Thomasville, NC

Thursday, July 28, 1921


Recollections of the Founding and Growth During the Early Years of Thomasville


By the late Mrs. John T. Cramer, Daughter of the Founder, John W. Thomas


            John W. Thomas, my father, who was the founder of Thomasville, N. C., lived at “Fair Grove,” when the North Carolina Railroad was surveyed.  He was in the State Senate when the charter was granted, and gave it his strongest support.  He came here and bought about four hundred acres of land from Johnahan [sic] Winston, with a view of establishing a town.  He always told us “there was nothing here when he came but a burned hogpen.”

            It was an old camping ground known as the “Whitehart Hog Crossing,” where the college now stands.

            The campers used water from the spring at the Cramer factory.  Later a saw mill was built near it, which furnished lumber for building houses and the plank road between Greensboro and Salisbury.  Hill and Winston first owned it, but sold to my father.

            About 1850 the Winslow house was built where L. W. Elliott now lives.  After occupying it for some time L. L. Thomas rented it and moved here to keep boarders while the hotel was being built, the house we now live in.  Some log cabins were erected for workmen to use, who cleaned up the forests and worked any and everywhere for the advancement of the prospective town.

            John W. Thomas’ store was completed in 1852 and was considered a marvel of skill and architecture, and drew the country people like a magnet.  David Lambeth owned it when it was burned a few years ago, and from its ashes has risen one of the handsomest brick blocks of our new town.

            The Rounasville house was building at the same time the Lewis Thomas Hotel was going up and the Wm. Foster house opposite.  Then the John W. Thomas house was built by Winslow and Foster and was considered a grand mansion in those times.

            About this time my father took the contract for building six miles of the North Carolina Railroad, beginning here and going toward Lexington, while Valentine Hoover and others went toward High Point.

            The first child born in the new town was William Bascom Thomas, son of Lewis Thomas.  The first death was Nelson Foster, brother of William, and the next was David Hill Thomas, my brother.  They were buried back of our Methodist church, and in after years were moved with many others to the new cemetery.

            While the railroad was being built the town was progressing every way and many desirable citizens were moving their families here.

            When the railroad was completed Thomasville put on her gala attire and prepared a big “barbecue” to welcome the first passenger train and its operatives coming from the south.

            The whole country for miles came to do honor to such a grand occasion and the variety of vehicles, to say nothing of the style, would do credit to any curiosity shop in existence.  Long before time for the arrival of the train runners were station[ed] down the track to give warning, and when she hove in sight they had to run over each other getting out of the way yelling “She’s a’comin’.”  Just as the people were thinking of dinner there was a roar like an earthquake and before the last toot of the engine was over the inhabitants and horses were flying to the woods and it was said many never came back to enjoy the dinner.  The first engine used here to haul dint sills and iron was the “Traho,” Capt. W. B. Lewis, engineer.  The first agent appointed was Lewis L. Thomas and the ticket office was in the room where our parlor is.  The train stopped in front of the hotel at a long platform.  The passengers took their time to eat, and when the conductor got through he hunted them up and off they went, never dreaming of the days when they must eat by the minute and if you were not on hand you were left.

            In 1855 C. M. and G. Lines moved here from Bush Hill (now called Archdale).  They built a factory for making leather belts and brogan shoes for farmers.  The shoes became famous all over the south, and so the Lines Company was induced to add a nice grade for men and women to their mammoth trade.  Northern workmen came down and many men in town went into the shop to work, which was easy, as well as good pay.  Then a fine boot and shoe factory was opened where Mr. Cates’ store now stands, operated by Lewis Thomas, and the town was called the “Lynn” of the South.

            At this time it became necessary to name the town, which my father did, calling it Thomasville, after himself, and it was well supported by his six sons living here as they grew up and married.

            Progress and thrift were manifest.  The farmers were busy getting “cross-ties” as they were called then.  It was a close race between them, and the shoes as to which should be the chief stock in trade.

            The Whiteharts of “Pine Woods” made split bottomed chairs in a crude way, by hand, and it was said that “Long Bill” Whitehart could pack 18 chairs on his back and tramp all the way to Bush Hill with them.

            The Westmorelands manufactured these same split bottomed chairs in 1865 just across the creek, and made money.  It was said he raised his own help! and is it any wonder this should be such a great chair town when such stalwart men laid the foundations?  They little dreamed what it would become in after years.  What a pity we allowed our magnificent forests to be cut down and shipped to other towns in needless waste, when we have one of the grandest openings for wood manufacturing in the South.  We are 40 years too late finding out our mistake.

            In 1856 my father decided to build a college, which he did with his own slaves under the supervision of Robert Gray, a fine mason and contractor.  There was a female school about one mile from here, established and run by Charles Mock and wife, two great educators of that day, who afterwards sold it to Dr. Chas. F. Deems, pastor the “Church of Strangers” in New York City.  He gave it the name of “Glen Anna” for his wife.

            Dr. Deems sold it to my father, and in 1857 he moved it up here, and called it Glen Anna Seminary.  The first music teacher was Miss Ellen Morphis, who afterwards married Rev. Marcus L. Wood and went to China as a Methodist missionary.  She died there and he returned, bringing two little boys with a Chinese nurse, and now lives in Surry county, an old man.  The first graduates of the seminary were Linnie Gray, Corinna Whitaker, Lon Frazier, Miriam Clifton and Jennie Thomas.  The diplomas were delivered by Dr. Craven, of Trinity College.

            Before the seminary was completed the Methodists held their services in the Lines Shoe Shop, afterwards in the new depot and at last in the chapel of the seminary.

            In 1861 the great Civil War began, demoralizing everybody and everything.  I will not attempt giving a description of those horrible times.  History’s pages are full of the facts.

            Thomasville furnished a company, and the ladies made the uniforms.  Miss Dart, a northern teacher in the seminary, painted the flag, a rattlesnake coiled ready to strike.  Her tears fell while she painted, yet she would not stop until it was finished.

            Times were hard and we had to undergo many privations, but thanks to my mother we escaped much.  As soon as war was decided she had all the sugar, coffee, groceries and dress goods taken from our store to her store room in the house, and then she had a friend who ran the blockade and always brought her a mat of Jara coffee, but many people during the four years had to use parched wheat, dried sweet potatoes and other stuff which was as good as Postum I imagine.

            At the close of the war the wounded from the battle at Bentonsville were brought here and filled the Methodist and Baptist churches and the Pinnix Tobacco Factory.  The commissary stores were here in the care of Dr. Baker, and the people had threatened to raid the “tithes” that had been collected, so he called for a guard, and Mr. Cramer’s [Union] company from Greensboro was sent here.

            Their tents were in front of where we now live, and the officers took their meals in my room.  There was a great flag raising here and Jack Leland’s celebrated band from Cleveland, Ohio, with many high officers of the northern army came down from Greensboro. 

            My father, who always made the best of everything, invited them to stop at our house and no one knows to this day how Mr. Cramer managed to get himself invited with them, but that was the beginning of our romantic courtship.  One day a train load of soldiers on their way north, stopped in front of my fathers’, and piled out and ran to some red, ripe cherry trees.  The officers at the quarters saw them and Mr. Cramer with sword and red silk sash came dashing up and the soldiers flew for the train, but one fellow more bold, had come to the front porch where Patt Lewis and I were standing, and began taunting us with being whipped, which we stoutly denied and sassed him good fashion.  By this time Mr. Cramer with two of his orderlies had gotten up the walk and in stentorian tones said “What are you doing here sir?”  So he slunk away amid the peals of laughter of the soldiers.

            Of course I had to write a note of thanks after that, and then he must call, and kept calling, and that is the way the world goes.

            During the days of reconstruction everything was uncertain and very little progress in our town.  Houses were built, people married and died, and in 1871 the founder of Thomasville died with a disease of the heart, Angina Pectaris, mourned and missed by all who knew him.

            It is impossible to give everything in detail during the growth of our town, and was worried to find that no one could remember dates, so I decided to give a short sketch for a few minutes entertainment, and my worthy successors would give you facts of later year when Thomasville took on new life, and is now booming on towards fame, and rank among the larger towns of our beloved state.