Samuel Nelson Hill was born on January 1, 1927, but came into our family a few years later when he became the son of Roy and Nell Atkinson Hill. When he arrived in Cliffside, he was instantly surrounded by a large, loving family, and his origins were never mentioned. He spent almost as much time across the street with his aunts and his grandparents, George Barney (G. B.) and Maggie Forbes Hill, as he did at home.
He grew up on South Main Street and attended Cliffside School through his senior year. He went on to Gardner Webb College, but had his education there interrupted by two years in the Navy before he returned.
Sam married Alice “Polly” Goforth, and they lived in Spindale, N. C. for a number of years before moving to Cincinnati, Ohio. They returned to Rutherford County in 1961, where Sam and a partner started a body shop business that enjoyed much success. They later leased it out and became semi-retired, but it still bears the name “Travis-Hill Motor Company.”
He and Polly still live in Forest City. They are as active as they are able in their church, and Sam enjoys a cup of coffee in a local fast food restaurant with old “cronies” and friends he met during his working years.
Sam in school
Sam started to Cliffside School, which was then a combination grammar and high school, when he was five years old. He recalls his worst subject in school being spelling, and that all the words he had learned during the week went totally out of his mind when Friday’s spelling test came around. Sam learned to cope with being spelling handicapped, and did well in school in spite of it.
He worked at the soda fountain in the drugstore during his high school years. During the summer he was 15 years old, prior to receiving his driver license, he took a break from the job to chauffeur his Aunts and a neighbor on a tour of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Sam managed his school basketball team during the 1941-42 school year and played on the team during the 1942-43 year. Mainly because of gasoline and tire rationing during the war years, the team could not do much traveling to play other schools, so their schedule was very limited. He graduated from high school in the spring of 1943 at age 16, and gave up his job in the drug store to take a full time job in the finishing department of Cliffside Mills for the summer, then started classes at Gardner Webb College in the fall.
The Union March
Sam recalled the attempt by the textile worker’s union to organize the workers at Cliffside Mill in 1934. From his Grandparent’s front porch, he had what amounted to a front row seat to view the defensive measures taken by Mill officials and the National Guard. Not many feet separated the porch from the plant’s bleachery where he could see that a machine gun on a tripod had been placed on the roof. Only a fence and a few feet of ground separated the porch from the tin roofed car sheds under which the National Guard troops were encamped. He was disappointed that he was able to see very little of the actual march, however. His father, afraid for Sam’s safety if there should be violence or shooting, sent him around behind their South Main Street house while the group marched past. Sam did not actually see or hear it happen, but was able to examine the hole left in tin roof of the car shed where a bullet, accidentally discharged from a guardsmen’s rifle, penetrated the metal.
Riding the bus
In September of 1943 Sam started to school at Gardner Webb College in Boiling Springs. The Cliffside drug store was a designated stop for a Carolina Trailways bus route through Cliffside, but the route continued on South to Chesnee and Spartanburg, not going to Boiling Springs or Shelby at all. Driving there had been a Cliffside citizen’s only option, but since this was during the war, there was gas rationing to be considered.
Apparently Attorney Nat Hamrick recognized this need for local public transportation to the College and to Shelby, and formed the Rutherford County Transit bus system. The system operated only one bus, which everyone called “The Little Red ‘Jitney’ Bus.” This small bus traveled from Rutherfordton to Cliffside, from Cliffside to Boiling Springs, from Boiling Springs to Shelby, and then reversed its course. Sam could ride the bus and go directly to school in Boiling Springs each morning.
He scheduled his classes in the mornings and early afternoons so that he could work the second shift at the Cliffside Mills filter plant on South Main Street. On many afternoons Guy Johnson, who drove his car to school, gave Sam a ride back to Cliffside. Guy was then a ministerial student at Gardner Webb and later became a prominent minister at several Rutherford County churches. Sam’s College yearbook from 1944 shows Guy Johnson’s picture in the class superlatives, listed as “Most Popular Boy.”
Just after returning to school in September of 1944, his grandfather, George Barney Hill, who had worked as a watchman for the Mill for many years, died unexpectedly at age 69 from a heart attack. A few weeks later, Sam learned that he was to be called up for the draft, and would be drafted into the Army. He preferred to serve in the Navy, as his father had done, but had to volunteer to do so. His dad teasingly told Sam that while marching with the Army, he would get cold and wet many times, so he may as well go into the Navy and get wet and cold all at once. He made his final decision while home on Christmas break, and did not return to take his quarterfinals in January.
Serving in the Navy
On December 26, 1944, Nell and Roy took him to the train station in Asheville where he boarded a Southern Railway train for Raleigh, to be sworn in. He went by train from Raleigh to Chicago for 12 weeks of boot camp at the Great Lakes Training Center.
He recalled how he had objected when his dad insisted that he take his heavy stadium coat with him when he left, but was glad he had finally agreed to do so when he reached Chicago to find it was windy, cold, and sleeting. Sam, used to the mild winter weather down South, said after he received his uniforms two weeks later, he put one on, put his stadium coat over it, and wrapped up in the two blankets he had been issued before he was finally warm.
After boot camp, he was assigned to the Navy’s Medical Corps School in Farragot, Idaho for five weeks training as a Pharmacist Mate, and then assigned to the Naval Hospital in Seattle, WA. When Japan surrendered on August 14, 1945 and WWII came to an end, it was not the end of Sam’s term of service. He was then stationed aboard the USS Los Angeles, a heavy cruiser sailing up and down the China coast. He served aboard this ship as a Pharmacist Mate until being rotated back to the states a year later.
When he arrived in Shelby after his discharge in August of 1946, he took the “Little Red ‘Jitney’ Bus” back to Cliffside. He again picked up the threads of his life, going back to work in the finishing plant at Cliffside Mill, and, in September, starting back to school at Gardner Webb.
Sam Hill died on Thursday, November 2, 2006, at age 79. His life was celebrated in a touching service held on Saturday at Spencer Baptist Church in Spindale, NC.
Throughout his life, Sam embodied and exhibited those qualities of character to which we all aspire but seldom attain. He was respectful, fair, gentle and kind to everyone with whom he came in contact. He was a genuinely good person and devoted Christian who loved and was loved by all those he knew.
Sam’s memories of growing up in Cliffside and of the people who lived there were very dear to him, and he looked forward to seeing what was new on the Remember Cliffside website each month. He kept a notebook containing articles and pictures printed off from the website, and enjoyed leafing through it, remembering.
Sam’s body was returned to the village he loved, and was buried in Cliffside Cemetery.