NCVance /henderson

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Vance Hotel mural on Montgomery St
photo ©2009 by NCVance
Montgomery St. mural of old Vance Hotel

Vance Hotel postcard
Vintage post card of the old Vance Hotel which once stood proud on the now vacant lot at the corner of Williams and Montgomery streets.

Vance County dull?
There was plenty to do around Henderson

-by Frances Parker Woodlief (1908-1987)

Once upon a time, a long time ago, when I was a little girl, there used to be recreation in Henderson. You can't believe it, can you? But there was.

The Community Band, a group of local young men who played horns, gave Sunday afternoon concerts at the Seaboard Park - a lovely grassy square with benches, a fountain (now in Mrs. Jack WATKINS' garden) in the center and a white picket fence all around it. Sometimes they played hymns and we sang. I think the URQUHART brothers were members. A big old turtle used to play around in the fountain.

The Henderson Players, a dramatic group directed by Mrs. Henry PERRY, delighted us now and then with plays. Mrs. John Lee WESTER (graduate in drama), Miss Nannie CROWDER (dramatics graduate of St. Mary's) and Mr. T.P. GHOLSON (former member of Carolina Playmakers during student days) were among the performers.

The Musicians Club under the direction of Mrs. Fletcher HARRIS (mother of Mrs. William BOYD and the wife of Dr. HARRIS) gave choral concerts.

A YMCA director was employed by the local Chamber of Commerce before the schools had athletic programs. He taught tennis, volleyball, basketball, camping and other activities.

The Riggan Theatre booked popular Broadway plays and musicals. The younger set used to dress up in evening clothes and sit in the "boxes." There were four of them - real boxes. "The Covered Wagon," a western epic and silent extravaganza, was accompanied by its own live symphony orchestra which played in the orchestra pit throughout the entire movie. The organ music of Mr. T.L. ("Red") NEWBERRY was worth far more than the price of admission.

The Dip was a community swimming pool located where The Little Hotel now stands. On each side of the pool was a boardwalk with benches, and at opposite ends a diving board and spacious bath house - all within a latticed enclosure. Spectacular carnivals were held every summer.

The Washout was a picturesque mill pond nearby where there were Sunday school picnics, swimming, and dancing on the roofed pavilion.

The Airdome Theatre was the landscaped vacant lot back of Mr. STEVENSON's picture show. There was a carpet of thick green grass (real grass) and white benches, and we had movies under the stars in summer -- air-conditioned by Mother Nature.

Vesper services were held each Sunday during the summer on the lawn back of the Courthouse. The little platform with its double steps was the pulpit.

A roller-skating rink was on the second floor of the building now occupied by Christian-Harward Co. Spectators liked to watch the contest to see who would catch the little greasy pig turned loose on the floor as a finale to the evening's fun.

Automobile shows were held in the High Price Warehouse. New cars were displayed in the center and booths around the sides advertised other business concerns. There were drawings and prizes given. An area was roped off for dancing and an orchestra. A miniature Castello-Loughlin circus performed in a small tent at the rear of the warehouse. There were clowns, trapeze acts, a ringmaster, and pretty ladies on horseback.

An Italian organ grinder with an adorable little monkey visited Henderson when I was very, very young. He always came to our corner and played and out we would go, down the steps, to put nickels in the little monkey's cup. My grandfather [Drewry Lovelace PARKER] bought me a stuffed toy monkey with a red cap and jacket trimmed in gold braid.

The baseball league was community sponsored. Weekly games were played each summer season on Carter's Field, the land back of Mr. Richard CARTER's paint and wallpaper store. There was a big grandstand, peanuts, popcorn and everything! And how Henderson girls fell for those handsome out-of-town ball players in their grey uniforms.

The Chautauqua was the biggest event of the summer. By way of explanation to this generation, the Chautauqua was a group of lyceum artists sent out from Chautauqua, N.Y. Lake Chautauqua was a summer haven for artists and musicians, a cultural center and the location of a school of music. Small towns were given a whole week of the finest cultural entertainment available. The programs were given under a big canvas tent in Lassiter's Field, now Harrison Avenue. There were concerts, lectures, plays and light opera. Two ladies always came with the Chautauqua and organized the children of the community. The late Mr. Reid HARRIS was one of the mayors of Junior Town. Meetings were held every morning, and on Saturday afternoon a patriotic play with songs and folk dancing was given by the children. The Chautauqua was was patronized by people in all walks of life.

At school none of our grade teachers were singers or dancers or artists, but we had music and art at Central School. We had singing in our rooms every day and the primary children were taught singing games, a part of our native folk music. There were weekly drawing lessons with a textbook as a guide and a lesson in art appreciation every month. Each child received a miniature reproduction in color of the painting studied. I have never forgotten The Angelus, The Gleaners, and Madonna of the Chair (my favorite).

The visits of Col. Fred A. OLDS to Central School just have to be mentioned. He came quite often and enchanted the children with his tall tales of North Carolina History. And from the open windows of Central School auditorium wafted the strains of "Ho, for Carolina that's the land for me," and "Hurrah, hurrah, the Old North State forever," sung with childish gusto. Oh, how I longed to grow up to be one of those beautiful "bright-eyed daughters" of North Carolina where "none can fairer be," or so the song said. A simple story and a song can evoke effervescent patriotism. (Mao knows this. Have we forgotten?)

So that is what we did for recreation in Henderson a long time ago when I was a little girl. I'm sorry you folks that weren't here then missed all these things. Nothing very exciting you say. No - just things that make learning and everyday living an adventure, that put exhilaration into achievement, ideals and creativity in the mind, and good will in the heart; and when they are gone leave pleasant memories to mellow the years.

Isn't that what we need today?

The world is so full of a number of things,
I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.

(R.L. Stevenson)

--Article by Frances Parker Woodlief
daughter of Lottye [nee Parker] and E. Frank Woodlief