Cliffside Reunion Speech
At the Cliffside reunion held on May 7, 1988, ceremonies were held at the town Clock Tower. The principal speaker was Walter Dalton, great-grandson of R. R. Haynes. He was introduced by Judge Hollis Owens, Jr.
Thank you Judge Owens for that kind introduction. I am certainly glad that my wife and my children and my sister and many of my cousins are here today to hear those kind remarks. Unfortunately they know me too well and now they’ll never believe another thing that you say.
I noted on the program that I am a speaker with Cliffside connections. Hollis has already made mention that I am the great-grandson of Raleigh Haynes, but there is indeed another connection, which I must share with you. In going through my father’s papers I found a letter, which I am very proud of. It says “Dear Charles: Robert and I want to thank you for your efforts in making it possible to get the Cliffside Island Ford Road blacktopped. We appreciate your efforts in this matter, Charles, for we know that without your help those people would still have been there in the mud and dust. Thank you again. Best regards, Solan Smart and R. C. Hawkins.”
Well I am proud of that and I don’t know what my father did to help get the road paved, but I know that he did it with love and a sense of honor for the opportunity to assist a community which he had grown to love, also. It was with a similar sense of love and honor that I prepared for this occasion. Certainly I was pleased when the Committee requested that I speak today, and in order to be prepared for today I tested my own memory. I read some history and I talked with many of you, and what I learned is that each and every one of you has your own speech of Cliffside, which is much more eloquent than anything that I will say from this podium; and each and every one of you has more memories than can fill this weekend, much less be expressed from this podium. But these memories should be shared and they should be shared not only this weekend, but they should be shared as you go home and talk to your children, because Cliffside is their heritage, also, and indeed it was, and is, a special community.
When the Committee approached me I believe some were afraid I would merely stand up here and share my own memories of Cliffside. Well this speech is not about my memories, but I will take the license and privilege to share just a few with you; for I can remember so vividly my grandparent’s house which was merely steps from where I stand today, and I can remember my grandmother so vividly, Mrs. Bess as you called her, and I can remember her brown sugar cookies and she had a bible verse for each and every wrong we grandchildren committed, and I can remember my grandfather, Walter Haynes, we called him Pop, who would sit hours on end and play checkers with his youngest grandson and let him win about every third game. I can remember the fruit trees in the back yard, the apple tree, the pear tree, the grapevines, the pecan tree, the tomato plants and shuffle board court, the magnolia tree, the ice cream truck that stopped when a flag was out, and I remember asking mother to go shopping for shoes because we knew she would take us to Tubby Hawkins basement and Bob might have some old toys.
Yes, I learned a lot when I was in Cliffside. I remember a young man, I guess he was a teenager then, perhaps a bit older, named Sammy Davis who used to assist my grandparents when they were feeble and could not help themselves. Sammy was very kind to me and showed me magic tricks and played with me and made me feel important for a small boy. This was in the day of Elvis Presley when the boys would wear their hair in a pompadour. I remember Sammy Davis had the best looking pompadour I ever saw and after having visited my grandparents on Sunday, I went to school on a Monday with the second best pompadour you ever saw. My teacher came up to me and said, “Walter Dalton what are you doing. Are you trying to look like Elvis Presley?” I said, “No mam, I’m trying to look like Sammy Davis.” You know I don’t think she’s really gotten that yet and I believe she’s still confused.
But this speech is not about my memories, and I believe the Committee was concerned that since I was the great-grandson of Raleigh Haynes that I would merely stand up here and extol the virtues of Raleigh Haynes. Well this speech is not about Raleigh Haynes but any comment, any occasion in the name of Cliffside must bear substantial mention of the man who founded this community and his virtues do need to be extolled. I think it’s important to note that Raleigh Haynes was already a financial and industrial success before he ever came to Cliffside. He had constructed other textile mills; he had purchased other textile mills and been successful in those endeavors. What made Cliffside special? What made Cliffside different is that he came here not only to construct a mill, but this was to be his home. This is where he would raise 8 children. This is where he wanted to create a special community, which would provide a suitable environment for an excellent quality of life for the citizens of this community. That’s what made Cliffside special.
So at the turn of the century, Raleigh Haynes and Kelly Moore, Dr. T. B. Lovelace, L. A. Holland, J. F. Whisnant, Gather Kennedy, Henry Jenkins and many, many more set about to make Cliffside, the community, a reality and if there was a strength in R. R. Haynes, and I am convinced that there were many strengths in that man, it was in his vision. For he knew that a strong people and a strong community are nurtured by religion and their minds are expanded by education. With this in mind Raleigh Haynes and later his son, Charles, assisted substantially in the construction of seven of the churches in this locale. For he knew that whether it be good times or bad times, there was a God to look to for strength and for comfort and that that God was greater than any human being that walked upon this earth.
He also knew that education was the key to success and the key to the future. So in that vein Cliffside Mills built the Cliffside school building in 1922 at a cost of approximately $250,000, an astronomical sum in those days. It was as fine a facility for its size as any in the nation. In addition to that, however, he knew that the structure alone did not provide the education, so the mill provided supplements to the teachers over and above the county pay in order that the best educators might be attracted to teach in this school.
In addition to the religion and the educational opportunities, there were the other amenities of Cliffside, providing the social benefits which were many and far exceeded others offered by communities of this size. There was the gymnasium, the library, there was the boarding house; there was the movie house which helped spawn a movie pioneer; there were band nights, the Cliffside renowned band with a statewide reputation and the mill would bring varied musical talent to the town for the benefit of its citizens. The John Phillip Sousa band was brought here for a concert and Uncle Dave Macon of the Grand Ole Opry performed here. Cliffside had its own bank, its own railroad for transportation, boat rides for recreation, a store for subsistence and a currency of its own, for a while.
It was indeed a special community and a special place. But these things were constructed by Cliffside Mills or encouraged by Cliffside Mills, not necessarily to improve the quality of life for its citizens but they were placed there in order to set forth fertile ground so that the citizens might improve their own life through their own efforts. In short, Raleigh Haynes was providing a quality of life, but he was also giving tools for a quality of life to a people, that if they wanted to avail themselves of those tools and better their plight, then that opportunity would be there.
The United States Army used the phrase “be the best you can be,” but I submit to you that Raleigh Haynes coined that phrase many years ago. In going through his valuable papers I found a letter dated Christmas Eve 1916. In that letter Raleigh Haynes is commenting on many things and this was approximately two months before his death. It is clear by reading that letter that Raleigh Haynes knew that his time on this earth was limited, but in that letter, he speaks of his undeveloped plans. He says, “I hope the undeveloped plans I have laid may someday be complete and that my friends and loved ones will be benefited by them and that they will be better men and women and that they can and will serve their country and serve each other in a way that is right.”
Repeat: “Serve each other in a way that is right.” In essence, he was repeating the golden rule, which was, and is, practiced in Cliffside to perfection. It was in this atmosphere that great loyalty was produced between the town and its citizens and among the citizens themselves, and I am told that even in the bad times, when the mill was not running fulltime, people did not leave because they wanted to stay and see each other through those bad times. It is not surprising that in such an environment many leaders of our County, State and Nation were produced. I don’t think it’s surprising that your County Planner and County Manager at the present time are from Cliffside; that the resident Superior Court Judge for the 19th Judicial District, a five county area, is from Cliffside; that the mayors of many of our local towns and towns in other states have come from Cliffside; that we have had legislators serve our state from Cliffside; that there is a movie pioneer, Earl Owensby, who helped establish a movie industry in North Carolina which is now the third leading state in movie production. We have had many leaders of industry and education. There have been both County and State Superintendents of schools to come from Cliffside. Various professional athletes have come from Cliffside. It has produced entreprenaurers, businessmen, authors, civic leaders. I will not begin to name them because the list would be numerous.
But this speech is not about them ladies and gentlemen, but they are evidence of the productivity of a small but very special community. You say, “What then is this speech about, Mr. Dalton? You’ve rambled on and it’s not about your memories, it’s not about Raleigh Haynes, it’s not about the leaders which Cliffside has produced, what is this speech about?” Well, ladies and gentlemen, this speech is about you: the family of Cliffside and your ancestors who made this community. They are not over on that hillside, but their spirits are here with us celebrating and smiling that we are all gathered here today. For we do not gather to glorify a town which has seen so much change in the name of progress, but we do gather glorifying a town that showed love, respect and loyalty to one another; a town that said to its citizens, “Do the best you can, be productive for your fellow man” and your gathering here is evidence that the fertile ground which was laid has been productive.
The lessons learned were learned well. Each and every one of you is to be congratulated. For you gather here today, not to honor anyone, but to express love to everyone. You have gathered here today in the memory of no particular event, but to remember all that was eventful. You have gathered here today, not out of any sense of obligation, but out of a desire to be home.
Thomas Wolfe once said, “You can’t go home again,” and, Raleigh Biggerstaff, you were quoted in the paper that this event would prove Thomas Wolfe wrong and that indeed you can come home again. But actually, Raleigh, Thomas Wolfe was right. You can’t go home again— but what he didn’t know is that if you’re from Cliffside you never leave, because you carry it in your heart forever.
Cliffside is not a place so much as it is a state of mind of those who lived in this special community. Those who are members of the family of Cliffside. So as we leave this place today the clock will sound and progress will continue to tear at the fabric of what once was, but ladies and gentlemen, you the family of Cliffside, it will never erase what is in your heart.
Home is where the heart is. Thank you for being you and for being here. It’s good to have you home.
As of this posting [October 2007], attorney Walter Dalton, son of the late Charles C. and Amanda Haynes Dalton (daughter of Walter Haynes), represents Rutherford County in the North Carolina State Senate. He and his family live in Rutherfordton. We are grateful for his providing a copy of this speech.