The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

January 11, 2010

The 1920s: Boom time in Tarboro


Last month we stopped in the early 1900s having covered another 50 years of Tarboro’s history.

Unfortunately the Southerners from 1910-19 are missing so we do not have a regular record of events in the town. For some reason that decade was not available to be microfilmed when the state library was trying to preserve the state’s history. If anyone has any of the issues from that time, we would really like to see them and copy them for the library collections.

Despite not having the papers, we do know of a few events that happened to enrich the town’s history. For example, that time in American history known as the Progressive Age because of progress in industry and community reform saw several new businesses established in town.

In 1912, the Brown brothers opened the Coca-Cola plant on Main Street and the next year Marrow Pitt Hardware opened. It was the beginning of a company that is still in existence today but in a different location as Ace Hardware and it is still operated by the Pitt family.

The original store was on the 300 block of Main Street where Courthouse Square is now. The store burned in the 1970s soon after Christmas and then relocated down the block in what had been the Belk Tyler store before it moved to Parkhill mall.

It was in the 1990s that the store moved to its current location north of the railroad tracks, but still on Main Street.

The decade of the 1910s also saw lots of improvements in health care. In 1916 Edgecombe General Hospital replaced the Pittman Sanitarium as the major hospital in town. It was on Saint Andrew Street where the courthouse is today.

Two years later, in an effort to improve the health of children, Tarboro opened a milk plant on the corner of Wilson Street and Albemarle Avenue. This was the first city-owned milk plant in the state.

The following spring in 1919 after the country had suffered thousands of deaths due to the influenza outbreak in 1918, the Edgecombe County Health Department opened. This was the first one in the state of North Carolina.

We had also experienced World War I and numerous young men went off to war and returned to see an area become more urbanized as paved highways and new industries brought folks into town. They soon formed a local American Legion, the Eason Tiney Post named for a local man killed in the war.

The Red Gum Veneer Co. had opened just before the war in 1916 and in 1919, Tarboro brought new entertainment to the area – motion pictures at the Colonial Theatre. They were still silent as “talkies” wouldn’t be around until 1927, but they must have been a popular form of entertainment.

According to state records, the population increased from 1910 census. The county population saw an increase of over 5,000 people with the 1920 total being five people shy of 38,000 but Tarboro only increased by a couple of hundred with the total being over 4,500 residents.

But the decade of the 1920s proved prosperous for the region.

In the 1920s Tarboro had several automobile dealerships – more than today.

For instance one could purchase a Franklin or a Nash auto from Zeb Cummings. He advertised the Nash Four Touring car for $935 and by 1924 he had added Dodges to his inventory.

Harris Motor Co. sold Whippet sedans for $610 and the Willys-Knight coach for $995. Anderson Wheeless sold Chevrolets for $585. Mr. J. B. Pennington sold Studebakers, and Enterprise Carriage Company advertised Buicks.

It was April 1923 that Calvary Church members laid the cornerstone for its Parish House. That same spring the community had a county wide commencement on the Town Common preceded by a parade. One of the features of the parade was children on their ponies. An article in the Southerner said that there were 40-50 ponies in town and encouraged all children with ponies to ride them in the parade. That probably made Mr. Winslow happy as his livery stable still offered care of horses and mules despite those noisy automobiles.

Tarboro was a busy area and crowds gathered at the courthouse on Main Street for special events as that was the largest venue in the area. In 1923 The “world’s greatest harmonizing octette of international fame” the Williams Colored Singers performed to a sold out crowd at the courthouse to raise money for the colored annex of Edgecombe General Hospital. Reserved seats were 83 cents and general admission was 55 cents.

In May 1928, the popular evangelist Billy Sunday preached to another full house at the courthouse. Mr. Sunday was a well-known traveling evangelist that covered the East Coast during the 1920s when religion was battling with science during the “Jazz Age” when morals were in question.

Mr. Sunday preached on “The Hope that is Within You” to a mixed congregation that filled every seat, including the jury box.

It was also in the 1920s that Tarboro got its first landing field. Lt. Fillmore opened the J.M. Baker Flying Field in 1924, one and half miles south of town. With that new method of transportation, “Washington DC was only 3 hours and 14 minutes away” and much better than the lengthy train ride according to an article in the paper.

In August 1928, Tarboro hosted a reunion of Confederate veterans from across the state. Over 100 surviving Civil War veterans and their wives attended. The Fort Bragg Band performed for the crowd as several local organizations including the Kiwanians, Rotarians, Lions Club and the Red Cross all sponsored events for the many visitors. U.S. Congressman John Kerr gave the keynote address.

In a letter to the town after the event, one visitor commented “ Tarboro is a fine place and the citizens are giving …. We saw more pretty girls here than any other place we had been and the hotel clerks are the finest and cleverest you ever did see.” Some of this group stayed at the Farrar Hotel downtown on Main Street across from the courthouse where the current Maxway store is today.

In 1928 the Tarboro Clinic opened on Saint James Street near Edgecombe General Hospital providing office space for doctors to see patients. That building was owned by Dr. S.N. Harrell and is still standing today as law offices.

By the end of the decade, Tarboro had grown considerably with a population in 1930 of over 6,300 while the county had increased by over 10,000 with a population of 47,800. But with the recent Stock Market Crash, changes would come to Tarboro in the 1930s. Tune in next month.

Monika Fleming, the Historic Preservation Program director at Edgecombe Community College, is an Edgecombe County historian. Look for her reports each month on the Community page.