News Stories & Columns
Town Like a Club
Town Like a Club
By Joe DePriest
The Shelby Star, March 31, 1988
Cliffside is like a club.
Anyone who ever lived or worked there is a member.
Gerard Davidson, Raleigh Biggerstaff, Ben Humphries and Buddy Weathers have been in the club a long time.
They can walk down main street and summon up a story every step of the way.
The storytelling tradition is as much a part of Cliffside as textile production in the local mill.
A tremendous exchange of Cliffside lore is expected during the big community homecoming set for May 7 and 8.
Nothing like it has ever taken place in Cliffside before.
The old village is mostly a state of mind now since all the shotgun mill houses have been torn down along with most of the brick stores, including the Haynes Memorial Building, almost a single village itself under one roof.
But the Cliffside club lives on in spirit.
This place was unique, says the 70-year old Davidson during an afternoon walk through Cliffside with his friends, Biggerstaff, Humphries and Weathers.
“It was a classic mill village with top-notch churches and schools,” he says. “The school was a model for the state. Everybody looked out for everybody else. And this town produced some outstanding people in nearly every profession, People had more pride here than in a typical mill village.”
Davidson is a Cliffside native who worked with Duke Power Co. for 34 years. He retired as assistant vice president for personnel at the Charlotte corporate offices.
His friend, Raleigh Biggerstaff, is a retired English teacher. “R. R. Haynes, the man who founded Cliffside, saw this as his dream village,” Biggerstaff says. “It was an ideal mill village for a long time. Haynes encouraged people to be as self-sufficient and frugal as possible.”
Cliffside had a company store, churches, its own railroad, schools, movie house, “Cliffside had its own everything,” says Biggerstaff. “Haynes was loyal to his people and they were loyal to him. It was a paternalistic experience.”
The people, mill workers, merchants or anybody, “had a unique kind of wit,” says Biggerstaff. “It was very salty.”
Biggerstaff has compiled a list of several hundred nicknames in common use during Cliffside’s heyday. The list includes Seaboard Splawn, Egghead, Fish, Cricket, Dimehead, ‘Materface, Pieface, Baldy, Wormy.
He has also collected some of the local expressions.
“If you were going to Rutherfordton, that meant you were going to town,” says Biggerstaff. “Going to Forest City meant you were going shopping. Going to Chesnee (S.C.) meant you were buying booze, and going to Witney (S.C.) meant you were just riding around.”
The Cliffside cast of characters is apparently endless and will be lovingly reviewed during the homecoming.
Biggerstaff remembers Mrs. Kelly Moore, whose husband was instrumental in getting the town built in 1900. “She ran a boarding house and hated chickens,” he says. “She could kill a rooster at 500 paces with her air rifle.”
Seaboard Splawn was one of the best doffers in Cliffside Mill; but, like many other skilled textile workers, he occasionally got mad at his bosses and quit.
Seaboard left Cliffside in a huff and moved to Alexander. His self-imposed exile lasted one night. The next day he came back to Cliffside Mill and resumed his old job without comment. “Nobody said a word about it,” Biggerstaff says.
At the site of the old Haynes Building, Humphries and Davidson remember the well-equipped gym and other features of the facility. Big-named country music entertainers played there during the 1920s and 1930s. The mill brought only the best to town. Uncle Dave Macon, first superstar of the Grand Ole Opry, played in Cliffside. So did Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers, the hottest string band in the South.
String music was popular in the mill village, and that tradition is kept alive through Humphries’ Snuffy Jenkins Music Park where several of the homecoming activities will be held.
In earlier years Cliffside had its own band – the Cliffside Renown Band, which gave outdoor concerts. One year, the mill sponsored a concert by John Phillip Sousa and his band.
Humphries and Davidson demonstrate how to “shine the rail,” a popular pastime on the rails outside the Haynes building.
They recall the words of Bum B. Goode on this activity, which merely consists of sitting atop the rail and not falling backward over a brick wall.
Several people, in various stages of intoxication, did fall years ago and died as a result. Goode said of the rail, “There is no better forum in this world for discussing politics, religion or your supervisor.”
Main street dead-ended at the mill office which had a fountain out front. For several years, two alligators—brought back from Florida by the Haynes family—lived in the fountain.
The first ring at 5:30 a.m. notified first-shift employees to get up. The 6:30 a.m. ring meant it was time to leave; at 6:50 a.m., another ring reminded them they had 10 minutes left before work began. The bell sounded at noon for lunch and at 6:00 p.m. for quitting time. The bell was in use from around 1900 until the 1940s.
Buddy Weathers, personnel director of Cone Mills, came to Cliffside in 1958 as a teacher. He later served on the Rutherford County Board of Education. “I was always impressed by the interest shown by students’ parents in the education of their children,” he says. “There was a genuine interest in seeing that kids got a good education. When the standard achievement tests were given, Cliffside students were always at or near the top.”
As the foursome discuss Cliffside’s past, Dr. H.L. Radford drives up and joins them. Retired after a 30-year medical practice in the village, he trades a few stories and laughs.
Ben Humphries, a member of the Class of ’47, notes that “Cliffside is not just a town or a place—it’s a way of life. And that’s the truth. It’s the best place I’ve ever lived.”
Schedule of events
Events will include :
|10 a.m.||Gathering at Snuffy Jenkins Music Park|
|12:30-4:30 p.m.||Visiting and remembering. Tours (by van) to plants, school, churches.Class reunions (if scheduled).|
|5 p.m.||Catered barbecue dinner|
|6:30 p.m.||Showing of old movies of Cliffside and its people at Baptist Church fellowship hall.|
|8:45 p.m.||Old movies will be shown again in the school auditorium. Class reunions (if scheduled).|
|9:45 a.m.||Church services. Cemetery visiting.|
|Noon||Picnic, on your own.|
|3 p.m.||Memorial service at R.R. Haynes home site.|
|4 p.m.||Visiting. Class reunions (if scheduled).|
Reprinted with permission from The Shelby Daily Star. Copyright owned by The Shelby Star.
Photos by Reno Bailey