Episode 17: Slow Changes Lost to History

Drucilla Independent Fundamental Church 2017

Three Dysartsville churches were each relocated twice but haven’t been moved again in the last 100 years. Just the names of the roads have changed. The Trinity Methodist Church was started around 1858, one mile from Dysartsville on the Bridgewater Road. It was later rebuilt at the present location, on Trinity Church Rd. Several years later, Drucilla Presbyterian Church was moved about two miles from where it was on the Marion Road, now 226.

There is much speculation about the location of the Bridgewater Road. According to Jennie Lee Laughridge Owens in an article published in The Heritage of Burke County, Volume 1, 1981, “The two-story brick house of William Dysart with very high ceilings, plastered walls and full length, spacious halls was known as the Higgins House. It faced toward the old “Cross Roads” of Bridgewater Road and present 226. A cookhouse was separate from the brick house and near the slave quarters.”

“Today a ranch-style house stands there made from half of the old turned brick.” (Today, meaning the 1981 date of the article.) According to resident Mike Allison, the Higgins House was two story with eight rooms, a hall down the middle with two rooms on each side, up and down. He remembers the handmade brick from the creek on the property, and he remembers when the Shepherds tore it down in the late 50’s and built a ranch style house facing the road. That house is gone now, in 2018, but the big barn is still there on the property of a gated community at the corner of Trinity Church Loop and Dysartsville Road that runs north across Interstate 40 to Highway 70.

Jennie Owens wrote “William Hamilton Moore settled during the 1700’s near the foot of Pilot Mountain in Dysartsville.” (A mile or so behind the current nursing home which used to be the school.) “The Bridgewater Road led through Moore property past one of the Seals’ places and the Bower’s house. In the early days this was a route to the Rutherford Plantation, the Shelby-Asheville stagecoach road. Men went in wagons to the Catawba River for fishing and overnight camping.”

In this same article, Owens writes that “the Moore property was owned and farmed by Mr. Bill Owens, a well-to-do and well-respected black man from Brackett Town near Vein Mountain.” “The remains of the hand-adzed log cabin Moore built for his home in the early 1700’s are said to be standing in the fork of Mills and Muddy Creek. Moore bought two more grants making a total of about a thousand acres. Romulus Jolley Duncan now owns the Bill Owens section of the Moore property, and the remodeled house faces a road called Dysartsville at the corner with Sain Rd., but we don’t know which of these roads followed the stagecoach route from Shelby to Asheville.

In a recent article in the Morganton, NC, newspaper The News Herald, my columnist-friend Tammie Gercken researched the Rutherford Plantation at Bridgewater, “a community located near Lake James.” The lake was not created until the 1980s from the Catawba River whose headwaters are in McDowell County near Old Fort. Bridgewater is where the Muddy Creek runs under Highway 70, seven miles west of Glen Alpine, before the McDowell County line. Of course, there was no McDowell County until the 1840s.

Gercken reported that the Bridgewater community was named after Francis Egerton, the third Duke of Bridgewater.” He was “born in England in 1736 and became friends with John Rutherford, Sr., born in Bedford County, Virginia, in 1755.”

“Rutherford was a farmer who founded a plantation in Burke County in 1781, located on the Catawba River near the mouth of the Muddy Creek…The house he built there survived until it was consumed by fire in 1940.” One of his five children, John Jr. is “most widely known for donating money to purchase land to establish Rutherford Academy, which eventually became Rutherford College.”

Romulus Jolley Duncan
Staying Sharp at 96 in 2018

Living in a nursing home forty miles away, Jolley Duncan is now 96 and does not remember the details of his farm purchase back in the 1970s. He believes it was 250 acres, and he remembers an old saw mill up at the Bridgewater community near the head waters of Muddy Creek at Lake James. But he cannot remember a road named Bridgewater. “Just too much water’s gone under the bridge now.” His sense of humor is still sharp. And what a reader, Tom Clancy, James Patterson, Nelson DeVille, David Baldacci, Georgia Wilson!! (He bought my Pete Gibbs biography The Bear Hunter’s Son)

Jolley is a long time popular member of Trinity Methodist Church. He was born in 1921 in Spruce Pine, NC, at his Granddad Duncan’s house. “I don’t remember ever seeing him. I was just six months old when he passed away. But I had a good grandmother there, little scrawny thing, I’m tellin’ you–not much bigger than you are!” And he laughed. “She had, well, you know how they dressed with their skirts right down on their shoe tops. Many a times I’ve gone with her to the garden to pick up whatever, somethin’ for supper there, and fix a big pone of cornbread there, and have sweet milk. That would be supper.”

“I had a twin brother, but he just lived six months. Back before the days of antibiotics. Double pneumonia, I don’t know what all. He was the healthy one, but somehow I was the survivor. Yeah, law. Jack and Jolley.” The Romulus part of his name came from his dad, “and Jolley was my mother’s family name. All the Jolleys were from Rutherford County. Granddad had a forty acre cotton farm down there. He didn’t have that much in cotton, maybe 5 to 7 [acres.]”

“I still have my first boll of cotton to pick, thank goodness. Somehow I missed being down there when they were pickin’ cotton. I know nuthin’ about pickin’ cotton. I found out my mother went to school rather than being on the farm there pickin’ cotton. Cotton doesn’t grow in Spruce Pine. I loved going down there but never at cotton picking time.”

When asked how he got there, Jolley said, “When I was just a boy, they had passenger service on the train that went through Spruce Pine. The old CC&O–Carolina Clinchfield and Ohio.”

“My Dad had seven acres where I was raised going toward Beaver Creek, on the Avery County highway about a mile out of Spruce Pine. The road that takes off to the left there.” And Jolley tells us visitors about the garden and his dream to have a dairy. “I just never…it takes money, and that’s one thing I never had.”

His dad raised corn for their cattle, and vegetables to sell. I reminded Jolley about an earlier conversation when he told me about his Dad taking the produce down the mountain to Marion, a visual that has always remained vivid in my mind because the roads I think dangerous now are improved over the roads his daddy had to travel. Jolley said, “He’d load the produce on the farm wagon, and he’d drive to Marion and the next day he’d stay and sell the produce and then go back to Spruce Pine. They’d take a day to make the trip there. That’s twenty miles, a long trip with a horse and wagon.”

When we asked him about the route, he said. “He had to go by Little Switzerland. That was the only road. They’d pretty well take all day to make the trip. There was no shortcut. You had to go by Little Switzerland, go up to the top of the mountain and go down, or you could go by the Orchard (at Altapass) and go down that way. That was probably your shortest most direct way. It was a dirt road.” (See Nanney Saga Chapter 5: Overmountain Men). I told Jolley I felt sorry for the poor horse with the heavy load behind him, pushing him down the mountain. Jolley said, “Well, they had brakes on the thing.”

In the next episode, I will tell you more of Jolley’s story. Aside from his hearing, he has few health problems. He does move a little slower but don’t we all.

Copyright 2018 Georgia Ruth Wilson


This entry was posted in Dysartsville Saga, McDowell County and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Episode 17: Slow Changes Lost to History

  1. sandra214 says:

    I loved ready about Jolley’s history in the area and am glad to hear he’s doing well. I look forward to the next installment and more of his story.

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