Mary Quinn Womick
Mary Quinn was born in Rutherford County, N. C. on September 13, 1905 to Quinn Lee Womick and Eva Cole Womick. She grew up on North Main Street in Cliffside, and lived there until after her marriage in 1935.
By having these two as parents, Mary Quinn and her siblings inherited a rather interesting family relationship. In 1885, after Quinn Lee Womick’s father (John Thomas Womick) died, and Eva Cole’s mother (Mary Elizabeth Gross Cole) died, their surviving parents (Alpha Grose Womick and Thomas Landrum Cole) married each other. When Quinn and Eva grew up and married, Quinn’s step-mother also became his mother-in-law, and Eva’s step-father also became her father-in-law. Quinn and Eva’s children thus had a grandfather on one side who was a step-grandfather on the other, and a grandmother on one side who was a step-grandmother on the other. If this is not convoluted enough, although both Thomas and Alpha gained step-children through their marriage, Quinn and Eva’s children had lots of half-aunts and half-uncles, but NONE of them were step aunts or uncles.
Mary Quinn admits to having loved stylish and colorful clothing, and the many pictures made in her youth show her as a very attractive young lady in striking outfits and trendy hats and shoes.
She played the piano, and her family was musically talented. Her father, Quinn Lee Womick, and her brother, Worth Womick, were members of the Cliffside Bands, as was her Uncle D.C. Cole, who later directed one of the bands, and who went on to become a respected director of Rutherford County’s School Bands.
On June 15, 1935, at age 29, she married Robert Edward Prewitt, a 42-year-old loom fixer who worked with her father and her brother in Cliffside Mill. Edward was a widower with six children. When asked why she had not hesitated to marry an older man and assume so much responsibility, she laughingly replies that she had to because she had “fallen in love” with his 13 year-old and 3 year-old daughters, Mary Ellen and Lois.
Mary Quinn and Edward became the parents of an additional son and twin daughters. Edward died in 1957, and Mary Quinn shares a home with one of her daughters, Dee Prewitt Ledbetter, on Highway 221A South of Sandy Mush. At age 99, although somewhat frail of body, she is still very mentally alert. She is looking forward to her 100th birthday in September of 2005.
It is interesting to look at her father’s household as listed in the 1910 Census of Cliffside. It is hard to imagine how their family of five could also accommodate the seven additional occupants shown as boarders in their household, when the dwelling had only 6 rooms. There must have been quite a bit of doubling up (or either more than one shift of sleepers).
Mary Quinn has identified the first house on Main Street beyond the company store [about where the Memorial Building later stood] as one of the two houses in which her family had lived in Cliffside. Her Mother (Eva Cole Womick) had loved roses and had a beautiful rose garden while they lived there. She recalls when she was very young, perhaps only 7 or 8 years old, and Raleigh Haynes was ill, her mother had picked a bunch of her prettiest roses and sent Mary Quinn to deliver them to him. MQ walked from her house up to the Haynes house at the top of Main Street, and Horace Carpenter [Mr. Haynes’ butler/chauffeur] opened the door with the comment, “Well, hello, Miss Mary.” She was taken in to see Mr. Haynes, who thanked her for bringing the roses, and gave her a peck on the cheek and a hug.
There is a picture of Lyfus Jarrett, Mary Quinn Womick, and B. B. Goode made in downtown Cliffside. They and her whole family were friends, and the two of them [Lyfus and B. B.] were like family. Bum had a brother named Scott, who was also a friend. The picture was made when she was 15 or 16 years old. It was the year the flu epidemic hit Cliffside, and everyone was sick, often all the members of a household at the same time. Mary tells that the Freeman family* lost two little boys to the flu, one of whom she had called her sweetheart. She said those who were not sick tried to help out by bringing water, cooking meals, chopping wood, going for medicine, or whatever they could do for those who were. She recalled her father, Quinn Lee, chopping wood for some families in which everyone was sick. Both her mother (stepmother?) and her aunt, Lillie Womick Griffin were unpaid nurses, trying to help bathe and tend those with the flu. She recalls them wearing little cloth masks over their faces. (Whether this was her mother or stepmother depends upon when the flu epidemic was. Her death certificate shows MQ’s mother died on 05/02/1918, and her Father married a nurse named Mary Durant, from Bishopville, S. C., but the date is uncertain.)
Since her mother was out taking care of the sick so much, MQ had to take over more of the housework, and she was out sweeping off the porch. The Jarrett and Goode families were sick, also, and Lyfus and Bum had both come home on furlough. Mr. Gilbert had opened a picture studio between the Womick’s house and the Company’s store, and Lyfus and Bum had gone there to have their pictures made. When they saw her on the porch, they called out to her to come have her picture made with them, and when she said no, Mr. Gilbert urged her to come on and have it made, so she did.
Lyfus’ mother ran a boarding house on Main St., and Bum’s mother ran one on Reservoir St. (The 1910 census indicates that Mary Quinn’s own family also took in boarders, even if they did not run a boarding house. The census shows there were 7 boarders living in Quinn Lee Womick’s household. Mary Quinn was only 5 at the time, and does not recall the boarders.)
George Oliver Prewitt
When Mary Quinn married a widower, Robert Edward Prewitt, she also acquired teenage stepchildren, one of whom was George Oliver Prewitt (02/07/1916-01/23/1997).
Oliver was a student at Cliffside High School in the early 1930s and his loves were snakes and motorcycles He was always an avid snake collector, and living close to the river, near the ice plant, gave him the perfect place to capture them. He built wire cages behind the house in which he kept garter snakes, blacksnakes, king snakes, and even a couple of copperheads and a rattlesnake. Whenever he acquired a poisonous one, he would “borrow” a small amount of chloroform from his science class at Cliffside High School, sedate the snake, and pull its teeth so it could not bite anyone.
His reputation as a “Snake Catcher” got around, and when anyone found a snake on their property, someone would say, “Call that Prewitt Boy. He’ll come get it.” Oliver was able to add quite a few reptiles to his collection while doing his neighbors a favor. Once a man asked what he could do about snakes in a dry well on his property, and Oliver went down on the well rope and brought them out. People would arrive at the Prewitt’s front door, asking to see the snakes as if it were a zoo.
Cliffside Mills had a regulation against pets, and when the fact that Oliver kept snakes reached the attention of mill officials, someone was sent around to verify it. Ed was then called into the office. He was told that some of the women in the community were afraid the snakes would get loose, and that Oliver had to get rid of them immediately.
When his father told him the bad news, Oliver knew he could not stand to kill the snakes, and asked what the mill officials had said he was to do with them. Ed, probably thinking Oliver would give them to someone who lived outside Cliffside, told him to do whatever he wanted with them since the mill officials had not said how but only that he must get rid of them. Oliver then took the cages down by the river, opened the doors and gave the reptiles their freedom. He released them all, including the poisonous ones.
Mary Ellen Prewitt
Mary Ellen was born in Georgia, and moved to Cliffside with her parents, Robert Edward and Ava Lois Hand Prewitt in 1927 when she was five years old. She lived in Cliffside and went to Cliffside School through the seventh grade before moving to Forest City in late 1935.
While most of her Cliffside memories were good ones, she did recall the hard times the mill workers had financially. Wages were very low, and times were especially hard during the labor union problems and when the mill curtailed. Her father was a loom fixer, and while this probably paid a little more than other jobs in the mill, he was still hard pressed to support his family of eight. He could not afford to be out of work, so when the labor union organizers came, he did not even consider going out on strike. Mary Ellen said there were picketers outside the mill, and workers had to walk past them and their jeers and insults to get to their jobs in the mill. She said her father, fearing violence, went to work each day during this period with a gun in his pocket.
She remembered that her own family had to eat lots of beans, and varied their diet by having pinto beans one day and butter beans the next. It was a treat when her brothers could catch a fish or kill a squirrel, or even an opossum. Her brother Paul was the best hunter, and was nicknamed “Squirrelly.” Ernest and Paul would go “frog gigging” down at the river, and would skin the frogs and fry their legs. Mary Ellen thought the legs were still alive because the muscle contractions caused by the heat made them jump around in the pan while they cooked. Paul once set a trap on top of a shed to catch birds, and cleaned and cooked them like chickens, although it took quite a few to make a meal. She said they always had milk, homemade biscuits, and gravy to eat, even when they had little else. During these hard times, many families, including her own, were able to survive because a Mr. Bostic (?), who had a store somewhere outside Cliffside, extended credit to their families for groceries. This man later told her father that although some of it was long coming, everyone to whom he had extended credit eventually paid him.
Mary Ellen’s best friend was Polly Carpenter. They liked to go to the movies, but did not get to go as often as they would have liked because admission was 10 cents. There was little money left to pay for movie tickets, but she would be given the dime to go whenever one could be spared. She could recall several times she really wanted to go to a movie when there was no money, and her sister, Annie Maude, or one of her brothers went next door and borrowed 10 cents until payday from Mr. or Mrs. Campbell, who were apparently more solvent than the Prewitts.
Mary Ellen found a way to earn movie money for herself. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, most families in Cliffside had an icebox where their milk and other perishable foods were kept cold by blocks of ice purchased from the ice plant. Chipping out the blocks to fit the customers’ ice boxes resulted in small chips accumulating at the ice plant. The ice chips would be given to the children or whoever came to the ice plant and requested some of them.
The Prewitt’s house was one street off Main Street, and the ice plant was a short distance down the hill behind the their house, just beyond the railroad tracks. Fred Green and his wife, an older couple, lived next door to the Prewitts. Each weekday, Mary Ellen would take their bucket to the ice plant, get it filled with ice chips, and bring it back to them. At the end of each week, they paid Mary Ellen a dime for her five trips. This deal was good for each of them. The dime the Greens paid Mary Ellen each week was less than it would have cost to buy the ice in blocks, and Mary Ellen had the money to go to the movies at least once each week.
Mary Ellen said her father’s wages at Cliffside Mill wages were low (although possibly not much lower than those paid by other mills in the area), and the mill did not give out bonuses, but they were very generous to the people at Christmas. She said each member of an employee’s family was given a grocery bag filled with fruit and nuts each Christmas…not a bag for each family, but one for each member of the family. Her father was not able to bring all their bags home at once, since there were 8 members of his household, so he had to make several trips. She said the bags contained oranges, tangerines, grapefruits, nuts in the shell, and a small bag of hard candy. She did not recall there being apples in the bags. They may not have been included since they were grown locally and were not a special treat, or possibly they were included and she did not remember them because the Florida fruit impressed her more. She said she would share her fruit with friends who did not live in Cliffside, but the bag of candy was very small, so she was not as generous with that. When hers was all gone, she would eat from the bags of her other family members.
* The Freeman family referred to is that of Francis Logan “Frank” Freeman and his wife Eva J. Dobbins Freeman. The 1920 census shows the family living at 44 Main Street in Cliffside and Frank’s occupation as “Blacksmith-Own Shop.” Of their 11 children, the two who died from the flu are Russell Rhyburn, age 20, and Robert E., age 16. They died within four days of each other in October 1918 and are buried at Mt. Vernon Baptist Cemetery in Rutherford county.
The following is from Clarence Griffin’s The History of Old Tryon and Rutherford Counties 1730-1936, page 405:
During the fall of 1918 an influenza epidemic swept the county and state. Strict quarantine measures were adopted. Hundreds of people were stricken. Schools closed, and industrial establishments were forced to operate on curtailed schedules or close altogether for lack of employees. A number of people died. The epidemic, a nationwide scourge, swept the military camps, resulting in the death of many soldiers. In many cities all assemblages were prohibited, and not more than a half-dozen people were allowed to congregate in any one place. Many of the public schools over the state did not open for the 1918-19 school session. Church services were curtailed, and in many instances were not held in churches from early fall until after Christmas. The epidemic in the South was aggravated by a severe winter. Snow fell early in the winter, and remained on the ground for many weeks. Much suffering and privation resulted from the cold. Soldiers in the huge military cantonments also suffered severely, especially from cold.
Information on the Freeman family and the influenza epidemic provided by Judson O. Crow.
JoAnn Prewitt Huskey, who provided the text and photos for this page, is the daughter of Ernest and Malleree Atkinson Prewitt. Although her parents once lived in Cliffside, JoAnn never did, although she has her own Cliffside memories: “…such as Mr. Sparks giving me a haircut for a quarter; beinq put on the bus in Forest City and the bus driver letting me off in Cliffside to spend the weekend; being so proud that I knew the combination to Uncle Roy (Hill)’s mail box at the PO; seeing Sam make pimento cheese when he worked at the soda fountain at the drug store; and winning a gift certificate at a drawing at Jackson’s Dept. Store in the early 1960s.”