Saturday, December 24, 2016

A County-wide Christmas in 1929

I found the article that follows while perusing It truly seems to echo the values that I hold most dear about the Christmas holiday.  I hope you'll all enjoy it and have a blessed holiday season.

On Christmas afternoon at 3 o’clock, a community Christmas tree was held at Bryson City for people less fortunate than others. Long before the hour arrived hundreds of people over the county kept gathering. There was snow and ice on the ground and the exercises were held in the courthouse from which the tree, standing high with hundreds of colored lights, and 10 feet above it a star, its five points lighted, shining to guide people to the place, could be seen. It has been a joy to all who have seen it for the past week and will stand in the square until the New Year.
The Bryson City Christmas Tree, circa 1920s
Bryson City is a small town with about 1,500 inhabitants. Just what has been done will be of interest to other small towns. About three months ago Mayor E.C. Bryson, the youngest mayor of the State, expressed the idea of a community Christmas tree to G. C. Dugas, vice president and manager of the Smoky Mountain Power Company. Mr. Dugas went to work. Others became interested as soon as it was announced and for six weeks untiring efforts have been expended by about 20 people.

Edwin Constant Bryson, Mayor of Bryson City in 1929
Source: UNC Yearbook, 1925 (
Graham C. Dugas
Source: user JDugas

The story has been told far and near to those who have, and there was a response that has been wonderful from these unknown and unseen friends, who have given of material things which they manufacture, food stuffs, toys, overalls, socks, children’s stockings, coffee, candy oranges and money, which, with the gifts of money here and of material things from merchants, made this tree possible and a success.

Owing to the snow which made many county roads impassable, not as many children were here as was hoped, but treats and toys have been sent as far as possible. Preparation for 1,500 children was made and over 100 baskets were fixed. Into the baskets were put a sack of flour (24 pounds), three pounds of meat, three pounds of beans, three pounds of coffee, five pounds of sugar, salt, soda and soap. Added to this were the overalls, underwear and stockings with many baskets having shoes, some with clothes and sweaters, and every thing that was available for little children where the need was greatest.
Pillsbury Flour Sack
A goal of $1,500 was set at the first meeting held. It seemed preposterous. Many said that if $500 was raised it would be a great success but by the generosity of all, the gifts of material things and money reached $2,000 (note: this is just over $28,000 in 2016 currency). The festival of Christmas is primarily for children. Their hearts ache if they do not have a visit from Santa Claus and it was decided to place a toy in the hands of children under 10 whenever possible. Over 1,500 toys were gathered together over 1,500 treats were fixed, and 1,800 oranges used.
There wasn’t room for one other person in the courthouse when the hour arrived. The galleries and floor space were filled. Mayor Bryson explained the movement and spoke of the many unknown friends who had heeded the call. Dr. R. L. Clear opened the exercises with prayer and a chorus of singers sang some of the lovely Christmas carols. Judge T. D. Bryson spoke for a few minutes and then the children were called for and girls passed on one side and boys on the other of long tables laden with the toys, which had been arranged separately, as other people handed the bags of candy and an orange to the little folks.
Liberty Coaster circa 1923

1929 Effanbee Doll
The baskets were then given out and those who were not here for theirs, were either taken by others to them, or were carried by Bryson City men to the different parts of the county. Many other names have been reported since Christmas Day and foodstuff and some clothing have been purchased for them.

Special mention should be made of the work of the executive committee, and other women who left their homes for days to get the toys, treats, and clothing assembled to Santa Claus who was busy for many days, of those who got the tree, of men who labored hard, of the kindness of the men in the A.&P. store who ground and sacked the 440 pounds of coffee given by Westfeldt Bros. of New Orleans, and a bag of sugar, which was a gift, and of others whom it also impossible to name, for their cooperation in this move.

It is a Christmas that will long be remembered. There are many who had a real Christmas joy on December 25 because these people made it for them. If there is another town in the state with a population of 1,500 people which has cared for as many families in the county as Bryson City, and furnished toys and treats for 1,500 children, it has not been reported.  This is the first time that a community tree has been held in Swain County. It may be the last or it may not but for one time a happy feeling entered the hearts of those who received and in those who gave, who remembered how Christ said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive”.

Asheville Citizen-Times, December 29, 1929

Asheville Citizen Times, December 29, 1929

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Election Day in Swain County - 1884 (Another scandalous election!)

In what is sure to be one of most scandalous elections in history, I thought it might be interesting to get a view of what an election looked like in Swain County in the 'Old Days'. This account comes from the observations of a traveler coming through Swain County on Election Day, November 4, 1884. But first, a little background......

Grover Cleveland (1837-1908)
Source: Library of Congress
James Blaine (1830 - 1893)
Source: Library of Congress

The race for the presidency was a very tight one, waged primarily between the Democrat nominee, New York governor Grover Cleveland and the Republican nominee, former U.S. Senator James Blaine of Maine. It was also an election notorious for partisan mudslinging. Below is a brief look at the papers of the day (I've put some links for further reading in blue).

"Mr. Simeon in this city, and being approached on the subject of New York politics, said, "Yes, I know Cleveland, perhaps better than any man living. Maria Halpin is my sister-in-law. The story told in the newspapers is literally true, and the half has not been told. Grover Cleveland did seduce my sister-in-law under a positive promise, while she was living in Buffalo. This I know to be true, and Cleveland afterward paid the $500 to me for Maria Halpin when legal proceedings were about to be instituted against him......about six weeks ago, Cleveland wrote me a letter urging me to make a statement showing that he had always treated Mrs. Halpin well, and promised me anything I would wish in case he was elected."
The Leavenworth Weekly Times, October 9, 1884

'Another Vote for Cleveland' political cartoon by Frank Beard
Source: 'The Judge' (New York), September 27, 1884

"The man to withdraw, if anybody, is Mr. Blaine. The propriety of his withdrawing is no longer a matter of argument. The missing Mulligan letters printed this morning showed that he used his high office in the House of Representatives to advance his personal interests, that he peddled information of contemplated legislation to speculators, the understanding being that he should share their profits.........he begged his partners in business in the most humiliating terms to spare him the penalty of an exposure - in fine, that he knew when he did it that if the fact were to become public it would ruin his political fortunes forever." 
The New York Graphic, October, 1884

James Blaine Political Cartoon by F. Oppen

Considering the geographical isolation of most of the men of Swain County at the time (the reader is reminded that women did not have the right to vote until 1920), it can't be known to what extent these scandalous charges might have influenced their decisions. Regardless, they turned out to play their role in an historic election, as noted in our traveler's account (and drawing), which was printed in 'Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper' on November 29, 1884.

'North Carolina - Scene at a Mountain Election Precinct in Swain County'
Source: Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, November 29, 1884
"The polling-places of such out-of-the-way districts as Nantahala precinct, Swain Co., N.C. (note to the reader: this would have taken place at Judson), where our sketch was made on the day of the late Presidential election, are not provided with all the modern conveniences, nor are the honest voters addicted to vain pomp and personal display. The sacred privilege of the franchise is exercised in an old wagon-shed, adjoining a corn crib. The 'judges' - he is a small man, indeed, in that section of the country, who bears a less important title than that of judge or colonel - seated on a bench, are the inspectors of election. Each guards a tin coffee-pot, which serves for a ballot-box. Occasionally a judge leaves his seat and circulates amongst the crowd, electioneering, coffee-pot in hand. Refreshments, in the form of ginger-cakes and cider, are to be had on the premises, and such a thing as a drop of blockade whiskey is not, we presume, wholly unobtainable. The gathering is a mixed one, and includes a paroled convict in uniform, who probably is employed in the construction of a railroad in the vicinity. There is not much style about the balloting up there in the mountains, but in the great national result the votes count just the same as though they had been cast in a crystal and nickel-plated ballot box in a brownstone-front polling place in the city." 

A total of 10,060, 145 voters across the country (and 268,356 in North Carolina) turned out for the vote. Over 60% of Swain County's electorate (I do not have the voter numbers at this time) voted for Cleveland, contributing their share to North Carolina's 11 electoral college votes that went to the Democrat. Cleveland won the popular election by relatively little (48.85% of the electorate, compared to Blaine's 48.28%) but won in the electoral college by 37 votes (219 to 182). The election proved historic in that it was the first time a Democrat had been voted into the highest office in the land since the election of 1856.  

Graphic of 1884 Vote by County (Swain is the eagle-shaped county on the Tennessee border)
Source: by Tilden76 (located on Wikipedia)
No matter what your political leanings or possible disgust with the current candidates, if you've not already done so, get out there and vote. November 8, 2016, should be just as interesting as November 4, 1884.

An interesting note for the reader: Apparently the 'judges' in the Nantahala district decided that tin coffee pots were no longer suitable for voting after the 1888 election. On January 7, 1889, the Swain County Commissioners provided Amos Ashe (most likely one of the 'judges' described in the short article as he lived in Judson) $4 for making election boxes. 

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, November 29, 1884
Getty Images (
Library of Congress
National Historical Geographic
"Presidential Ballots, 1836-1892" by Walter Dean Burnham. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1955, pages 247-57.
Swain County Herald, January 10, 1889
'The Judge' (New York) September 27, 1884
The Leavenworth Weekly Times, October 8, 1884
The New York Graphic, October, 1884
Wikipedia (

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Life and Tragic Death of Ben Enloe

Today, September 8th, 2016, marks 100 years since the death of Benjamin F. Enloe, a member of one of the most prominent families in Swain County during the 1800's and early- to mid- 1900's.
Ben Enloe, circa late 1890s/early 1900s
Source: Laura Taylor

Frequent readers here know of my fondness for the Judson area, because I grew up about a mile from there. One of the most wealthy families in Judson was headed by William Aesoph  'Ace' Enloe. Readers are likely familiar with the Abram Enloe family as being among the early settlers of the Oconalufty Valley, relocating there from Puzzle Creek in Rutherford County sometime after 1810. Ace, one of Abram's grandsons, was born in the Oconalufty area in 1847 and likely lived in that greater area until sometime in the 1890's. He married Margaret Clarinda Conner, with whom (according to the 1910 census), he had 12 children.

William Aesoph 'Ace' and Clarinda (Conner) Enloe
Source: Laura Taylor

Ben, one of the 'middle' children, was born on June 9th, 1879. During his childhood, Ben would have been expected to contribute heavily to the family's day-to-day work: helping in the garden, gathering firewood, hauling water from the spring, feeding the livestock, and similar activities. His responsibilities would have increased as he grew older. The census records note that he was literate so he almost certainly attended school; an 1890 newspaper article noted that the Oconalufty school ran for 5 months out of the year. The Enloes probably also attended church at either the Oconalufty Baptist Church or at the Hughes Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church. Sometime in the late 1890's, Ace moved his family to the Judson area, purchasing the Amos Ashe property and mill. Ben probably had a role in running the mill prior to his departure from the area.

The Enloe Mill in Judson, circa 1910
Source: Great Smoky Mountains National Park archives

The Enloe Mill in Judson, circa 1909
Source: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Ben had left Swain County by 1900, as the census that year showed him working as a coal miner in one of the 8 coal mines near Big Stone Gap, Wise County, Virginia. By 1910, Ben had left the coal mines and moved much closer to home, living in Asheville and working for the Southern Railway as a fireman. Also called a stoker, the fireman's job was to shovel the coal that powered the steam engines. The job required close coordination with the engineer in order to ensure that the engine was adequately powered for all operations, stoking the fire higher when more power was needed, and making sure that the train didn't explode. Often firemen worked as apprentices to the engineers and were sometimes allowed to operate the powerful locomotives under their supervision.

Engineer and Fireman/Stoker on a tourist steam locomotive in Colorado
Source: The Durango Herald
By the time he was 37 in September of 1916, Ben was an engineer for the railroad, responsible for managing the very complex steam boiler and controlling the speed of the train, a massive vehicle that could weigh thousands of tons when considering the engine and cars. The engineer had to know the location of signals, curves, crossings, and changes in uphill or downhill grade along his route in order to safely control the train. The job was a good one, earning Ben, a lifelong bachelor with no family to support, a comfortable salary.

A Southern Railway freight train near Black Mountain, circa early 1900s
On the night of September 8th, 1916, Ben was backing a work train in toward the Biltmore train station, likely getting ready to head to his home. Unbeknownst to him, freight train #172, pulling several loaded coal cars, was having difficulty ascending Buena Vista hill 3.5 miles distant from Biltmore. The engineer of the freight train realized that it was not sufficiently powered to make the full ascent and attempted to avert derailment by pulling the engine itself just off the track, leaving the coal cars on the track with their brakes set.  Unfortunately, the brakes did not hold and the train began to hurtle backwards toward Asheville, picking up a great degree of speed along the way despite the valiant attempts of brakeman N.G. McGalliard to reset the brakes.

Coming into view of Ben Enloe's work train, which was situated on a small bridge at the Fairview rail crossing, McGalliard realized that disaster was imminent and jumped clear in the nick of time. Unfortunately though, Ben and his flagman Erwin Pitts did not escape in time and were instantly killed upon the collision of the trains. Pitts' body, buried under tons of coal, was found rather quickly. However, Ben's badly scalded and mangled body, found buried underneath both the work train's engine and the coal, was not recovered until the following afternoon despite what were described as frantic efforts to find him. The wreckage of the trains was spread over a good distance along the track, and the work engine was said to be torn up such that it looked as if it was made of cardboard.

A coal train wreck, circa early 1900s
Source: Norfolk and Western Historical Society

Ben Enloe's death certificate
Some of Ben's family arrived in Asheville on September 9th in order to accompany his body back to Swain County, where funeral services were held the next day. A cemetery committee chaired by D.K. Collins provided a burial plot for him in the Bryson City cemetery. Two days later, Ace purchased the plot and additional space for other family members to be buried in as they passed away.
Probate records indicate that Ben had $500 (almost $11,000 in today's currency) to his name at the time of his death. His father, Ace, was the recipient of Ben's entire estate.

Signature of Ace Enloe on Ben Enloe's Probate Record
Over the years, Ace and Clarinda, along with some of Ben's brothers and nephews, joined their brother and son in eternal repose in the family plot, a peaceful place with a beautiful view of the mountains. For those interested in visiting, the plot lies a short distance behind the cemetery's angel and in line with the Everett family graves. And if you do choose to visit, spare a moment to reflect on the young man buried here, cut down in the prime of his life in such a tragic manner.

Tombstone of Ben Enloe in the Bryson City Cemetery
Source: Don Casada

I would like to recognize the significant contributions of Laura Taylor to this blog. Laura, a great-niece of Ben Enloe, has contributed significant family history and numerous photographs of the Enloe family that bring this blog entry, and especially Ben Enloe, to life.
Don Casada
Laura Taylor
The Asheville Citizen-Times, September 9, 1916
The Charlotte Observer, September 11, 1916
The Durango Herald
The High Point Enterprise, September 11, 1916
The Tennessean, September 1, 1890
Western Carolina University Special Collections