Raleigh Biggerstaff’s “Most Unusual Town”
An interview with Raleigh Biggerstaff, lifelong resident of Cliffside
By Edith Edwards
From the booklet Roots of Rutherford
A publication of Isothermal Community College’s Oral History Project
Raleigh Rutherford Haynes was born in the Ferry Community of Rutherford County, “several miles over the hill and fields to the west” on June 30, 1851. The land that became Cliffside was purchased from Max G. Padgett’s great-grandfather, Jessie E. Scruggs. Mr. R. R. Haynes was the prime organizer of Cliffside. He and associates, Dr. T. B. Lovelace, L. A. Holland, Dr. J. F. Whisnant, Gaither Kennedy and Henry Jenkins incorporated the mill in 1901.
In the early 1900’s the form of transportation was not as convenient as it is today. Supplies to and from the mill were brought in by rail, 3 miles north of Cliffside, and brought into town by mule-drawn wagon. Later, the Haynes Company constructed its own railroad line thus connecting with other towns. Some folks used horses for travel but most folk just walked. Young boys often “hopped the train” and got rides to Avondale and Henrietta for the fun of it. Each community in the county worked and played in their own way.
On a typical Sunday in Cliffside, folks attended church, went home for dinner and then used the afternoon to relax with friends and visit relatives. If it were summertime, folks made ice cream in the backyards or perhaps went to the park to hear the band play. You might find teenagers walking the trestle sharing a bag of “sweets.”
The first product made at the Cliffside Mill was gingham, then terry towels and washcloths. During World War II, the mill made a canvas type material. On Wednesday nights, the picture show closed while the churches had their regular meetings. There were no dogs allowed in town. Nor was dancing allowed. During the daytime, someone would go meet the “mail” at Dobbinsville and possibly other places and bring it to the mill office area where folks would get it when they got off work.
Houses were painted every five years and the date was stenciled on the side of the house so the company would know when to paint again. Houses were rented by the week at 25 cents per room, it was withheld from the payment of cash received each week from the mill. For fire protection, every fifth house had a red ladder attached. When the fire broke out, the mill whistle would be blown. The hose cart had two high wheels and a “T” handle. Two men placed their feet on the rear bumper of a car, and leaned their backs against the trunk and held the handle. The water was available through the fire plugs. For sometime when there was no running water in the houses, several families would use water out of same community spigot.
The mill whistle would be blown each morning as a signal to start work. It would be blown at 12 noon for dinner and 1 o’clock to resume work. It would be blown again at quitting time.
The mill company owned everything in the town and provided buildings for the grocery stores, the Pressing Club (Cleaners), the cannery, and a 3-story building, the R. R. Haynes Memorial Building which was dedicated to the citizens of Cliffside on June 24, 1922. Within this building were many facilities: a library, a gymnasium, a barber shop, a jewelry store, a cafe, and rooms for overnight visitors. When there was no water in the houses, you could go the the Memorial Building for a shower, paying 15 cents for a bar of soap, towel and cloth. One very special place in front of this building was the area where there was a rail. The menfolk would often gather there to “shine the rail,” exchanging the talk of the day and night.
A child received an excellent education at Cliffside School. Discipline was maintained. Mr. R. R. Haynes saw to it that teachers’ salaries were supplemented to get good teachers. Many folks from nearby areas did come to Cliffside because the education received there was much better. Clyde Erwin of Rutherford County was the principal for several years and then became superintendent of the county school system. Later, he became superintendent of the North Carolina State school system. He started a tradition of excellent education which carried throughout the state.
The Negroes in the town lived on “White Line.” Their school was separate, and Mr. Haynes and the company saw to it that their teachers were top quality. The white and black boys played together and swam together. Everyone treated the Negroes respectfully. “Uncle Ben Mercer” was janitor at the school for a long time and was a favorite of all the folks.
A nickname was often given to a person due to an incident, activity, ability, appearance, expression, or athletic ability. Several folks have recently made a list of nicknames of Cliffside residents from 1900-1950 which will be incorporated in this account of the town. Hopefully everyone who reads them will just reminiscence about the “good ole days.”
Raleigh Biggerstaff tells of Uncle Dave Macon and Minnie Pearl of Grand Old Opry fame, visiting in Cliffside and entertaining folks that could get transportation to their performances. Local folks presented “Womanless Weddings,” and Minstrel Shows and an All County Band often performed. D.C. Cole, Rutherford County’s Music Man was conductor. The music department at the school excelled, and many who went there turned into lifetime musicians. Radio also played a big part in the community’s entertainment. Not everyone had a radio, so on Saturdays folks would visit those who did and listen to “Renfro Valley,” “Louisiana Hayride,” and “Grand Old Opry” from Nashville, Tennessee.
In 1929, Herbert Hoover visited the Kings Mountain area and some folks went over to see him. Then, in 1936, after having spent the night at Lake Lure Inn, Franklin D. Roosevelt came through Ellenboro by car. A lot of folks went to get a glimpse of him. Cliffside became a part of the “outside world” on December 7, 1941, when President Roosevelt made the announcement of World War II!
Whenever Cliffside natives meet, rejoicing stories unfold. Much more can be said of this “most unusual town.”
For a look at a striking portrait of Raleigh Biggerstaff, author of this essay, go here.