Nell Atkinson was only a few months old when she first lived in Cliffside. Her parents, James Edward “Ed” and Louise “Lou” Atkinson moved their family to Cliffside in the winter of 1905-1906, when she was a baby. She was about six years old when the family moved back to Cherokee County, S. C.
She returned to Cliffside about 1925, went to work in the mill, and never worked anywhere else.
She boarded with families in Cliffside until she married Roy Hill and they moved to South Main Street. With the exception of the two years he served in the Navy, their son Sam, from the time he became a member of the family in 1932, lived there with them until after he married. Around 1951, Nell and Roy moved from Cliffside to what would become Old Highway 221A South, and both continued to work in the mill. They were living there when Roy died in 1963.
Nell was remarried in 1967 to R. A. “Slick” Isreal and moved to Caroleen, but was widowed again nine years later. In the early 1980s, her sister, Malleree Atkinson Prewitt, moved next door, and the two of them lived side by side in Caroleen for the last 10 years of their lives.
Nell’s Stocking and Bloomers
After moving from Cliffside back to the country with her family in 1911, Nell attended Ashworth School with her brothers and sisters. She played basketball during her physical education classes there, but her uniform was far different from the shorts and shirts worn by PE students or basketball players today. I once saw a school picture of her, made in her PE class, in which she wore long black stockings and bloomers gathered at the knee.
Nell goes to work in the Mill
Nell’s first experience with mill work came in 1924 when she was 19 years old. Due to a prior tenant not vacating the house on the Hazelhurst Farm into which her family was to move, they rented a house in Henrietta for about two months. While they were there, Nell applied for a job at Henrietta Mills. She was hired, but worked for only a day and a half before sending word to her parents to come and get her. The reason she gave for quitting was that mill work was too hard, but her family wondered if the real reason was that her temper had flared and she had told off an overseer. Nell was a kind person, but she did have a bit of a temper and was not too meek to defend herself when she felt it was needed.
She apparently decided that mill work was not as bad as she previously thought, since she went to work at Cliffside Mills the following year, while living on the Hazelhurst farm. When her family moved back to the Cherokee Creek Community a year or so later, Nell moved to Cliffside so she could continue to work in the mill. She boarded with families in Cliffside during the week, and spent most of her weekends in Cherokee Creek with her family. She is shown in early pictures of Cliffside finishing plant employees, apparently while the mill was still manufacturing gingham. After the Mill converted to terry cloth, she hemmed towels for many years.
Roy & Nell’s Marriage — and Sam
While working and boarding in Cliffside, Nell met Roy Hill. Roy had returned to Cliffside after four years in the Navy, and was living on South Main Street with his family and working in the machine shop at Cliffside Mills. They were married in York County, S. C. in 1931, and moved onto South Main Street, where they would live for almost 20 years.
Nell and Roy both loved Nell’s nephew, Huntley Atkinson, and would “borrow” him for visits when he was less than two years old. They even brought him to Cliffside to spend the Christmas holiday with them soon after they were married. In 1932, Nell and Roy adopted a little boy who became the love of both their lives. They named their new son Samuel Nelson Hill.
The World’s Best Cook
Back when it was still the practice for people to visit each other after church on Sunday afternoon, Roy and Nell always had lots of company, and their visitors were always made to feel very welcome. They very seldom went anywhere on Sunday themselves, since it had become a regular tradition for family and friends to go to their house after church or to drop by at some time during the afternoon.
Nell loved to cook, and was very good at it. She prepared lunch every Sunday, cooking part of it before leaving for church, and finishing up when she got back home. Anyone who came to visit was invited to eat with them. Of course, very few people ever turned down her invitation, since everything she cooked was so delicious. My own personal favorites were her pound cakes and her okra/corn/tomato dish. While it may be disputed by some, I always thought Aunt Nell deserved the title of “World’s Best Cook.”
Their huge table, with extensions installed, filled the dining area. It was laden with bowls of at least six or eight different vegetables, several meats, homemade biscuits, and cakes and pies. Plates were cleared and the dishes washed after the first seating, but the food remained on the table or was replenished, since there would likely be additional seatings all during the afternoon. Sam once counted 36 people who had lunch with them. No one ever left their house hungry. Nell canned and froze vegetables in the summer, dried fruit, and always kept her huge freezer filled to the top with vegetables, fruit, and meats. Roy would raise a beef or two on halves, and always cured several hams and shoulders, but their grocery bill still must have been huge.
After Roy died in 1963, Nell lived alone for a number of years, going to work each day and visiting with her family and with Roy’s sisters, Annie and Ada, but was still very lonely. One of her co-workers at Cliffside Mills was Roberta Isreal McMurray, wife of Harold McMurray. When Roberta asked if she would consider going out with her father, R. A. “Slick” Isreal, who was also very lonely after the death of his wife, Nell consented. When she and Slick were married in 1967, she moved to his house in Caroleen.
Slick drove a taxi, operating the business from his home. The telephone for the taxi service hung on a huge oak tree in the front yard, and Nell would answer the phone when Slick was not there. If she knew the caller and the need sounded urgent enough, Nell would occasionally even agree to take a fare herself.
Nell and Slick both retired and began to travel. Slick liked to go fishing, so they made frequent fishing trips to Florida, where two of his daughters lived. In 1976, he died in Florida during a visit there.
Nell and Malleree often cooked and shared their meals, and since Nell drove and Malleree did not, they usually went shopping or ran errands together. They were returning from shopping on July 15, 1994 when they had an accident on the north end of the Broad River Bridge at Caroleen, only a few hundred yards from their homes. Nell is believed to have suffered a heart attack, and the car swerved, hit the corner of the bridge, flipped over, and tumbled down to land on the riverbank below. Both wore seat belts but still suffered fatal injuries. Nell died in an Asheville hospital two days later, at age 88, and was buried beside Roy in Cliffside Cemetery. Malleree died in Spartanburg Regional three weeks later, at age 78, and was buried in Cliffside Cemetery beside her husband, Ernest.