* Howell Harrison contributions to the growth and development of Denton.
by Jim Harrison
I have, once again, been asked to provide documentation regarding my father, Howell Harrison, and his contributions to the growth and development of Denton. This is a difficult assignment in that most of Dad's good works were done in a private manner, one on one. He was born in 1901, the only child of Branson Ivey and Sara Rosaine (Sallie) Harrison. During his childhood and early life, there were no automobiles, airplanes, decent roads, radios, television, telephones,
electric service or many of the other things we have access to daily and have trouble doing without. Grandmother and granddad had both been school teachers at some point in their lives.. Both were older, 46 and 45, when dad was born and their dream of having a child realized. He was small and sickly, but grandmother kept him alive and growing by any and all means possible. His parents taught him early in life the essentials of a sound education. Dad went to school in Denton's private academy until about grade 4, when he was sent to the Jamestown Academy. He studied there for one year and returned home. He told me he read every book in the library there and felt that he knew what the professors knew. He did a good bit of traveling with his father, who was involved in securing orders for nursery stock and later delivering the trees. Mr. B. I. sold primarily through Salisbury, Mooresville, Shelby, Rutherfordton, Asheville and Canton areas. , Granddad bought a car but never learned to drive, so dad did the driving for him. Mr. B.I. also had several representatives working for him, primarily out of Shelby. So it was that by an early age, dad had driven most of western NC and was familiar with the geography of the state. Driving licenses were not required until later, so he was driving by age 11or 12. Grandmother took him to Washington,DC sometime during his childhood and he remembered very well what and who he saw there. He took ajob at Biltwell Chair Co in the paint department at some point during his young life, and worked there until he was named depot agent upon the retirement of his father in 1926. In 1929, Howell married Gertrude Hart, a Virginia native, who had come to Denton as a teacher when her school principal transferred to Denton from Fayetteville. She roomed at Mr. and Mrs. Val Johnson's home across the street from Briggs Funeral Home.
Dad had built a brick home just out of town on the north lot of his father's land before the marriage. It was clearly designed by a man, with small closets, one bath, limited storage and similar problems. He certainly did not plan for the 5 children that were to come from that marriage. Grandmother Harrison died in 1929.. Mom and dad moved to Grandfather Harrison's place to help care for him , Ida, a great half aunt that lived with grandfather and grandmother, and Aunt Troy Harris, Sallie's sister who lived there also.. Howell was elected Mayor of Denton in 1934. Mr. Baxter Carter had preceded him as mayor and had done some work concerning a public water system in Denton. Dad took that project up in , making several trips to Raleigh regarding state engineering help and supervision, working with the state concerning financing and other details. Actual installation of the water system was in 1939-1940 after Mr. C. Bisher took the job as Mayor. During the construction, a family from Rich Square, NC roomed with us in grandfathers house. Mom and Dad kept in touch with that family for years, sometimes stopping to visit en route to Portsmouth, Virginia,.to see mom's family. The job of Mayor at that time was a demanding one. There was no city clerk, so he had to send tax bills out annually and collect the taxes himself. That was only one of the many demands at that juncture. The town had little money to meet the essentials. Providing a place to locate a water plant was a city requirement. Dad donated the lot north of Joan and Clinton Garner's home for the water purification plant. The city water came from Tom's Creek at that time. I have heard, but can't confirm, that the town was broke at some juncture and that dad paid the town employees out of his pocket for a while. He may have loaned the money to the town but it indicated that money was scarce in Denton during the depression.. Howell was no longer eligible to run for civic posts as the family had moved to the brick house just out of town. He had opened Harrison's Appliance Company in the 1930's in a building just north of the Ford Motor Company, which was then run by R.A .Allen, Edward Hill ran the appliance store for dad for several years. Dad also opened,another appliance store in Troy, also known a Harrison's Appliance Store. Jason Blackwelder operated that branch.. Dad drove to Troy on Saturday nights to discuss the week's business events, taking me with him somewhat regularly. The road from Uhwarrie to Troy was not paved at that time, so the trip seemed long to me. During the war years, there were no appliances available. They tried to stay in business through repair work, but were forced to close about in the 40's. Dad had continued to buy and re-sell cross ties after his fathers death, but the volume was quite low. He only loaded out two or three flat cars a month, and even that business died out in the late '40's. After WW II ended, dad and his cousin, Forrest Haltom, decided to go into the dry cleaning business. They purchased Joe Taylor's dry cleaners, then located in the building now occupied by the Village Restaurant. The building proved too small and an addition was put on the south end of the building. More room was still needed, so they built a building directly across North Main Street and moved the Denton Cleaners there. Bill Shaw eventually become a third partner and the business operated into the 1970's when the advent of wash and wear and competitive pressures forced closure. When any of the Harrison children complained of having nothing to do, the general answer was "go down to the cleaners. They need help".Most of us learned to keep our mouth shut, but not before we learned to launder, dry clean, press and spot clothes, and one dared not double crease any pants ,as Lester Coggins reputation was at stake and he was particular about how his work looked. He was a good man. In the early 40's, J believe, Dad and others saw the need for a fire fighting group, and the Denton Volunteer Fire Department was formed. Mack Pickett, Blanton Lomax, Clay Cranford and Dewey Tysinger are the members that'I remember, but I'm sure there were others. Dad was elected fire chief, and training sessions were held on Monday nights. A used fire truck was obtained as soon as possible and other necessary equipment added as it could be obtained. Mrs. Thompson, who worked for M.A. Pickett many years laughingly tells of the time that a fire alarm went off, and Mr. Pickett along with dad were the first to the fire station, only to fmd the battery in the truck was dead. She said that in a few minutes the two were racing down Salisbury Street pulling by hand an old cart with a fire hose coiled on it, which had been designed as a trailer or a horse drawn cart. Says it was one of the funniest sights she ever saw. Dad was a member of Tom's Creek Primitive Baptist Church. He attended services there but they only held preaching once a month. He would occasionally take some of the older children with him. The 3 or 4 hour preaching services were something we were not ready to handle. He supported his church well. When they ran out of cemetary space, he purchased 2 adjoining acres and donated them to the church. When there were no services there or no Association Meetings, he attended ''your mother's church", Le. the First Methodist Church in town. He was well read, especially with newspapers that came to the house.. Not only was he well read but he offered his opinion in letters to the editors, some of which were quite sarcastic, though not all. Most of them probably would offend some one, so we won't go there. When Davidson County paid a very high price for land for a court house, he offered free land in Denton if they would move the County Seat here instead. Mr. E.M. Hunt, then Chairman of the Board ,never replied in writing, though I'm sure they had a good laugh over it. When his taxes were disputed in the 1960's and he wound up paying another $20.00 or $30.00, his check carried the notation" to pay Joe Louis's taxes". He was unafraid to voice his opinion in print or in person, and he did so with regularity.
Most of my dad's good deeds were personal and private. A radio given to a bedridden man, seed money for a very smart young local man to attend college (he used it well), cash given to families in time of trouble, a washing machine delivered to a family in serious need of one and then driving off before they knew who delivered it, paying off the mortgage for a disabled young man, making contributions for educational excellence awards, helping with school projects .providing Christmas fruit and to a number of friends as well as those he knew to be in need, a sharing of garden vegetables in season or fruit from Candor in srasin were examples of his good works. Dad's work at the depot put him in contact with almost every one in south Davison County. He always had time to talk with his contacts and knew them quite well. He knew who married whom, how many children they had, most of their names, who had farmed that land originally, and other historical information about the area. As such, he was contacted by quite a few people trying to trace their heritag~. He could help most of them. He knew the history of the area, which homes were older, what families came when, and similar details. People sought him out with questions about the area history. as well as the town. The phrase" my dad told me" was heard often" when he was asked questions about early Denton, Sycamore or Finch's Cross Roads. I remember well the duffle bags of the returning veterans of the war coming in to the depot. These were stored in his depot office area, not the warehouse, and handled very carefully until either pick-up or
delivery was scheduled. Those who served earned his respect. Dad was a very hard worker, running his depot single handedly whereas the other depots in the system had three or more employees. He met the train every night about 10:00,performed his necessary duties, then was back at work generally by about 7:00. It was not unusual for him to work until past supper time, then milk the cow and head home.
He loved railroading. When things went wrong or well, he wanted to see them. The Winston-Salem Southbound experienced a wreck in the 1940's when a boulder rolled off High Rock Mountain onto the tracks killing the engineer who had ordered his fireman to jump. He and I went to see what we could about midnight that night. In the early 1940's, the first diesel train engine came through NC and was scheduled to stop in Hamlet late at night. He and I went to see that one, and did not get back to Denton until breakfast time. One of his jobs was to route freight from rail line to rail line when shipped from Denton. He learned geography from that, knew where the rails crossed the rivers, knew where the highest points were, and knew which rail lines served what cities, and the mileage to most. During the depression, a hobo used to visit Denton, claiming to know the mileage from any 2 points in the US. He generally held court in Buck Hardy's Shell Service Station where the hardware store is now located. Dad would go listen to him, and never caught him in an error, Dad loved sports. Baseball was his great love, but he had great interest in any sports event when Dentonians were involved.. He would listen to the Cardinals on the radio when there was more static than play by play. He took me to the Junior Order Home to see the basketball finals in 1940, I believe. Mack Cranford, Bill Shaw, Bobby Wilkins, Elwood Dockham, Donald Gamer, Jerome Coggins and the others I have overlooked won the county championship that night, and I got the first Powerhouse candy bar I ever had for my supper. He took me to Asheboro to see Bobby Wilkins play for McCrary Mills in the commercial league, and we went to see the Hi Toms or the Lexington Indians play on occasion, especially when they played each other. He told me of the Denton High team of 1930which won a state championship. When I quoted that to an area newspaper a few years ago, they sent me a list of state champions as recognized by the NC High School Sports Association, which did not list that feat. I later ran across an article in The Dispatch of March 10, 1930 which stated that Denton won the State Class C championship defeating Welcome, with Spike Hill scoring 40 of the team's 44 points. Arthur Lanier confirmed this to brother John. Arthur was a member of that team. I think there were other Laniers on the team along with one of Dr. Clyatts boys, Bob Carroll, Howard Snider, Robert Loftin and one of Hays Harris's sons and probably others.. The article carried only the players' last names so I was unsure of who was on the team. Dad thought Spike Hill was as good as they come. He was very proud of sister Sara's strong basketball teams of the late 1940's, of sister Jane and her contributions to the strong teams of 1950, '51 and '52.and of brother John's contributions to Denton's teams of1955 thru 1958..Dentonwon several county championships in that era. Dad and Mom seldom missed a game. Dad always had time to talk politics or sports. He had no more enjoyment than talking sports with Furman Bisher. Furman worked for dad at the depot for awhile. I wondered how they ever got anything done. Max Lanier told me that Furman was always the fIrst person in the Denton ball park when they had a game there, sitting on the end of the bench keeping statistics. When Thermo Products came to town, Dr. Gobel, then the mayor, visited with Dad about providing land at a reduced price. I never found out what the consequences of that visit was. Dad and Mom made a generous donation to Mount Vista when it was being built, hoping they might be able to stay in Denton in their latter years, a hope not realized.
Dad loved to visit all his life. We visited cousins and half cousins and quarter cousins and anyone else not fitting those descriptions. In his later years, he maintained that habit, developing friendships with a goodly number of young men he especially liked as well as his lifetime triends.. He was a born storyteller and his mends relate to we children still today some of those tales. What a memory he had. We children wish we could remember greater portions of the history he related to us. He could read a poem or a book and quote from it years later, or memorize the box car numbers as they passed outside his depot window, and refer to a car by number the next day, and the train was often 15 or 20 cars in length. When asked what his hopes or ambitions were, he invariably replied" to live in my house by the side of the
road and be a triend to man". He did that well.
by Jim Harrison Printable Version on Google Document Here................
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info on this page posted by Ronnie Gallimore by permisson of Jim Harrison
1933 Denton Baseball Field Contract B 52 Crash near Denton NC 1961 Bert Lanier 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 Jabber Lanier story by Buddy Max Lanier Veterans of Denton Area