* Contributions of BI Harrison told by grandson Jim Harrison

Jim Harrison October 20, 2007
I have been asked to document the contributions of my grandfather, Mr. Branson Ivey Harrison ,to the birth
and development of the Town of Denton. Mr. Harrison was one of several men who contributed much to those efforts. Mr. S.A. Peacock, Dr. Abel Anderson, and J. Earl Varner come to mind, but perhaps no other single individual was more involved and instrumental than Mr. J. Manley Daniel. Branson Ivey was born in 1855on a farm about one to two miles south of Finches Cross Roads. He was encouraged to acquire as much education as possible early on. After acquiring what was available in town, he was sent to TI1e Cedar Run Academy in Taylorsville for additional studies. Upon returning, he wooed and won the band of Sara Rosaine (Sallie) Harris, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Harris of Bomby Road. Sallie had taught at three or four area schools. Grandmother Sallie left very few written records, but I recently ran across one which states that B.I., upon returning home ftom Cedar Run Academy, taught school during the spring, then in the spring of 1877 went into the mercantile business with Major John Morrison in Jackson Hill. Jackson Hill was the major trading center in south Davidson county at that time. When this partnership broke up, he sold fruit trees, did farm work and eventually went back into the mercantile business, this time in Jackson Hill with partner J.M.Daniel. Mr. Daniel and Mr. Harrison apparently closed thee Jackson Hill store and built a general store in Denton in 1881 and each built a home there. This was the first commercial establishment in Denton. It stood near where The Classic Restaurant is today. Soon thereafter, Mr. Harrison circulated a petition locally to open a post office in town. Misters Harrison, Daniel, S .A. Peacock and Dr. Abel Anderson met, decided that the town name should be " Fairmont" and sent the petition to the Postal Service.. It was rejected in that another town in NC was named Fairmont. They sent in a second proposed name and it was also rejected. Mr. Peacock then proposed that the Post Office be called Denton. That name was accepted in 1878, and Mr. Peacock became the fIrst postmaster. There was no civil service in those days, thus the ruling political party named the postmaster. In 1883, the Democrats won one of their few elections and Mr. Harrison was made postmaster, a position he held until the Republicans won in 1991.Denton was chartered and incorporated in 1907 with J. Earl Varner as Mayor, Arthur E. Davis, J. M. Daniel, L.A. Newsom, Jesse C. Morris and B. I. Harrison as Commissioners. Mr. Harrison served two terms, skipped a term, then served two more terms on the Council. No "ftee" schools, i.e. pubic schools existed In Davidson county south of U.S. 64 in 1907. Mr. Harrison ran for a seat on the Davidson County Board of Education with his platform devoted to bringing a free school to Denton. He won a seat in 1907 and served 3 years on that board, accomplishing his goal of getting a public school in Denton. The school did not open until 1912 but the county was obligated to build the school. He chose not to run in 1911, as the trip to Lexington took one and a half days by horse and buggy and he felt that he had done what he had set out to do. In the meantime, the Thomasasville and Glen Anna Rail Road had been completed as far as Denton. Mr Harrison and Mr. Daniel were the people who acquired right of way and did the leg work in the Denton area for the road. Mr. B.I. sold the right of way along the west side of his land holdings to Captain Milton Jones for $1.00 in 1906. Regular service did not start until 1912, when my grandfather was named depot agent. He held that job until my father, Howell Harrison, succeeded him in 1926. The rail line name was changed to the Carolina and Yadkin Rail Road in 1912, when the line was extended to High Rock. Much of the tonnage hauled by the road was forest products, and Mr. B. I. soon thereafter began buying cross ties and re selling them primarily to the roads in the northeast which were extending their lines westward. While there were other crosstie dealers, Mr. Harrison's business reached it's highest point in 1917-1918, when he shipped almost 200,000 ties annually, keeping 3 loading crews working fulltime. During the recession of 1923,the rail line went into receivership. It was bought at auction in 1923. I have read that Mr. Harrison's work to get the road back into operation and service maintained into town was perhaps his finest contribution to the town of Denton, though my dad never mentioned it.. I have no way to verify the statement, but it came from John O. Gamer. and from Cecil Hiatt, a rail line historian in Thomasville. The rail line was re-named The High Point, Thomasville and Denton R.R. when it was reorganized in 1924. There was no phone service in Denton in 1907. Mr. B. I. thought it to be a necessity. He went to Thomasville to talk to the phone company there (High Point Telephone) to get a long distance line into town; but was turned down. He then tried The Lexington Telephone Company with no luck there either. A line had been run to Farmer from Asheboro to provide communications there. On May 11,1908, a company was organized in Farmer to build a telephone line to Denton. It was called the Farmer-Denton Telephone Company. E.H. Morris of Asheboro was President, B. I. Harrison was Sec-Treas. and Sam Kearns of Farmer, J.T. Sexton of Denton amd Arthur Ross of Asheboro were directors. Apparently the corporation was chartered and franchised. In 1918 the lines were divided, with lines east of Farmer going to E.H.Morris, W.C. Hammer and Arthur Ross. The portion west of Farmer, including Denton and a line that had been run to Southmont became Denton Telephone Company with B.I. Harrison, President; J. F. Cameron V-P; J. W. Cashatt, Sec-Treas. Directors were J.M. Daniel, J.T. Sexton, C.C. Shaw and J. F. Cameron. J. W. Cashatt later acquired the entire outstanding stock and his family operated the line until his death in 1941, at which time Mr. and Mrs. J.H. Snider purchased the operation. It later merged with Mid- Carolina Telephone Company, then others. I believe it is now owned by Allte!. Banking was another need in the growing trading community. The Bank of Denton was incorporated in 1910 utilizing the building now occupied by The Denton Orator which was built on land donated by Mr. Harrison. Mr. B. I. was named President with W.E. Boone the Cashier. I do not have access to information as to others that served as Directors at that time. The bank thrived for several years. A serious depression in 1921 resulted in several business failures, and many defaults in the especially hard hit,lumber businesses. The bank went into receivership in August, 1921. There was no federal insurance (FDIC) at that time and many depositors'lost money because of the bank failure. Several suits were filed. Final liquidation was completed in 1930. Mr. Harrison and the Board of Directors lost a good bit of money as well as the depositors. My records are incomplete, but Mr. Daniel, Dr. Anderson, W.W. Russell and several other local leaders lost money in the legal settlement as well. Shortly after 1910, some High Point business people came to Denton looking to open a hosiery mill. Mr. Harrison thought the local economy was too much centered on timber interests, and he eventually donated land to the group for the new venture. All went well until the recession of '21-'23, when that business folded also. Mr. C. Bisher bid it off at the bankruptcy auction and it became Bisher Hosiery Mill, a long time mainstay in Denton's commerce.
Mr. W.W. Russell partnered with Mr. Harrison in a venture known as Piedmont Furniture Co in 1910. Shortly thereafter a "coffin shop" was added and funeral service provided also. A typical funeral, including a pine box coffin, cost between $20.00 and $30.00 at that time. This business as housed in a building a few doors west of the HPT&D on Salisbury Street. Mr.. Russell bought the business and ran it for some time, eventually selling to Mr. C.A. Hoover. The name was changed to Rex Furniture Company with the funeral business splitting off as Hoover Funeral Home. It has evolved to be Briggs Funeral Home with Jack and Joan Briggs as owner/operators and maintained the name of Rex Furniture, I believe. Harrison and Workman Mercantile opened in the early 1910's, with Mr. Lee Workman as partner. Mr. Workman bought out Mr. Harrison's part of the business and ran the store as Workman's Mercantile for a good many years, well into the 1940's as I recall. Mr. Harrison was involved with various other commercial ventures throughout his life. Among them was the Pure Oil Station at the corner of North Main and Salisbury Streets. It was leased at various times to C. Bisher, C.A. Hoover, D.H. Crotts, Hal Elliott and Hansell Elliott, among others. He owned buildings housing the Denton Stone Works, operated by Harvey M. Snider and Wilson Russell, Denton Hot Lunch (Tom Johnson) , the City Cafe (H.P. Sexton), and a diner car, among other ventures. In April, 1933, Mr. Harrison entered into a contract with Vernon Cashatt and 15 local baseball players where in he provided lumber and materials as well as limited 'supervision for a local fenced in baseball fileld and grandstand.The players did the grading and the building. The field was built on the lot that later became the home of Yadkin Valley Chevrolet Co. and included the lot south of that where a bank now stands. The players were J.W. Davis, Arthur Lanier, Flaud Williams, Irvin Sexton, Edwert Peacock, John Lanier, Jennings Steed, R.O. Hedrick, Wade (Jabber) Lanier, Edmond Sexton, Max Lanier, Glenn Lanier, Val McDowell, Clinard Sexton and Guy Morton. At the games, a collection was taken and split between the players and Mr. Harrison until such time as the cost of materials was defrayed. Total cost of materials was $242.96. It was paid off in four years. The field was totally fenced in. One of my earliest memories is of going with my dad and grandfather to the park to see a visiting team of black players from Benton Harbor, Michigan. Each visiting player had a beard. The team was known as The House of David. They represented a religious order and were entertainers in the fashion of the Harlem Globetrotters, throwing the ball all over the place. Mr. Harrison realized $5.00 as his portion of the gate that day. Baseball was a popular recreational activity during the depression years. Mr. Harrison was a life long democrat. Several democratic candidates came thru Denton campaigning. They used the front porch of Mr. Harrison's place as a platform. I"m told that at least 3 governors spoke from there, as did Senator Clyde R. Hoey, who had worked for some time for grandfather selling and delivering nursery stock out of Shelby. Granddad died March 18, 1938, in the house he built downtown. The businesses downtown closed in his memory on the afternoon of the funeral. At the hour of his funeral, the steam whistle of the Biltwell Chair Company blew for a long time, and a special HPT&Dtrainn ran south to north with the steam whistle wide open thru town. I was six years old, and remember it well. After his death, our family moved to the brick home just north of town, and the big house rented to Doctors J.W. Griffis and C.E. Clyatt who operated a clinic therein until Dr. Griffis was drafted in WW II. Dr. Clyatt had to close it down as he was unable to run it alone. I remember my grandfather as a tall, very erect, extremely kind gentleman with white hair and mollstache, always wearing a red bow tie as he left the house. He walked to the Post Office each morning, generally leading either sister Sara, Jane or me, or all three with him, then performed his daily business. I remember also that he lined up his grandchildren daily and fished a piece of candy from his grandfathers clock in the dining room for each. I was so proud of him, and remain so.
Grandson - Jim Harrison  


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Denton North Carolina,
Nov 25, 2009, 6:58 PM
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