Tearing Down A Town
We knew that Cliffside native Mike Fisher had helped tear down the old mill houses. We’ve been trying to find him, to ask him about it. We read that he had retired to Pennsylvania, but were unable to locate him. Then, the other day, he showed up via e-mail; he now lives in Kansas. We peppered him with questions, so he wrote the following e-memory.
Thanks for the e-mail. I’ve heard your name many times, but have no images to go along with it. Of course I can’t remember my name most of the time. That is another Fisher trait. Dad referred to everyone by some kind of descriptive term like “Lefty” or “Red.” No one ever caught on and I think they even preferred it that way.
I remember well the razing of Cliffside. Hell, I razed it! It was rumored that the whole thing started because of rising insurance costs, but I always believed the Cone people just wanted to put an end to the old paternalism they had inherited. Anyway, about 1959 the mill started hiring high school and college kids like me, Steve Dobbins, Buddy McNabb, Calvin Spurlin, and George Norville to begin tearing down the older buildings and mill houses. As time went on a few black kids like Vernell McDowell and another McDowell I can’t remember were hired, marking one of the first times blacks and whites worked together on the same jobs as a single crew. We were overseen by older mill workers like Odell Biggerstaff and Chase H.S. teachers like John Calvert. The work was done mostly during the summer and Christmas vacation periods and continued until about 1963. The pay was $1.10—$1.25 per hour.
Tearing down a mill house with a 4- to 6-man crew took about 6 working days. As much time was taken cleaning and stacking the best lumber as in actually destructing the houses. Mill trucks with outside workers would pick it up and store it at several lots near the mill. Later they picked up the scraps and stone pillars, leaving a relatively cleared area. Sadly, to the best of my knowledge, the lumber was never used and was left to rot over the years.
The actual work of tearing down the houses was a filthy and dangerous job. Before we even started work we were given tetanus shots because it was assumed we would step on nails and sustain other puncture wounds. There were no safety shoes or hats and at first no lung protection. Later there were simple paper masks. The tools of the trade were a pair of leather gloves, a long crowbar, a hammer and a 6-foot 2X4. It was dusty, hot, and dirty. Still we always assumed people inside the mill were working harder than we were. We were glad to be outside.
Almost all the houses were wood frame with wood walls and wood shingles. From what I gathered from the old guys I knew, it was milled locally as the homes were built. Some walls were plaster, there was a lot of beaded ceiling board, and all the wood shingles had been covered over the years with asphalt shingles. Taking off those heavy roofs and taking up the oak flooring and getting the nails out of that were the hardest parts of the job.
Were there treasures to be found in the walls of those old houses? In all the houses I worked, and I helped in over 40, we found only a handful of old coins, none too valuable. When I helped tear down the house in which I was born, I found only an old metal Social Security card number belonging to my father. We never found even one dollar bill.
I don’t have any pictures relating to the razing of Cliffside. Never did I see anyone take one. What a shame. We never realized just what we were doing. Ironically, what must have been a sad occurrence for most people in town was what paid for my education.
An update: Mike, the son of Mildred and G.C. Fisher, and his wife Virginia, have retired to Hendersonville, N.C.