“If you look at a book on trees or on Wikipedia, it will say that the [American chestnut] blight was first spotted in 1904, or came over ‘ca. 1900,’ through certain Long Island nursery men, but I found old newspaper clippings suggesting… that the blight had begun much earlier, either right before or right after the Civil War, and had begun in the interior, not on the coast and not in the Northeast but in places like Georgia and Virginia, the Carolinas.
“The first manifestation I could find of whatever it was occurred in Rockingham, North Carolina…. I started finding these newspaper stories, first from small-town papers around Rockingham and then from a widening radius. People would be meeting in these towns, having meetings basically to ask, ‘What are we going to do about the chestnuts dying?’ ”
On this day in 1942: In Hollywood, Roy Acuff records “The Wreck on the Highway,” based on a real-life accident in Rockingham.
The melancholy song will become a country-music classic and a staple of Acuff’s long career, but it was first recorded (as “Crash on the Highway” or “I Didn’t Hear Anybody Pray”) in Charlotte in 1938 by the Dixon Brothers.
Many years later the Rev. Dorsey Dixon Jr. will recall: “My father wrote this song in 1936, when the ’36 Fords came out with a V-8 engine and began to kill people all over the nation. The wreck took place at the Triangle Filling Station. . . . Dad went down and seen the wreck, seen the whiskey, blood and glass on the floor of the car.”
Dixon and his brother Howard, both long-time millworkers, specialized in what have been referred to as “did-wrong-and-got-caught songs.” In the 1930s the Dixon Brothers often performed on WBT radio under the sponsorship of Crazy Water Crystals and made several records at RCA Victor’s makeshift Charlotte studio.