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The Saluda Grade, Steepest Mainline Rail Grade in the U.S.

This Day in North Carolina History - 16 hours 23 min ago

A circa postcard showing a train climbing the Saluda Grade. Image from N.C. State Historic Sites.

On July 4, 1878, the first train to travel the Saluda Grade railway passage arrived in what’s now the town of Saluda in Polk County.

Construction of the railway passage began in 1877 under the direction of Capt. Charles W. Pearson. The railway was intended to link Salisbury, Murphy and Knoxville, Tennessee, and most importantly to provide a connection between Asheville and Spartanburg, South Carolina.

While railroad builders used tunnels to snake through the steep climbs found elsewhere in the North Carolina mountains, near Saluda they decided to the face the steep inclines head-on and built straight up the rugged terrain.

The engineering feat that made the project possible was unprecedented in the 1870s, and construction proved so dangerous and resulted in so many causalities that it sparked an investigation by the General Assembly.

Until taken out of service by Norfolk Southern in 2001, the Saluda Grade was the steepest operating mainline grade in the United States, with a 4.7% grade. Throughout the passage’s long history, it was famous for its high number of runaway train accidents.

Visit: the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer showcases our state’s transportation history and offers train rides for visitors throughout the year.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.


I.E. Avery’s Words for His Father, the “Letter from the Dead”

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 07/03/2015 - 06:30

Image from Dickinson College.

On July 3, 1863, 34-year-old Lt. Colonel Isaac E. Avery of the 6th North Carolina State Troops died from mortal wounds he received the previous day. Shot in the neck and partially paralyzed during the Battle of Gettysburg, the Burke County native was unable to speak on his deathbed.

Avery fell alone while leading his men in an attack on Cemetery Hill. He had taken command of Hoke’s brigade after Hoke himself was wounded at Chancellorsville. Avery was the only man mounted and, once found, was carried from the field. Clutched in his hand was a small bloodstained piece of paper, which has become one of the treasures of the State Archives.

The letter that Isaac Avery wrote to his father, now held by the State Archives.

Though right handed, Avery was forced to write with his left because of paralysis. His letter said, “Major, tell my father that I died with my face to the enemy. IE Avery.” Major Samuel McDowell Tate, a friend from Burke County to whom the message was addressed, remained with Avery until he died.

The short letter contains words long on duty and sentiment and has been featured in many books and documentaries about the Civil War.  It is often referred to as the “Letter from the Dead.”

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.


Bechtlers Advertise Their Coins, 1831

This Day in North Carolina History - Thu, 07/02/2015 - 06:30

A gold coin minted by the Bechtlers and now in the N.C. Museum of History‘s collection.

On July 2, 1831, an advertisement appeared promoting gold coins minted by the Bechtlers in Rutherford County.

From about 1803 until California’s gold strikes of 1848, North Carolina led the nation in gold production. Gold was a key industry in the state, and about 50 mines were operating in the western part of the state by the 1830s.

Christopher Bechtler, his son Augustus, and a nephew, also Christopher Bechtler, moved to North Carolina in 1830. The elder Bechtler first opened a jewelry shop in Rutherfordton but soon saw that the lack of currency in western North Carolina was stifling the regional economy.

The July 1831 article advertising the Betchlers’ gold coins. Image from UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries.

Experienced metalworkers, the Bechtlers built a press, and soon were striking $2.50 (quarter-eagle) and $5 (half-eagle) coins north of Rutherfordton on Hollands Creek. The following year they began to strike gold $1 coins. Private mints met with mixed success, based on the quality of the product that they generated and on the public’s perception of the purity of the gold.

The elder Christopher Bechtler died in 1842 but the mine continued to operate. The younger Christopher Bechtler moved the minting business into Rutherfordton soon after.

The Bechtler Mint ceased operations around 1849, after having struck about $2.25 million in coins.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.


Linville Caverns: McDowell County’s “Wondrous Splendors” Open to the Public

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 07/01/2015 - 06:30

Visitors at Linville Caverns, circa September 1966.
Image from UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries.

On July 1, 1939, Linville Caverns, North Carolina’s only show cave, opened to the public. The caverns became an overnight success, as their development coincided with construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway in McDowell and Avery Counties in 1938.

The natural limestone cave sits at the base of Humpback Mountain and showcases colorful mineral formations resulting from the effects of acidic water as it has moved through the shady dolomite for millions of years. Development of the site, led by Marion businessman by J.G. Gilkey, began in 1937, and electric lights were installed to illuminate the features that continue to change in the active cavern.

In 1859, young Fayetteville naturalist and school teacher Henry Colton published one of the earliest accounts of exploration of the cave.  He wrote of the “wondrous splendors of that hidden world” that could be found in the caverns, from the arctic cold water, to the formations, which he called the “grandest of nature’s stony tapestry.”  He noted the caverns’ inhabitants included bats, mice and a “perfect grasshopper, petrified and covered with a crust of lime.”

Linville Caverns has operated as a private enterprise since 1939 and remains open to the public today.

Visit: Linville Caverns, located near Marion in McDowell County, is open to the public daily March through December and on weekends in January and February.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.


Freedom Rallies Began in Williamston, 1963

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 06/30/2015 - 06:30

Firefighters ready to dispel Williamston protesters with fire hoses.
Image from the Greenville Daily Reflector.

On June 30, 1963, a month of protests known as “Freedom Rallies” began in Williamston.

The seat of Martin County on the Roanoke River was a “hotspot” of the civil rights movement, and Green Memorial Church, a Disciples of Christ church rooted in the Holiness tradition, was the epicenter.  Discontent had simmered in the area since the 1957 acquittal of white men charged with the murder of a local black man.

Protest organizers Sarah Small and Golden Frinks.
Image from the Greenville Daily Reflector.

Protesters, keenly aware of civil rights movement sweeping across the South, made it their goal to desegregate schools and the public library. Local woman Sarah Small and Golden Frinks of Edenton, a friend of Martin Luther King, Jr., organized the efforts. As the protests continued, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference held biweekly nonviolence training sessions at the church.

Protests continued for 32 consecutive days and involved as many as 400 people, many of them children and teenagers who sang and prayed at the church before marching uptown, about a half-mile to the courthouse. State troopers and local deputies kept close watch over the nonviolent summer rallies.

Rallies were suspended temporarily after Governor Terry Sanford’s office organized interracial meetings but resumed in the fall, when 12 white ministers and seminarians from Boston joined the effort. The fall protests were a bit more violent with protesters throw, but ended following President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November.

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“Moonlight” Graham and His Place in Baseball Lore

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 06/29/2015 - 06:30

The 1905 New York Giants. Image from the Library of Congress.

On June 29, 1905, Cumberland County native “Moonlight” Graham played in his first and only Major League Baseball game. His story came to national attention after being incorporated into the 1989 hit film Field of Dreams.

Born Archibald Wright Graham in Fayetteville in 1879, Graham was raised there and in Charlotte, where he honed his baseball skills, playing with family and friends. He went on to a stellar career playing baseball at UNC, and began playing with a Charlotte minor league team while still studying medicine in Chapel Hill.

“Moonlight” Graham, when he was on 1900 UNC baseball team. Image from the North Carolina Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill.

After stints with several minor league teams in North Carolina and New Hampshire, Graham signed with New York Giants in February 1905, while at the same time taking more medical courses at the University of Maryland.

In his only major league appearance, Graham played three innings as a right fielder. A ball was never hit in his direction, and he was on deck to bat when the game ended. Grahm’s baseball career ended shortly after that June 1905 game, and he moved to Chilsholm, Minnesota, for a job as a doctor in 1911, staying there until his death in 1965.

A decade later, author W. P. Kinsella happened to notice Graham’s story in The Baseball Encyclopedia, and included it in his 1982 novel Shoeless Joe, on which the movie Field of Dreams was based.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.


Paint Rock, Landmark for Intrepid Travelers

This Day in North Carolina History - Sun, 06/28/2015 - 06:30

Some of the pictographs on Paint Rock. Image from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

On June 28, 1799, land agent and mapmaker John Strother measured the American Indian pictographs on Paint Rock in Madison County. Strother wrote in this dairy on that day that the vertical formation was 107 feet tall and that the:

Pictures of some human’s – wild beasts fish & fowls were to be seen plainly made with red paint.

Paint Rock was created approximately 5,000 years ago during the Archaic Period. Its creators used pigments that were apparently of exceptional quality and complex design from ingredients that were clearly local. The rock outcropping, which features red and yellow markings, straddles the North Carolina-Tennessee border and has long been a landmark for travelers.

A historical view of Paint Rock. Image from the North Carolina Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Paint Rock sits in a gorge along a road archaeologists suggest may have been a major travel route through the mountains and to natural crossings of the French Broad River. The panel of Paint Rock on the North Carolina side of the border displays alternating red and yellow rectilinear lines painted against the vertical cliff face.

Archaeologists have suggested the paints may have been created as a road marker, for use in healing rituals and for a combination for a combination of both, since healing pilgrimages to nearby hot springs may have been popular.

Campfires and weathering over the centuries have damaged the pictographs. In 2004, images on the rock panels were formally recorded, and archaeologists did more mapping and sampling in 2006 to support conservation and management.

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.


Cherokee Clash with British Along Frontier, 1760

This Day in North Carolina History - Sat, 06/27/2015 - 06:30

On June 27, 1760, Chief Occonostota, leading a band of Cherokee warriors, attacked British forces near what’s now Franklin in Macon County, pushing them back into South Carolina.

When the French and Indian War broke out in 1754, the Cherokee allied with the British against the French. However, by 1758, relations between the Cherokee and British had soured. A dispute that year over stolen horses touched off an escalation of hostilities between the two groups, culminating with the British murder of several chiefs who had traveled to Charleston to negotiate peace in 1759.

Following the deaths of the would-be peacemakers, the Cherokee tribes united in their efforts to resist the British in the Carolinas. As part of their strategy, they laid siege to Fort Loudon in eastern Tennessee. Col. Archibald Montgomery and his men responded by burning the Cherokee villages along the trading path near the Keowee and Oconee Rivers.

As a result of this victory, Fort Loudon was surrendered to the Cherokee the following month. The Anglo-Cherokee War would last until 1762, when the two nations came to an uneasy peace.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.


Prominent Wilkes Family Lost Son to 1862 Battle

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 06/26/2015 - 06:30

Col. Montfort Sidney Stokes. Image from
the Archive.org.

On June 26, 1862, Col. Montfort Sidney Stokes of the First Regiment, North Carolina State Troops, was mortally wounded in an engagement at Elyson’s Mill, Virginia. He died 11 days later in a Richmond hospital.

Stokes was born in Wilkes County in 1810. His grandfather had served with Gov. William Tryon during the Regulator rebellion, and his father was a major general during the War of 1812, governor of North Carolina from 1830 to 1832 and a U.S. Senator.

Stokes was appointed a midshipman in the Navy in 1829, training at the Norfolk Navy Yard and the Norfolk School. His naval career lasted 10 years before he returned to Wilkes County to become a farmer. After serving in the Mexican War, he returned to farming, serving on the Council of State at the same time.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Stokes volunteered for the Wilkes Valley Guards and was chosen as the unit’s first lieutenant. He saw service at Goldsboro and in Virginia. Following his death, he was buried in the family cemetery on the banks of the Yadkin River.

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C. Chance Protested Segregated Rail Cars, 1948

This Day in North Carolina History - Thu, 06/25/2015 - 06:30

The Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Station in Fayetteville during the 1920s.
Image from the State Archives.

On June 25, 1948, Parmele native William Claudius Chance was ejected from an Atlantic Coast Line Railroad passenger train car in Emporia, Virginia, for refusing to move to a car for black passengers.

Chance was a well-respected educator in Martin County, having established and operated the Parmalee Industrial Institute. He was returning home to Parmele from the Republican National Convention, held in Philadelphia that year, when he was instructed to leave a “white car” at the stop in Emporia. When he refused, Chance was placed under arrest for disorderly conduct.

After the incident, Chance sued the Atlantic Coast Line and conductor Alva S. Lambeth for $25,000. A jury in Richmond initially determined the railroad had committed no crime in ejecting Chance from the train, but awarded him a sum of $50 for wrongful arrest.

With the support of the NAACP, Chance appealed the case to the Fourth U. S. Circuit Court where the initial decision was overturned in January 1951. The court determined that the Atlantic Coast Line’s enforcement of Jim Crow laws on their passenger lines was an unconstitutional burden on interstate commerce. The  railroad’s  attempts to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court fizzled, essentially outlawing segregation on interstate travel.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.


The New American Tobacco Campus Takes Shape, 2004

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 06/24/2015 - 06:30

W. T. Blackwell & Company Factory, now part of the American Tobacco Campus. Image from the Durham County Library.

On June 24, 2004, GlaxoSmithKline became the first business to move into the newly renovated and re-purposed American Tobacco Campus, ushering in a new era for downtown Durham.

Originally the home of the W. T. Blackwell & Company Factory, which dates to 1874, the campus was considered the world’s largest tobacco factory at one time. Blackwell’s company was purchased in 1899 by Washington Duke, who transformed it by introducing automated production, starting the iconic Lucky Strike brand and consolidating it with his other holdings to create the American Tobacco Company.

The restored American Tobacco Campus. Image from
the State Historic Preservation Office.

The campus became a National Historic Landmark in 1977, and sat vacant and deteriorating for several years after American Tobacco ceased cigarette manufacturing there in 1987. Capitol Broadcasting Company began to express interest in rehabbing the facility in the late 1990s, and after the city and county of Durham, the A.J. Fletcher Foundation and Self-Help committed to pitch in on the project, construction began.

The $200 million project helped jumpstart the revitalization of downtown Durham, and today the dynamic campus features a stunning water feature, grassy areas for enjoying concerts and restaurants.  Anchor tenants have included North Carolina Public Radio, Duke University, Burt’s Bees and the Durham YMCA.

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Royal Ice Cream Protest, 1957

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 06/23/2015 - 06:30

Protests at Royal Ice Cream. Image from Open Durham.

On June 23, 1957, the Royal Ice Cream sit-in began in Durham.

The Royal Ice Cream Company had a doorway on one street with a “White Only” sign and one on another marked “Colored Only.” A partition divided the restaurant in two. To protest, a local minister and six young African Americans went to Royal Ice Cream and took up booths on the white side. The manager called the police who charged them with trespassing.

Protests at Royal Ice Cream. Image from Open Durham.

Found guilty the next day, each of the protesters was fined $10 plus court costs. On appeal the case went to Durham County Superior Court, and a jury trial was held. An all-white jury rendered a guilty verdict on each defendant. The case was then appealed to the N.C. Supreme Court, which upheld the law regarding segregated facilities. Attorneys appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case.

The Royal Ice Cream sit-in helped lay the foundation for the 1960 Greensboro sit-ins, which sparked the national movement for civil rights.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.


Auspicious Start for North Carolina Awards

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 06/22/2015 - 10:00

Author and poet Maya Angelou receives the North Carolina Award in 1987 from Gov. Jim Martin. Image from the State Archives.

On June 22, 1961, the General Assembly established the North Carolina Award to honor outstanding achievements by North Carolinians.

The award was proposed by State Senator Robert Lee Humber of Pitt County, who hoped that the award would inspire others to excel in their fields for the betterment of North Carolina. He would go on to win the award for public service in 1968.

Since the North Carolina Award’s creation, medals have been given to more than 250 recipients for contributions to literature, fine arts, science and public service.  The first class of winners, recognized in 1964, included microbiologist John Couch for science; novelist Inglis Fletcher for literature; painter Francis Speight for fine art; and editor of The Progressive Farmer Clarence Poe and chemist, businessman, philanthropist and ambassador John Motley Morehead III, both for public service.

The award is administered by the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources and new recipients are honored each fall with presentation of the medal at a banquet.

Some of the more famous North Carolina Award recipients include cultural figures Etta Baker, Doc Watson, James Taylor, and Maya Angelou; media and public service figures David Brinkley and Charles Kuralt; and scientists Gertrude Elion and Joseph M. DeSimone.

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Parachutist Tiny Broadwick of Vance County

This Day in North Carolina History - Sun, 06/21/2015 - 06:30

Tiny Broadwick with parachute on back, c.1913-1922. Image from the State Archives.

On June 21, 1913, Tiny Broadwick became the first woman to jump from an airplane. Remembered as the “First Lady of Parachuting,” Broadwick still holds a place in The Guinness Book of World Records for her achievements as a parachutist.Born Georgia Ann Thompson in Oxford, Broadwick was married at 12, a mother at 13 and abandoned by her husband soon thereafter. After attending a carnival in Raleigh and seeing Charles Broadwick parachute from a balloon, Georgia joined his “World Famous Aeronauts.” Soon after, she became Broadwick’s adopted daughter.

At just over four feet tall, Georgia was nicknamed “Tiny.” She thrilled audiences by jumping from a swing attached to a balloon. As the novelty wore off for crowds, the Broadwicks moved their act to flying machines.

After her first jump in 1913, Tiny demonstrated Charles’s pack parachute for Army officials in 1914. They were impressed with what they called the “life preserver of the air.” Tiny retired from parachuting in 1922, after completing more than 1,100 jumps.

She is the only female member of the Early Birds of Aviation, and her parachutes are housed at the North Carolina Museum of History and the Smithsonian Institution.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on Facebook,Twitter and Pinterest.


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