Special to the Orator
Denton is truly a unique southern community. Pete Sexton, Hiram Ward and others described Denton as the “Garden Spot of the World!” Somehow they seemed to believe that. Today that is exemplified in the fact that so many people who grew up in Denton and moved away, somehow tend as older adults to return to their roots. Denton has people that have felt that way for many generations. Denton is fortunate to have had a generation before us that took the time to document much of Denton’s history.
Mr. Bert Lanier was one such person. He truly loved the Denton community and the people in and around this quaint little town. Lanier’s interest in history really began when he and his wife, the former Jessie Harris, made a trip to the Midwest in the summer of 1949. While on this trip they accidentally discovered the James F.D. Lanier Mansion in Madison, Indiana. It was while visiting this mansion that Lanier talked with a friend of Rear Admiral Royal E. Ingersoll, who was commander of the Atlantic fleet during WWII and was related to the Laniers of Denton. Mr. Ingersoll’s wife, Mrs. Louise Ingersoll, was involved in research of the Lanier family. Once Lanier and Jessie returned home it was only a few days until they received a letter from Mrs. Ingersoll asking for his assistance regarding the Lanier genealogical record. When Lanier began the research, he became infatuated with discovering the history of the Lanier family and of Denton, sometimes even to the point of neglecting his own merchandise business.
Lanier spent many hours talking with elderly people in the community. He closed his store on Wednesday afternoons and used this time to do historical research, making more than two hundred trips to Salisbury as part of his 20+year investigation. He would consult old land grants, deeds and cemeteries. Mrs. Ingersoll was so impressed with Lanier’s research that she and her husband made two trips to Denton and the surrounding area to visit with the Lanier family and to visit various sites that Bert had discovered. It was during this “Lanier research” that Bert discovered and documented interesting information regarding the history of Denton itself.
Lanier and Mrs. Robert Carroll, who also researched Denton’s history, believed that the first road through this area was a road from Fayetteville to Salisbury. Their research caused them to believe that this “Salisbury Road” was in existence before the Revolutionary War. Today we know this pre-Revolutionary road as Salisbury Street, which extends to “Old Salisbury Road.”
Another road through Denton that dates back to pre-Revolutionary time is Highway 109. This road was used by Tories, people loyal to England, as they came up from the south to support England during the Revolutionary war. This road was initially called “The Old Tory Road.” The Tories used this road to move men and equipment to the lower part of Davidson County where several skirmishes with the Whigs, people who wanted to break with England, were fought during the last years of the war. Lanier’s continued research caused him to believe that besides the fighting in the South Davidson area during the Revolutionary war, it was the British soldiers coming up from the south to join Cornwallis before the battle of Guilford Courthouse that opened and extended the “Old Tory Road” to Thomasville.
Early landholders of Denton:
The first landholders in this area were Native Americans. There is much evidence to indicate that the Native Americans lived in this vicinity long before the white man ever saw this land or drank water from its streams. A number of Native American artifacts and relics were discovered near where the Lowe’s Foods grocery store now stands. People have found arrowheads in their fields and garden spots for years around Denton. People like Dwight Gallimore, “Tootlac” recall during his youth finding arrowheads behind his house, north of Highway 47 and west of Sexton Road.
Lord Granville was a descendant of Sir George Carteret. Lord Granville decided to sell his interest in North Carolina to King George II. King George purchased this large tract of land. It encompassed a tract of land that reached from the Virginia border to about five miles south of Denton. After the Revolutionary War, however, King George lost this land holding, and the land became the property of the state of North Carolina.
North Carolina began to sell various tracts of this land to individuals after the Revolutionary War. The first tracts of land sold by North Carolina are as follows:
1st - Michael Ritter, in 1778, purchased a section of land (640 acres). His western boundary, running north and south, was just a few yards west of what is now Glenn Street or Highway 109.
2nd - Benjamin Todd purchased 200 acres in 1786. This tract of land included most of the present site of Denton south of Peacock Avenue.
3rd - Mr. John Crook, in 1793, purchased 123 acres. His land ran from Ritter’s western boundary to what is now approximately the center of Denton.
4th - Mr. Leonard Eller acquired 416 acres in 1793, the same day as Mr. Crook purchased his land. His tract of land included the north and northwest portions of where Denton is now.
5th - In 1805 Caleb Lamb acquired 150 acres which included what is now the southwest corner of the present site of Denton.
Lanier mapped the entire Denton area of early landowners. That map can viewed at the Denton Library, Denton’s Centennial Museum.
One can only imagine the interesting turn of events that must have happened in the early history of southern Davidson County and the Denton area. Because of the documented first inhabitants in the Denton area, one would surmise that the town of Denton would have a predominance of people named Ritter, Todd, Crook, Eller and Lamb. However, today there is only one Ritter listed in the Denton phone book, three listings for the family name of Todd, no Crooks, no Ellers and no Lambs. In the late 1700’s the daily life style of making a living often involved clearing the land and then farming it out until it was no longer productive. Early settlers would then move to another spot of virgin land and settle there for a while. One migration pattern from this area was to the Wilkes County and Ashe County area. In Ashe County there is the community of Todd and several families with that name. Years ago the late Ames Sexton, related to the author of this article, said Wilkes County had several links to Davidson County. Perhaps one of the strongest links was their part in the under ground railroad for slaves. The surnames of Ritter, Todd, Crook, Eller and Lamb are very common names in the Wilkes County area.
An interesting possibility relating to the history of Denton was a western movie that was shown on TV recently. The movie was “Broken Trail” and was based on a true story of early western settlers. The main character was a Mr. Ritter, a Huguenot. Huguenots were people who fled France because of religious persecution. Many people in the Denton area, such as the Laniers, can trace their ancestors back to the Huguenots of France. There is no evidence beyond speculation to suggest that the Michael Ritter, who was the first landowner in the Denton area, was related to the Mr. Ritter, the main character in the movie Broken Trail. However, one can speculate that early western migration happened from Denton as well as all along the Eastern Seaboard.
Finch’s Hill (Red Hill)
At one time, “Red Hill” was called Finch’s Cross Roads. However, it was a mystery to many as to why it was called Finch’s Hill because no one could recall any Finch family who lived on the hill. However, Lanier, through his research, discovered the connection. Salisbury was once the county seat of Davidson County many years ago. In an old deed book in Salisbury, Lanier discovered that a Mr. Richard Finch acquired 517 acres, which included Red Hill, in 1819. The Finchs lived on this land until shortly before or soon after the Civil War.
After Lanier completed four years in the United States Marine Corp he returned to Denton where he became active in the town leadership. Bert and Arthur Lanier owned and operated Lanier Grocery for 12-15 years; then he ran a clothing store.
Additionally, he was active in the Masonic Lodge. His daughter, Ava Surratt, pleasantly recalls that her dad was a coach for the Masonic Lodge. One of his students was the late Hiram Ward. As a part of Lanier’s Masonic work, Ava recalls that during the summer the girls from the Masonic Oxford orphanage would often stay with them. Lanier’s compassion reached beyond the Masonic order and into the community in many ways. Ava recalls that her father was a “good listener.” When people came into his store or people in the community came to him with problems he would listen to them with compassion.
Ava also recalls that he was a “great baby sitter.” Ava and Othell Surratt had four children, and Lanier had the opportunity to care for them many times. Perhaps that is why some of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren continue to care for the history of Denton so much.
Lanier had one child, Ava Lanier Surratt; and four grandchildren - Martha Sheffield, Barbara Hogan, Suzanne Surratt and Leeann Hamilton. Additionally, he had five great-grandchildren - Chrissy Hedrick, Patrick Hogan, Christopher Bigger, Lee Hamilton and Gabriel Davis; and one great great-grandchild, Steven Bray.
Major sources for this article were articles written by Charles Lee Snyder, a second article written by Mrs. Robert Carroll, and an interview with Ava Lanier Surratt, Lanier’s daughter. The full articles, as well as a wealth of other historical information, are available at the Denton Library.
Thanks to the patient research of the late Bert Lanier, a Denton merchant whose hobby was local history, a man who made over 200 trips to Salisbury to study old land grants and old deeds, we do now have reliable information as to who first acquired the land on which Denton now stands. In a feature article which appeared in the Dispatch on December 21, 1971, Bert Lanier was quoted as follows:
“The land on which Denton stands," said Bert a few days ago, "was never owned entirely by anyone man except Lord Granville. Lord Granville was a descendant of Sir George Carteret, one of the Lords Proprietors, who had declined to sell his interest in North Carolina to King George the Second. Granville owned an immense tract of land which extended from the Virginia border to about five miles south of where Denton now stands. He lost his land to the State of North Carolina with the Revolution.
"The first American citizen to acquire a deed for any of the land where Denton is," said Bert, "was a certain Michael Ritter. In 1778 Ritter acquired a deed from the State for 640 acres. His western boundary, running north and south, was just a few yards west of what is now Glenn Street, or Highway 109.
"The next man to acquire part of the land on which Denton stands," said Bert, "was Benjamin Todd. In 1786 Todd acquired 200 acres, which included most of the present site of Denton south of Peacock Avenue.
"In 1793 John Crook acquired 123 acres, which extended from Ritter's western boundary to what is now approximately the center of Denton.
"On the same day that Crook acquired his 123 acres, Leonard Eller acquired 416 acres, which included the north and northwest portions of where Denton is now.
"In 1805 Caleb Lamb acquired 150 acres, which included what is now the southwest corner of the present site of Denton.
"Strange as it may seem,” said Bert, "no man or woman named Ritter, Todd, Crook, Eller, or Lamb, now lives in Denton or gets mail from the Denton post office."
Bert Lanier also cleared up to some extent what may be called the mystery of Finch's Hill. There had long been reliable tradition that the vicinity of Denton was once known as Finch's Cross Roads, and that the Red Hill, the highest part of Denton, was once known as Finch's Hill. But nobody in Denton knew the name of the first Finch who acquired land in this vicinity, nor how much land he owned, though there was a tradition that a family of Finches had left here shortly before, or soon after, the Civil War.
The first Finch who acquired any land in this vicinity, as Bert Lanier discovered in his-research in the old deed books at Salisbury, was a certain Richardson Finch who acquired 517 acres, including what is now called the Red Hill, in 1819. It was almost certainly during the lifetime of this man that the vicinity of what is now Denton came to be known as Finch's Cross Roads.
Had Bert Lanier been permitted to carryon his research a few months longer, he would probably have discovered that the Finch family left Denton a few years before the Civil War. He would also probably have ascertained that the Finch land was acquired by a certain William Cox, who was the ancestor of many of the Garners, Morrises, and other persons now living in the vicinity of Denton. This William Cox made his home some two or three hundred yards west of the present corporate limits of Denton, near the present home of Wilbern Floyd, one of his lineal descendants. A son of this William Cox, a certain John Cox, lived for many years at the site of what is now the D. H. Crotts home, just outside the town's eastern corporate boundary.
Where the Finches and Coxes got their mail is uncertain. They could have patronized the post office which was established at Jackson Hill, five miles south of where they lived, in 1830. There the mail for some years was delivered to the first postmaster, William Adderton, just once a week by a carrier who traveled a circuitous route from Fayetteville to Salisbury. Or, the Finches and Coxes could have patronized a little post office which was established about four miles to the west of their home in 1834, at a watering place already known as Healing Springs. This office was kept for some years by George Harris, then a prominent citizen of southern Davidson County. Several years be- fore the Civil War, Harris was succeeded as postmaster by William Buie, who moved the office to his home on the old Salisbury Road, about one mile west of the present site of Denton. Soon after the Civil War Buie was succeeded as postmaster by Pinckney Redwine, Esq., who moved the office to his home two or three miles further south. Incidentally, the office at Healing Springs has long since been abolished.
Another little post office, long since abolished, which could have been patronized at one time or another by the Finches and Coxes, was located about four miles east of Finch's Cross Roads, in western Randolph County, and was known as Salem Church. One of the patrons of this little office about one hundred years ago was a young man named Branson Ivey Harrison.
Sometime in 1877, it appears, this young man, then a schoolteacher, decided that the people living within two or three miles of Finch's Cross Roads ought to have postal service closer home. He therefore circulated a petition and obtained signatures, asking that a post office be established which would be much more convenient for the people of his neighborhood. Sometime later he was informed by the Post Office Department that his petition had been granted, and was asked to submit a name for the new office. Not having a Postal Guide, he selected a name which was rejected by the Department on the ground that it was already in use by another office somewhere in the State. Another name which he offered was rejected for the same reason.
At this juncture Mr. Harrison had a conversation with another young man of the community~ Samuel Moses Peacock~ who was also interested in getting a post office established near his home. Peacock~ who was fond of reading, had lately read something about a town in Texas called Denton. He therefore suggested that the new office be called Denton. Mr. Harrison readily accepted the suggestion~ mailed the name to the Post Office Department~ and in due time was informed that the name had been accepted. A short time afterward" on July 12~ 1878~ the new office was opened~ with Samuel M. Peacock~ locally known as Mose Peacock, as first post- master. The office was kept by the young postmaster in a little store building near the home of his father, William Peacock, which stood about two hundred feet east of where the Griffis Clinic now stands. Mail was dispatched from the office to Lexington on Tues- days and Thursdays~ mail was brought down from Lexington on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Soon after the post office was established, the vicinity which for at least fifty years had been known as Finch's Cross Roads, began to be called Denton, and has carried that name ever since.
When the office was established, there were~ it seems~ only four families living within what are now the corporate limits of Denton. The nearest schoolhouse was about two miles to the southeast, and was known as Flint Hill. The nearest Church was Tom's Creek Primitive Baptist Church, about one mile to the northeast. The nearest Missionary Baptist Church was at Summerville (or Baker Springs), about two miles to the west. The nearest Methodist Protestant Church was at Mt. Ebal, about three miles to the south- east. The nearest Methodist Episcopal Church South, was at Siloam, about four miles to the south. A preaching service at each of these churches was commonly held on one Sunday of each month.
Soon after he became postmaster, Mr. Peacock heard of a young physician, Dr. Abel Anderson, of Mocksville, who, he was told, might be interested in locating in a good community where a physician was needed and desired. Peacock wrote to the young doctor, who came, saw, and decided to locate. Dr. Anderson then obtained board and lodging at the home of Mr. and Mrs. William Peacock, and within a year or two was married to one of their daughters, Miranda. Dr. Anderson soon won the confidence of the people of the Denton section, and for over forty years carried on an extensive practice, which sometimes required trips into Randolph and Montgomery Counties, in addition to his daily practice in southern Davidson.
When Peacock moved to Texas in 1880 (in the hope that his young wife's health might be improved in a dry climate), Dr. Anderson became Denton's second postmaster. He had little time for the job, however, and most of the duties of the office were performed by his wife, who seems to have been a capable assistant.
Some three or four years after the post office was established at Denton, two young natives of southern Davidson, young men of more than average ability, J. M. Daniel and B. I. Harrison~ decided that the vicinity of the crossroads at Denton would be a good place for a general store. They therefore, on a tract of land obtained from Roby Morris~ erected a building which long stood where the Denton Tire and Appliance Store now stands. This building they stocked with groceries, dry goods, and hardware, in larger quantity than could be found in any other place in southern Davidson County, with the exception of Jackson Hill.
Mr. Harrison succeeded Dr. Anderson as postmaster in 1883~ and proceeded to move the office into the Daniel and Harrison store. During Mr. Harrison's second year in office, according to the best information now available, Denton began to have daily mail service for the first time, with the mail being brought down from Thomasville.
Within a few years the Daniel and Harrison partnership was dissolved, at which time Mr. Daniel took over the store, to which he continued to give his personal attention till about 1890, when he turned the business over for some years to his father-in-law, A. G. Morris. For the next eight or nine years Mr. Daniel held a federal position as "stag star route-letter," which took him into many states for the purpose of letting out star mail route con tracts. He then resumed his business as a merchant, which he continued until sometime after 1910.
After the dissolution of the Daniel and Harrison partnership, Mr. Harrison moved the office into his residence, which stood precisely where the Denton Post Office Building now stands. Mr. Harrison was assisted in keeping the office by his wife, the former schoolteacher, Miss Sallie Harris. Mr. Harrison himself taught school at times, and for several years was active as a nursery stock salesman~ having from time to time other salesmen in his employ, one of whom up in Cleveland County was a young man named Clyde R. Hoey, the future Governor and Senator.
The third store to be opened within the corporate limits of what is now Denton was a general store, which was opened sometime in the Eighties~ and was operated for a few years by W. J. Frank~ in partnership with Dr. A. Anderson. When this partnership was dissolved, Mr. Frank opened a blacksmith shop~ to which he continued to give his attention for several years. The building, which stood about fifty yards northwest of the present Denton Drug Store, was owned by Dr. Anderson, and was later used at different times for store purposes by L. E. Workman, F. F. Lopp, A. W. Lanning, and then for about twenty years by the Denton Drug Co., which was owned by Dr. A. Anderson and A. L. Plummer.
The fourth store to be opened at Denton seemed to have been opened in 1891~ by B. A. Peacock. Mr. Peacock, whose place of business was near what is now the corner of Main Street and Peacock Avenue, owned and operated a general store for over twenty years. Peacock served twice as the village postmaster; first from 1891 to 1893, when he was succeeded by Thomas W. Daniel; then from 1897 to 1913, when he was succeeded by J. Earl Varner.
The first business venture at Denton that could properly be called an industry was a gristmill, established in 1886, by W. T. Frank, J. C. Frank, and A. G. Morris. This mill which stood about one hundred yards northeast from the site of the present Denton Drug Store, was powered by the first steam engine that was ever employed in Denton. The old mill ground corn and wheat on granite rocks, producing a flour somewhat resembling "whole wheat" flour. In 1900 this mill which stood about fifty yards west of the pre- sent site of the Hill Motor Co., went out of business, being superseded by a roller mill, which went out of business several years ago.
The first school building ever erected at Denton was built in 1886, on a spacious lot purchased from A. A. Snider. This building, which stood where the high school's parking lot now is, was paid for mainly, if not entirely, by Dr. A. Anderson, Robert Tysinger, Andrew J. Buie, and Jacob Skeen. It was about 22 by 40 feet in size, was built of good pine lumber, complete with belfry and front porch, in the~ style of those days, and was considered a credit to the community. The first schools taught in this building were private undertakings, and no records showing the number of pupils or the length of the various terms are now extant.
In 1894 the county board of education took steps to form a public school district around the schoolhouse, and appointed James Asbury Snider, Alexander A. Snider and William H. Garner as the new district's first committee. The first teacher employed by this committee was a young man from Trinity, in Randolph County, Charles W. Briles, whose work was so satisfactory that the committee was glad to employ him for a second term. Briles subsequently became the first Superintendent of Public Instruction in the State of Oklahoma.
Following Mr. Briles, the next public school at Denton seems to have been taught by B. I. Harrison, who according to local tradition, rendered good service.
In the fall of 1897, the boundaries of the district having been enlarged, a tall sandy-haired schoolmaster, a former resident of Kernersville and a graduate of Oak Ridge Institute, J. A. Stone, came to Denton, taught the public school and a short-term private school at the end of the public term. Stone's work met with such approval that he decided to establish an academy capable of pre- paring young men and women for college. Accordingly, in January, 1898, Stone purchased from Robert Tysinger, then sole owner, all the land included in and known as the school grounds, which lay on both sides of the Salisbury Road, and proceeded to erect what was locally considered a fine "academy," a two-story structure; 40 by 60 feet in size, with porch and portico on the south front, with duplex stairways that led to the auditorium. Painted white and trimmed in yellow, it was almost certainly the finest rural school building in Davidson County, with the exception of the brick building at Yadkin College.
For the first term in the new building, Principal Stone employed as assistant principal a young graduate of Wake Forest College, J. 0. Purnell. He also employed two other teachers, one for music and one for primary work.
Pupils came in from miles around, and several others came from a longer distance and boarded with local families. At the first commencement (or rather exhibition, since there were no graduates to commence), which was held in May, 1899, a long program of recitations and declamations was rendered, and the literary address (according to an old program) was delivered by the Hon. Theodore F. Kluttz, lawyer, orator, and Congressman from Salisbury. The largest crowd ever seen in Denton up to that time was present, there was a brass band to enliven the festivities, dinner on the grounds, and a good time was apparently enjoyed by all present.
The next fall the Institute opened with the same number of teachers, a fairly good enrollment, and during the fall term appeared to be doing good work. A dormitory-and-teacher's home was started and almost completed during 1899-1900, and until sometime after Christmas the outlook for the Institute seemed to be good.
But sometime after Christmas, for some reason, which is now not clear, attendance fell off, and as Mr. Stone was rather heavily in debt for his new buildings, and as some of his creditors were pressing him for payment, he was confronted with a difficult situation. Much worried over the situation, Stone suddenly left the community one day in February, 1900, without telling anyone his destination. When he returned a few weeks later, the school had been closed, his teachers had left, and Stone soon found that he had lost many of his former friends.
The next fall Stone was unable to open his Denton Institute, and there was no more teaching on the high school level at Denton until the fall of 1906, when the Rev. George L. Reynolds took charge of the academic building and founded a private institution known as Denton High School. Subsequently there were two other schools of particular interest that were used before the County bought the Reynolds property and turned it into a County School.
The first was a log building on the south end of the lot where the present Legion hut now stands. The second building was across the street, located where the Terrell Trailer Park now stands. This building had both primary and high school facilities. R. C. Powell later converted it into an attractive private house.
The first church to be established at Denton, long known as the Denton Baptist Church, was organized in 1889. It was designed to supersede an old moribund church known as Old Tom's Creek, which had been established about two-and-a-half miles southeast of where Denton now stands, in 1811, and also to provide a convenient place of worship for the people of the Denton community. When the decision to dissolve the church at Old Tom's Creek was made, in the old building at that place, Robert Tysinger, Andrew J. Buie, James Asbury Snider and Joseph C. Bean were appointed as a building committee for the new church building to be erected at Denton, and were authorized to secure a pastor.
After the decision to organize the new church had been made, religious services were conducted about once a month for about a year in the schoolhouse. By the summer of 1891 a spacious new building, located where the First Baptist Church now stands, was ready for use. The new church had 33 charter members, 16 men and 17 women. The Rev. H. Morton, of Thomasville, was called as the first pastor. Services were scheduled for the second Saturday and Sunday of each month, and the pastor's salary was set at $75.00 per year. In connection with the new church, a Sunday School was organized, with L. A. Tysinger as the first superintendent.
This church, now known as the First Baptist Church, was the only church at Denton before the twentieth century.
The growth of the little village called Denton, which grew up in the vicinity of the post office established in 1878, was slow. At the end of the nineteenth century there was scarcely more than a dozen families living within half-a-mile of the post office. After the railroad reached Denton, in 1906, the village began to grow into what is now a thriving small town. But the progress of Denton in the twentieth century is another story.
Sub Pages: 1933 Denton Baseball Field Contract B 52 Crash near Denton NC 1961 Churches Denton NCContributions of BI Harrison told by grandson Jim Harrison Denton Depot HP T D Railroad Denton Doctor History Denton Folks Denton Misc old building photos Denton NC first Fire Truck Denton School History/Photos Howell Harrison contributions to the growth and development of Denton.Jabber Lanier story by Buddy Max Lanier Veterans of Denton Area