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State’s Worst Mining Disaster, 1925

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 05/27/2015 - 06:30

A headline generated by the Coal Glen disaster.

On May 27, 1925, a massive explosion took place in a mine operated by the Carolina Coal Company at Coal Glen in Chatham County.

That morning, an eyewitness recounted that the first boom of the explosion split the air and smoke began to fill the sky and women began to scream. People knew immediately what had occurred and rescue efforts began very quickly. By nightfall, 5,000 people waited silently at the mouth of the mine for word of survivors.

The aftermath of the Coal Glen disaster.

Almost as quickly the explosion became headline news across the country. While some of the miners were from communities in other states, just about everyone in the small village of Farmville knew someone who died. Fifty-three victims died in the worst mining disaster in North Carolina history. It took five days to remove the bodies from the mine.

The Carolina Coal Company was established in 1921 near the Chatham County village of Farmville. It was about two miles east of another operation known as Cumnock Mine. In a News and Observer article written shortly after the explosion, the event was erroneously called the Cumnock Mine Disaster. The 1955 disaster is still often referred to by that name, but it is more accurately called the Coal Glen explosion.

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.


The Watauga Club and the Origins of N.C. State University

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 05/26/2015 - 06:30

Members of the Watauga Club gather in the Executive Mansion in 1955.
Image from the North Carolina Museum of History .

On May 26, 1884, the Watauga Club was founded.

Comprised of a number of influential young leaders under the age of 30, including William Joseph Peele, Josephus Daniels and Walter Hines Page, the progressive organization championed several causes that its members hoped would set the state on a positive course into the future.

Improved roads, more effective farming and agricultural techniques and better schools were all touted by the club as it attempted to bring the state into a more modern era. But perhaps the most important and successful of the group’s goals was the establishment of the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts. That institution was founded three years later, in 1887, and went on to become North Carolina State University.

The Watauga Club remains in existence today and includes about two dozen members, most of whom are influential leaders in the Raleigh area. North Carolina State University commemorates the club each year with its Watauga Medal. Two or three outstanding people are chosen to receive the honor, which “recognize[s] individuals who have rendered significant and distinguished service to North Carolina State University.”

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.


Legal Precedents at Durants Neck

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 05/25/2015 - 06:30

On May 25, 1673, Ann Durant became the first woman to act in the capacity of an attorney in North Carolina. Durant represented Andrew Ball in his successful effort to recover wages due to him for work aboard a ship at a proceeding held at the home of council member Francis Godfrey.

On at least 20 other occasions she appeared before colonial courts on behalf of herself, her husband and others. She frequently appeared to collect debts owed to her store.

Durant’s court appearances were not the first display of her self-reliance. After she and George Durant married in Virginia in January 1659, the couple moved to their “southern plantation,” settling on the peninsula today known as Durant’s Neck. George served in various capacities in the colony, including speaker of the assembly and as attorney general.

Durant’s Neck. Image from the Library of Congress.

During her husband’s frequent absences, Ann ran their plantation, raised their nine children and often provided accommodations for officials attending meetings of the Assembly and Council held at their house. Prisoners were also sometimes held at the Durant home, and it was on their tract that the first public structures in North Carolina, stocks and pillories, were built.

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Flight of the Last Royal Governor

This Day in North Carolina History - Sun, 05/24/2015 - 06:30

On May 24, 1775, Josiah Martin, the last royal governor of North Carolina, fled Tryon Palace under cover of darkness.

In 1774, delegates to North Carolina’s First Provincial Congress recommended that counties form committees of safety, a move to supplant royal authority. Fearing that the cannons on the palace grounds might be used in an insurrection, Martin had them removed in May 1775.

Abandoning the palace, Martin went from New Bern to Fort Johnston, at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, where several English warships lay at anchor. He described the fort as “a wretched little place.”

Receiving reports that the Wilmington Committee of Safety planned to attack the fort and seize him, Martin took refuge on the HMS Cruizer that was resting offshore. It was a wise move, since five days later, the militia, in Martin’s words, “wantonly in the dead hour of night set on fire and reduced to ashes the houses and buildings within the Fort.”

The Cruizer would remain Martin’s headquarters through the summer and fall. From aboard the ship, on August 8, he issued his “Fiery Proclamation,” denouncing the safety committees.

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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.

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.


Moms Mabley, Boundary-Breaking Comedian from Brevard

This Day in North Carolina History - Sat, 05/23/2015 - 06:30

On May 23, 1975, the comedian known to the world as “Moms” Mabley died in a White Plains, New York hospital.

Born in Loretta Mary Aiken in Brevard around 1897, Mabley was the granddaughter of a former slave. She left home as a teenager and joined a minstrel show based in Pittsburgh, beginning a 60-year career that included work in everything from African American vaudeville to Broadway to television and the movies. Mabley also released of more than 20 comedy albums during her lifetime.

Throughout her career, Mabley performed in many of the nation’s top venues, including Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, and broke gender and racial barriers by becoming the first female comedian to perform at New York’s Apollo Theater in 1940. Her television performances included appearances on the Merv Griffin, Johnny Carson, Flip Wilson, Mike Douglas and Smothers Brothers shows.

Mabley is best remembered for her brilliant stand-up comic persona, a grumpy lady dressed in bright and crumpled housedresses, who delivered sly double-entendres tackling topics such as race and sex with expert timing and ad-libbing.

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.


National Park Status for Great Smoky Mountains, 1926

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 05/22/2015 - 06:30

A 1948 souvenir postcard from Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Image from the State Archives.

On May 22, 1926, President Calvin Coolidge signed the bill that established the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The process was difficult, taking many years and much negotiation before the park became one of the 59 parks in the national system.

The idea to create a park in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee originated in the late 1890s.  Initially there was a debate over whether to make the public land preserve a national park or a national forest. The main difference is that in a national forest timbering of the land is allowed, while in a national park, scenery and resources are protected.

Students pose at the entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Image from the Library of Congress.

Once Coolidge signed the bill establishing the park, supporters had to find the funds to purchase an initial 150,000 acres before the Department of the Interior would assume responsibility. By 1928, $10 million had been raised by individuals, the North Carolina and Tennessee state legislatures, private groups and a campaign by school children.

Thousands of small farms and homesteads as well as large timber corporations had to be bought out. The park was dedicated in 1940, and today it is regularly among the most visited national parks.

You can also check out the 1927 North Carolina law that authorized the purchase of land for the park online in the digital collections of the State Archives and State Library.

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.


Hiwassee Dam, Five Years in the Making

This Day in North Carolina History - Thu, 05/21/2015 - 06:30

Hiwassee Dam and powerhouse. Image from
the Library of Congress.

On May 21, 1940, the Hiwassee Dam in Cherokee County generated power for the first time. The dam was built by the Tennessee Valley Authority and was one of the largest construction projects in the state at that time.

The Tennessee Valley Authority was one facet of the sprawling New Deal plan created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The goal of the TVA was to bring electricity, economic development and flood control to the Southern Appalachian region and, to achieve those aims, it recommend building dams and reservoirs along the Tennessee River and its main tributaries. The Hiwassee and the Fontana Dams were the two built in western North Carolina as part of that effort.

Work on the Hiwassee project began in July 1936, and it took a crew of 1,600 men nearly four years to complete. The building of the dam and reservoir led to the creation of Hiwassee Lake which is still used today for recreation.

At the time of construction the overspill dam was the nation’s tallest at 307 feet. The final cost of construction came in at $16.8 million, which would be about $282 million if built today.

Check out Works Projects in North Carolina, 1933-1941, an online exhibit from the State Archives, for more on New Deal projects in the Tar Heel State.

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.


Secession Vote and Realigned Allegiance

This Day in North Carolina History - Wed, 05/20/2015 - 06:30

A letter book copy of North Carolina’s
Ordinance of Secession. See the full document
online from the State Archives.

On May 20, 1861, North Carolina delegates unanimously voted to approve an Ordinance of Secession from the United States.  Only three months earlier, in February 1861, North Carolinians by popular vote refused to call a convention to consider a Secession Ordinance. The vote in May made North Carolina the last state to leave the Union.

Between February and May 1861 much happened that shaped the delegates’ decision. After South Carolina passed a Secession Ordinance in December 1860, one attempt after another to stem the Secession Crisis failed. North Carolinians adopted a “watch and wait” attitude after the election of President Abraham Lincoln.

The April 12 bombardment of Fort Sumter by the budding Confederate government prompted Lincoln to call for troops to put down the rebellion. Deeming such a call an illegal use of Federal power, Governor John Ellis replied that Lincoln would get no aid North Carolina.

Ellis called for a convention. The delegates debated the wording of the resolution but not the outcome. Divided sentiments expressed earlier were not voiced and the vote to pass the resolution became unanimous. Shortly thereafter the state aligned with the Confederacy.

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Tour’s Country Stars Overshadowed by Elvis Presley

This Day in North Carolina History - Tue, 05/19/2015 - 06:30

A poster for the tour Elvis was on when he came to Raleigh. Image from ElvisBlog.

On May 19, 1955, Hank Snow’s All Star Jamboree tour, featuring a new young talent named Elvis Presley, ended at Memorial Auditorium in Raleigh.

The concert marked the beginning of the end of the touring relationship between the headliner, Faron Young, and featured new player Presley. Young later recounted that each night of the tour Elvis attracted bigger and wilder crowds. Before intermission, each show included a new talent portion in which Presley took the stage, with the headliners performing after intermission.

As the tour progressed, fans began to shout for more Elvis during the other performances, and he was called back for encore after encore. In the early days of the tour, Colonel Tom Parker, as booking agent, actually paid teenagers $5 apiece to scream for Presley. He used the publicity photographs to send to the newspapers in the next cities on the tour.

Other performers on the tour recalled how much they discounted Presley and his odd onstage behavior. Most country singers thought that he was a fad and would quickly fade, but Presley soon found himself the headliner, and few established stars would agree to perform with him on a tour.

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.


North Wilkesboro and the Roots of NASCAR

This Day in North Carolina History - Mon, 05/18/2015 - 07:18

A pit crew working during a 1954 stock car race

On May 18, 1947, the North Wilkesboro Speedway opened its doors to a crowd of more than 10,000 spectators who watched Fonty Flock win the first official race held there. The 5/8-mile oval dirt track was well-known for challenging the best of drivers.

Stock car racing fans and scholars have long acknowledged that the roots of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) are closely tied to the tradition of illegal moonshine production. Races between “runners” evolved into spectator events. The North Wilkesboro Speedway was among the first tracks recognized by NASCAR during its inaugural year of 1949. NASCAR’s first finale took place there, with the crowning of the first points champion, Robert “Red” Byron, in October 1949.

The speedway often has been called to as “The House that Junior Built,” a reference to racing legend Junior Johnson who began his career there at age 16. Johnson earned four of his 50 career NASCAR victories there, and continued his success on the track as a team owner.

The last NASCAR race at North Wilkesboro, won by Jeff Gordon, was held on September 29, 1996, with more than 60,000 fans in attendance.

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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.


Olympic Medalist Leonard No Match for Camacho

This Day in North Carolina History - Sun, 05/17/2015 - 06:30

Charles Ray in the ring at Madison Square Garden.
Image from the Library of Congress.

On May 17, 1956, Olympic gold medalist and professional boxer Charles Ray “Sugar Ray” Leonard was born in Wilmington.

Leonard spent the majority of his formative years in the suburbs of Washington D.C. where, as a teenager, he discovered his love of boxing. At the age of 20, he dominated opponents in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal and took home the gold medal in the sport. Though he had originally planned to retire following the Olympics and go to college, his father’s mounting medical bills and the birth of his son persuaded Leonard to pursue boxing professionally.

In February 1977, Leonard fought the first of forty professional bouts, defeating Luis “The Bull” Vega and claiming a $40,000 prize. He went on to claim world titles in five different weight classes.

Despite his retirement in 1991, Leonard returned to the sport at age 40 to fight Hector “Macho” Camacho. The match was an embarrassing loss for Leonard and proved to be his last. Nevertheless, he finished his career with a record of 36 wins, 3 losses and 1 draw. Twenty-five of his wins were knock-outs.

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Corbitt, Major Manufacturer of Trucks, Based in Henderson

This Day in North Carolina History - Sat, 05/16/2015 - 06:30

Early school buses manufactured by the Corbitt Truck Company
in Henderson. Image from the State Archives.

On May 16, 1961, Richard Corbitt, a well-known truck builder, died.

Corbitt began his business as a tobacco merchant in the 1890s before creating the Corbitt Buggy Company in 1899. Initially building horse drawn buggies to haul agricultural products, Corbitt’s company began to produce passenger cars and trucks, and later buses and military vehicles.

The company adopted assembly line production and that, combined with successful marketing efforts, transformed the small Henderson operation into the leader in North Carolina’s auto industry. Though the Corbitt Company made the state’s first commercially produced automobile, a motorized buggy, in 1907, the most successful products it offered were trucks. It built the first of those in 1909.

Trucks continued to be the bestselling vehicles produced by Corbitt, thanks in large part to sizable contracts with the state Highway Department and U.S. military. The company is also notable for furnishing the state’s first motorized school bus, which it delivered to the Pamlico County school system, in 1917.

Corbitt’s cars and trucks sold well in the South but the company was unable to keep pace with the mass-production operations in Detroit. When Corbitt retired in 1952, the company lost its momentum and ceased production soon after.

Do you have a Corbitt vehicle in your possession or know someone who does? Contact us if you do. The N.C. Transportation Museum is looking to acquire one for its collection.

Other related resources:

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 Facebook and Twitter.


Blockade Runner John N. Maffitt

This Day in North Carolina History - Fri, 05/15/2015 - 06:30

Maffitt in 1863. Image from the
N.C. Museum of History.

On May 15, 1886, John Newland Maffitt, captain of Confederate blockade runners, died.

Born at sea in 1819, Maffitt split his formative years between northern schools and his uncle’s home near Fayetteville. At age 13, Maffitt was commissioned as a midshipman in the United States Navy and spent 15 years with the U. S. Coast Survey, experience that proved invaluable during his time as a blockade runner.

Following the bombardment of Fort Sumter in April 1861, Maffitt resigned his commission in the Navy and received a commission as lieutenant in the Confederate States Navy. After a two month stint in command of blockade running operations out of Nassau, Maffitt assumed command of the CSS Florida and was promoted to the rank of commander. At the helm of the Florida, Maffitt shifted his attention to raiding merchant vessels during an eight-month cruise, capturing 23 ships.

Maffitt is credited with making the Confederacy’s last run of the blockade, which took place after Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender. Obeying final orders from the Confederate government, Maffitt delivered the Owl to agents in England, where he remained until 1868.

With his career at sea largely over, Maffitt retired to a farm near Wrightsville Beach.

Visit: The N.C. Maritime Museum at Southport interprets the history of the blockade runners that operated in the lower Cape Fear region.

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.


Inaugural Concert for the North Carolina Symphony, 1932

This Day in North Carolina History - Thu, 05/14/2015 - 06:30

The N.C. Symphony plays an education concert in the mid-1970s.
Image from the N.C. Symphony.

On May 14, 1932, the North Carolina Symphony played its first concert at Hill Hall on the campus of UNC. The concert included music by Wagner, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and others, and featured 48 musicians from around the state under the direction of conductor Lamar Stringfield.

The symphony had its origins earlier that year as a work relief project of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and became the first symphony orchestra to receive state aid with the passage of what became known as the “Horn Tootin’ Bill” in 1943.

Today, the North Carolina Symphony is a first-class, professional orchestra with 65 members led by Music Director Grant Llewellyn, based at Meymandi Concert Hall in downtown Raleigh. In addition to classical series in Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Fayetteville, New Bern, Southern Pines and Wilmington, their schedule also features a Pops Series, Young People’s Concerts and the annual Summerfest outdoor concert series at Cary’s Booth Amphitheatre.

Always the “people’s orchestra,” the symphony has an especially strong legacy of music education, with more than 3 million schoolchildren reached since it began its children’s concerts series in 1945. Each year the symphony puts on more than 50 educational programs in nearly as many communities across the state.

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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