News Stories & Columns
Back to Cliffside
Hundreds flock to community homecoming
By Joe DePriest
The Shelby Star, May 9, 1988
The hugging and kissing started early Saturday morning and lasted all weekend.
In between the displays of affection, the usual comment was, “Lord, I haven’t seen you in how many years.”
Approximately 2000 people attended the Cliffside community homecoming.
“It’s super, super – the whole thing’s been super,” said Ben Humphries, who helped organize the two-day event. “I’ve seen hundreds of people I used to know. Sometimes I have to study them a little bit. It’s been like a super family reunion, something like that.”
Headquarters for the homecoming was Humphries’ Snuffy Jenkins Music Park. Groups held their own mini-reunions or left in vans for periodic tours of the nearby Cone textile mill or Duke Power plant.
The Cliffside mill village they spoke about so fondly no longer exists. Hundreds of mill houses were torn down in the 1960s. Most of the old stores, including the huge Haynes Memorial community building, are also gone.
Cliffside was a collective memory for them.
“I don’t get back very often,” said Daphene Ledford Cantrell, a district court judge in Mecklenburg County, “but it’s coming back to a familiar territory I love. There was a spirit here, a community spirit. We were very proud to be from Cliffside.”
Dr. Elizabeth Goode, a music and choir teacher in Westbury, N.J., played hookey to attend the reunion.
“I left here in 1950 to attend Duke University,” she said “There’s a definite pull for me to this area. I have good memories. It’s like the song says, good vibrations’, or something like that.”
Glen Watkins, 66, of Hemet, California, about 90 miles south of Los Angeles, also picked up on the good vibes. The sunny afternoon made him think of sunny California, home for the past 28 years.
“By no stretch of the imagination is Cliffside the same place,” he said. “It’s sad to come back and see no Cliffside. It’s a shame it couldn’t be preserved. The nation wouldn’t consider it a historic monument, but it certainly would be to me and those who used to live here.”
Watkins produced a stack of old post cards which depicted Cliffside’s former glory. He was especially proud of the one that showed the mill.
“At one time that mill had more spindles than any plant in the world,” he said. “I learned to weave there.”
Twenty-eight years ago, Watkins got in his pickup truck and drive west. He liked southern California, because it was nice and warm.
“Puzzles are my bag now,” he said. “Puzzles and folk toys: a nice, interesting business.”
California is home. “Every place I’ve been had been home,” he said. “In Cliffside, basically nobody had anything and everything belonged to everybody. We were all in the same pot.”
Mable Bridges Cargill, 79, of Greenville, S. C. kept busy showing off old photographs and copies of her little booklet, “I Remember,” which is about old times in Cliffside.
She also brought a piece of green gingham produced in the Cliffside mill sometime around 1902. “Maurice Hendrick’s wife gave that to me,” she said.
People looking over her collection were fascinated with a tiny bag labeled Monroe’s Glycerited Asafoetida with calcium carbonate.
“They made us wear this around our necks when we were kids,” said Mrs. Cargill. “It was supposed to ward off diseases.”
Asafoetida chased away people as well as germs.
“It smelled to high heaven,” Mrs. Cargill said.
Dr. G. O. Moss stepped to the public address system and asked for all his babies to come forward. Around 25 or 30 people responded.
“Well, some have grown a little bit in the spanking area,” he commended, “but haven’t we all? I’m real happy to see you. I’ll never forget this.”
Sallie Lou Shuford, 87, of Shelby worried that her recent hospitalization might keep her away from the homecoming, “I’m glad I got to live this long,” she said.
Her father was one of the first superintendents of Cliffside Mill. As far as she was concerned, “Cliffside was a perfect place.”
Eloise Suggs James of Bostic told a passing newspaper reporter, “Put in there how much I love Cliffside. It’ll always be a part of me. I guess you have to grow up there like we did. It has been so special to me.”
About 500 people attended a barbecue supper Saturday before moving to Cliffside School where old movie footage of the area was shown and individual “classes” held reunions.
Mike Fisher of Bucks County, Pa. grew up in Cliffside when the town’s heyday years were over. “Cliffside is different depending on your generation,” he said. “I knew it as a tough mill town going downhill.”
In fact, Fisher helped tear down the old Cliffside. “I was on a crew in the 1960s that tore down about 70 houses,” he said. “And that included the one I was raised in.”
A graduate of the University of North Carolina, fisher is a retired salesman. “I retired when I was 40,” he said. “I wanted to retire when I had a body to retire. My father retired and died the same year. That made an impression on me.”
The hugging and kissing went on and on, until late Sunday afternoon when everyone packed up their memories and mementos and went home, wherever that was.
Some of them took copies of a 1919 vintage poem about Cliffside. No on knew the author, but he or she mentioned the names of many key people in the community.
It ended like this:
“Well, I guess I’ll close my story, but there’s more that could be said..
’bout our doctors and our nurses, who come when we’re sick in bed.
Dr. Shull and Dr. Allhands are as good as they can be.
If you doubt what I have told you, all I say is come and see.”
Reprinted with permission from The Shelby Star. Copyright owned by The Shelby Star.