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Jeanette Harris' "Laughridge Corner" in her home. John Laughridge and his wife are in the large oval picture. Laughridge and some of his deputies are seen in front of the old courthouse in the photo on upper right.

John A. Laughridge was sheriff of McDowell County from 1910 to 1918. He is a legendary figure,  both for the way he discharged his duties as well as for his kindness and fairness to everyone he met. In this clip, his granddaughter Jeanette Harris shares some of her favorite stories about her grandfather. Plus, we’ll hear from Sheriff Laughridge’s daughter Mary Alice Laughridge Scroggs.

(Mrs. Scroggs was recorded nearly a decade ago on a mini-cassette recorder, so the sound quality will be noticably different. Our thanks to Jeanette Harris and her family for allowing us to use the recording.)

 

 

 

 

Listen to Jeanette Harris and her aunt Mary Alice Scroggs here:

"Pleasant Gardens" was built in the late 1780s by Hunting John McDowell's son Joseph near the site where Brown's Purchase was negotiated with the Cherokee. The house still stands today.

“Pleasant Gardens” was built in the early 1800s, close to the site where Brown’s Purchase was negotiated with the Cherokee. The house still stands today. (Photo courtesy the Carson House library.)

To explore this chapter of McDowell history, we join historian Anne Swann in one of the log cabins at the Mountain Gateway Museum to hear the tale of a wrestling match that laid the foundation for the development of the county. Anne also talks about how Hunting  John McDowell came to play a huge role in the opening of the American West to European expansion.

MarioManBldgIn 1929, strikes began to break out at textile mills across the American South.  The mill workers’ discontent stemmed from long hours at low pay, deplorable working conditions, and the general callousness with which they were treated by their employers.  In the spring of ’29 a strike began in Elizabethton, TN followed by Greenville, SC and Gastonia, NC.

In May of that year, workers at Marion Manufacturing sought assistance from the United Textile Workers Union after they were ordered to work additional time each day without additional pay.  In about a month, the union was strong enough in Marion to hold an open meeting at the county courthouse with employees from Marion Manufacturing and nearby Clinchfield Mill attending.  Officers were chosen and soon the organization boasted several hundred members.

The strike was so divisive that no church would hold services for the slain workers.  Instead, their coffins were placed on saw horses in a field near the mill.

The strike was so divisive that no church would hold services for the slain workers. Instead, their coffins were placed on saw horses in a field near the mill.

Differing opinions about the unionization of Marion’s textile mills tore families and the community apart.  Tensions escalated through the summer and confrontations increased. 

In the early morning of October 2, 1929, workers who had “walked out” and other workers picketing outside Marion Manufacturing soon found themselves in deadly conflict with the sheriff, six of his deputies, and seven anti-union employees who had been deputized on the spot.  Tear gas was released and a flurry of shots followed.  Three mill workers died immediately and three more died of their wounds over the coming days.  Dozens of workers were wounded.  The events at Marion Manufacturing became front page news across the country, and famed author and columnist Sinclair Lewis came to town to write about the situation.

In 2004, Mike Lawing published his book The Marion Massacre, the most comprehensive examination of the Marion events to date.  The next year, Kim Clark and Ellen Pfirrmann of public radio WNCW produced “Strike”, a week-long series about the Marion strike largely based around Lawing’s work.

WNCW and its license holder Isothermal Community College have granted permission for all five segments of this program to be made available here:

Part One: Part Two: Part Three: Part Four: Part Five:

In segment 2 of “Strike”, we hear about the discovery of the union-related personal effects of Roy Price, an early organizer at Marion Manufacturing and the first president of the union. In the video below you can see many of these materials along with related photos and newspaper articles.  The song that accompanies the images is “Cotton Dust” by The Carburetors, written by Jay Goree and used by permission. To hear a happier account of life in the Clinchfield Mill Village, listen to our interview with Mrs. Glenys Gilbert, lifelong Clinchfield resident, by clicking here.

An interview with Sam and Vesta Finley, union members at Marion Manufacturing during the strike, was conducted in 1975 by the Southern Oral History Project. A transcript is here.

gbwoodyphotomerge

Dee Sawyer Daughtridge of Old Fort has deep roots in the Curtis Creek area of McDowell County and can trace her family history back eight generations.  She is also fortunate to have come into the possession of letters that her great-grandfather, Green Berry Woody, wrote to his wife and children when he was a soldier in the Confederate Army.

One of Green Berry Woody's letters and a piece of CSA documentation

One of Green Berry Woody's letters and a piece of CSA documentation

The letters that Dee reads for us are from October 1862 to September 1863. Civil War buffs will be interested in the comments about troop locations and conditions,  and we can all identify with a young man who wants more than anything in the world to come home to his family.

Listen to Dee reading her great-grandfather’s letters by clicking here:

Rockett Motors in Old Fort (present location of Old Fort Mountain Music). Jep Gibbs was employed here early in her working life. (Photo courtesy of Bill Nichols, John's Market Collection)

Rockett Motors in Old Fort (present location of Old Fort Mountain Music). Jep Gibbs was employed here early in her working life. (Photo courtesy of Bill Nichols, John's Market Collection)

Jessica “Jep” Gibbs was born in 1913.  The majority of her life has been lived in the Old Fort area, and she currently resides just minutes from where she grew up. In addition to her other stories, in this clip she talks quite a bit about her friend Binkie Adams, daughter of the visionary Col. Daniel W. Adams. (A future post will be devoted to Col. Adams.) Binkie was a much-respected county historian and wrote many articles for the Old Fort News Bulletin.

Listen to Jep here:

To read a transcript of an oral history of Binkie Adams written in 1997 by Martha Stevens, student of Freddy Bradburn at McDowell Tech, click here: Binkie Adams. (Thanks to Old Fort librarian Dee Daughtridge for providing the transcript.)

Round Knob Hotel and "the fountain"

In the late 1800s when the railroad from Old Fort to Ridgecrest was completed, passengers were treated to a very impressive sight as their train climbed the 13 miles of switchbacks and seven tunnels to the top of the mountain. Several times during their ascent they were treated with a view of “the fountain” at Round Knob Hotel, with gravity-powered water shooting nearly 100 feet into the air. The fountain would later become known as Andrews Geyser and, after a period of neglect in the mid-20th century, has become one of the most recognizable and visted landmarks in McDowell County. It has come to symbolize the achievement of bringing the railroad across the rugged mountains of McDowell County.

Freezing weather sometimes transforms the geyser into an ice cone.

Steve Little, now Mayor of Marion, has always harbored a keen interest in the railroad and played a central role in bringing the geyser back from disrepair and neglect  in the mid 1970s. He lays out the history of Andrews Geyser and talks about its rehabilitation, which coincided with the American Bi-Centennial.

Listen to Steve tell the story of Andrews Geyser, recorded at the historic  Old Fort depot:

 

Steve also gave us a great overview of the history of the railroad in McDowell County. You can watch the 3-part video presentation as part of our special railroad page.

In the early days of McDowell County, strong personalities often had a sizeable and lasting impact on the community.

Colonel Adams (Photo courtesy of Bill Nichols, John's Market Collection)

Colonel Adams (Photo courtesy of Bill Nichols, John's Market Collection)

The accomplished inventor Col. Daniel W. Adams of Old Fort worked to bring water, electricity and telephone service to the town. Adams also served as a mountain guide and designer of municipal fountains, among a myriad of other interests and abilities. He also built a very architecturally eccentric home, which can be seen in the photo to the right.

Charlie McKinney of North Cove/Little Switzerland is a legendary figure as well, known for  other “talents”, including the ability to provide four dozen young heads for four dozen new hats from J.D. Blanton’s store in Marion. Terrell Finley (above) of The Mountain Gateway Museum talks about Col. Adams:…and Bill Carson of the Orchard at Altapass tells us about the “colorful” Charlie McKinney:

ClinchfieldMillLike many small southern towns, Marion was home to several textile mill villages beginning in the second decade of the 1900s. Labor unrest led to strikes and eventually to a bloody confrontation in East Marion in 1929. That violent episode has overshadowed much of the rest of McDowell County textile mill history, but the mill village also made for a strong community and life there was often pleasant, even idyllic.

Here, lifelong Clinchfield resident Mrs. Glenys Buckner Gilbert shares her fond memories of  growing up in the village and relates how her father narrowly escaped the scene of the violent showdown at the gates of  nearby Marion Manufacturing in October of 1929. (The 1929 strike is explored in detail in this post.)

Listen to Glenys Gilbert here:

GreenleeSwordAs the Civil War  neared an end in 1865, Union cavalry commander Major General George Stoneman mounted a raid from Tennessee across the Blue Ridge Mountains into western North Carolina.  His troops passed right through McDowell County and some excellent stories have been handed down about the his raiders’ unwelcome visits to homes in the area. Stoneman’s men made a stop at the Logan/Greenlee place located about three miles east of Old Fort, but encountered a feisty young lady who made the proceedings a little more difficult than they had anticipated. As they hurried away the next day, a Union officer left behind a souvenir that would not be found until over a century later.

Listen to Logan descendants Gwen Bradsher and Nancy Greenlee tell the story here:

The Ledbetter House, built in 1826, bosts exceptionally intact interior features.

The Ledbetter House, built in 1826, boasts exceptionally intact interior features.

Stepping through the front door of the Albertus Ledbetter House could be the closest thing to stepping back in time you’ll ever experience. Lovingly restored by Arthur and Zee Campbell, the house  has all its original doors with the original locks and hinges.  The 1826 spring house, with rock retaining wall and sluice, has been brought back to life as well.  The farm is dotted with 19th and 20th century outbuildings, and today is known as Spring House Farm, hosting guests in rustic rental cabins.  This unique eco-retreat is also a site on the N.C. Birding Trail.

Harold McCurry spent part of his childhood at the Ledbetter House.  He joined us on the front porch to share some memories about growing up in Montford Cove.

Dean Branch and this model car are of the same vintage- 1931.

Dean Branch and this model car are of the same vintage- 1931.

Dean Branch now lives in Marion and spent much of his youth in the mountains of Mitchell, Yancey, and McDowell counties. He’s a collector of historical oddities and a great spinner of stories. Here, he tells us about “Little Tom”, a mountain midwife who rendered his services in exchange for some “refreshment.”

 

Listen to Dean Branch here:

Many of the unmarked graves in the Brackettown Cemetery are those of slaves who worked in the gold mines. Nancy and George Wilkerson were also slaves.

Many of the unmarked graves in the Brackettown Cemetery are those of slaves who worked in the gold mines. Nancy and George Wilkerson were also slaves.

Today, many think of the Brackettown Community located in the southeast corner of McDowell County as “the middle of nowhere”. But two centuries ago, the area was the gold mining center of the country and was home to dozens of families engaged in farming and logging as well. Wade Nanney, whose family arrived just over the county line in Rutherford back in the 1700s, shares some gold mining stories, talks about the old Brackettown Cemetery, and relates how the Civil War profoundly affected his family.  
 

 

In 1984, the McDowell Arts Council Association (MACA) held a history-writing contest. Wade Nanney won first place in his division with an essay about Brackettown. Read it by clicking here:  Brackettown Garden Spot O’ the World.

Find out more about gold mining in McDowell County on our gold mining page.