A. W. Crotts Interview
By Phillip White, about 1986
Phillip: I’m talking with A.W. Crotts here this morning. He used to live in Cliffside for a number of years and he operated the movie projector in the theater. He is just telling us some of the interesting things about the early years in Cliffside, and some of the things that he remembered.
A.W.: Yeah, that’s back some years, about the time I was four or five years old, before I started to school. My Dad had two T Model Ford taxis he run here in Cliffside. I don’t remember just how long he did run them here, about two or three years, I’m sure.
And we lived, I don’t remember the name of the people at the house we lived in, but it was an old house up on the hill, over in the east part of the town. What I remember about it so well, is that it came a real hard wind storm one time and blew the thing, it moved several inches off its foundation.
Phillip: House up on stilts off the ground?
A.W.: Yes, sitting up on rocks. You know that was the way they used to build them back then. Way back then.
During the fire the people tore the seats up getting out of the theater.
Then I come to Cliffside in about nineteen thirty or thirty one, whenever, after the theater was burned one time in the projection room. Dick Chastain was the manager then and we came down and painted it. I helped paint in there and made that built up, what do they call that kind of painting, I can’t remember anyway it was swirls, that was about the first seen in there. A man came to me and said where did you ever learn to paint. I said this is the first painting I’ve ever done. He said “don’t tell me that. I know you have painted somewhere before now.” I told him that I had not, but it did look nice when we got through.
During the fire the people tore the seats up getting out of the theater, which I thought, well, it’s foolish, but the people were scared, you know, they don’t think about these things. Because the building was fire proof, it could not have burned, but they did not know that, so they tore the seats getting out, and we put them back.
I operated down here for several years, and me and Charles Duncan, and Blacky Allen, fellows like that, we worked with, run the theaters in Spindale. Run that theater and this one too, and the one in Forest City.
Phillip: All right, the projection booth back there, was that built on after the building was constructed? The little porch like booth out on the back of the building.
A.W.: Well no, at this time it was in the building but in a little room back at the back. But it was part of the building because it was tile and was all fire proof and could not burn. They may have built on back there later I don’t know about that. But, I left here about 1936, I would say somewhere along there.
Phillip: What do you remember about the people in Cliffside and the activities they had? Do you remember anything like that?
A.W.: Well yes, back when I was a boy they ran “The Birth of a Nation,” the first time it showed around here.
They had a big Home Coming Day of some type, I don’t remember, I was too young to remember what they called it. But they come here and had dinner on the ground, everybody, it was just hundreds of people here, that lived here, my uncle lived here, Baxter Freeman, and Press Freeman, and Howard Freeman and at that time he was maintenance man in the Cliffside Mills, I don’t know how many mills they had. He was a maintenance man and I think he lived here most all his life, Press did. I believe he retired from here. Because most every one here, the older people here would remember him I’m sure.
Phillip: Did they show “The Birth of a Nation” in the theater or the Town Hall?
A.W.: Oh, yes, it was a film in the theater. That was before it was burned, you see. It was running then but burned later. They closed it up for some time and then I was grown whenever we came back here, and I was the projectionist there.
I would come into town, and I used to like to ride motorcycles, and so I started out from the theater one day there and someone pulled out from the filling station across there in front of me and I slid under it, and I know Mr. Haynes sent word to the theater up there for me not to ride that motorcycle in the town of Cliffside “no more,” which I did not pay any attention to, though. I rode it right on, because I sent word back to him saying it was not my fault, I could not help it, and the state highway he didn’t own. So that was that.
Phillip: You didn’t hear any more from that?
A.W.: No! No! I could stay on the state highway.
Phillip: What kind of impression did Mr. Haynes make on you, Mr. Charley Haynes? What kind of individual do you remember him being?
A.W.: Oh, He was a nice man. I don’t know how come him to get mad at me because of that. Because I couldn’t help it but he seemed to be a fine fellow all the time I ever saw him or knew of him, but he, I guess he thought that I was just… I was old enough to know my rights whenever I told him that, but I thought he was accusing me of something I shouldn’t be accused of. Because I could not help it.
I can remember running around Cliffside when I was real young, and before I was even big enough to work. All around this place here I’ve known a lot. It used to be a town of activity, you know, a lot of activity, different things in Cliffside.
Phillip: A lot of things going on.
A.W.: Yeah, me going away and coming back, coming down here I thought I would stop in and going to show my wife where I used to work and everything. When we got over there I could not believe it, they had a fence up and everything. I said, “Gee whiz, what have they done to this place?” They have closed it down!
I live in Shelby now. So I have been. I went up to Ohio. I lived right south of Columbus there for about twenty-four years. Then I moved back here about two years, will be this September.
Phillip: Cliffside did have a fine heritage, and a lot of interesting things went on and a lot of people have fond memories of it. That is why I’m doing this.
A.W.: Oh yea. It did have. Cliffside years ago was what you might say, it was on the map. It was one of the largest unincorporated towns I guess there was in the state. I think that it had that name, being the largest unincorporated town in the state of North Carolina. Everybody knew that, you know, they talked about it.
Phillip: Well you can travel all over, you can always run across people like yourself there who have been in Cliffside, most of them have fond memories of it.
A.W.: Do you remember when the street went down to the railroad there and turned to the right and went up the hill and had a row of houses on each side? Nice homes all the way up through there.
Phillip: Yes, I remember that.
A.W.: Top of the hill up there and you look down on the place.
Phillip: Down into the village.
A.W.: Remember the train? We used to stand there and watch the train come in here to the mill, in and out.
Phillip: Oh, that train was a symbol, the train and the clock tower. The town clock. What people remember about Cliffside. The old clock striking, Old No. 9 and Old Smoky coming in.
Phillip: I appreciate your coming by and I appreciate your taking the time to do this little project. Maybe someone will get some benefit out of it sometime. I appreciate your coming. Thank you.
Ed. note: It’s interesting how this interview came about. From Phillip, who was, of course, the school principal: “As I remember, he came by the school one day looking for information about the town and some of the older residents. We talked a few minutes and I realized he had a good story to tell. I usually kept the tape recorder set up in my office so I just hooked him up.”
The text of this interview appeared in the Winter 2010 of The Cliffside Chimes. Transcribed by Mrs. Judson O. Crow, Sr., February 1987