BASED ON WRITINGS OF THE LATE JUDGE HENRY P. LANE, OF Leaksville, N. C. LEAKSVILLE - SPRAY - DRAPER Historical Sketch of LEAKSVILLE - SPRAY - DRAPER
The Towns of Leaksville, Spray and Draper have come to be known as the Tri-Cities of Rockingham County, North Carolina. This is proper, us they are so intimately linked in their industrial, social and cultural interest as to form one Metropolitan area. Leaksville was incorporated in 1874; Draper in 1949; and Spray in 1951.These towns are in an historic area. Here Colonel William Byrd, the famous Virginian, came in 1728 when he led the commission running the dividing line between Virginia and Carolina. In 1733 he received his grant of twenty thousand acres, and named it the "Land of Eden." and said in his immortal book, it was the most beautiful section he has ever seen. All of Spray and Draper, and much of Leaksville lie within the confines of Byrd's tract. When Leaksville's radio station, the first in Rockingham county, went on the air in December, 1946 the call letters, with perfect propriety, were WLOE, representing the "Wonderful Land of Eden."Leaksville is the oldest of the triplets; and the oldest town in the county. Some years prior to 1797, John Leak had received from Robert Galloway, a large land owner, a tract of one hundred acres of land on the north side of the Dan River, near the point where the Smith River runs into the Dan. By reason of the beauty and healthfulness of the location, Leak decided to promote a town here and had sold a number of lots. In 1797 the Legislative body of the State passed An act authorizing him to lay off a town site on his tract according to the plans drawn by a board of commissioners named in the Act. This was done, and the town was named for Leak. Two streets running East and West. Washington and Jay, and three running North and South, Patrick, Henry and Hamilton were laid out, and on these streets lots were sold and the town grew up.The first business houses, as well as residences, were erected on Henry street, near the river where the Karastan rug mill and Bedspread mill now stand.In 1812, with the creation of the Roanoke Navigation Co., boats begun to ply the river from Weldon, N. C., up the Roanoke River to the Dan, thence up that stream to Leaksville, which became the head of navigation. This created a great boom in the town and a rapid growth. It became the trading center of a great section, extending to and across the Blue Ridge Mountains into Virginia. Produce from this section, accumulated by the merchants was conveyed from here down the river, and the songs of the boatman, as they poled the long bateaux, heavily laden with tobacco, and other products along the Dan, were familiar sounds.Around 1818 a great building boom had started here, a large bank was established, a branch of the state bank, and lots were sold for almost fabulous prices. In a few years, the boom collapsed and a more substantial growth began. Many new buildings and companies began to construct and start doing business in the area. In 1819 an academy was opened at Leaksville, and later a school for girls was conducted. In later years, Nathan Henry, son of America's great orator and patriot Patrick Henry, conducted the Academy for males. In 1846 Patrick Henry III was head of the school. In that year he closed the school, formed a company, and as captain of it, went to Mexico with a North Caroling regiment. Other noted teachers conducted the school here, the best known being, Professor N. S. Smith and B. W. Ray.
In 1813, James Barnett had erected the largest grist mill in this part of North Carolina, at a point
on Smith River, where is now the bank building at Spray. He also operated a saw mill, oil mill and
cotton gin and a large store there. He sold his interest, including a large tract of land and valuable
water power to John M. Morehead, and in 1839, Morehead built the Leaksville Cotton Mill. In later years Morehead became Governor of North Carolina and one of the South's most distinguished statesmen and outstanding financiers. After his death his family continued to expand the textile interests here, establishing the Leaksville Woolen Mill in the early seventies and conducting the largest mercantile establishment in the county.
At Spray In 1890, Major J. Turner Morehead promoted the Wilson Aluminum Company, that never made any aluminum, but instead, by accident, discovered how to produce carbide, which, when put in water, generated acetylene gas. From this discovery, the American Carbide Company originated and became one of the largest and greatest corporations in the world.
In 1892, under the leadership of the late B. Frank Mebane, a marvelous expansion began, and for several years a new cotton or woolen mill was promoted each year, with all the available water power of the Smith River being utilized, and steam plants being required.
In the meantime in old Leaksvllle, tobacco manufacturing was the chief, or only industry, as it had been for almost a century. Auction warehouses had opened here soon after the war between the states, and the market held up well in competition with other points. As late as 1893, eight factories were making chewing tobacco here, and some of their brands were famous throughout the country.
The Danville and New River Railroad Company built its lines to Leaksville by 1884. It is now the Carolina and Northwestern, a branch of the Southern System. This ended all water transportation, as well as the hauling of freight from Reidsville and Danville by wagons with team horses, mules and oxen.
By 1906, Draper had grown to be a considerable village. The German-American Co., had built a large textile mill there in the heart of what has always been called "The Meadows." In 1912 this plant and much land was acquired by Marshall Field and Company of Chicago. The blanket mill was enlarged, and in 1915 an additional plant was built for the manufacture of sheeting. Seven mills of Spray also were acquired by Marshall Field and Co. These mills were expanded and improved and two new plants—the Bedspread Mill and the Karastan rug mill—were built at Leaksviile.
Marshall Field and Co. operated this chain of mills until October 1, 1953 when the mills were purchased by a newly-formed corporation, Fieldcrest Mills, Inc. The new company has continued to invest heavily in modernization, with $5.5 million being spent on improvements from early 1954 to the end of 1956. Today, the nine Fieldcrest plants together with the Leaksville Woolen mill, the Morehead mill, and the Spray Cotton mills form the economic backbone of the Tn-Cities, employing more than 5,000 of its citizens.
In addition to textile manufacturing, numerous other industries have been established in recent years. Among these are Rockingham Block Company, a subsidiary of Boren Clay Products, Home Novelty Company, a furniture plant; Roanoke-Webster Brick Company, and the MacMillan. Stave Company.
The Tri-Cities are served by the Duke Power Company which constructed here its Dan River Steam Station to furnish an ample supply of electricity to the northern part of the growing Piedmont Carolinas.. The first 70,000 K W generating unit went on the line in September, 1949, and was followed closely by the second 70,000 K W unit In March, 1950. A third unit of 150,000 K W was added in August. 1955.
Also serving the area is the Leaksville News, a weekly newspaper established in 1924; The Advisor, a monthly magazine published at Draper; and Radio Stations WLOE and WLOK-FM at Leaksville. WLOE, the first radio station in Rockingham County, first went on the air in 1946.
Telephone service for the Tri-Cites is provided by the Central Telephone Company with 4,685 telephone installations. The modern dial system has a capacity for a number of additional phones as needed in the future.
The Tri-Cities have 48 churches representing all major denominations. Many fine school buildings provide for the educational needs of the communities. The county library at Leaksville and a branch library at Draper contain thousands of volumes. Three Y.M.C.A.s and Boy and Girl Scout organizations provide wholesome programs benefiting youth. A total of 28 civic clubs, affiliated with National organization provide opportunities for self-development and community improvement.
Leaksville, Spray and Draper are located in a beautiful section. The towns nestle along the rivers, surrounded by a rich farming section with the towering Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. The Tri-Cities are truly a "Land of Eden." not only, as Byrd wrote, "A place where everything grows plentiful to supply the wants of Man," but also where beautiful textile products are manufactured in enormous quantities to help supply the wants of man all over the Globe!
City Government Info (Click to enlarge)
(Article and information submitted by C. W. "Bud" Roberts, Jr.)