The Bypass (Downhill Ever Since)
By Reno Bailey
By early 1963 Cone Mills, dissatisfied with the status quo, had devised a plan for a bypass around downtown Cliffside. The Company had offered the State free right-of-way (the land), and was urging it to approve and implement the plan.
In a letter to the North Carolina Director of Highways, a Cone attorney wrote, “The advantages of this plan to the residents of Cliffside are obvious. No longer will the whole town be tied in a knot when the time comes for changing shifts at the mill.”
He failed to address the disadvantages of a bypass to the residents and town of Cliffside, principally that it would lead to downtown becoming a dead end, changing the town’s character forever. It would hasten the demise of all the stores and shops, and anything that might attract people to the town’s center. In fact, soon there would be no center, just a lot of empty space, which may have been the objective all along.
Admittedly, Cliffside’s streets were designed for horse-and-buggy traffic. It’s hard to conceive, now, that such a volume of traffic had to navigate The Curve, including the largest trucks and buses. In 1962 the traffic volume along 221-A in the Cliffside area ranged from 1,300 to 3,200 vehicles a day, and it was estimated that, by 1982, the minimum would be 2,000 per day. Certainly something had to be done.
It may not have been widely known, but there were two bypass routes under consideration. Alternate 1, as they called it, would have veered off North Main Street at 5th Avenue East (“Mud Cut”), ripped across the intersection of 4th Avenue and Reservoir, tore through 3rd Avenue, Oakland Street and Goforth Flat, obliterated the Sulfer Well area, and buried parts of Riddle’s Creek as it straightened out just east of the Methodist Church to make a run for the river bridge.
The State eventually chose Alternate 2, which is the route we travel today. It made a bee-line from North Main at Beason Road straight to the river bridge, severing the north end of Reservoir, and slicing through 4th and 3rd Avenues, and obliterating all the little streets toward the south. None of the streets west of the bypass exist today except North Main. If the bypass construction didn’t get them, they were plowed up and leveled once all the houses were gone.
Both alternatives included a “connector” to the “central business district,” which is shown on the plans as a road from the bypass across to North Main, arriving south (the mill side) of the Baptist Church. What we eventually got was Drugstore Street, so named because there was one on it. Business executives should not be allowed to name streets.
The chosen route would be less expensive ($150,000 versus $170,000), although, the State said, it was “less advantageous in that it would split some residential areas as now planned in the [Cone Mills] redevelopment program.” This “redevelopment program” in large part meant trailer parks, one of which was eventually established on Church and Academy Streets.
Initially the State intended to modify the old bridge—337 feet long, 24 feet wide, built in 1941—by widening it and rebuilding two spans and constructing a temporary structure (all at a cost of $55,000, included in the costs above). Apparently they had a change of plans and built a new one instead.
Later, in 1974, after the bypass had been completed and all the mill houses were shuttered or gone, and the “business center” devastated, Cone was still trying to “redevelop.” In one instance, it commissioned a feasibility survey of a 5-acre tract of land for a park that would hold 25 to 30 mobile homes. The tract was on the west side of North Main Street, from approximately where the Haynes Memorial Tower now stands, north and down the hill to the bypass at Beason Road. Sacred ground, some would say. Fortunately nothing came of it. Nothing against mobile homes, but you just don’t stick them downtown, on prime real estate.
But such is life and commerce, and absentee ownership. Mr. Raleigh was no longer around to say, “Wait a minute! Not with my town you don’t,” and to figure out a way that, whatever the mill’s fortunes, and whatever the town’s infrastructure needs, a substantial part of the town would remain.
A shorter version of this article appeared in the Nov-Dec 2006 issue of the CHS Special Report, the newsletter of the Cliffside Historical Society.