On this day in 1985: A 20-year-old Kill Devil Hills man pleads guilty to 48 counts of misdemeanor theft — of license plates. After receiving numerous complaints from victimized vacationers, police deduced the thief’s quest to collect all 50 states and successfully baited him with a Hawaii plate attached to an unmarked car.
“The Chapel Hill [town council’s post World War I] report commented that ‘No single thing showed the patriotic spirit of the people of Orange County during the war than the cheerful way in which they carried out the irksome rules and regulations of the Food Administration’….
“The report describes how the county food administration decided that no farmers would be allowed to thresh their wheat before July 1. Although most threshermen acceded to this directive, one or two did not. The report calls this a violation of the law and states that the men pled guilty but then voluntarily contributed to the Red Cross, so charges were dropped. Since not even Herbert Hoover, the head of the federal Food Administration, could issue edicts with the force of law, one wonders what exactly the two threshermen had been charged with….”
We see a lot of interesting images here at North Carolina Historic Newspapers, like this sheep advertising the Chatham Manufacturing Company of Elkin. My interest was piqued, and I set out to learn more about the company behind the ad.
Founded in 1877 through a partnership between Alexander Chatham and his brother-in-law, Thomas Lenoir Gwyn, the company evolved from a single wool carding machine operation to the largest single unit woolen mill in the world by the 1950s.
In 1890, Alexander Chatham bought out Thomas Lenoir Gwyn’s share of their company, which at the time was named Elkin Woolen Mills. In the same year, Alexander Chatham’s eldest son, Hugh Gwyn Chatham, assumed leadership of the company.
In the 19th century most of the company’s raw material came from the area surrounding Elkin, with local farmers bringing their wool in to have it spun into blankets. Eventually Chatham Manufacturing acquired wool from such distant locales as New Zealand, Australia, and South America as production demand exceeded local supply.
The company is most widely known for its Chatham Blankets, of which it contributed millions for solders’ bedrolls during World War I and World War II. Chatham manufacturing also produced upholstery for cars, beginning in 1936 with fabric for the Packard Motor Company. Other products included baby blankets, men’s suiting fabric and sportswear woolens, among others. By the 1950s there was a United States Custom port of entry operating in Elkin to support the company’s volume of imports.
In 1988 Northern Feather, a Danish textile firm, bought Chatham Manufacturing and the company passed out of family hands.
To learn more about Chatham Manufacturing, its employees, and life in Elkin during the reign of this American manufacturing powerhouse, check out:
“If you grew up in the Southeast like me, you may think (as I once did) that the spot on the front of your car for a license-sized plate is just for displaying your school pride, an advertisement from the dealership where you purchased your car, or a plate from another state that you frankly think is a lot cooler than the one you currently live in. As it turns out, however, most states actually require that vehicles display two license plates — one on the front, another on the back….
“North Carolina once required front and back plates, but the General Assembly amended G.S. 20-63 in 1951 to permit the DMV commissioner to issue only one registration plate for each motor vehicle if he or she determined that there was ‘an actual or threatened shortage of metal’…. Eventually, G.S. 20-63 was amended to simply require, regardless of the availability of metal, that only one registration plate be issued….”
“A Confederate battle flag hung inside the old North Carolina State Capitol to mark the sesquicentennial of the Civil War is being taken down after civil rights leaders raised concerns.
“The decision was announced hours after the Associated Press published a story about the flag, which officials said was part of an historical display intended to replicate how the antebellum building appeared in 1863….”
What a contrast! One state welds itself to official veneration of the flag, the other leaps to erase it from even historical display.
Even so, North Carolinians who wish to share with the world their attachment to the Lost Cause do have options.
Update: That now-dead link was to an item listed on Amazon — a contemporary mashup of the North Carolina state flag and the Confederate battle flag. Like many other retailers, Amazon has now removed all Confederate merchandise.
On this day in 1864: Gen. Gabriel Rains of New Bern, whose use of land mines to stymie pursuing Union forces has already created outrage in the North, is appointed chief of the Confederacy’s newly created Torpedo Bureau. Under his supervision a variety of “torpedoes” (explosive devices he has patterned after a design by Samuel Colt) will be manufactured at Richmond, Wilmington, Mobile, Charleston and Savannah.
Confederate naval mines will sink about 58 Union vessels, some 1,300 land mines will be buried in the defenses of Richmond and two of Rains’ agents will detonate a bomb at the wharves of Ulysses S. Grant’s supply base at City Point, Va., that causes numerous casualties and $4 million in damages.
As the days grow humid, who doesn’t yearn for some cool mountain air? Our June Artifact of the Month is an early-20th-century booklet advertising Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC, a historic resort hotel that first opened in 1913. Built by Edwin Wiley Grove and his friend and son-in-law Thomas Seely, the Inn “was built in the old-fashioned way — full of rest, comfort, and wholesomeness.”
The inside of booklet, which features black-and-white photographs of the hotel’s lobby and various rooms, describes the luxuries of the hotel. No detail is too minute for this sixteen-page publication. It addresses plumbing: “The toilet seats are celluloid. No pipes are visible anywhere.” Lighting: “No electric bulbs visible. All lighting indirect.” Furnishings: “Not a double bed in the Inn. Double rooms have two three-quarter beds and single rooms have one.” Ice: “All refrigeration is artificial. Ice not used.”
The place is kept pristine and they insist on maintaining a homelike atmosphere. “The cleaning is done with Hoover Vacuum Cleaners,” the booklet declares. In the “Big Room,” or lobby, you will be greeted by the “world’s finest Orchestral Organ,” a description of which appears on the back cover of the booklet.
“One of the curses of the ordinary hotel,” reads one of the pages, “is the lack of consideration for guests who need rest or care to retire before midnight.” But Grove Park guests need not worry: the Inn has the art of comfort perfected as “employees wear rubber heels.”
Maids report for service at 8:00 a.m., but are provided with comfortable chairs in their corridors for reading until quiet hours end at 9:00 a.m. And the ceilings of the Big Room are one foot thick so no noise will penetrate into the rooms of sleeping guests.
Amongst these extravagances, Park Grove prides itself on being “Absolutely Fireproof”:
“It is absolutely fireproof built of the great boulders of Sunset Mountain, at the foot of which it sits.”
With this extreme focus on comfort, it’s no wonder ten U.S. Presidents and countless luminaries from the worlds of art, entertainment, sports, and politics have stayed at this hotel.
In an atmosphere that prides itself on luxury and affording every opportunity for a good time, one rule comes across as surprising:
A little sleuthing reveals that this nifty little booklet was published in 1920 — at the dawn of Prohibition.
You may consider adding Grove Park to your list of NC vacationing spots, as the hotel is still open today – although in 2013, on its hundredth birthday, the classic Ashville Inn was purchased by Omni hotels. If the luxury isn’t enough to lure you, here’s some additional enticement: “The altitude forbids humidity and heat even on the warmest summer days,” tempts the booklet, “There are no mosquitos.”
“In later years — probably to burnish his image as a hero and spokesman for his sport — [Ty Cobb] and his boosters went out of their way to note that his early encounters with the Negro race were either inconsequential or benign. A 1909 editorial in the Charlotte Observer said, ‘Cobb, born with the prominence that is universal among white persons in Georgia, sought no further prominence by buckshotting his compatriots. So far as is known, he never attended a lynching.’
“Faint praise indeed, but baseball was just as racist as the rest of society…..”