A Short History of Henrietta and Caroleen
Compiled by the Henrietta, Caroleen, Avondale Woman’s Club
From Rutherford County 1979: A People’s Bicentennial History
We live today in the communities of Henrietta and Caroleen, accepting all of the conveniences, advantages, comforts and everything they offer to us for an enjoyable livelihood. As we live, how often do we stop to think of the early beginnings and history connected with the towns? Shakespeare has said, “There is a history in all men’s lives” and it must be so with all communities whether a hamlet, crossroad store, village, town or city.
Let your imagination, if you can, drift back to the 1880’s. In the lower section of Rutherford County there were many acres of practically wilderness land on which grew many vines, thorn bushes, and bamboo, so we are told. Through these brushy acres flowed a stream called the Second Broad River, which as all rivers do was pursuing its course to the sea. Dyer spoke so descriptively of rivers when he said:
“And see the rivers, how they run
Through the woods and meads, in shade and sun:
Sometimes swift, sometimes slow,
Wave succeeding wave, they go
A various journey to the deep.
Like human life, to endless sleep”
And he could have spoken so of this particular river, for flowing through woods and meads eventually it came to a shoal of rock, a spot known in those days as “The High Shoals.” Nearby was located what was known as “The Old Iron Works”’ and we are told that about a half mile farther down the river there was another ironworks as well as another shoals.
This was the period in Southern history when the cotton mill industry was in its prime. Several far-sighted men saw the possibility of a great manufacturing development near these shoals. Great waterpower resources would be available. The land was rich in building timber, and the people in the surrounding territory were ready for some means whereby they could have a steady income and become more progressive. Two men were the leading pioneers in this marvelous undertaking—the planning, buying the land, and founding the towns of Henrietta and Caroleen. These were Mr. S. B. Tanner. Sr. and Mr. R. R. Haynes.
In July 1887 the building of the Henrietta Mill was begun. Many were the loads of wood hauled in from miles around. Mr. W. T. McKinney of Cleveland County hauled the second load of lumber. Mr. Robinson, near Cliffside, cut and hauled cord wood and sold it to the mill to buy his farm and pay for it. Things were really beginning to boom after about two years of cleaning and clearing the land and riverbanks. The building of the mill and houses for workers covered a period of five or six years. This mill was the first to be built in Rutherford County. About eight years later, or in the year 1895, the work was started on the building of Henrietta Mills Number Two at Caroleen. Along with the building of this mill, about a hundred houses were built for the workers.
The first officials of these mills were: President. Mr. Spencer: Treasurer, Mr. S. B. Tanner. Sr. The first superintendent was a Mr. Moser, who came here from a mill located between Augusta, Ga., and Aiken, S. C. Some of the first overseers were: Mr. Tom Digmay, Mr. Tom Moreland. Mr. Daniel Crawley, Mr. Pink Scruggs, Mr. John Litton.
The first material manufactured at the mill at Henrietta was a course white cloth known in those days as “factory cloth.” The material at the Caroleen mill was much the same, but of a lighter weight.
Many families moved to these villages, because the work afforded them an opportunity to increase their finances. Some of the wages earned in those days seemed meager indeed in comparison to the salary figures of today, however. It is said that the late Mr. Ransom Hicks of Forest City (who later became master mechanic of the mill) worked for forty cents per day in those early days. Dr. Zeno Wall of Shelby, who is one of our best loved North Carolina Baptist ministers, has told us how he started sweeping in the Henrietta mill for twenty-five cents per day. I have heard my father, the late Boyce Bridges of Cliffside, say he had worked many a day for seventy-five cents.
It is interesting to hear Mrs. J. D. DeBrule tell how she worked two weeks learning to weave, without any renumeration [remuneration]. At the end of that time she was employed for twenty-five cents per day. Her teacher during this learning period was Miss Ellen Kellar, now the wife of Rev. Roy Webb of Spartanburg. We find there was a lot of mischief in young folk in those days just as there is today. Mrs. DeBrule had been in the mill only a day or so when her trainer told her she would have to move one of the looms to make room for some cloth. Being most anxious to do the job right she got behind the loom and pulled with all of her might, but to her surprise the loom did not budge one thousandth of an inch. Much to her chagrin and embarrassment she looked around to see a crowd of the workers gathered to see the new girl move the loom. At the end of two months she could manage a set of four looms, and received for her month’s salary the fabulous sum of $13.50.
Let’s give a little thought to the working conditions of those days. The hours were from six o’clock A.M. until seven o’clock P.M. with a forty-five minute lunch period. Should the machinery lie stopped for even five minutes during the day, that time had to be made up. The women wore long-sleeved dresses that reached to their ankles. Many of them wore white aprons as long as their dresses. What would we moderns do with all of that wrapping around our legs, especially on a hot day when we can hardly stand to put on hose long enough to go to church on Sunday? The overseer in those days was a most notable personage. He went dressed in his best clothes and made a round in his department twice a day. He spoke to no one except the second hands. Even though many of the officials assumed positions that oftentimes caused the workers to stand in awe of them, they were always ready to lend a helping hand in time of trouble, and many of them are remembered as being almost like a father.
The men who established these towns and industries had the welfare of the workers at heart in many ways. In each of the towns a nice large department store was erected. Everything that was needed to provide the body with food and raiment could be found at these stores. In fact, they served the people from quite a distance. There was a time when people came from miles around to these stores to buy their new outfits for the different seasons. Particularly did their millinery departments set the pace for ladies hats, always being staffed with the best trained milliners. The first store manager was Mr. Goin Doggett. The Henrietta Store was first operated in the building where the mill office is now located. Later a larger building was built. The upstairs of both store buildings was used for a town hall and lodge rooms. It was in one of the lodge rooms at Henrietta that a Mr. Charlie Wellborn, a shoe clerk in the Henrietta Store, committed suicide on July 20, 1908. Mr. John Callahan was the first person to see him after he had taken his life.
An educational and cultural need was taken care of in the building of a school building on the site where the present elementary school now stands. Along with the public school opportunities there were some private schools taught. These served mostly for the children of the families who were well fixed financially. In Caroleen there was a Methodist minister known by the name “Uncle Davis” who instructed a group of children privately. All of the children loved him, and he was highly respected by the adults as well. In those days too they had what were called “Subscription Schools.” The parents would subscribe a certain amount of money for the children to attend school a certain number of weeks or months. The old school building, which was a wooden structure, was always catching fire. One particular time, Miss Blance Debrule was a student in the primary grades. In her excitement she went into another room to get her sister. Grabbing her arm, she rushed to the door with her and then thinking, called back to the others, “The schoolhouse is on fire.” Some of the first teachers remembered by the present residents were: Miss Kate Durham, Mr. Suttle, Mr. Smith, and Miss Howell.
The school building served as a church meeting place until the churches were built. The Baptist church was the first to be built. Some of the first ministers remembered were: Rev. Pickney Hamrick, Baptist: Rev. Bowles and Rev. Jordon, Methodist. While worship services were held in the school building, once a month the members of High Shoals Church would come out for a joint service.
Dr. T. B. Lovelace, now living in Forest City, was one of the prominent figures in the early history. Previous to coming to Henrietta he had been practicing medicine in Burnt Chimney, having located there in 1883. In those early days the employees joined a list and paid one dollar per month for a man and his wife, and ten cents per child. The doctor visited regularly the families whose names were on his list. (Wouldn’t this be a wonderful arrangement for some of us ladies in this day?) A few years later he had a companion practitioner join him in the person of (the now late) Dr. Wiseman. Over in Caroleen Dr. A. M. Whisnant, now of Charlotte, came to practice medicine. There is a romance associated with his stay in Caroleen. One day he was called to the home of Mr. S. B. Tanner, Sr. to see his sister-in-law, who was ill with a sore throat—she was a Miss Spencer. It so happened, the story goes, that the young doctor fell in love with his patient and married her. Another doctor in this early period was Dr. Romeo Hicks, who passed on to his reward many years ago. He also owned and operated a drug store in North Henrietta.
As I have inquired concerning the social life I have been told that there was not too much in those early days. Most of the people stayed at home and worked. Occasionally the women would get together for quilting parties and sometimes spelling bees, using Webster’s Blue Back Speller. The young people enjoyed candy-pullings and in the winter months ice-skating was a favorite pastime. In those days, the winters were so severe the rivers froze solid with ice, and many a parent held his breath while Tom and Mary cut figure eights across the pond. Some of the families who were well-to-do had fine horses for their young people to ride. A number of young ladies were good riders but never did they ride astride, always sidesaddle. Before too many years had gone by the younger set started taking vacations as far as Chimney Rock to learn to swim. Back then a trip up there meant slaying several days or a week. There are in this county today many a couple whose romance budded right here in these towns and culminated in life partnerships.
Surrounding Henrietta and Caroleen were quite a few sections that were given names that follow them to this clay. They are Harrill Town, Beason Town, Stump Town, Cooper Town, Pea Ridge, Pepper Town, Rag Town, Rabbit Town and Dobbinsville. Rabbit Town has probably created more interest than any other. It is said that the late Dr. Hicks never quite accepted the name. Rather did he think it should be called North Henrietta. The name is attributed to Mr. Ralston Harrill. He named it so because of the numerous rabbits that used to scamper over that section when there was only about one house there. A family lived in these woods, and in it were several small boys. They conceived the idea of catching the rabbits and carrying them down to the store to sell and obtain a little spending money. So plentiful were their “hares” that Mr. Harrill finally named the north part of Henrietta “Rabbit Town.”
Many interesting and exciting events have taken place in those places through the years. Even in the building of the first mill we find that the bread was cast not only on the water but the land as well as this particular incident was related. Mr. Haden Wall was working as a carpenter over in Henrietta, and he and his bride, the former Docia Lovelace, were living in Mooresboro. He drove back and forth in a buggy. There were several others from that section, but they stayed over in the community. Mr. Wall very graciously brought food to them from their relatives. One day on a very special occasion his buggy was loaded with all kinds of good victuals. He was riding merrily along his way and old Toby was trotting at a pretty rapid gait, when suddenly something frightened the old mule and he took off down the creek. Biscuits, tea cakes, fried chicken, sweet potatoes, and all kinds of food were scattered for almost a mile the creek and on its banks.
There was a time when the famous Thomas A. Edison and a friend paid a visit to Henrietta and spent the night. He was in one of the first horseless carriages to enter this part of the country. When it was raised abroad that he was here, people rushed from every direction —not so much to see the famous passenger, but the peculiar-looking thing he was riding in. Mattie Whisnant Lovelace and her brother, Joe, ran barefoot all the way from Rabbit Town to see this almost miraculous vehicle. It is said that Edison and his friend came down Wiseman Street and crossed the river over to the old Haynes store. They were searching for mica. Some older folk say they spent the night in the old Tanner house, and some say in the old Henrietta Inn. Of that we are not sure.
Some events took place that were near tragedies. Once Miss Ollie Haynes fell into the race at the Henrietta Mill. It so happened that a gallant young hero saved her from drowning. Then over at the Caroleen Mill race Miss Sallie Moss was sitting in a buggy nearby, and the horse became frightened and backed into the race with her in the buggy. Mr. John Litton, who was Outside Overseer, came to her rescue and she too was saved. It is said that she later told her friends that all she could think of while she was under the water was her little brothers and sisters who had just lately become motherless. There was an old covered bridge across the river at Henrietta. One day a man was crossing with a team of horses. Almost without warning a cyclone came down the river and blew down part of the bridge. The man and horses were all blown into the river, but fortunately were gotten out. It is known, however, that two young men went to a watery grave, and possibly others we have not been told about. These were Charles Clegg, son of a Methodist minister, and Mr. Maxey’s son.
These towns have sent many illustrious sons and daughters out from their hills through these years. It would be impossible to name them all, but many of them have made reputations for themselves that make their old hometowns justly proud that they once lived here. Not all who have been successful have left their early homes. Quite a number decided to cast their lot here and build up a business prominent as merchants. There is a little story told about him when he came here as quite a young man selling fruit trees. He had not been here too long when he started having trouble with his teeth. He went to see Dr. J. F. Whisnant, who was one of the early dentists in these parts. Dr. Whisnant told him that he had some cavities that must be filled. Mr. Wells told him he would not be able to pay him until time for people to set out new fruit trees. Dr. Whisnant was a very lenient and sympathetic sort of person, and he agreed to wait on him for his pay. That has been some fifty-two years ago and the fillings Dr. Whisnant put into his mouth are still there.
And so the wheel of time spins on, and we go along making history as we live from day to day. Carlyle said, “History is a mighty drama, enacted upon the theatre of time, with suns for lamps and eternity for a background.” If this be true, we who live today are in a most strategic position. Our young people compose our armies who trudge the background of our part of the canvas. We serve as their generals to plan their strategy and direct their movements in this drama. We live today, but tomorrow we may be history. Oh, that we could live so that Longfellow’s quotation might truly apply to us—“History casts its shadows far into the land of song.”
Ed. note: The sentence “I have heard my father, the late Boyce Bridges of Cliffside, say he had worked many a day for seventy-five cents” confirms this history was written by Mabel Bridges Cargill, one of lower Rutherford’s principal historians. Our thanks to Johnny S. Phillips, another historian and a life-long resident of Henrietta, for calling our attention to this article.