The Town of Marshall, North Carolina
Deadwood, South Dakota in its heyday couldn’t hold a light to the town of Marshall, North Carolina in the 40’s and 50’s. Please keep in mind this story is told from the memory of a child. It is as close to historically correct as I remember. Any omissions or incorrect perceptions are purely not intentional.
Saturday was our big day to travel to Marshall. Mama taught at White Rock School and when Friday came, we started to get excited about our trip to town to get all the things we needed that couldn’t be bought from the peddler, to get the car serviced, to get medicine and MAYBE go to the movie! We left early, traveling slowly down the dirt road from White Rock to Belva. Once we got to Belva, the traffic stream began. This being the only route from Greeneville, Tennessee to Asheville and beyond, the road was filled with transfer trucks (before we called them 18 wheelers), cattle trucks going to the stockyard and various other travelers making the same sojourn as us. It was slow going as we made our way along Laurel River to the Old Mill Wheel, then the traffic became even more congested as the travelers and trucks coming from Newport, Tennessee joined our caravan. The road was curvy and winding and mama said sometimes you’d meet yourself coming back the other way the curves were so sharp. We made our way past Obray Ramsey’s and sometimes he and Bard (Ray), both of them our cousins, would be making the beautiful mountain music they were so famous for. People came from miles around to just sit and pick with them. As we made it to the top of Hopewell Mountain, sometimes mama would stop at Hartford Tweed’s. She had gone to college with Jeanette and they were both teachers. Down from Hopewell, we only had Walnut Mountain to conquer and we would be headed into Marshall.
Close your eyes and transport yourself back in time and memory. Be a single brick high on the wall of the Court House. Smell the wondrous aromas winding their way to you from the cafes, the cotton mill, the lumber yards and the coal burning stoves. Watch an amazingly diverse group of people as they pass by. Some walking, some sitting on the benches that lined Main Street, talking to one another and swapping stories. Some folks are just passing through. Passing through the only town on the road from Greeneville, Tennessee to Asheville.
The sounds. Hear the train coming as it approaches Barnard carrying a load of coal out of Kentucky, carrying passengers from all walks of life, going from here to there. See the children lined up along the track pumping their arms up and down to get the engineer to blow his whistle even more. Hear the engine cross the trestle above Rollins and the caboose nowhere in sight. There are loads of chickens, cattle and livestock on the transfer trucks, stopped to get gas at one of the many service stations and a bite to eat before traveling on south to yet another destination. Young boys would “jump” the train down at Barnard and ride the coal cars to just before the train reached the trestle where it crossed the French Broad. All along the way, they would throw chunks of coal off to the houses that were beside the track, especially going through Rollins, which was a very populated community. I guess the statute of limitations will keep any prosecution of parties involved in those capers at bay.
You could reach out and touch the amazing people whose lives impacted ours and all citizens of this county and made it what it is today. It is history, and sometimes history is remembered differently by each individual. There may be some people I fail to remember. There may be some business I fail to remember. That does not mean they are any less important than the others. They are remembered by others and they still impacted the history of our county.
As you are morphed into the little brick once again, sitting high atop the Court House, you look to your right and see the Ray family making their Saturday trip into town. The first thing they see is an amazingly abundant assortment of people, cars and trucks. The Missionary Baptist Church sat where it does now, on the right as you enter town. Let’s pretend now that we stop the car and walk down the right side of the street to the court house, then turn around and walk back to the car on the left side. For my remembrance, there is less confusion that way. The first waft of good food hit your nostrils as you neared the Light House Grill, next up the street on the right were two small rental houses and then Nip and Paul Pegg’s Gulf station. There was always a line at all the gas stations. Next on the right was the Houston Brothers International Harvester dealership. International was a big outfit back then and with all the farmers in the county, they did a booming business. Dr. McElroy’s office was next and it had an apartment over it. Next was Choppy and Valerie Shelton’s house with their next door neighbors Kyle and Bett English. Redmon and Worley and then Chandler Hardware. The theatre was next and I didn’t want to pass it up because the popcorn aroma was just the best ever. You could get Necco wafers and Mary Jane’s at the concession stand and fountain cokes. Beside the theatre was Service Motor Sales, the Ford dealership, run by Mr. John Corbett. P.R. Elam Farm Supply was next. Mr. Elam came to Marshall as a farm agent, married Julia Roberts, and then opened the supply store. Ahh, and next was Home Electric. We always spent time in this store. They had furniture and wood cook stoves, all parts for wood stoves, grates, and stove blacking. Granny always kept a rag with her stove blacking in a jar and kept her cook stove all shiny. They also sold Red Flyer wagons and bicycles and toys, just a great place to spend some time. Home Electric was run by Leonard Baker and Delmar Payne.
Now we cross the street to the other side and make our way back down to the lower end of town. The Rock Café stands where it does now. It stayed full most of the time from courthouse traffic, as did the other cafes. Next to the Rock Café was Service Motor Sales used car lot. There was a two story building after that and I don’t remember it used for anything but storage. The rock building next was the Methodist Church. There began to be fewer and fewer members of the church and it finally closed. Beside it was Eva Sams’ house, then the Fisher house, Scobey Proffitt and Loy P. Roberts. There was a duplex next for rental. I’m not sure who the owners were. Joe Webb’s Esso station was also always busy. Folks would line up for the 20 cent a gallon gasoline. Sometimes there would be a gas war among the five station owners and gas would go down to 15 cents a gallon. Now we are back in the car and headed on up the street to the upper end of town.
Behind Home Electric there on the corner were two big double doors where P.R. Elam Farm Supply would get supplies. There used to be a café going on down that street toward the railroad track. Mama said there used to be a beer joint in there at one time. Then the building on the end across from the jail I remember as being empty. We didn’t go down that street much, except to try to find a parking place, which were far and few between.
From the Court House going up the street was French Broad Bank followed by a little bicycle store. I though folks were really rich that would go in there a come out with a shiny red Schwinn bicycle. All kinds of bicycle parts, pumps, tires, etc., were in that one little building. Stewart Tourist Home was next and then Marshall Baptist Church. Wild’s Radio was there on the corner where the road turned up to corkscrew and Balsam Tourist Court. On the corner across corkscrew from Wild’s was Bill Hunter’s Esso station. Another very popular place. There was a two story white house next and then Doc Treadway’s shoe shop. There is a story told to me by Doc’s son, “Shine” Treadway about his father having a horrible toothache. Doc had tried everything to get it to stop hurting. One night after no sleep at all from the tooth, he got up, got a horseshoe nail, prised it down underneath that tooth, hit the end of the nail with a shoe hammer and popped that tooth out. He then took the tooth, layed it on an anvil and smashed it to powder with the hammer. “Now thump and throb, d…..you”. The post office was next with two more houses then Story Printing where the News Record office was. What a legend “Pop” Story is. Those of us who knew him are indeed privileged. Mr. Chick Murray ran the Chevrolet Dealership. They had gas pumps also. This was followed by the Presbyterian Church. There was a garage apartment after that, then Troy Ramsey Motor Sales. Mr. Ramsey was the friendliest and outgoing person, always ready to sell you a car or sometimes even loan you one. He’d say “Go ahead and drive it for a day or two and then come back and we’ll make you a good deal on it if you like it”. You didn’t have to leave a copy of your driver’s license. All you needed was your good name, that and a handshake were bonds and bonds that one did not break. Next to Troy’s was Snooks Haney’s Amoco Station and then the George Robinette house where he lived with his sister(s). The big building on the end there was Edward’s Cleaners run by James Penland. He had trucks that would have routes to go pick up cleaning and laundry and deliver it back. The pipes that ventilated the laundry smells to the outside always smelled clean and made you want to go inside and visit and get a drink out of the machine and just talk a spell. After the cleaners was Pee Wee Ward’s East End gas station. Pee Wee had some small one room buildings out back of the station and these were rented out to truckers who needed a place to stay for the night to get some rest before hitting the road again. One colorful character named Hambone was a permanent resident in one of the houses. He was the wash and wax fellow and was busy all the time with folks leaving their cars all day for him to put a spit and polish shine that was second to none. You could go by Pee Wee’s station late at night, pump yourself $1.00 worth of gas, leave him a note and go by and pay him later. I don’t think anyone ever failed to come by and pay him. He would say “I know where you live boy”. After his station was the City Café and then Teague Milling Company. Now there was a popular place. I remember the 100 pound sacks of feed stacked and stacked. Horse feed, cow feed, corn, pig feed, oats, any kind of mixture of livestock feed imaginable. You could take your corn or flour there to be ground. I still have an empty bag that held Snow White flour, made from selected Madison County wheat and guaranteed to give absolute satisfaction or your money back. You could either pay him for grinding or he would take a percentage of the flour for payment. An interesting place was the mill, watching the gears grind and crush the wheat, brush the chaff and end up with the whitest flour you ever did see.
So now we’ve reached the upper end of town on the left and cross the street to the depot. The trains carried passengers until the 50’s so there was always a crowd about. Some people coming home, some just stopping on their way to somewhere else. I always thought it odd back then that the bathrooms had signs that said “Whites Only” and the water fountain said “whites only”. I tried to get mama to explain it to me and she said she would tell me later, but never did. There was a bathroom that said “colored” in the depot, but as far as I know, I never did see another sign in town that said that. There were three hardware storage buildings adjoining the depot with the Street Car Diner next.
Daisy Ricker managed the Street Car Diner for Mr.Fats Plemmons. I didn't realize back then what an important, influential and impacting part she would play in my life. She could tell you right down to the very penny how much each serving on your plate cost her. She could do this for every item on the menu from hot dogs to pinto beans and cornbread, with an onion on top. She said this was her most popular item. She always told me “Take care of the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves”. The most impacting thing she always said to both me and my children was “A way will be made for you”. I go by that even in the most stressful times and in all decisions. Mr. Plemmons also had a small ice cream parlor next to the café. We didn’t worry about how many fat grams the big cones had in them, we just sat and enjoyed them. The Pontiac Dealership was next , run by Fred Freeman, with hardware storage buildings behind them. These storage buildings were handy to the railroad cars so that unloading and storing was relatively easy. The REA building was next, my how that has grown and since then has become French Broad Electric Membership Corporation. Hardware stores were in abundance next with Builder’s Supply and Sprinkle-Shelton. If you turned left at Sprinkle-Shelton, it took you across the bridge to the cotton mill and Coal, Feed and Lumber Company was there on the left before you crossed the river, with the Legion Hall on the right. Now that place really got my curiosity going. Us being children and much more vulnerable than kids our age nowadays, we believed everything that was told to us about what went on in that building, from ghosts, yes, I was told it was haunted. Ahhh, the images conjured up in a child’s mind about things unknown. If you crossed the street at Builder’s Supply, you were at Russ Wilson’s Philips 66 Service Station. There was Four Season’s Heating run by Ralph Slagle, then the biggest chain department store of Belk-Broome. It is the same Belk that is in operation today, but we get to remember it as old timers when it sold dresses and suits and perfume and all things wonderful. Bowman Funeral Home was run by Mr. Dedrick Bowman, Carl’s brother. The Winn-Dixie store was next. Papaw Canter always called it the “when in Dixie” store and believed that was what it was. Mrs. Rice’s variety shop was next. I remember all the pretty artificial flowers she had that were made into wreaths for the cemetery. You could get one for your loved one in any size, shape or form at Mrs. Rice’s. Citizens Bank and then Carey Tipton’s café. There was Dodson’s Dry Goods store, which later became Pen land and Dorn, Pen land and Tweed (E.R.) and then Penland and sons when Mr. Jim Penland added his sons Joe and George. Penland’s was (and is still) one of the finest stores in the country. They had Pointer overalls from birth age size on up until the biggest size you could imagine. I remember George had a huge pair hanging on the wall and they almost covered the entire wall. I know those things were two axe handles across the belly. I don’t think that anyone ever bought them, but if they didn’t have your size, you could be sure he could get it in by the next time you came in. I always wondered how long it took to make those stiff, dark blue, shiny buckled overalls to turn into the soft, faded and comfortable ones that my uncle Travis always wore. They were so soft you could barely feel them. I don’t ever remember him wearing a new, shiny pair, but I’m sure sometime he had to have broken them in. Balsam Beauty Shop was run by Mrs. George Penland. Mama always liked to get her hair “done” and Barbara Penland was one of the best. When mama got into her “golden” years and became more and more frail, Barbara would always make a way to do her hair. When mama had to walk with a walker that wouldn’t go thru the door to the back, Barbara and I (or my sister) would almost carry her back and put her in the chair. When mama passed, she had wanted Barbara to do her hair and she did. She wouldn’t charge us a penny. Next was Model Grocery, McKinney’s Department Store, Bowman Hardware, the A&P and then Robert’s Pharmacy. It had a lunch counter and a fountain where you could get the most mouth watering Vanilla Coke in the world, made from real syrup and carbonated water. They had a perfume counter and a hair supply counter, all kinds of boxed candies and pharmaceuticals and herbs of all descriptions. Ice cream by the cone and sundaes and all things delicious were served there. The other pharmacy was Moore's and it was run by the pharmacist, Mr. Dinwiddie
The five service stations in town were busy from daylight to dark and after with lines forming down the street to fill up with gas. They were truly “full service” stations with oil changes and lube, repairs, tires, belts and hoses of all descriptions. Pee Wee Ward ran the East End gas station, Snooks Haney ran the Amoco, Bill Hunter ran the Esso, Russ Wilson had the Philips 66 and Joe Webb had the other Esso. Pee Wee had small one room houses out back of his station with a simple bed and light that truck drivers could rent for an overnight stay before they hit the road again. One colorful character named Hambone was a permanent resident in one of the houses. He was the wash and wax fellow and was busy all the time with folks leaving their cars all day for him to put a spit and polish shine that was second to none. Gas was 20 cents a gallon, but sometimes they would have a “gas war” where each station would decrease their price a penny, then another would lower it a penny lower than that until sometimes you could get a fill up for 15 cents a gallon. Honesty was a man's word back then. If you were out late at night and needed gas, you could go to Pee Wee's, get 50 cents worth of gas and leave him and note and he knew you were good for it. The Chevrolet dealership and the Ford dealership had their own gas pumps and you could get gas there too if you had taken your car in for service.
The five automobile dealerships were the Pontiac, with Fred Freeman. This dealership was where the Ponder Auto Supply store was before it burned recently. Chick Murray had the Chevrolet dealership. The Ford dealership was Service Motor Sales run by John Corbett. International Harvester was owned by the Houston brothers and the Dodge/Plymouth owned by Robell Redmon and Theodore Worley. These businesses stayed very busy.
The two pharmacies were Robert's run by Vena and Bob Davis. It had a lunch counter and a fountain where you could get the most mouth watering Vanilla Coke in the world, made from real syrup and carbonated water. They had a perfume counter and a hair supply counter, all kinds of boxed candies and pharmaceuticals and herbs of all descriptions. Ice cream by the cone and sundaes and all things delicious were served there. The other pharmacy was Moore's and it was run by the pharmacist, Mr. Dinwiddie.
Cafe's abounded and the smells would make you hungry even if you weren't. I never had the problem of not being hungry. There were five cafe's; the Rock Cafe, the same place it is now, the Light House Grill, Carey Tipton's Cafe, the Street Car Diner run by Fats Plemmons and the City Cafe on the East end of town. Daisy Ricker managed the Street Car Diner for Mr. Plemmons. I didn't realize back then what an important, influential and impacting part she would play in my life. She could tell you right down to the very penny how much each serving on your plate cost her. She could do this for every item on the menu from hot dogs to pinto beans and cornbread, with an onion on top. She said this was her most popular item. She always told me “Take care of the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves”. The most impacting thing she always said to both me and my children was “A way will be made for you”. I go by that even in the most stressful times and in all decisions.
Four grocery stores were: the A&P managed by Joe Eads, the Winn-Dixie run by Kelly and Charles Davis. Pa Paw Canter always thought of it as the “When in Dixie” and called it that. Dodson's grocery store was locally owned as opposed to being a chain like the other two. I can still smell 8 o'clock coffee that was freshly ground in the A&P. A couple of doors up the street from Dodson's was the Model Grocery run by Ron Sprinkle. They carried local produce, milk, eggs and butter from all around the county. Boys from the high school would work after school and weekends stocking goods and cleaning. They learned a lot about business and responsibility from these jobs and some carried on their experience to become merchants themselves.
The dry goods stores were plentiful and there was never a place that you couldn't find something you liked or wanted in the way of clothing or household items. There were two floors to the Belk's store. All kinds of coats, dresses, suits, shoes, and all things personal were hanging on the racks. McKinney's was another store. They carried bolts of cloth and thread and needles and yarn. They also carried print dresses and bobby pins and saddle oxfords. Penland's Department Store was one of the most popular. It was run by Jim Penland and E.R. Tweed. Later it was Penland and Dorn, then Jim and his two sons George and Joe. Now that was a store. You could spend all day in just that one store. George would keep you entertained with his stories and his abounding personality. Whatever you wanted, he had it, could talk you into something else, or could order it for you and have it here by Monday. Rows and rows of Pointer overalls sold out in a hurry. He had a HUGE pair hanging up over the counter. They would have covered a wagon and I'll bet were two axe handles across the rear. I don't think anybody ever bought them. There was also a smaller dry goods store named Watson's.
Arthur Whitehurst owned the Citizen's Bank and the other was French Broad Bank with Mr. Craig Rudisill. The Hot Springs Health Clinic at Hot Springs was named after him. It was on the day that they poured the initial footings for the clinic, Mr. Rudisill, of course, attended and on the way back home to Marshall began to feel bad and stopped at the Old Mill Wheel. Edna Haney and her husband took him out back to sit and rest and get some fresh air. Mrs. Haney went back inside to get him something cold to drink and before she got back, he had died of an apparent heart attack.
You could walk down the street in Marshall and get anything you needed and see much more that you wanted. There was a hub of activity at the four hardware and building supply stores. They had it all, from an adze to strip the bark off a log to barbed wire (I can't think of anything in hardware supply with X, Y, or Z, but I'm sure if you needed one, there would be one there somewhere.
Coal, Feed and Lumber Company was owned by Mr. Craig Rudisill, and as stated, they had everything from coal, feed and lumber to all in between. They had a coal bin out back of the store and the railroad car with coal would stop and unload it right there. No need for a front end loader at that stop. There was Builder's Supply owned by Liston Ramsey and his brother Weldon. Little did we know at that time the impact Mr. Ramsey would have on our county and the state of North Carolina in the House of Representatives. There was Bowman Hardware run by Mr. Carl Bowman. His brother Dedrick owned the funeral home. Bowman Funeral Home was a well respected and professional business that served the north end of the county and more. Sprinkle-Shelton was owned by Mr. J.H. Sprinkle and Fowler Shelton. This is the same Fowler Shelton who donated the land in White Rock for the Presbyterian Hospital.
There was Wild’s Radio there on the corner beside the Esso where you turned and went up corkscrew hill to Balsam Tourist Court run by the Penland’s. This was another place for overnight stays besides the rooms at Pee Wee Ward’s station.
On the upper end of town was Teague Milling Company run by Ernest Teague. This was the place to get your corn ground into meal and your wheat ground into flour. On each bag of flour, it was stamped “made from highest quality Madison County Wheat”. Each bag was guaranteed satisfaction or your money back. He carried all kinds of animal feed, alfalfa hay and timothy hay, straw to bed down your animals, whole kernel corn, corn on the cob, cracked corn and I guess corn for other reasons that he never asked what for. There was always a line of farm trucks backed up to the loading dock and being filled to the brim with everything pertaining to farming.
The post office was a couple of houses down the street from the Chevrolet Place. It was where “My Sister’s Attic” now stands. Next to this was Doc Treadway’s shoe shop. This was a man who could fix anything leather from shoes to harness, saddles, blinders and shoe soles and heels. The shoe shop was filled with the most memorable smells. Leather, polish, glue and all things to make the senses never forget. A story circulated around Marshall at the time that Doc had a really bad tooth that had hurt for days. He put a horseshoe nail inside his mouth and put it under the tooth and forced the tooth out. He then put the tooth on an anvil and smashed it to smithereens with a hammer and said “now thump and throb d….. you”. He was quite a character and one you keep in your memory bank forever.
The movie theatre between Moore’s drugstore and the Ford Place was run by Hubert Edwards. My goodness, what a treat to get to come to town and go to the movies. Roy Rogers and Gene Autrey and Lash LaRue. It was almost more excitement than you could stand with all that wonderful popcorn, Necco wafers and Mary Jane candies. In my mind, those folks are still young, bounding away on Trigger and Champion, never aging like the rest of us. I loved Lash LaRue’s blacksnake whip. Does anyone know if that really was made out of a blacksnake? I would pretend I was Lash and ride the woods saving people. My whip was made out of hay baling string and a tobacco stake. Hay baling string was like today’s duct tape, you could use it for just about anything. I wonder if anyone ever wrote the book “1001 uses for hay baling string”?
The railroad depot was where it stands now, only bigger, and bustling with folk from daylight to dark. The cars carried passengers, some stopping in Marshall, others just passing through on their way to somewhere else. You can remember smelling the wood floor polish that was put on both the benches and the floors. In my childhood mind, I thought it strange that the two bathrooms were marked “for whites only”, and the other one said “colored”. I tried to get someone to explain it to me and they always told me they would later, but I had to grow up on my own learning what it meant. Hambone always had to go to the back door of one of the cafe’s to get them to give him something to eat. You could hear the trains coming down about Barnard and the engineer would start blowing the whistle. Children would line the tracks and pump their arms up and down to get him to blow more, and he usually did. Some of the older boys would jump the train down about Barnard and throw chunks of coal off the rail cars until they got to the trestle that crosses the French Broad. There were quite a few homes in the Rollins area, so extra effort was made to see that they got a good supply of coal. The trains stopped being a passenger service in the 50’s.
One of the most respected and well liked men in Marshall was Charlie Rector, the policeman. Charlie always carried a gun, but he never did drive a car. There was not one store, front and back, alleyway, cubbyhole or door latch that Charlie didn’t check each and every night he was on duty. One never got by with anything when Charlie was on duty.
The cotton mill was across the river and had built their own set of “mill houses” up on the hill behind them. There was also a row of nice homes “over behind the island”.
The second floors of most of the merchants on Main Street held the offices of some of the most prestigious and well known attorneys ever in the county and the state. Mr. Eldridge Leake and Mr. Joe Huff being two of them. One of the busiest second floor offices was occupied by Dr. William Albert Sams. Most all sickness, injuries and ailments passed through “Doc’s” office sooner or later. When he didn’t have patients, he would sit in a rocker in the window and watch people pass below. If he saw someone he hadn’t seen in a while or someone he needed to follow up on a treatment he had given them, he would holler down at them to come on up, he needed to see them. This was especially true for children; he made sure they all got their polio shots and immunizations. Not many got by him. The story is told that once there was a group of construction workers clearing a job near Marshall. One of the workers was cutting saplings with an axe. He missed the sapling and the axe came full force down on and through his leg. The other workers carried him to Doc Sams’ office. He looked at the wound and said “looks like you got a problem, son”, as he opened the wound and exposed muscle tissue, bone fragments, etc. Doc went and got a jar of kerosene, asked the other men to hold the man down and proceeded to pour the jar of kerosene into the wound. The man passed out and Doc proceeded to stitch up the wound. As far as the story goes, the man fared pretty well after his injury with no loss of limb. Many a “William” and “Albert” have Doc Sams as their namesake.
The main get together and “cultural” center, of course, was the island. There was hustle
And bustle over there all the time. There were carnivals that came through 2-3 times a year with rides and ferries wheels and cotton candy. The school always put on a “fall” festival and a “May Day” festival and a “spring festival”. All the classrooms would be decorated and the auditorium would have a big event with door prizes and gifts. Most times there was standing room only. There would be country singers and their bands and the auditorium was always full for that. I remember going to see Bill Monroe and The Blue Grass Boys, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and other top named stars at the time. We would all “ooohhh” and “ahhhhh” over their oversized station wagons and “limos”, as we had never seen the likes of these all important stars’ automobiles. We all betted they were millionaires many times over. Little did we know compared to now. There would be plowing contests and always a good game of horseshoes going on. The big, big thing on the island would be Tornadoes football games. There was the biggest turnout of all for a football game. The football players were “stars” in their own right and had a groupie following like you have never known. The rivalry was unparalleled, but sportsmanship always prevailed. Go Tornadoes.
Written by: Judy Ricker