Posts Tagged ‘Great Depression’

A Founding Family of the Rural South

Family Portrait: R.B.'s house on Main Street in Wendell, NC

Family Portrait: R.B.’s house on Main Street in Wendell, NC. Photo scanned from Pat Peele Darley’s “Harper: Journey of Faith,” a family-owned genealogy book.

In the photo above, my great, great, great grandfather, Rayford Bryant (“R.B.”) Whitley, sits on the porch next to his mother near the center of the photograph. In Harper: Journey of Faith, Pat Peele Darley traces the genealogy of the Harper family through twelve generations, including Robert Harper, the founder of Harpers Ferry, and John Harper IV, whose house in Bentonville became a hospital for both Union and Confederate Civil War soldiers. R.B.’s wife, Marietta (“Mamie”) Harper Whitley, is a descendant of these men (and, I should note, is absent from the above photo). According to Darley’s research, the photo is dated circa 1913 and features all of R.B. and Mamie’s children: “Ruth … on the lawn with … Rachel[,] Christine … on the bicycle near the steps, … Eloise … [on] the tricycle in the yard,” and Paul (my great, great grandfather) on the horse with Philip (76).

The house, built by R.B. in 1907, sits on Main Street in Wendell, NC, which runs straight through the town. One of the founders of Wendell, R.B. literally created Main Street by cutting down trees and removing stumps, and therefore he owned most of the street and its businesses. He also founded and ran the Bank of Wendell, which remained prosperous even throughout the Great Depression. Years later, R.B. left the house in this photograph to his son Paul and built a new house next door, named “Sunnyside,” which functioned as a hospital for a brief period of time before R.B. and Mamie moved in. Paul passed away in 1932, and the house in the photograph burned down two years later only to be replaced by a brick house in which Paul’s wife, Lossie Jeannette Whitley, raised my great grandmother, Eleanor, and her sister and brother, Marietta and Rayford Bryant II.

As a child, I remember my great grandmother reminding me to “never forget where [I] come from” when others attempt to belittle me. It is somehow comforting to finally understand what she meant.

–Britt Garrett

Tate City

Tate City, by Analicia Ashe

Tate City, by Analicia Ashe

Tate City is a ten-mile walk from my girlhood home, but it’s an hour’s drive in my dad’s ’83 Ford wood truck. I can’t attest to the sign’s veracity, but I doubt that the population is considerably more than the number allowed. Like so many places in Western North Carolina, it has been discovered by city folks and out-of-towners, but I am practicing sharing this place with an open heart. As someone who identifies as Appalachian, it’s hard for me to see people who move-in and try to change the culture of the area. What bothers me is that I know we, the out-of-towners and I, witness a different community; where they see convenient campgrounds and bathrooms with plumbing, I see the place where my grandfather’s family logged during the Great Depression.

My paternal grandparents are avid outdoors people and would bring me and my brother camping with them whenever they could. We  never stayed in the campgrounds towards the entrance, and I never wanted to; I loved running wild and splashing and swimming about without an audience. It amuses me that what we used to do is considered primitive camping. Jack, my grandfather, would bring us there because he has a rich connection to this place. As a child, he lived in one of the logging camps with his parents. He was six when they moved there, too young to log, but he has lasting memories of how the men would drag the logs out by horse because there were no roads. And even if there had been roads, who could have afforded a truck?

Conditions are considerably easier nowadays; there’s a road that goes for miles and stops a mile or so before the old homestead, so I have to push back the sea of tall grasses to get to this place. I like to go there alone and daydream about what they—my great-grandparents, the cabins, my grandfather—looked like at that moment in time. I picture my great-grandmother coaching my grandfather to walk after polio had ravaged his legs, and the smile of exhilaration they both must have had when he was finally successful in taking his first steps. I send her a silent thank-you because I know I would not exist if it weren’t for her determination and an ability to imagine what no one else thought was possible.