How Carrboro Got Its Name

The bustling mill town just west of Chapel Hill went through a relative flurry of renaming in the early 20th century. The unincorporated area was known locally as West End, a mundane name reflecting its location relative to Chapel Hill. With the establishment of a textile mill there in 1898, the area began to grow and develop an identity of its own separate from Chapel Hill. It was known briefly (and informally) as Lloydsville, after Thomas Lloyd, original owner of the first mill. In 1911, the town was incorporated under the name of Venable, after Francis P. Venable, President of the University of North Carolina.

Detail of a map showing the town of Venable.  From a 1913 map of North and South Carolina, NCC.
Detail of a map showing the town of Venable. From a 1913 map of North and South Carolina, NCC.
I have not been able to find any record of why the town leaders chose to honor President Venable. Perhaps, while they were setting up a separate community, they wanted to commemorate their close ties to the University. The only railroad stop in the immediate area was the depot near the mill, meaning that every student and faculty member traveling by train would make their way to Venable. All I have been able to track down so far is what Venable himself thought having the neighboring town named after him: he didn’t like it.

Evidence of Venable’s displeasure is in a very interesting letter we just came across in the University Archives. The letter is from Julian S. Carr, prominent alumnus, and the owner, since 1909, of the West End/Venable mill and neighboring buildings. Given his investment in the business community, Carr would have been a much more likely person to honor with the name of the town. Nobody thought so more than Carr himself.

In a letter dated 20 January 1913, Carr wrote to President Venable:

My Dear Dr. Venable:-

Letter from Julian S. Carr to Francis P. Venable, 20 January 1913. University Papers (collection 40005), University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Letter from Julian S. Carr to Francis P. Venable, 20 January 1913. University Papers (collection 40005), University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
I recall a conversation I had with you some time ago with reference to the naming of Venable, the factory town West of Chapel Hill. If I remember correctly, you were not especially pleased that the town had been named as a compliment to you. Since then my boys and I have purchased the other Tom Lloyd mill, and we now own about all of Westend, otherwise styled Venable, and I am thinking that if I had your consent, I would have the name changed from Venable to Carrsboro. However, I will take no action in this matter until I hear from you. Of course you understand I want your full consent and assent to this proposition, and I will do nothing without it.

Bespeaking your prompt response, I beg to remain,

Yours very truly,

Julian S. Carr

Venable did not mind at all. The following day, Venable’s secretary sent a response: “Dr. Venable directs me to write to you that he is entirely willing to have the name changed and thinks the name suggested by you an excellent one.”

Local histories usually say that the name was changed to honor Carr after he agreed to pay for electricity for the town. While this is true, the majority of the residents of the town at the time were likely Carr’s employees, so his was not a purely philanthropic gesture. Carr was clearly interested in having his family name memorialized on the North Carolina map. He got his wish. Later in 1913, the town name was formally changed and remains Carrboro today.

The Unsolved Murder of Pink Goodson

From the Hickory Democrat, March 18, 1915.
From the Hickory Democrat, March 18, 1915.
On a Saturday night in Hickory, one hundred years ago this week, Pink Goodson, a 56-year-old African American man, was murdered in his home. Around one o’clock in the morning, shots from multiple guns were fired from outside of the house into the bedroom where Goodson and his wife were sleeping. Goodson got up and was in the process of trying to escape into the interior of the house when a bullet struck him in the head, killing him instantly. His terrified wife crouched by the dead body until morning, afraid to leave the house until she was certain that the killers had gone.

The Hickory Democrat reported that the home of another African American man in the neighborhood had been “shot up in much the same manner some time ago.” The Democrat said that the motive for the killing was not known, unless it was “to frighten the negroes into leaving that section.” The Charlotte Observer also suggested that “the crowd had no intention of killing anybody, but were again expressing their dislike of the negro’s residence there.”

Ten young white boys were quickly arrested for the crime and held without bond in the town jail. The Charlotte Observer reported that “the young men are all sons of good families and there is surprise over the charge lodged against them.”

The killing received attention in newspapers statewide and at least one mention in the national press. In May 1915, the case was listed in the crime section of The Crisis, the publication of the national NAACP. The Crisis reported regularly on lynchings, listing their victims and causes. Their summary of the case was simple, “Pink Goodson, Hickory, N. C., — living in a white neighborhood.”

A few days after the murder, the Charlotte Observer ran a letter from G. M. Garren in Raleigh, who attributed the crime to “the agitation now going on in the State against the privilege that the negro has of purchasing a home and owning land.” Garren goes on to place the blame for the unrest on leaders of the Farmers Union and politicians, arguing that “the laziest way of reaching an office in the South is an agitation of some phase of the race question.” He then predicts that “the perpetrators of this crime will never be punished. The trial will be a farce. No jury can be found who will convict. If the guilty ones are ever brought to trial, they will be turned loose, the heroes of their respective communities.”

On March 20, the same day that Garren’s letter was published and just a week after the murder, the ten young men arrested for the crime were brought to trial. According to the newspaper report, “Before all the witnesses had been examined, Judge Councill arose and asked the court to discharge the boys.” The judge cited insufficient evidence as the explanation for the quick release.

The Hickory Democrat published an editorial on March 25, justifying the handling of the case by local police and courts. Despite reporting in a previous issue that the home of another African American family had been “shot up,” the Democrat insisted that “No evidence has been shown to prove that there was a spirit of ill feeling between the whites and blacks in that neighborhood.” The paper assured its readers that “had the situation been reversed and a white man killed, under the same identical circumstances, we conscientiously believe the progress of justice would have been identical.”

A few weeks after the trial, the Catawba County Commissioners met and agreed to offer a $100 reward for information that would lead to the arrest and conviction of the “parties connected with the murder of Pink Goodson.” Goodson was mentioned only once more in local newspapers, when another home was shot into a few months later. No further progress in the case was reported.

“Bunkum” As A Superlative

bunkumIn searching through for early uses the word “bunkum,” one of our state’s greatest (perhaps the greatest?) contributions to the English language, I found an interesting article from the Philadelphia World reprinted in the Asheboro Southern Citizen of July 26, 1839.

Regular readers of our “This Month in North Carolina History” series remember that “bunkum” grew out of a 1820 speech by Felix Walker in the U.S. House of Representatives when he said he was “speaking for Buncombe.” While initially ascribed to overblown and empty political speech, we now know it to refer to any sort of nonsensical claim.

But in the 1839 article, bunkum is used as a superlative:

Many of our readers have doubtless heard of this used as a superlative, without knowing its origin. Thus a buncum horse or buncum fellow, which means a horse or fellow of superior quality is frequently used in some parts of the country, and occasionally heard in all. It is a corruption of Buncombe, the name of the largest and most westerly county of North Carolina. As this county is larger than any three or four others in the State, the North Carolinians have long used it as a standard of comparison; and therefore when they wish to designate any thing as particularly large, or excelling, they say it as as large as, or equal to Buncombe, which they pronounce Bunkum.

Unfortunately for our friends in Asheville, who no doubt would have preferred to have this more positive use of their county name widely adopted, I don’t think anyone today would want to be called a “bunkum fellow.”

Three Million Pages of Historic North Carolina Newspapers Now Available Online

We are pleased to announce that there are now more than three million pages of historic North Carolina newspapers available through the website This is currently the largest online collection of North Carolina newspapers and is a tremendous resource for students, teachers, genealogists, and historians.

The UNC-Chapel Hill University Library has been working with, a subsidiary of the popular genealogy site, on this project over the past year. The North Carolina Collection, which holds the largest collection of North Carolina newspapers on microfilm, loaned copies of the film to, where staff members quickly digitized, transcribed, and published the papers online.

The more than three million pages now online come from 970 different titles from all across the state and range in date from 1751 through the early twentieth century. Newspapers large and small are there, including long-running urban papers such as the Charlotte Observer, Raleigh News and Observer, and Asheville Citizen. These are searchable online alongside hundreds of smaller papers, many of which are represented by only a few surviving issues, such as the Rutherfordton Democrat (two issues, 1896) and the Bixby Hornet (one issue, 1908).

Access to these and other papers is available to subscribers (see their website for subscription information). Members of the UNC-Chapel Hill community and users accessing the website on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus have free access to the papers contributed by the UNC Library. Free access for these papers is also available to users at the three statewide locations of the State Archives of North Carolina in Raleigh, Manteo, and Asheville.

Remembering When the Dean Dome Used to Rock

stones90Does anybody remember when it was Hammer Time at the Dean Dome? Looking through some of the digitized copies of the Yackety Yack available on DigitalNC, one of the things that struck me was that, beginning shortly after its opening in 1986, the Dean E. Smith Center was one of the premier concert venues in central North Carolina.

bocephus89Looking through the concerts listed in the yearbooks from 1987 through 1991 you find many of the top names in rock, rap, and country visited Chapel Hill, some more than once. The first concert held in the Dean Dome was Kenny Rogers on April 12, 1986. For the next several years, the venue welcomed some of the biggest names in music, including the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac (twice), and Billy Joel. The acts coming through weren’t just limited to “classic” rock music: Public Enemy, Hank Williams, Jr., New Kids on the Block, and Bill Cosby all performed on campus. And nobody who was here at the time is not likely to forget the two nights that the Grateful Dead came to town in the spring of 1993.

publicenemy90By the mid 1990s, the number of concerts at the Dean Dome began to dwindle. These days, we rarely see big musical performances there. With so many newer and more convenient venues now spread throughout the Triangle, it’s unlikely that we’ll see a return to the golden era of big concerts on campus. We’re left only with photos and memories of a few fun years when the Dean E. Smith Center was not just home to some of the best college basketball in the country, it also rocked.

Concerts at the Dean E. Smith Center by School Year, 1986-1991 (Source: Yackety Yacks):

Kenny Rogers (first concert, April 12, 1986)
Lionel Richie and Sheila E.
Jimmy Buffett
Billy Joel

Fleetwood Mac
David Bowie
James Taylor
Pink Floyd
Level 42
Tina Turner
Whitney Houston
Jimmy Buffett
Bruce Springsteen

INXS and Ziggy Marley
Amy Grant
The Temptations
Robert Plant
Bon Jovi
Hank Williams, Jr.

Mötley Crüe
New Kids on the Block
Elton John
Bill Cosby
Public Enemy
The Doobie Brothers
Tom Petty
Janet Jackson
The Rolling Stones
The Cure
David Bowie
Eric Clapton

Neil Young
Billy Idol
ZZ Top
Paul Simon
James Taylor
Fleetwood Mac
They Might Be Giants
Faith No More
Jane’s Addiction
MC Hammer
En Vogue
Randy Travis

An Early Version of the Carolina Covenant?

In looking through the terrific collection of North Carolina newspapers recently added to Chronicling America, I came across a note from Chapel Hill describing what sounds a lot like an early version of the Carolina Covenant.

Launched in 2003, the Carolina Covenant is UNC’s promise to encourage and support all qualified students, regardless of their ability to pay. It is an innovative program that has been the model for many others around the country.

Here’s what I found in the October 6, 1836 issue of the North-Carolina Standard, a Raleigh paper:

Clipping from the North-Carolina Standard, 1836

While the phrase “too indigent to defray College expenses” sounds old-fashioned, the sentiment is very much the same as the current program.

More on the Origin of “Tar Heels”

Digging again through old newspapers, I came across another very early use in print of the nickname “Tar Heels.” A little over a year ago I wrote about the appearance of the nickname in an ad in an 1864 Fayetteville paper, which was a contender for the earliest use of “Tar Heels” in print. Now we can move it back another year to 1863 thanks to a letter from a Civil War soldier to a Raleigh newspaper.

Sgt. G. W. Timberlake, a member of Company A of the 3rd Regiment of North Carolina Troops, had a letter published in the Raleigh Semi-Weekly Standard on June 2, 1863. Writing from a “Camp Near the Old U.S. Ford” in Virginia, Timberlake describes the action of the second Battle of Fredericksburg and lists casualties from the regiment. Apparently the North Carolina soldiers did a particularly good job of holding their line. Timberlake writes,

The troops from other States call us “Tar Heels.” I am proud of the name, as tar is a sticky substance, and the “Tar Heels” stuck up like a sick kitten to a hot brick, while many others from a more oily State slipped to the rear, and left the “Tar Heels” to stick it out.

It’s a great quote, and confirms the origin of the nickname in the Civil War.

“Cult-Favorite” Peanuts from Rocky Mount a Hit in Brooklyn

A review of a Brooklyn bar in this week’s New Yorker includes a surprise local connection. Among the bar snacks served at Achilles Heel, a new bar in Greenpoint, are duck mousse, domestic cured hams, and “cult-favorite Methodist peanuts, roasted by the men of the Englewood United Methodist Church in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.”

Looks like New Yorkers have been onto these for a while. A 2010 New York Times Magazine article praised the Rocky Mount peanuts as the “best roasted snacking peanuts” around. In 2007, New York magazine ran an article called “Battle of the North Carolina Church Club Peanuts,” pitting the Rocky Mount nuts vs. peanuts from the Methodist Church in Mt. Olive.

I guess we’re known for more than barbecue.

First in Barbecue Editors, Too

Yesterday’s New York Times had a story about a Texas magazine that recently hired a Barbecue Editor. It’s an interesting piece, but one does get the impression from reading it that the Texans invented the job and that nobody had ever thought to do it before them.

The Times article says that the position “exists at no other magazine in America,” which may be technically true, but I’d like to point out that there was a Barbecue Editor in North Carolina more than 15 years ago. In 1996, the North Carolina Literary Review named poet and English professor William Harmon as its Barbecue Editor, a position that attracted some attention at the time, most notably from News & Observer columnist Dennis Rogers who lamented that he was passed over for the position.

Harmon wasn’t the only one to wax poetic about our state’s finest culinary offering. James Applewhite’s 1983 poem “Barbecue Service” is, in my opinion, the finest piece of literature yet written about barbecue. And as I wrote here in 2006, barbecue has even found its way into our state’s leading history journal, with an excellent piece on barbecue culture in eastern North Carolina and a call for more academic study of the topic.

Not to pick on our friends in Texas, but the barbecue editor position at Texas Monthly, at least as described by the Times, sounds more like a barbecue critic, charged with seeking out and reviewing restaurants around the state. In other words, the same thing that Bob Garner has been doing for WUNC-TV and in print for nearly twenty years. When the Texas editor gets around to writing a book about barbecue, he’d be advised to model it after the excellent Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue, by John Shelton Reed and Dale Volberg Reed, published a few years ago by UNC Press, which combines a scholarly and popular approach to the subject.

We don’t begrudge our neighbors in other states their own culinary traditions, but in North Carolina we take talking and writing about barbecue almost as seriously as we do eating it.

Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, 1962

UPDATED, 2/27: As Jack Hilliard points out in a comment below, the page I first posted didn’t include the whole block. I added the previous page, which also includes at least one business still operating in its 1962 location.

One of the favorite pastimes of UNC alums returning to campus is to lament how much has changed, especially on Franklin Street, the University’s “Main Street,” home to many restaurants and bars long frequented by UNC undergraduates.

The North Carolina City Directories collection on DigitalNC now includes four directories from Chapel Hill, from the years 1957, 1959, 1961, and 1962. The directories have a street directory section, enabling readers to browse residents or businesses by location. Here are the pages from the 1962 Chapel Hill directory showing the main block of Franklin Street:

Hill's Chapel Hill (Orange County, N.C.) City Directory, includi

Hill's Chapel Hill (Orange County, N.C.) City Directory, includi

So how much has changed since then? Quite a lot. At first glance I can see only one business that’s still operating in its current location (not counting churches). Can anyone else find it? Are there any others that I missed?