Pioneer Mill Gold Mine

Occasionally, I like to present samples of my writing in this blog. My blog post on May 23, 2017 was “No Place for a Preacher’s Son?” (No Place for Preacher’s Son?) The “no place for a preacher’s son” was the Pioneer Mill community in Township One of Cabarrus County, North Carolina in the 1870s.

Gold Fever!

The reason for Pioneer Mill being a “boom” place in the 1800s was due to the development of a gold mine there. Gold was first discovered in the United States in Cabarrus County in 1799.

“Gold fever” soon took hold of the region and numerous gold mines were developed in Cabarrus County in the early 1800s. In fact, so much gold was found in the area that in 1837 a branch of the United States Mint was opened in Charlotte in adjoining Mecklenburg County

I heard about the Pioneer Mill Gold Mine when I was a young child. I knew where it had been. I should have asked “the older generation” some questions about it, but now that generation is gone.

Finding myself in “the older generation,” I researched the gold mine in order to write a two-part series about it for the now defunct Harrisburg Horizons newspaper in 2012. Today’s blog hits the highlights of those newspaper articles.

After the 1799 discovery of gold on John Reed’s land in Township Ten, everyone in Cabarrus County probably started searching for gold on their property. The date that gold was first discovered at Pioneer Mill is unknown, but the 1869 Branson Business Directory described the mine as “among the earliest discovered mines in the State.

The land on which the Pioneer Mill Mine was worked in the 1800s was purchased in the 1760s by James Morrison, an immigrant from Campbeltown, Scotland. It passed down to his son, John. John and his wife, the former Mary McCurdy, had 11 children. Their youngest child, Robert Harvey Morrison, was born in 1817.

Robert Harvey Morrison remained on the family land and was quite prosperous. The stately two-story house at the entrance to the present-day Cedarvale subdivision on Morrison Road was the home he built for his family of eight children.

Mineral Rights

From a deed registered in Cabarrus County, we know that in 1853 Robert H. Morrison sold the mineral rights on his 640 acres of land to Collett Leventhorpe of Rutherford County, North Carolina and Richard H. Northrop of Albany, New York for $5,000.

In June of 1854, Messrs. Leventhorpe and Northrop, both identified as being of Rutherford County, sold the mineral rights and mining machinery to Francis Rider of New York City for $475,000.

Mr. Rider was identified as the president of the Pioneer Mill Mining Company, “an association incorporated in pursuance of the provisions of an act of the Legislature of the State of New York” that authorized the formation of “Corporations for Manufacturing, Mining, Mechanical or Chemical purposes Passed February 17th 1848.”

I requested a copy of the incorporation papers of the Pioneer Mill Mining Company from the State Archives of New York State, but the researchers there were unable to find a record of the company.

Geology

Ebenezer Emmons served as State Geologist in North Carolina from 1851 until 1863. Dr. Emmons described the veins of gold at the Pioneer Mill Mine in an undated report, “Geological Report of the Midland Counties of North Carolina” as a fine example of veins of gold coming off a foot-wall.

An electronic copy of the Emmons report can be found online through the University of North Carolina’s Documents of the South Collection at http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/emmonsml/emmons.html. He wrote, “In some instances the segments are so distinct that on being removed the lode seems to have run out, but on working back to the foot-wall, another segment is encountered.”

“Foot-wall” is the rock underlying a mineral deposit. The report noted that the Pioneer Mill Mine was in syenite granite.

I have heard it said that in the days of dirt roads and horse-drawn wagons, when horses’ hooves clacked along the road at the intersection of Morrison Road and Pioneer Mill Road, there was a hollow sound that led to speculation that there was an old mine shaft under the roadway.

Dr. Ebenezer Emmons wrote that the Pioneer Mill Mine was in a cluster of interesting mines for which he held great expectations, although the Pioneer Mill Mine was the only one in the cluster in operation at the time of the report.

He described it as “twelve miles east of Concord, and situated upon the eastern border of the sienitic [also spelled syenite] granite, and in a belt upon which there are numerous veins carrying both gold and copper. The vein fissure in the granite is between sixteen and seventeen feet wide. Its direction is N.70°E. The true vein stone is quartz from eight to thirty inches thick, both sides of which is bounded by the killas.”

“Killas” is a Cornish mining term for metamorphic rock strata of sedimentary origin altered by heat from intruding granite.

The Emmons report indicated that there were four veins of gold on the Robert Harvey Morrison plantation. The first vein was a mile south of the Pioneer Mill Mine. Dr. Emmons found refuse ore rich in gold around an old shaft at that vein which was in quartz interspersed with “sulphurets.”

The second vein was a mile east and resembled the first. The third was a vein of gold in combination with copper pyrites. The fourth vein was of quartz and iron pyrites in the northeast part of the plantation. All four veins generally ran northeast.

Dr. Emmons reported that the Pioneer Mill Mine ground 30-40 bushels of ore daily, although he noted that at 11 revolutions per minute, the Chilean millstones in operation were not set at the proper speed for the ore being ground.

The report listed 14 totals of bushels ranging from 38 bushels to 154 bushels and the corresponding yield in gold in dollars. (It is not known if these were weekly totals over a period of time or exactly what time frame is covered by the list.) The list totaled 1,677 bushels of ore producing $5,674 in gold. That was in mid-19th century dollars, when gold was valued at $18.93 per troy ounce.

The Pioneer Mill Mine employed 15-20 men from 18 to 20 days-a-month. The cost of operating the mine was $400 per month. Dr. Emmons noted that the mine had nearly gone under after incurring too much debt, but under a new agent who was more attentive to the machinery and who had started using mercury in the Chilean mill the mine started turning the handsome profit detailed above.

In backyard of Robert Harvey Morrison House
Part of a gold ore grinding stone from the Pioneer Mill Gold Mine.

Dr. Emmons wrote that the Pioneer Mill Mine would have had truly impressive profits had it had machinery capable of grinding 100 bushels of ore per day.

The glory days of the Pioneer Mill Mine ended with the American Civil War in 1861. It took decades for our local economy to recover from the years of the War and Reconstruction. With the passage of time, it ceased to be cost effective to mine for gold in Cabarrus County.

According to the Carolina Watchman newspaper on September 17, 1891, the Pioneer Mill Mine was then owned by Mr. E.C. Black “and he is making some nice finds. He has found several large nuggets; one worth $50, another $12 and still another $37.”

Needless to say, I was thrilled to find Dr. Emmons’ report for without it we would know almost nothing about the Pioneer Mill Mine. Driving through the Pioneer Mill community today, one would never guess that 160 years ago it was a gold mining boom town.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. Just for fun, I’m reading Hardcore Twenty-Four, by Janet Evanovich. All the books I requested at the public library in November (or earlier) have become available to me at the same time. I have three that have come to my Kindle and one traditional book at the library. Time will tell if I’m able to get them read in the time I have allotted by the library system.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Janet

No Place for Preacher’s Son?

Today’s blog post is an edited local history newspaper column I wrote for the August 23, 2006 edition of Harrisburg Horizons newspaper, Harrisburg, North Carolina. Appearing in the newspaper as “Pioneer Mills:  No Place for a Preacher’s Son,” it paints a picture of the Rocky River and Pioneer Mills communities in Cabarrus County in the 1870s.

Manse wasn’t ready!

The Rev. Joseph B. Mack came from Charleston, South Carolina in 1871 to be the pastor of Rocky River Presbyterian Church. When he and his family arrived, the manse the congregation was building for his family to live in was not completed.

Church members Robert Harvey Morrison and his wife, the former Mary Ann Stuart, moved their family into a tenant house and gave the new minister’s family their home in the Pioneer Mills community. This was no small sacrifice because the manse was not completed until 1873! The Morrisons’s two youngest children, an 18-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old son were still in the household, and Mr. and Mrs. Morrison were in their 50s.

Robert Harvey Morrison House
Robert Harvey Morrison Home, built circa 1846. (Photograph taken by Janet Morrison, May 3, 2008.)

The Robert Harvey Morrison home was built as early as 1846 when he inherited the land from his father. The house and its numerous out-buildings have been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1990.

In case you’re wondering

Robert Harvey Morrison was a relative of mine but not a direct ancestor. In the 1800s my part of the family didn’t live in grand houses like the one pictured. Gold was never found on the property my part of the family owned. There was a gold mine on the land that Robert Harvey Morrison inherited from his father.

Pioneer Mills was a gold-mining boom town in the early- to mid-19th century. It was apparently still a rip-roarin’ place in 1871.

Dr. William Mack’s memories in 1912

A special homecoming was held at the church on August 12, 1912. Rev. Mack’s son, Dr. William Mack, was unable to attend. He sent his regrets from New York and put some of his childhood memories on paper. Fortunately for us, his letter to homecoming master of ceremonies Mr. Morrison Caldwell was printed in the Concord newspapers the following week.

Dr. Mack wrote, “My first Rocky River recollection is of getting off the train at Harris Depot [now, Harrisburg, NC] and going in the dark to the home of Uncle Solomon Harris.” I don’t believe Dr. Mack was related to Mr. Harris. This was probably a term of endearment and respect.

He continued, “There we met Ed and ‘Little Jim’ (to distinguish him from ‘Big Jim,’ the son of Mr. McKamie Harris.) Uncle Solomon had the biggest fire-place I ever saw; it seemed as big as a barn door.

“Shortly afterwards we went to Pioneer Mills….  There… was the old Gold mine, Barnhardt’s store and McAnulty’s shoemaker shop…. While there I decided to become either a merchant or shoemaker, for Barnhardt’s store and McAnulty’s shop kindled young ambitions; better to ‘keep store’ or ‘mend shoes,’ than as a preacher’s son to be moving around from place to place.

“But Pioneer Mills was ‘no place for a preacher’s son.’ Soon we moved again; this time to the brand new brick parsonage, close by the church. We used to go to church in a big closed carriage drawn by two mules; now, every Sunday, we walked to church, going down a steep hill, across a branch, and through the grove to the famous old house of worship.”

Dr. Mack’s letter also read, “Those were happy years; happy in springtime with its apple blossoms, song birds, morning-glories and Tish McKinley’s Sassafras tea; happy in the summertime, with its blackberries and plums, its bob-whites in the wheat fields, its lightning and thunder storms, its bare-footed boys and girls, and its bitter quinine to keep off third-day chills; happy in the autumn time, with its white fields of unpicked cotton and its beautiful trees with leaves of myriad hues; and happy in the wintertime, with its snows, its big hickory back-logs, its boys in boots red-topped and toes brass-tipped, its red-cheeked girls in wraps and ‘choke rags,’ and its Christmas Holidays and turkeys.”

Dr. Mack’s colorful memories paint an idyllic picture of life in Township One in Cabarrus County in the early 1870s. I hope the children growing up here in the 21st century will have equally-as-fond memories of this place.

My sources

My sources for this blog post were the following:  The Presbyterian Congregation on Rocky River, by Thomas Hugh Spence, Jr, 1954; The Concord Daily Tribune, August 16, 1912; The Concord Times, August 19, 1912; http://www.hpo.ncdcr.gov/nr/CA0498.pdf (photocopy of the National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Robert Harvey Morrison Farm and Pioneer Mills Gold Mine); and Descendants of James & Jennet Morrison of Rocky River, by Alice Marie Morrison and Janet Sue Morrison.

Until my next blog post

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I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet

 

1863 Cabarrus County Tax Assessment

On the 20th day of the 2017 A to Z Blog Challenge, the featured letter is “T.” Most people don’t enjoy reading about taxes, but today I am blogging about the 1863 Cabarrus County Tax Assessment. I can safely say that there is only one Cabarrus County in the United States, and it is located in the southern piedmont of North Carolina.

What’s so special about it?

Cabarrus County is one of the few North Carolina counties for which the 1863 Tax Assessment records exist.

It is sobering to read the pages of the 1863 Cabarrus County Tax Assessment. It is a list of every slave owner in Cabarrus County, North Carolina at that time, along with the name, age, physical condition, and monetary value of each of their slaves. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to read this tax document through African American eyes.

I was pleased to find these records in 2003 when I was compiling a list of the 1,000+ slaves and free persons of color who were members of or were baptized at Rocky River Presbyterian Church between Concord and Harrisburg in Cabarrus County prior to 1870. I was able to supplement the church’s records with these tax records for my privately printed-on-demand booklet, “Slaves and Free Blacks Known to be Associated with Rocky River Presbyterian Church Prior to 1870.”

The following is a slightly edited version of one of my local history newspaper columns published in 2006 in Harrisburg Horizons weekly newspaper. The name of my column was, “Did You Know?” The original version of the article can be found on my website at http://janetmorrisonbooks.com/1863%20tax.html.

Did You Know?

Did you know that Cabarrus County is one of the few counties in North Carolina for which the 1863 Tax Assessment records exist? It wasn’t until I inquired in Charlotte and at the State Archives in Raleigh that I learned that no such records survived for Mecklenburg County.

“What’s the big deal?” you may ask.

The Congress of the Confederate States of America passed Statute 177 on August 19, 1861, which authorized the levying of a tax to help finance the Southern states’ government and military during the American Civil War. A tax rate of fifty cents per $100 valuation was established.

Taxable property included “real estate, slaves, merchandise, stocks, securities, money, and other property.” Subsequent legislation expanded the list in April, 1863, to include agricultural products, many occupations and trades, some businesses, and income.

The Cabarrus County Board of Assessors met at the courthouse in Concord on April 9, 1863. The Board increased the values of thirteen pieces of property in District (now Township) One and then recorded the names of all taxpayers by district.

The 1863 Cabarrus Tax Assessment records list each property owner in alphabetical order by district. The districts of 1863 essentially coincide with today’s townships. There are columns for number of acres of land owned, value per acre, and total value. The river or creek on which the land lay is also indicated.

In 1863, real estate in what is now Township One (the township in which Rocky River Presbyterian Church is located) ranged in value from $6 to $400 per acre. Most land was valued in the $6 to $20 per acre range. One of the exceptions was the half acre of land owned by Howie and Johnston, mercantile business partners in Harrisburg. Although their store closed in 1858, the property was valued at $200 in 1863.

It is interesting to read about the old land values and to think how things have changed, but the most intriguing part of the 1863 Tax Assessment records for me is the list of slaves. Under each slave holder is a list of their slaves by name. The age of each slave is given, along with their value. In cases of physical or mental disability, the type of disability is listed.

Pattern in slaves’ monetary value

There is a definite pattern in how the slaves were valued. Male children were generally valued at the rate of $100 for each year of their age, while female children were valued at $50 less. Slaves less than one year old were valued at $100. Young adult female slaves were typically valued at around $1,400, while young adult male slaves were valued around $1,600. The value of a slave in his or her late 30s began to decrease.

Two slaves listed as being blacksmiths were valued at $1,800 each, which was the highest value of any slaves in Township One.

It is sobering to read the names of the slaves and to see a monetary value placed on them. As an amateur genealogist and historian, I see tremendous value in the records.

Sources I used

1863 Cabarrus County Tax Assessment List on microfilm at the Lore Local History Room, Cabarrus County Public Library, Concord, North Carolina

The Confederacy:  A Guide to the Archives of the Government of the Confederate States of America, by Henry Putney Beers, 1968.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. (After reading one-third of Bittersweet, by Colleen McCullough, I decided I wasn’t interested enough in the story to finish the book. I’m reading The Mother’s Promise, by Sally Hepworth.)

If you are a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet

N is for Newspaper Column

Today is the 14th day of the 2017 A to Z Blog Challenge, so the featured letter is “N.” I wrote a local history column for a weekly newspaper, Harrisburg Horizons, in Harrisburg, North Carolina for six and a half years.

My freelance “job” with the newspaper took me in many unexpected directions. One of my first columns (July 12, 2006) was titled, “Native American Projectile Points.” The following is a slightly revised version of that column. Some of the wording has been changed and all the photographs have been added to this blog post.

Do you think Harrisburg’s history began with the earliest European settlers, or even with the coming of the railroad in the 1850s? Today, I invite you to join me on a journey into prehistoric Harrisburg in the southern piedmont section of North Carolina.

Schiele Museum, Gastonia, NC

I recently made an appointment to take my collection of Indian arrowheads to Dr. Alan May, staff archaeologist at the Schiele Museum in Gastonia, NC. The first thing I learned was that I didn’t have a collection of Indian arrowheads!  The proper term is “projectile point,” which includes spear points and arrowheads.

I proudly opened the box containing my small collection. Dr. May examined each piece. I held my breath and waited for him to gasp upon spying a rare and valuable piece. He did not gasp.

My collection turned out to be mundane and of no particular interest to an archaeologist; however, the insight Dr. May shared that day gave me much to think about and opened a window on prehistoric Harrisburg.

I expected Dr. May to tell me that my projectile points dated back to the 1600s or possibly a little earlier than that. I expected him to tell me that the points were typical of the Catawba or perhaps even the Cherokee. That’s not what he said.

Middle Archaic – Morrow Mountain

Two of my projectile points are called “Morrow Mountain” pieces. They are from the Middle Archaic period which ended around 3000 B.C. (or B.C.E., if you prefer.)

Base of a projectile, Morrow Mtn., Middle Archaic
Base of projectile, Middle Archaic, Morrow Mountain.
Arrowheads, Tools, & Rocks 012
Middle Archaic (2,000 to 3,000 B.C.E.) Morrow Mountain Projectile Point

Middle Archaic Guilford

Two other pieces are of the “Guilford” style and also date to the Middle Archaic period when Native Americans hunted bison in North Carolina.

Broken example of Middle Archaic - Guilford
Broken example of Middle Archaic – Guilford projectile point.
Middle Archaic - Guilford
Middle Archaic, Guilford projectile point.

Late Archaic

Several of the projectile points in my collection are “Savannah River Stemmed “ points from the Late Archaic period, 1000 to 3000 B.C. This period was cooler than Middle Archaic. Deer, rabbits, and raccoons were hunted for food.

Late Archaic. Flagstone or field stone argilite, probably like what's coming out of the quarry nearby.
Late Archaic. Flagstone or field stone, probably like rock that is currently being mined from a nearby quarry.
Late Archaic. Thin bioface straight-sided projectile broken in use or when re-sharpened. Good material.
Thin biface straight-sided Late Archaic projectile point. Broken either by use or when re-sharpened.

Ancient Tool:  Anvil

I was certain that Dr. May would identify one of the smooth rocks I took him as an early Native American tool. He said it was just a rock that had been smoothed by water. Another rock, which hadn’t seemed as interesting to me, turned out to be an anvil.

This is an anvil. Notice the slight depression in roughness in middle on one side.
This is a stone anvil.

Some rocks I took to the museum were magnetic, which wasn’t a surprise; our red clay soil is rich in iron. One piece that appeared to be a rock was identified as slag hammered by a blacksmith. That made sense, because my father told me that there used to be a blacksmith’s shop in what is now my front yard.

Gold?

The rock I hoped he would say held flecks of gold, held flecks of worthless pyrite instead. I can see why it’s called “fool’s gold.”

pyrite and flecks of gold and lead. Dr. Alan May at Schiele thought this was a neat piece.
Lead with pyrite and flecks of gold. Dr. May thought this was an interesting piece.

Dr. May recommended that I send a detailed report about my collection to the Office of State Archaeology in Raleigh. The State has a form called “North Carolina Amateur Archaeological Site Form.” Dr. May said they will pinpoint my yard on a map and keep a record of my findings.

My visit with Dr. May brought surprises, both good ones and disappointing ones. I came home knowing that 5,000 years ago as the Egyptians developed hieroglyphic writing and the darkness was first lighted by candles, Native Americans were hunting deer and bison in my yard. Wow!

That was the end of my July 12, 2006 newspaper column. For now, it’s the end of the story. When I read the column last night for the first time in many years, I realized that I never followed through with Dr. May’s recommendation that I send a detailed report to the Office of State Archaeology in Raleigh. I’ve added that report to my “to-do” list, but writing must still come first.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. (I’m reading a nonfiction book, In Order to Live:  A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom, by Yeonmi Park with Maryanne Vollers. It was published in 2015, but I’m finding it particularly interesting as I read it during rising tension between North Korea and the United States. I highly recommend it!)

If you are a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet

Early X-ray and a Thimble

Did you know that a girl from the Rocky River community in Cabarrus County, North Carolina was the first person whose life was saved in the United States with the aid of the X-ray? Today’s blog post is an edited version of a local history newspaper column I wrote in 2006 for Harrisburg Horizons, a short-lived weekly newspaper. I usually blog about writing fiction, but this is an example of my nonfiction writing.

Discovery of the X-ray

Just three months after Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen of Bavaria discovered the X-ray, a scientist from Davidson, North Carolina used it in a Rocky River home to help save Ellen Harris’ life. It was a February day in 1896.

Dr. Henry Louis Smith of Davidson read about Roentgen’s discovery of the X-ray. He went to Dr. J.P. Munroe’s laboratory in the small medical school on the campus of Davidson College. The laboratory had the same equipment as that used by Mr. Roentgen.

Dr. Smith fired a bullet into the palm of a corpse’s hand. He then made a successful X-ray of the hand.

Ellen Harris Swallows Thimble

Soon thereafter, Mr. and Mrs. William Edwin Harris’ twelve-year-old daughter, Ellen, swallowed a tailor’s thimble. The open-ended thimble lodged in her throat and made it increasingly difficult for her to breathe or eat over the following days.

Tailor's Thimble
Tailor’s Thimble

Area physicians did not agree on a diagnosis. Three doctors thought she coughed up the thimble and damaged her throat in the process. One doctor speculated that the thimble hurt her throat as it passed to her stomach. Only one of the five doctors consulted thought the thimble was still in Ellen’s throat.

A man in Charlotte, the largest town in the area, told Dr. Smith about Ellen’s predicament. Dr. Smith asked the man to convey to Ellen’s parents his willingness to help them.

Ellen’s frantic father and mother believed that Dr. Smith could help their daughter. Mr. Harris traveled to Davidson in a wagon (a distance of about 30 miles — perhaps more in those days) and brought Dr. Smith and his X-ray equipment to his home near Rocky River Presbyterian Church on Rocky River Road.

Mr. and Mrs. Harris placed Ellen on a sheet fashioned into a hammock. Dr. Smith set up his crude X-ray apparatus. A large and heavy battery and induction coil powered the equipment.

According to a letter that Dr. Smith wrote to Dr. Robert M. Lafferty, he crouched on the floor under the girl. After an hour’s work with a fluoroscope, he got a fleeting glimpse of the thimble in the child’s windpipe. There was no lasting image on film like in X-rays today.

Dr. Smith returned to Davidson and the Harris family set out for a hospital in Charlotte. The doctors there refused to operate on Ellen. They wanted to see exactly where the thimble rested before they made an incision.

The Charlotte surgeons wired Dr. Smith their concerns. Surgery was Ellen’s only hope for survival. Without knowing the exact location of the thimble, though, the surgeons feared they would lose their patient on the operating table.

Dr. Smith immediately brought his X-ray equipment from Davidson to the hospital. Once more, the apparatus pinpointed the location of the thimble in Ellen’s trachea. The image paved the way for the operation.

The surgeons soon discovered that Ellen’s flesh partially grew over the rusting thimble. This made the thimble’s removal difficult and challenging. The arduous two-hour surgery saved Ellen’s life and put the Rocky River community on the medical history map!

My sources:

Early Medicine in Cabarrus, primary data collected by Eugenia W. Lore and edited by Jane Harris Nierenberg, 1990.  (Includes newspaper articles from The Concord Tribune, November 9, 1945, and December 10, 1945.)

Open the Gate and Roam Cabarrus With Us, by Adelaide and Eugenia Lore, 1971.

The Historic Architecture of Cabarrus County, North Carolina, by Peter R. Kaplan, 1981.

Hornets’ Nest:  The Story of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, by LeGette Blythe and Charles R. Brockmann, 1961.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. (I finished Right Behind You, by Lisa Gardner and have started reading Chasing the North Star, by Robert Morgan.) If you are a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Janet

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Trains Crash in Harrisburg, 1897

My blog post on February 7, 2017 Two Lines I Like from a Margaret Maron Novel was about train whistles. I quoted a couple of lines from Long Upon the Land, by Margaret Maron and reminisced about train whistles in my hometown of Harrisburg, North Carolina. Today’s blog post is an edited version of a two-part article I wrote for my “Did You Know?” local history newspaper column in Harrisburg Horizons weekly newspaper on April 4 and April 13, 2007.

nc-transportation-museum-6-19-10-010
Steam locomotive at the NC Transportation Museum, Spencer, NC.

Head-On Collision!

Did you know that the Sunday morning tranquility in Harrisburg was shattered on April 11, 1897, by the head-on collision of two steam trains?

North-bound Southern “fast mail” train No. 36 had orders to wait at Harrisburg until 11:15 for the south-bound local passenger train No. 11. The passenger train from the nearby town of Concord was running behind schedule. As No. 36 approached Harrisburg, engineer W.B. Tunstall of Danville, Virginia, expected to see No. 11 sitting in the siding.

Seeing no waiting train, Tunstall steamed ahead at 45 miles per hour. By the time the No. 11 came into view, there was nothing Tunstall could do but apply the brakes and jump out of the locomotive.

Newspaper accounts indicate that some Harrisburg residents saw what was going to happen but were helpless to do anything. The crash was heard for miles around and was likened to “a sharp crack of thunder.”  The engine of No. 11 ran over the engine of No. 36. The boiler of No. 36 rested on the floor of No. 11’s postal car.

An express car of No. 36 derailed and landed 150 feet from the track. Another car, hauling strawberries and fresh vegetables, was torn to pieces. Produce was strewn over the area. Train parts were thrown as far as seventy-five yards away.

None of the 96 passengers on No. 36 were injured. They immediately exited the train to see what had happened and, subsequently, did what they could to help the injured train and postal employees.

Less than three minutes after the collision, with its headlight up in the telegraph wires, No. 11’s postal car burst into flames. If not for the quick action of one of the train’s postal clerks, John Hill Carter, both trains probably would have burned, but newspaper accounts do not tell how he extinguished the fire. Mr. Carter was praised for risking his life to put out the fire and save others.

Casualties

The accounts of the agony suffered by the employees who were killed or injured in the wreck are given in great detail in the newspaper accounts of the day. Some were pinned under the wreckage, while others were badly burned by the steam from the boilers. Passengers formed a bucket brigade to throw cold water on one of the trapped men to help relieve his suffering from the steam.

Capt. Tunstall was found unconscious and badly scalded on an embankment. The conductor of No. 11, James Lovell of Richmond, Virginia, was cut on the face. Fitzhugh Lee, a porter on No. 11, was pinned in from the knees down. William Clemmens of East Durham, North Carolina, and R.E. Gallagher, an express messenger, were also injured.

The impact itself and the resulting release of steam caused four deaths and a number of serious injuries.

Those who were killed in the wreck or died immediately after were as follows:  Postal clerk T. Clingman Benton of Monroe, NC and Charlotte; John or Titus Eudy of Forest Hills in Concord; No. 36 fireman Will Donaldson of Lynchburg, Virginia; and J.C. Kinney of Thomasville, NC. Capt. Kinney was badly scalded. It was thought that he also inhaled steam which caused internal misery.

First Responders and Thrill Seekers

News of the collision was immediately telegraphed to the train depot in Charlotte. In less than forty-five minutes, a rescue train was dispatched from that city. It transported a Dr. McCombs and Dr. E.M. Brevard. Cots were taken for transporting the wounded and dead to Charlotte. Mr. Eudy survived the crash but died en route to Charlotte.

The citizens of Harrisburg were praised in the newspaper accounts for helping to clear the wreckage. Engines pulled from both directions to clear the track. Debris removal continued through the night, while another work crew laid a temporary track around the wreck. That track was in place by that night when the No. 35 fast mail train gingerly made its way through Harrisburg.

On April 12, 1897, The Charlotte Observer reported that hundreds of thrill seekers “on wheels, horseback and in buggies were flying toward Harrisburg. At 2 o’clock a horse could not be had in any of the stables for love or money.”  Many other people gathered at the train depot in Charlotte to await the arrival of the rescue train at 4 p.m.

That same newspaper account reported that one of the No. 36 passengers, Charles Bitterman of New Orleans, belonged to “The Riverside Wheelmen” cyclist club and was on his way to a bicycle race in New York. The article stated that Bitterman belonged “to National Circuit and will be here later with the professional men.” (Cycling clubs were all the rage in America and Europe in the 1890s.)

As I edit this article in 2017, the at-grade railroad crossings in Harrisburg have been closed and replaced by bridges in order to make way for the new high-speed rail. I have crossed that railroad thousands of times, and after learning about the 1897 train wreck in 2007 I was often reminded of the gory details of that fateful day when mangled and splintered train cars, bodies, and fresh produce were scattered in the nearby fields. It must have been an awful sight along with the screams of the injured who were in agony.

The train wreck of 1897 was, no doubt, long-remembered by Harrisburg and surrounding residents. When I interviewed Harrisburg resident and retired railway employee Harry R. Higgins on January 21, 2007, he remembered that Floyd Smith often came to the train depot in Concord when Mr. Higgins worked there. Mr. Higgins heard him tell about a block office employee who let a train into a block by mistake when another train was coming. The man realized his mistake and left in guilt because he knew what was about to happen. Mr. Higgins did not know if this was referring to the 1897 wreck in Harrisburg or not.

At the end of my article I asked for anyone who knew of a first-hand written account or oral history of the accident to please share that information with me, but no one offered additional details.

My Stint as a Newspaper Columnist

I am glad I had the opportunity to write a local history column in Harrisburg Horizons for six years. It gave me a reason to visit many of the older members of the community and take notes about their memories. Local newspapers preserved on microfilm sometimes provided a topic for me. I found it surprising that I had never heard about this horrific steam train head-on collision until I stumbled upon it in the microfilmed newspaper records. Mr. Harry R. Higgins has died since I asked him about the train wreck. He followed in his father’s footsteps as a railroad employee.

A Call to Action

If you have an interest in the local history where you live, I hope you talk to the older residents and record their memories. This is especially important if you live in a rural area or a small town that has never had a newspaper. That was the case here in Harrisburg. The town did not have a newspaper until 2006 and, unfortunately, it ceased publication in 2012.

Until my next blog post

Until my next blog post, I hope you have a good book to read. If you are a writer, I hope you have productive writing time. Please help me get the word out about my writing and my blog by clicking on the social media icons below or by the old-fashioned way – word of mouth. I appreciate it!

Janet

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George Washington Ate Here

That’s quite a change from my usual blog post titles! My post a few days ago was rather “heavy” in that it was about the things I think I need to do this year to further my writing career. I’m glad that’s out of the way now, so I can get back to more interesting topics. Today I’m doing something I haven’t done before in my blog. I’m sharing a small sample of my writing.

Did You Know?

I wrote a local history column titled, “Did You Know?” in Harrisburg Horizons, a weekly newspaper here in Cabarrus County, North Carolina from May 2006 through December 2012. It was a perfect opportunity for me as it allowed me to do two of my favorite things:  historical research and writing. It was my first freelance writing job. I had complete control over when I worked on the column and what topics I chose. I had a deadline every two weeks, but the day-to-day freedom the work gave me was a perfect fit for me. Once-a-month in 2017 I plan to share one of my newspaper columns or an essay or short story I’ve written. Today’s offering is a slightly edited version of my May 31, 2006 newspaper column.

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George Washington Ate Here

President George Washington didn’t sleep here, but did you know that he ate in Harrisburg? That might be a wee bit of a stretch, but on Sunday, May 29, 1791, he ate a meal where Charlotte Motor Speedway now sits. Most locals still consider the speedway to be in Harrisburg, although it is now in the Concord city limits.

Colonel Moses Alexander and his wife, Sarah, purchased the land from Henry McCulloch and built a house. Col. Alexander died around 1772. Sarah married Robert Smith and he moved into her home.

Robert Smith was a Colonel in the British Army prior to the American Revolution. He took up arms to fight for American independence and rose to the rank of Major General.

The Smiths named their plantation “Smithfield.” The house survived into the 1960s and stood just a few feet from US-29. It served as the ticket office for the Charlotte Motor Speedway for several years.

The beloved Revolutionary general and sitting United States President, George Washington, took a tour of The South in 1791. As a result of that tour, there are numerous historical markers titled, “George Washington Slept Here.” There is no such roadside marker at the corner of US-29 and Morehead Road, but there should be one that says, “George Washington Ate Here.” President Washington spent the night of May 28, 1791 in Charlotte. After noting in his diary that the village was “a trifling place,” he traveled northeast out The Great Wagon Road which was a forerunner of US-29.

Open the Gate and Roam Cabarrus With Us,” by Adelaide and Eugenia Lore, states that President Washington traveled “in a coach of pale ivory and gilt.”

C.E. Claghorn III’s book, Washington’s Travels in the Carolinas and Georgia, says the President “was accompanied by Major William Jackson, five servants, two footmen, coachmen & postilion [guide], chariot & four horses, light baggage wagon drawn by two horses, four saddle horses plus one for himself.”

The green meadows and hardwood forests of our area probably reminded the President of his Virginia homeland. Our red clay rolling hills were in stark contrast to the sandy South Carolina Lowcountry he visited on his way to North Carolina.

Can you imagine how nervous Sarah Smith was on the days leading up to the President’s arrival? It would be interesting to know the menu she planned. Being late May, the summer staples of squash and beans were not in season.

Mrs. Smith’s spring garden possibly provided turnips, radishes, and an assortment of greens and herbs. No doubt a servant retrieved a well-cured country ham from the log smokehouse for the occasion. In my mind’s eye, I see a bowl of fresh wild strawberries on the dining table or perhaps strawberry shortcake with fresh cream drizzled on top for dessert.

I would have liked to have been privy to President Washington and Gen. Smith’s conversation. Perhaps the President “broke the ice” by asking Smith about the battles he participated in during the Revolution. They probably discussed political matters of the day such as the moving of the nation’s capital from New York City to Philadelphia the previous year.

After dining at “Smithfield,” President Washington returned to his coach and traveled to Colonel Martin Phifer’s “Red Hill” tavern near the Poplar Tent section of the county. He lodged at “Red Hill” that night before continuing on toward Salisbury at four o’clock the next morning.

Until my next blog post, I hope you have a good book to read. If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.  Feel free to Tweet about my blog or share it on other social media.

Janet

Sources I used as I researched this newspaper column’s subject:

Piedmont Neighbors:  Historical Sketches of Cabarrus, Stanly and Southern Rowan Counties, edited by Clarence D. Horton, Jr. and Kathryn L. Bridges.

Open the Gate and Roam Cabarrus With Us, by  Adelaide and Eugenia Lore, 1971.

The Historic Architecture of Cabarrus County, North Carolina, by Peter R. Kaplan, 1981.

A Light and Lively Look Back at Cabarrus County, North Carolina, by Helen Arthur-Cornett, 2004.

Washington’s Travels in the Carolinas and Georgia, by C.E. Claghorn III.

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