In peacetime, life returned to a somewhat normal routine for him. But his service had taken him away from his isolated surroundings and he began to explore other opportunities available to himself and his wife. At times he would talk to salesmen who stopped by the mill at Cliffside. One in particular was responsible for arranging, or at least providing the opportunity, for Al to interview with a mill in Ware Shoals, S.C.
Mr. Lancaster interviewed with the Regal Textile Group, and was employed as a cotton buyer for the company. His duties were much as those at Cliffside, purchasing and dealing with the cotton brokerages and inspecting, classifying, and warehousing the raw cotton inventories. Each batch of cotton received from the brokerages would require his attention. Mr. Lancaster worked for the company at that location for about seven years. He then accepted another job with the Clinton Cotton Mills in not too far away Clinton, S.C. His employment in part was the result of the recommendation he received from his former employer, Regal. Mr. Lancaster would remain with that employer as a cotton buyer until his retirement. (It is interesting that, at Cliffside, outside sources for raw cotton purchases were called “shippers,” but in his other jobs cotton was bought from “brokerages.” This could result from Cliffside’s association with the Cone Export & Commission Company, whose activities included that of Sellers, Brokers, Factors and other enterprises.)
Some additional recollections of Mr. Lancaster focused around recreation opportunities available to the residents of the mill village. One mentioned was the Cliffside Theater. Al’s mother generally did not approve of the movies and he actually didn’t go except on an occasional basis. He remembers that his sister and others once talked Mrs. Lancaster into going to see a movie. Apparently the one showing was not a good choice for a straight-laced staunch Baptist. When one of the scenes revealed some somewhat scantily clad women, Mrs. Lancaster—in a very loud voice—let not only her party, but the entire audience know that she did not think this was appropriate. Al did not mention if his mother ever went to another movie. Al also recalled that the early silent movies were accompanied by a pianist, and he remembered that Ferne Pruette was an accompanist. (This theater was in the R. R. Haynes Memorial Building, the previous theater was also on Main Street, three houses above the Memorial Building. It was later converted into the Dry Cleaners when the steam laundry moved from its original location, the street under the Shelby Highway Bridge. One of the features of the old theatre was that the ticket booth was detached from the building and sat next to the street.)
Mr. Lancaster’s older brother Jesse played in the early Cliffside Band. He recalls that the band’s name was the Cliffside Renowned Band. His brother played the saxophone, clarinet, and the piano. He also mentioned that his father played in the original Cliffside Band, which existed prior to 1916. Al eventually played in the band, but admits that he wasn’t the musician that Jesse was. When he joined the band he was assigned the alto horn and he couldn’t read music. He vividly remembers, in his first performance with the band, watching the band member next to him (playing the same instrument) to see which valve he would depress and then following suit. Recalling the instance brought a soft chuckle to Al’s voice. One band member mentioned by Al was Landrum Roberts.
Al’s other musical experience was singing with various quartets and groups at church. He recalled having once sung at a church in Forest City. He also relates that a music company in Forest City was affiliated with a national Texas based sheet music company. The company would employ quartets and singers who sang at events on a national, regional, and local basis. The indication was that this company specialized in church music, and the singers were used as advertising publicity.
When specifically asked about the textile strikes of 1934, Al responded much like other Cliffside residents. He was a senior in high school when the strikers came to Cliffside, and he remembers they formed their group in the empty lot across the street from the school at the intersection of what is now highway 221A and highway 120, and from there moved on down to the mill. (The strikers apparently used the vicinity of the public schools for their rallying point. In Henrietta the strikers set up camp at the school ground and spent the night. Large speakers were erected and such tunes as “You Can’t Make a Living in a Cotton Mill” were broadcast for the community to hear. The object was to entice the workers to walk out and join them on strike against management).
Although not a witness, his impression was that the workers in the mill refused to join the strikers. When asked if any acts of violence occurred, he could not identify any that he knew of. He did recall that the strikers were joined by Bob Watkins, but his parents, who were in the mill working refused to join the strikers. It was his opinion that the large majority of Cliffside workers refused to strike because of the esteem in which they held the Haynes family. He wasn’t sure, but he thought Bob Watkins was “let go.” (There have been several versions of the strikers visit to Cliffside. One version is that the strikers gained entrance to the mill via the front gate and stood outside the mill and taunted the workers inside. Maurice Hendricks made the decision to close the mill for the day and the situation was quickly diffused. The workers simply went home and refused to join the strikers. W. J. Cash in his book “Mind of the South” describes the event of an employee of the mill standing in the bell tower threatening to pour hydrochloric acid on the mob of strikers. Other accounts claim the front gate was battered in, allowing the strikers to enter the mill property, and another that chlorine gas was released. Some accounts say Bob Watkins was not fired for his activities but left of his own volition when tacitly informed that any future advancement in the mill was only a remote possibility. The overall opinion of most workers seems to have been that the strike activities were the work of outside agitators and the sooner forgotten, the better. Because of threatened activities of such groups as the “Flying Squadrons,” the state government made the National Guard available to protect the property of the mills. In Rutherford County, as in Cliffside, detachments of Henderson and Haywood County guardsmen set up camps on the mills’ property. At Cliffside their encampment is believed to have been on South Main Street next to the bleachery and the towel room operations.)
The Lancaster family was truly one of the first families of Cliffside. Members of that family, and specifically Mrs. Odie Lancaster’s family, were among the original employees of Raleigh R. Haynes’ Cliffside Mills.
The story of Mrs. Lancaster and her family’s struggle in the face of keen adversity probably illustrates the type of individuals that Mr. Haynes envisioned when he began his project of building not only a mill but a community of loving and caring people, who took pride in their town, and furnished a place to instill and nurture individual values and moral character among its citizens.
Members of the Lancaster and Bates families who came to Cliffside were predominantly farmers from Rutherford County, who like many others found that their farms could no longer support them. Their move must have been bitter-sweet; although it afforded a steady source of income for their families, the hours were long and they had generations of agricultural experience and love of the soil deeply instilled.
Among the burial sites of these families are Floyd’s Creek Baptist Church, Cliffside Cemetery, Adaville Baptist Church and Round Hill Baptist Church, all in Rutherford County.