stroll along the two-board sidewalk, light up your "White Roll" cigarette, and observe the early days of Burlington. There is less than a solid block of business houses on Main Street, and some of these are false-fronted wooden structures. They look out on a rough dirt street that disappears south through an avenue of trees and comes to an abrupt halt at the passenger station to the north.

Horses hitched to wagons and buggies are tied up at telegraph poles and hitching posts along the street. There are no automobiles to be seen, but a daring fellow pedals by on his skyscraper bicycle, narrowly missing a boy who scuffs along the road in his brass-toed shoes. A woman comes by in her bustle and long skirt, heading for B. A. Sellars' store; she wears no lipstick, but her nose is carefully powdered.

The buggies and horses of the rural mail carriers are lined up in front of the post office on Main Street, and a crowd of people waits at the railroad station to watch the train come in and leave. A gentleman passes in his stovepipe breeches, carrying a can of red kerosene for his household lamps, while another stops at the "butcher shop"-a wagonload of meat cuts, with a cloth stretched over them. His meat is weighed out, and he clomps away in his heavy brogans.

The street light tender lays his little box under one of the lamps, stands on it, and raises a long pole bearing a blade on the



end. Flicking open the lamp glass, he trims the carbon from the wick. Then he closes the glass, picks up the box and heads for the next lamp.

A laughing and jostling group of teen-age boys passes down the street, going toward the Company pond (south of the present Pine Hill Cemetery), where they will watch the pump as it sends water over to the tank in town-the tank from which the locomotives are filled. This pond is one of their favorite recreation places.

A child swings gaily from the stirrups of the life-size dummy horse at the entrance of Kirk Holt's hardware store, and the wooden Indian standing in front of the Stafford and Stroud Drug Company building stares blindly into the past. A man with a swollen jaw strides past toward the new office of Dr. R. W. Morrow, the town's first dentist.

Wagons pass, loaded with hay and feed for the numerous livery stables in town, and a nattily-dressed young man with a girl at his side runs the gauntlet of stares and smirks in his rented buggy. A matron fills her pails at the town pump and walks toward her house, shooing some chickens out of her path.

And so passed a day in Burlington in 1900-an average, uneventful day in the lives of the pioneers of the modern city, and of modern Alamance County.

But there were important and significant events taking place during this period, too; events that were to influence the growth of the county, and were to be recounted to the children of the future. Many structures were standing then that were to be important in the history of the area; some still stand, and some have vanished.

One such building was the Railroad Hotel. Built by the railroad company primarily for the use of its passengers, it stood just south of the present passenger station. It had about 30 rooms-without bath-with a daily rate in 1900 of two dollars. This rate included three meals, a washbowl and a towel-and a chair on the porch. The food served in the hotel dining room was famous all along the railroad. Quail, turkey, and chicken were often on the menu, and trains stopped regularly to allow their passengers to dine there. The conductors would wire from Mc-



Leansville or from Hillsboro to tell the number of passengers to be expected, and when the trains arrived at Burlington, food would be ready. Many notable public figures lunched there, including Thomas A. Edison and Henry Ford.

But the end came for the famous and popular hotel on the morning of May 25, 1904. A disgruntled Negro employee poured kerosene on the floor of the kitchen and dining room and set it afire; flames soon enveloped the structure. Fortunately, all the guests, including Polk Miller, a famous entertainer of the day, escaped unharmed; but the hotel was a total loss. The Negro was captured, tried, and sent to prison, but the hotel was never rebuilt.

A vigorous national temperance crusade was going on in that period, and it reached into Alamance County. Visiting lecturers spoke at temperance lodges in the various county communities, and the famous Carrie Nation once swung her hatchet in Graham. Followed by a crowd of onlookers, she strode purposefully down Main Street toward the saloon which stood on Court Square, and city officials waited fearfully for the sounds of shattering glass and splintering wood. Their fears were unfounded, however, for she contented herself after she arrived with making a resounding temperance speech.

Heavy rains in 1875 caused a series of damaging floods throughout the county. Thirty-five feet of the rock dam at Dr. Wilson's mill on Haw River was washed away, and the bridge across Big Alamance Creek was severely damaged. The bridge across the same stream at E. M. Holt's factory was entirely swept away by the raging waters. A county editor the following month published this notice:

"The bridge at Clem C. Curtis' was repaired last week. Good crossing there now. You people on the other side bring us something to eat, and come to see us, and bring us some wood, and subscribe for our paper."

Public roads were unpaved and ill-kept during this period in the county, as all over the state, and the situation moved one editor to write:

"The conditions of some (public roads) are well nigh impassable, scarcely anywhere good. Transportation for farmers at some seasons is next to impossible, there is a risk of breaking ve-



hicles and getting fast in the mud. The cost of bad roads to a community cannot be estimated. The statute in regard to keeping roads (up) is a dead law; roads should be kept up by taxation. The law (for appointing road overseers, etc) always was unjust but since the war it has been especially so. One class of men cut up the roads, and another class has them to work and keep in order."

Troupes of itinerant performers traveled through the county and put on their shows in warehouses and other such makeshift auditoriums as could be employed. In 1875, such an amateur troupe played "Ten Nights In A Barroom" at Company Shops, drawing a large audience from the surrounding section.

One of the greatest celebrations chat had ever taken place in the county occurred at the unveiling of the monument at Alamance Battleground on May 29, 1880. It began with the assembly at Court Square in Graham of a band, several marshals, and a number of county and state dignitaries. They set out for the Battleground and, as the band played, rode majestically past the thousands of spectators who lined the route. The parade moved slowly, and the band serenaded the onlookers, many of whom had never before heard a martial strain.

There was no bridge then at the factory at Alamance, so the procession had to ford Alamance Creek between the dam and the factory. It passed on through the community, followed by a long line of private carriages, wagons, carts, buggies, horses, and pedestrians, and soon arrived at the Battleground.

As everyone gathered around to look, an unidentified little girl pulled the string, and the veil slipped off the impressive monument. Then the speeches got underway. The invocation was delivered by Dr. William Long, later founder and president of Elon College, and then the featured speaker, Daniel G. Fowle, later governor of North Carolina, was introduced by Thomas W. Holt, also later governor of the state.


For 20 years following the Civil War period, the thought of war and of marching feet was unpopular in Alamance County. The memories of the privations of that conflict and the terrors of the Reconstruction were too vivid to permit a martial spirit to gain



much headway. The times were essentially peaceful, and little need was seen for a local militia.

In the late 1880's, E. C. Holt of Burlington travelled to Europe and observed the military establishments of several of the countries there-notably that of newly powerful Prussia. He returned home with plans to form a body of militia in Alamance County modelled after the Prussian Army in uniforms and organization.

In 1890, he organized this unit, Company F of the Third North Carolina State Guard, Light Infantry. The uniforms were quite distinctive, with Prussian-type blouses and spiked metal helmets. Holt commanded the unit as captain; W. H. Carroll, later a county judge, was first lieutenant; James H. Holt, brother of Captain Holt, was second lieutenant, and W. K. (Kirk) Holt was the Company first sergeant.

The outfit functioned under Captain Holt for four years, and then Lieutenant J. H. Holt became captain and company commander. The drills were held on a field behind the Burlington Coffin Company factory, and the unit had an armory on the corner that is the present site of the Raylass Department Store.

In 1898, "Remember the Maine!" flashed in from Cuba, and Captain Holt immediately arranged to increase his company of volunteers and take them to the war. The trainload of patriots, who called themselves the "Alamance Regulators," left Burlington for Raleigh, but the men as a unit were destined never to see Havana harbor nor to climb the slopes of San Juan Hill.

Regulations required that company strength must be 113 men before it could be mustered into the regular United States forces and the Alamance unit was far below this level in number. After the group reached Raleigh, it remained there a month while Captain Holt tried vainly to recruit new men. E. H. Murray, later Alamance County clerk of the court, was one of the volunteers in the company. He said later:


"We were bedded down in straw near the State Fairground for a month while Captain Holt tried to get new recruits. He even tried to buy enough men to fill out his company. He bartered with another aspirant for a captaincy from Washington, N. C., offer-



ing to pay for the men and take the leader into his company as a lieutenant . . . and I think he paid over $600 and never got a man."

The unit returned home but some of the men joined other companies and saw action in the war.

In 1917, Company F became Company I, 120th Infantry, in the National Guard.

But by that time war was raging in Europe, and once again Alamance County must answer the call to arms.



Chapter 5

Chapter 10

Chapter 16

Chapter 21

Chapter 1

Chapter 6

Chapter 11

Chapter 17


Chapter 2

Chapter 7

Chapter 12

Chapter 18

Book Index

Chapter 3

Chapter 8

Chapter 13

Chapter 19

Chapter 4

Chapter 9

Chapter 15

Chapter 20