Could Be Finer
Carolina Heights Neighborhood Party 1998
As told by Mary Frances Hudgins Cox, and written by Martha Sweitzer Williams
It is a hot, steamy summer evening just at twilight. Mom and Dad sit on the front porch resting from their day's labor in the mill. The rocking chair squeaks as Dad slowly pushes back and forth. Mom, fresh from washing the dishes and cleaning off the table, sits contentedly on the swing, watching the sun sink in the west. A group of children are playing Kick the Can near the "Mound," and some young people, laughing among themselves and sipping Grapettes, are just coming out of Pa Butler's Shack. Dogs begin to bark as the ice truck rumbles by. A neighbor passing by stops to chat for a spell and to give the news that the Tri-City Band will be playing in the park Sunday afternoon. It's just another peaceful day in the close-knit community of Carolina Heights, originally called New Town, circa 1920s-1950s. A brief trip down memory lane brings smiles and recollections of happy times in the days before television, dishwashers, air conditioning, and mini-vans.
All the children in the community spent their first three years of schooling at Carolina Heights School, built in 1920. The school was small, housing only the first three grades. The principal was Mr. H. M. Boulding, and teachers included Irene Haizlip, Clara Gilley, Mollie Alcorn, and Russell Martin Seay.
There was no indoor plumbing, so students took turns going out back to pump water for the classroom. Students also took turns visiting the two outdoors "Johnny houses," one for the girls and one for the boys. In the wintertime, visits to the toilet were shortened considerably.
THE GROCERY AND FOOD STORES
There were several stores in the village. These stores were visited by everyone at some time or the other and served as gathering places to visit with the neighbors. A very popular store was Pa Butler's Shack. Upon entering the "Shack," the customer would either head for the candy counter on the left, the drink boxes with chipped ice on the right, or the meat counter in the front. The store was a dark, one-room affair and very rustic in design. There was a pot-bellied stove in the room with stools placed around it. "Ma and Pa" Butler usually sat by the stove, he in his bibbed overalls, and she, with her bobbed hair, in her cotton dress and apron. "Ma" would tell customers that she never used water on her hair. She would simply comb cornmeal through it and the cornmeal kept it neat and clean. A person could buy bologna, cheese, and other small staples there. Popular sodas, selling for five cents each, included Three Center, Orange Crush, Grapette, and "Johnny cakes". Do you remember putting peanuts into the cokes? Men usually headed out for the tobacco supplies where they would purchase Apple tobacco and round boxes of snuff. Years later Pa Butler's store was purchased by a Mrs. Jones and moved to a cement block building nearby.
Another store in the hamlet was Hudgins' Brothers Store. This store was owned by Harry and Cyril Hudgins and operated out of a former double garage at the back of their home. The store was primarily a grocery store with an oil heater inside to keep the place warm, and big oil barrels outside where customers would pump oil. Mr. Tom Hall, Spray's first mayor, eventually purchased Hudgins' store and ran it for many years.
Shortie Harrington had a grocery store on the corner of Park Avenue and Morgan Road. Customers who couldn't find the items they needed at the other stores would walk down to Shortie's for supplies.
Mr. Martin's Hot Dog Stand was beside Shortie Harrington's store. A Mrs. Dunn also had a small grocery store in the area.
There were several other stores in the area. The local barbershop was located was located beside Mr. Martin's Hot Dog Stand. Mrs. Hopper's Store was a dry goods store where people could purchase cloth, thread, and other material for sewing. Two five-and-ten stores were Uden's Ten-Cent Store and Porter's Dime Store. The main attraction at Porter's Store was the candy counter. Nothing delighted the locals more than purchasing big, rich chunks of dark chocolate. Others purchased Orange Slices and Peach Seeds. Nearby was the Drug Store, where the pharmacist Dr. Roberson, would dispense medicine for stomachaches from eating the "big, rich chunks of dark chocolate." Many a summer afternoon was spent by customers sitting at the counter sipping ice-cream sodas and cool, delicious milkshakes.
Marshall Field and Company originally built Carolina Heights as a community containing one hundred five houses. Most were one-story, two-room-deep houses and contained four or five rooms. Four more elaborate houses were constructed as homes for the mill administrators. One such home, a two-story foursquare house, located across from what is now Spray Methodist Church, had an interesting feature in the basement. A huge water tank was placed there when the house was built. It was monstrous contraption made of heavy metal and painted silver. It was designed to look much like a big underground gas tank and took up much of the basement space. The tank held water that was distributed to three administrator's houses. Only the administrator's houses had running water and indoor bathrooms. Hot water was heated from the furnace, so in the summertime there was no hot water.
On the land where the Spray Methodist Church is now, Marshall Field built a park for the people's enjoyment. A regulation size baseball field complete with grandstands occupied much of the park. There was a pump in the park for water, and a path ran through the park to the river and Morgan Road. In the summer a pleasant way to enjoy community life and forget the summer heat was to go out to the park and listen to the Tri-City Band performing.
MINERAL SPRINGS AND RIVER
There were mineral springs in the woods on the way to the river. In summertime, it was especially refreshing to stop by the springs and drink some of the pure, fresh water. Mrs. John "Mama" Hubbard tells of the time when she was a child that she made herself a toothbrush from poison oak leaves. Her mother took her to the doctor, and he prescribed the mineral springs water to cure the poison oak. Others also used the mineral springs water to cure health problems. Smith River served as the "old swimming hole" for countless numbers of youngsters who swam there every year. Official personnel could cross the river by the use of a cable car that swung out over the river to cross to the other side. Since the cable car was to be used only for checking water levels and purification of the water (because of a filtration plant built nearby), it was locked up and could not be used by the public. Young "roughnecks" and "dare devils" refused to be denied the use of the car and periodically picked the lock and swung out far over the river on many occasions.
THE YMCA AND THE MOVIES
Often mill personnel would sponsor Boy and Girl Night at the YMCA. Boys and girls from Carolina Heights and other communities would flock to the "Y" for an evening of fun. Especially popular were pillow fights on a "horse." The young person would be seated on a rounded contraption made to resemble a horse's back; others would try to knock him off by hitting him with pillows. There was also a bowling alley at the "Y" for enjoyment. Boys and men could take baths there if they so desired. Across from the YMCA was a building where girls and mothers participated in various activities.
The movies were very popular as a source of entertainment. Remember the old serial movies on Saturday afternoons? Adults and children flocked to see the antics of Tom Mix, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers. People would ride the ten-cent bus to the Owl Show on Saturday night at the Grand Theater. The movie started at 10:30 P.M. and lasted until midnight.
The happiest of times were spent by children playing games they either invented or copied from other sources. Roller-skating was very popular and young people skated all over Carolina Heights. Youths would form a "train" at the park and go all the way through Carolina Heights to the other end. Someone put benches beside the road so participants could sit to put their skates on and off. Red Gully was another popular sport invented by the locals. On various vacant lots the children played tag and tried to jump the twelve-foot or more gullies that lay in their paths. Another locally invented game was The Mound. This was a green grassy place built up in the middle of Hodges Street and Circle Drive. This was a meeting place for all the kids on their way to and from Lakeside School (built in 1932). Boys would wrestle in the grass there, and girls would stop and watch. The Big Pipe was a large pipe that carried water under the road and was barely big enough for a child to crawl through. The pipe went from the beginning of Pitcher Street down under the mound and on to the Red Gully. Children would dare one another to crawl through the pipe. There is an unsubstantiated rumor that "someone" got hung in there once, but no one was brave enough to confess. Another game was Bonie, a marble game that consisted of shooting marbles into a hole in a tin can. Other games were tag, and Pretty Girl Station ("Pretty Girl Station, what's your occupation?"). Peggy was a game using sticks and spikes to see who could hit the peg the farthest distance. The one who hit his peg the shortest distance lost the game, and as a penalty had to dig his peg out of the ground with his teeth. Boys more likely played this game than girls. Hopscotch, Red Light and May I were all fun games. The one enjoyed most just at twilight was Kick the Can.
Then there were the community plays. Older girls dressed the smaller girls in outfits of crepe paper. They would sew crinkled crepe paper onto the bottom of petticoats or dresses, make ruffled straps to go over the shoulders and top the whole thing off with a ruffled hat. Plays were held in garages, especially in a three-car garage down on Shedd Street. Parents were invited to come and sit on the rock wall and steps and watch the young people sing and dance. One particular memorable occasion featured a tap dance 10 the nine of "Come along and follow me to the bottom of the sea-1 will join m the jubilee.... at the Codfish Bail.
Everyday life in Carolina Heights had a certain rhythm and routine to it. Each Monday morning could find housewives doing the family wash. Mother would heal up the stove and make the homemade starch to be used for the stiff shirts that father wore. She would then get the bluing water ready. A big fire was built outside and a heavy black wash pot was filled with water and placed over it. When the water was just hot enough, mother started washing clothes- She used #3 washtubs to wash and rinse the clothes. Then clothes were hung on lines to flap in the sun until they were dry. Of course, the next day was ironing day. This routine continued week after week, year after year,
Certain black ladies—Tootie, Aunt Meck, Beulah, Sadie, and Katie -showed up each day to tend to the children and cook while mom and dad went to work in the mill. These ladies were Created as members of the family and their children often played with the Carolina Heights children. The ice truck and the coal truck came by on a regular basis delivering ice for ice boxes that had no electricity and coal for the coal bins in the various houses. Preacher Robertson, who owned a farm located where the Brian Center is now, drove a milk truck and delivered bottled milk daily. His daughter Elizabeth often accompanied him. Harry Miller collected the rent once a week- Rent rates depended on the number of bedrooms in the house. Rent on a one-bedroom house was one dollar a month, or 25 cents a week. Later the rent was one dollar per room when the houses were sold to Harry Fagge. Floyd Hill Furniture Truck and Wall Furniture Truck delivered furniture to Carolina Heights. Furniture could be bought on time, and so once a week the furniture company personnel drove through the community collecting fifty cents or one dollar towards payment on furniture.
Other regulars in the community
included Dr, John B. Ray, a family doctor who made house calls. Dr.
Phil Ray, Dr. Matthews, Dr. Tuttle, and Dr. Scott, the
dentist. Figures who brought fear to the hearts of young people were the local
policemen, Lidge Craddock and Watt Jones. Youths were told that if
they broke the law, Policeman Craddock would put them in jail. Because of a
great deal of respect for them, both Craddock and Jones kept law and order in
the town. Ministers in the area included Preacher Vause, a minister of
the Christian Church, and Preacher Peters, a minister of the Church of
the Brethren. Some fondly remember Preacher Peters coming through the streets
picking up children m a utility trailer and taking them to Bible School in the
summer. Others remember walking to the Rock Church where Preacher
Gordon presided and accepting the invitations of Preacher Houst at
the Spray Methodist Church for Bible School. It was the custom for
children to attend as many Bible Schools m the summer as they possibly could
Jesse Hale delivered the Danville Register and Greensboro Record in Carolina Heights. Monday through Saturday the paper was 15 cents and Sunday papers were 10 cents, a total of 25 cents per week. In later years the Grit was delivered by Herman Harris and Coy Hudgins.
ONE BIG NEIGHBORHOOD FAMILY
Carolina Heights' neighborhood was simply one big extended family. All the children were everyone's children. Carolina Heights' citizens knew "it takes a whole village to raise a child" long before Hillary Clinton made the statement famous. Children were free to roam the streets, to visit other homes, local a cold sweet potato or a piece of cornbread in anyone's kitchen. Children were scolded, watched over, and loved by many surrogate mothers and fathers.
Families socialized with one another combining work with pleasure by taking trips together such as the annual trip to the Sand Hills (Pinehurst, Rockingham, and Ellerbe) to get peaches. They visited one another on their porches and in their homes. People in the community worshiped together by attending the Cottage prayer meetings which were held in various homes in the community. They brought food and comfort when there was sickness and death and rejoiced when there was a wedding or a birth.
Those who lived in Carolina Heights will never forget those golden days that will live on forever in the minds and hearts of its people. That is why we have gathered here today. We come to remember the good times and the bad times, and to re-establish our friendship and strengthen our bonds of affection with each other, Carolina Heights will never die, but will live to eternity.
Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble,. there's no place like home.
A charm from the sky seems to follow us there,
Which, seek through the world, is ne'er met with elsewhere.
Home, home, sweet, sweet, home!
There's no place like home, oh, there's no place like home!
To us, in despite of the absence of years,
How sweet the remembrance of home still appears!
From allurements abroad, which but flatter the eye,
The unsatisfied heart turns, and says with a sigh,
Home, home, sweet, sweet, home!
There's no place like home!
There's no place like home!
Home in Carolina Heights!
Carolina Heights Neighborhood Party
As told by Mary Frances Hudgins Cox, and written by Martha Sweitzer Williams
(Article submitted by Michele Lee Grant , thanks to Dennis Elliott for his help with the transcription.)