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Sarah Land Alexander Interview

Interviewee: 
Alexander, Sarah Land
Contributor: 
Alexander, Sarah Land (Jr.)
Interviewer: 
Morrill, Dr. Dan
Date of Interview: 
2000-03-03
Identifier: 
OHAL0006
Subjects: 
W. T. Alexander House, Mallard Creek community, Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church, WWI, WWII, farming, courtship and marriage, barn
Abstract: 
Dr. Dan Morrill interviews Sarah Land Alexander and her daughter about the family home and barn, recently transferred to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission. The house, known as the W. T. Alexander House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The interview provides considerable detail on the construction of the barn in the 1920s. The participants also discuss family history, including the elder Mrs. Land's courtship and marriage to William Tasse Alexander III. There is also a recording on videocassette for this interview.
Coverage: 
Mecklenburg County, 1890-1990
Interview Setting: 
The Pines Assisted Living Center, Davidson, NC
Collection: 
Historic Preservation
Collection Description: 
One of a series of interviews with members of the W. T. Alexander family.
Transcript:
MA: Sarah Land Alexander, Sr., mother
DA: Sarah Land Alexander, Jr., daughter
SR: Seymour Robinson, family friend
DM: Dan Morrill, interviewer
PR: Pat Ryckman, assisting with interview
DM: It is March 3rd it is, what's the time?
PR: About ten-forty.
DM: Ten-forty AM. I am Dan Lincoln Morrill, and we are here to interview Sarah Alexander.
MA: Old Sarah --
DM: And her daughter Sarah Alexander, I want you all to relax now and the purpose is essentially to get historical information about the Alexander home which is located in the University area near the intersection of Mallard Creek Church Road and U.S 29 North, now Sarah let me ask some very basic questions. Tell me when you were born?
MA: Humph (slight chuckle) 1913.
DM: 1913 and where were you born?
MA: Fayette county, which is the county that Lexington is located in.
DM: Lexington, Kentucky.
MA: That's right.
DM: What was your father's name?
MA: My father's name was E. P. Land
DM: L-A-N-D--
MA: D.
DM: D, just like Land.
DA: Edgar Poe Land.
DM: Edgar Poe Land.
DA: Named after Edgar Allan Poe.
DM: Now what was your mother's name?
MA: Margaret.
DA: Atha Margaret Stafford Land.
MA: Stafford.
DM: Now say it again?
DA: Atha.
DM: A-T-H-A?
MA: Atha yes Atha.
DM: Atha.
DA: Margaret
DM: Margaret
MA and DA: Stafford
DA: Land
DM: Okay.
DM: Now, when did you come to North Carolina and under what circumstances did you come to North Carolina?
MA: In 1943.
DM: What brought you to North Carolina?
MA: A husband.
DM: Well, did you come here to just to marry him or did you come here to work? Did you have a job?
MA: It was marriage.
DM: It was marriage.
DM: And did I remember that at one time you taught school, did you teach school?
MA: The first year I taught at Newell.
DM: Which would have been in 1943, is that when you were--
MA: Yes 43.
DM: When you taught school.
DM: Do you re--Where did you meet your husband?
MA: This takes in other members of the family. I was active with the teacher's association, and Dean Taylor of the university, the education college. He was a personal friend, and he was also a very close friend to Margery Thompson Alexander and she was the . . . in 1943 she was the hotelee-- Sarah help me?
DA: She was heading up a conference that they had there at the university.
MA: Southeastern regional conference of the NEH.
DM: At the university-- at what university?
DA: At the University of Kentucky.
DM: Okay.
MA: And I met her at a planning session early that year in 43 no 42.
DM: Ahmm.
MA: With Dean Taylor and a number of the other teachers.
DM: Now it was Dean Taylor at the University of Kentucky?
MA: Yes.
DM: Okay.
MA: And I had had classes with him, in graduate school. And that was the beginning of the planning for that conference which was in--
DA: Was it in 43 or 42? We don't have the information with us to--
DM: Well, that's okay I'm just, what I'm trying to do is to get a feel for what brought her here-- do you want to speak to that?
DA: Well, they met at that time--
DM: They?
DA: Mother and my aunt and my father and some other teachers were in the car that went up to Kentucky?
DM: Let me tell that story. We had a banquet meal on Saturday of that week in May, and I had borrowed with my committee vases to decorate the tables with scouts honor that those vases would be returned to the Dean of Women after we used them at noon that day, because she had something planned for the evening session, so we had all these vases carrying them up limestone, back to the Dean of Women and this car whizzed in, inside and Dean Jaggert from the State Department of Education, stuck his head out the window and said "Ms. Land" (I had been on several meetings with him), he says "are you married, single or divorced?" and I answered and said it depends on how you want to use it. I'll fit any one of them. (Laughter) So he says "Well give those vases that you are carrying to the other girls with you and you get in the car. We need a guide, a guide to tour the horse farms in Kentucky." Which I did. And, 'cause I had taught at Russell Caves School, taught a lot of children that lived on those farms. And so we got in the car and started off to northern part of Lexington which led to the school where I had taught 'cause I taught at Russell Caves School.
DM: Now is that R-U-S-S-E-L-H-A-Y-E-S? Is that-- ?
MA: Russell Caves.
DM: Caves, C-A-V-E? Okay, Russell Caves.
DA: And to put a footnote in there, there was a big horse farm that was real close to that school named Walnut Hall and I can remember that as a child as just a big horse farm and later it became the horse park.
DM: Well now how did you, how did William Tasse Alexander fit into this picture?
MA: I tried to get to that, it's a long story. So I got in the car and I was seated in the back seat of the car as the tour guide. And Bill was sitting there in the back seat with some of the others.
DM: Bill being your future husband.
MA: That's right.
DM: And you had never met him before,
MA: Oh no.
DM: You were in the car.
MA: But I had made the statement, that I would never marry a school teacher and go to the poor house. I had made that statement. So I just assumed he was a teacher, and I wasn't the least bit interested. And he kept quoting Shakespeare and classical quotes all the whole time we toured the farms that afternoon, and then I was more determined that I wasn't interested at all. So after the tour that afternoon he asked me for a dinner date and I was game enough to take him up on the dinner anyhow. So it kinda led from there and down in North Carolina at the time, he had received military orders to report to Fort Bragg and be what do you call it--
DA: Inducted.
MA: Inducted. So there was something behind him if he was interested in kind of a way out of his ( ). And so he was sent from Fort Bragg to Camp Wood, Texas, for military training. And most of our courting was done by correspondence and I remember him saying that it was difficult to get a letter to me because he had to hike 3 or 4 miles to mail his letter. And in the mean time I was teaching at Lafayette School and I was 24 hours around the clock.
DM: Was Lafayette School in Lexington?
MA: Yes, yes.
DA: It was a high school, and a junior high and even elementary?
MA: It was a new school.
DM: Okay, now he's in Texas, he's at Fort Hood--
MA: Camp Hood.
DM: Camp Hood, y'all are corresponding--
MA: That's right
DM: You've had this incident where y'all have gotten to know each other, he took you out to dinner, how did this lead to marriage? Did he write you one day and tell you or did you--
MA: He came home on furlough or something I can't remember now.
DM: Came to Kentucky?
MA: Yes, on furlough.
DM: And did he ask you to marry him.
MA: Yes, but we agreed that we would not marry until after the war, and I'd go on with my work, but at that time we did not know where he was going.
DM: But you did not wait until the end of the war.
DA: That's right and what happened there, Daddy had been a representative with Auburn Stoker Company in Indiana--
DM: How do you spell Auburn?
DA: A-U-B-U-R-N, I think. Auburn, Indiana and what they wanted him to do in North Carolina at that time they were making textile products, army uniforms and those kinds of things for the war effort. And they needed to keep the textiles mills in operation in North and South Carolina and stokers for the coal furnaces were being used at that time to heat I guess the mills, and so eventually he managed to get an ( ) where they thought he was more useful to have him work in the Stoker operation here in the States rather than being shipped out in the military so--
MA: Now wait just a minute. My friend Dean Taylor at the University pulled strings with the hierarchy of the military and wrote a letter. I don't know who they sent it to, but he thought that W.T. Alexander would be more beneficial to the war effort staying here in North Carolina and keeping those mills moving, than to be put on the front line. And he asked for that change to be made, and it was just--
DM: Now let me ask you a couple of questions, you said you had made a determination that you were not going to marry a school teacher.
MA: Well--
DM: Now--
MA: See he wasn't a school teacher.
DM: That made it even more interesting that he was not a school teacher. Now, when did you get married and where did you get married?
MA: Well I was married in my own church in Lexington. Park Methodist Church.
DM: And when were you married?
DA: Was it July 10th, 1943 was it 43?
MA: 43.
DM: Had you come to North Carolina at any time before you married him?
MA: Only to the mountains with my parents after I finished [pause] I guess finished my first degree in college.
DM: So you came--
DA: So you had never been to Charlotte to meet his family before you married.
MA: No , no.
DA: Now, you married July 10, 1943. Is it soon thereafter that you come to North Carolina--
MA: I came to visit his people to know his people on a 2 to 3 day visit in his home.
DA: And that was before you married.
MA: Oh, yes.
DM: Okay so you had at least--Now, when you came to North Carolina, where did you live? Where did you come to live?
MA: You mean after we were married?
DM: Yes.
MA: All right. In the old homeplace.
DM: Okay, so you--was he already living in the old homeplace before--
MA: While he was between the military and going back to the Auburn Stoker people, he was sort of in a process of change I guess and pretty soon when those papers came through he would be sent back to North Carolina. That's when we made plans for our wedding.
DM: And you moved as a new bride into the home place there.
MA: And the funny part, the day of the wedding when we left on the train, we didn't know if he would come back to North Carolina or go to Gary, Indiana. So the joke got out that the bride was going one place and the groom another. And when we said goodbye on the train that night to the group that were there, there was a big ha ha about it. They were glad to see that we were on the same train.
DM: Now when you-- I want you-- just as best you can recollect. When you came to that area, that region, in 1943 to live in that house, paint for me just a picture of what it was like around there. I mean, my feeling is it would have been very rural, but tell me what it was like.
MA: Well, it was very much like my home place in Kentucky. Since his mother was active in Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church, and the neighbors, kinfolks, it was just like if I were going back to Kentucky. And I remember Charlotte, in particular, walking down Main Street, going shopping. That's when we wore gloves you know, and a hat, to go shopping and it was nothing uncommon to walk across the square and see somebody from our community, and it was a close relationship of neighbors. Very much like Davidson is today.
DM: Well now, I want you to talk to me a little bit about some very specifics about the property, when you first came there. Was the barn used when you came to the property?
MA: Yes, there were cows.
DM: What was it used for?
MA: Dairy cows, dairy dairy cows.
DM: And did the dairy cows stay in that first level?
MA: That's right.
DM: And they were milked?
MA: Yes.
DM: And what was the upper level of the barn used for?
MA: As near as I can remember it was just storage for hay.
DM: Just storage for hay?
MA: And farm equipment.
DM: Farm equipment?
MA: There are some pictures here.
DM: Now, what was going-- I mean, was that-- when you came there in 1943, was that an active farm?
MA: Yes.
DA: Of a sort.
DM: Well, what was going on? What was happening? What was going on?
MA: Well, we had tenants. Sarah help me out-- Well it was-- you wouldn't call it anything compared to today it was very --
DM: Well, was it primarily a dairy farm or were they growing cotton?
MA: Yes, cotton.
DM: Cotton was a crop. Were there actually tenant houses on the farm?
MA: Oh yes, yes.
DM: Were these black families, white families, both black and white?
MA: Both.
DM: Both.
DM: And what was your husband's role in the operation of the farm?
MA: Well he made the decisions about what to buy and who to sell to.
DM: Was he the, did he manage the farm, was the farm his operation?
MA: Well he was doing it for his mother, the other members of the family were ( ) Mr. Bob Alexander. He had just finished building the barn, through the supervision of people at State College. We're getting mixed up in the years so it's hard--
DA: I want to go back with my interview if you don't mind that I have on tape with my father the last two weeks before he died and going back to 1927 and 28. He worked full time on the farm.
DM: We're talking about-- I want to get at sort of a context of where we're going. We're focusing on the barns, is that what we're focusing on?
DA: Well, I think that, let me just say this. When he got out of college in 1927--
DM: Now, let me ask you a couple of questions--
DA: He worked full time on the farm--
DM: Wait, wait, wait, wait--
DM: Now when were you born?
DA: I was born August 28th 1944.
DM: And what is your name?
DA: My name is Sarah Land Alexander.
DM: Sarah Land Alexander. And until this year, you lived, did you live your entire life essentially--
DA: I lived at 216 Mallard Creek Church Road from when the time I was born until I went to college in 1962 was when I started college. I went to St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, North Carolina, so I was away most of those four years of college, except in the summers I worked as a camp counselor a couple of those summers up at Lake Lure. And then I worked not quite a year in Charlotte at Interstate Securities Corporation and then I went to school at Appalachian taking education classes and later I went to graduate school at Appalachian. But I taught for about 2 and a half years at Rock Hill, South Carolina at the technical school and then about five years in Columbia, South Carolina at the University. So I was--
DM: What year did you return to?
DA: Alright from '62, to about '76 except for a year that I was back in Charlotte, about '76 was when I came back to Charlotte.
DM: Now return to this tape that you had with your father and apparently you were talking about the barn and other issues but now, take up--
DA: Well, I'm gonna just kinda go back to the early 1900s. My grandfather was a farmer--
DM: What was your grandfather's name?
DA: His name was William Tasse Alexander II.
DM: And where did William Tasse Alexander the II live?
DA: He lived at the home place.
DM: Okay.
DA: He was a farmer going back into the late 1900s
DA: Late 1800s.
DA: Late 1800s. Full time I guess you might say, his mother I guess was you might say the manager after William T. Alexander the first died. But he was involved in farming activities, but coming on up into the 1900s especially around the time of World War I, farm prices were very depressed, farmers were getting away from farming even during that period. So he took on other jobs in order to support the family. He had five children and a wife, his wife was a school teacher--
DM: What was his wife's name?
DA: Her name was Mary Charlotte Watkins Alexander. And she was from Anson County, and had come up to Mecklenburg and taught school sometime in the 1890s I would say, I would have to go back and verify that information, but roughly in the 1890s. Met my grandfather and in about I want to say 1898, but somewhere in that period, they married and then--
SR: May the 18th, 1898.
DA: They resided at the home place.
DM: Okay, lets go back to his farming and occupational activities.
DA: Around the time of WWI he had a mule team of about 40 mules and he did various and sundry projects not necessarily there on the farm, there was a gravel pit, where he took gravel out of the pit, and used for road maintenance around in Mecklenburg County and my father on that tape mentioned something about a project down in Stanley County. So he worked not only in Mecklenburg, but other parts and I think at one time he even worked in Virginia. So he traveled around with his mules for various projects. He worked at containment camps, whatever those are, during the time of WWI for military projects with his mules and what have you, this is before the time of what we know today as bulldozers, but that was the kind of work that he was working--
DM: Now, you mentioned what kind of camps?
DA: Contonement camps
DM: Spell it.
DA: I am not certain about the spelling, my father used that term in describing that one time and I wrote it down and I--
DM: C-O-N-T-O-N-E-M-E-N-T?
DA: Something like that, and so he did these various and sundry jobs and somehow he got the idea in the 1920s of building a dairy barn and he had been, from childhood on, he had been fascinated with mechanical sort of things. There was an old book we had at the house, my sister has it in her possession now, was the bicentennial celebration in 1876 that was in Washington, I think or Philadelphia--
DM: Centennial?
DA: Centennial celebration, and it was like a world's fair, and he--
DM: Alright.
DA: And he, now whether he actually went to that fair, he did go to some other world fairs but he was interested in all kind of mechanical things as it related to farm activities even back when he was a boy. And even my great grandfather was interested somewhat in things like that. So he was a self-educated sort of person. He had the opportunity to go to Davidson College but never did. And so he did a lot of reading on his own but as far as having formal kind of education, he didn't. He was probably tutored in his childhood.
DM: So he was responsible for the barn being built. And this was-- Do you know anything about where he got the plans for the barn?
DA: The only thing that I have in the tape that I did with my father, he mentioned Ohio, the state of Ohio. I don't know, he said it was like some of the barns in Ohio. But whether my father knew that accurately I am not certain.
DM: Do you know who built the farm, who actually went out there and banged and built it?
DA: Well, I would imagine my grandfather was the, you might say, overseer, seeing that it all came together to build now. According to my father's youngest brother James Moses Alexander in an interview that I did more or less at the same time I did with my father, the farm operation went from about 1924 to 1928. That was a period of 4 years according to him, but in interviewing my father he said that from 1926 to 1928 they assembled all the wood that they used in the building of the barn, timber and what they did they went over across 29 going toward Mallard Creek. There's a branch that comes down from the property on our side of 29 and then runs into Mallard Creek. It's about where the sewer plant is and maybe goes over-- I'm not absolutely certain about that, as far as the Martin Marietta quarry. It's over on that hill.
DM: And this is where they actually cut the timber?
DA: And that general area is where they cut the timber. Now there was a Mr. Honeycutt that was, actually operated a saw mill. Now, I don't know how you spell his name Honeycutt, but it could be a maybe a couple of spellings. I don't know of his first name or anything about him but he did have mills around in the local community and at that time my grandfather, although he had had as many as three portable mills in his earlier farming career [pause] had this mill set up somewhere over there near Mallard Creek. Where they brought the timber in and then sawed it up into lumber. James Moses Alexander helped to cut some of the logs and he was only a teenager at this time. Now I would image, although I don't know this for certain, but my uncle Bob might have been involved in that, and probably more than likely my father also. Maybe some other people that I don't know anything about could have been involved in cutting the timber and processing the logs into lumber.
DM: Yes.
MA: Gene Kirk was nine years old.
DM: Gene, who?
MA: Gene Kirk. I'm going to give you this card.
DM: K-I-R-K?
MA: K-I-R-K. And I just recently talked to him. Here's an address and phone number. He was nine years old and was fascinated by this barn being built. And I think he knew more details than we have. But unfortunately I don't know whether he's back or not he's been on a tour and I got this card last week, wherever this place is.
DM: Well that's over at ( ), but now let me--just give me any stories you talked about--think about D-Day. Give me any stories that you have about that barn. Any--let's just stay on the barn let's don't--we're going to go to other things but just give me--either one of you--just tell me give me, give me stories, memories anything about the barn.
MA: But I have one--
DA: Well let me go back to the rock part of where that came from for the barn. This goes back into the twenties also and I don't know the time frame but I imagine here they were assembling the timber and the lumber for that part of the barn. And then probably at the same time they were up in another direction on the farm where the Duke power line crosses 29 the one that went in maybe a little over ten years ago. Up on the steepest part of the hill as you go up Mallard Creek Church Road, over to the right as you're going up the hill. My uncle, Robert F. Alexander owns a parcel of land of about 32 acres. And that now backs up to the Hunt Club Apartment complex if you're familiar with that. So that was a steep area where there was a rock formation where they were able to get rocks out of the hill. Another place he talked about and I may have to refer to my notes--
DM: Who was he, your father?
DA: My father. Um, there is a swag in Mallard Creek Church Road. I don't know that there's a swag there any more but at the time Mallard Creek Church Road was a two-lane road. There was a swag on the side of the road and dipped down into the hill area, and several hundred yards and I have that exact figure [pause] 200 yards from Mallard Creek Church Road in this swag was another place where they got rocks. And during the fall of the year just before they built that power line my father and I walked up in this area and I actually saw a place in the hill that looked like they had taken rocks out you could still see rocks around there. So there's probably at least a couple of sites somewhere up in that general area where it was very almost like a mountain in steepness.
MA: Let me tell this here. When she was off at college one Sunday afternoon we took a walk. And her father pointed out the same place where the rock for the barn was quarried. It's--today it would be somewhere where that power line goes across the property.
DA: Now there was a grav--
MA: But there is a swag.
DA: Gravel pit down below our house about where the Wilco Service Station was later built, its up the embankment there and that's where my Grandfather took the gravel out for road building purposes. But I don't think, this was just strictly gravel it was not big rocks that I know anything about.
DM: Tell me this D-Day story or something. M: Oh I just can't wait to tell you this.
DM: Tell it, tell it, tell it.
MA: Alright. We were having lunch in the kitchen and my husband jumped up and said "This is it! This is it!" Well I thought he'd gone nuts. So he went out the back door and I trailed along and he kept saying "This is it! This is it!" and when I looked up there were hundreds of planes flying over the treetops. They were coming over the barn and over the old house. And finally I got enough gumption to ask what in the world he was talking about. And he said "This is it. This is D-Day." And I have the date June--
DM: June 6, 1944.
MA: 1944. There it is right there. And we stood there and watched those planes, hundreds of them, going over Charlotte, over the barn and over our house. Headed for Fort Bragg. And I've never forgotten that experience.
DM: That must have really been something to see.
MA: They were just brushing the treetops. And the reason I--you're going to have to double check this with the military--I think the reason that barn was used at the beginning of the war as a focal point to--I don't know how to express this--
DA: To guide the airplanes or?
MA: The guide to any planes going over Charlotte. See there was nothing left to Morris Field ( ).
DM: How to you know that planes used that barn as a reference point? How do you know that?
DA: I think somewhere in conversation. I think somebody--
MA: Gene Kirk can fill that in. Since he was in the military and everything.
DA: Now when, do you remember--
MA: That was repeated over and over again. And another little tidbit to this story. In Kentucky at that time we did not have blackouts like they did here in Charlotte
DA: But did you have blackouts at the house where you put shades over the windows.
MA: Oh yes, that was a new experience when I came here. They had to put blankets and things over the windows.
DM: Well now I want to go . . . what I'm gonna do . . . we. . I don't want to keep you all too long. But what I want to do is go from the barn and then I'm going to talk about maybe the chicken house and then I'm going to go to the main house so let's stay focused on the barn. Any stories, that's a wonderful story, about any memories, stories, anything you think is worthwhile.
MA: Well that's not made up because I was there to experience that.
DM: Oh, I understand.
MA: "This is it!"
DA: Let me go back to the early barn before this barn and then kind of go on chronologically from that. There was an older barn at the site of where the present barn is. My father was maybe 2 or 3 years old.
DM: When was your father born?
DA: He was born in 1907 so this would have been 1906 maybe or 1907 somewhere in that general period. And I don't know if there's anyway you could go back and look at old Charlotte Observers and find a particular date but anyway at some point in that period the barn, that old barn burned. I don't know whether it would have been written up, you know, that fact. It created at great commotion. My father was I guess the toddler stage but I don't know exactly the age. He remembered all the commotion created from trying to put the fire out and everything. And my grandmother at that time--the house was made of wooden shingles and she went up the attic steps which were about that steep--
DM: You mean the roof of the--
DA: Of the house. And she had buckets of water that she took up there and during the course of the fire she put out small fires from the sparks that came over on the house. And you will notice in the attic today there're some burn marks in some of the wood that comes down in the angle part of the roof. And so that fire burned that barn. There was an old maple tree. I don't know whether it's still in existence. If you show me a picture of the barn I can show you about where it's located. This fascinated us when we were children growing up it was kind of over--here's the entrance from the house and the maple tree was over in this area. It was a crooked kind of gnarled old maple tree and you could still see the burn marks on that maple tree. So I was out in California several years ago and saw some of the redwoods that had burned and 1848 so that made an impression on me. So from that they had a barn there. There was another barn. I used to have in the 1950s a flower garden kind of behind the house over to the left and there was a part of the back field that was between that garden and the back part of the barn. And Daddy described another barn that was an older barn that was a log structure that was over in that area. There was an old mulberry tree somewhere in that general area when I was very small. I don't know if they ever tried to produce silk from mulberry but anyway that old tree was in that area. I don't know whether it was close to that site of that barn. And he also talked about a wheat house that was a storage facility for wheat that was grown there on the farm. And at some point they moved that wheat house. I do not know the year. I do not know what the wheat house looked like--you know all those specifics about the wheat house. But it was a storage place where they stored the wheat before it was ground into flour or was shipped somewhere to be sold. And then he got off talking about the crops that were grown there in that big backfield. They used the rotation of crops like cotton maybe one year, wheat another year and even corn. Got off on what they farmed across Highway 29 going up toward the university where Alexander Glen is today. They produced a lot of cotton over in that area. I don't know if you knew that back when they were growing cotton. And down as you go toward the creek, Mallard Creek, they produced corn. And I can even remember the Kirks had corn that they grew down in that bottomland at the creek. It was very prolific corn that grew there because it got the moisture. And he said that because of flooding sometimes they would grow the corn further up the hill but in the very top of the hill, the upland area, that's where they grew a lot of cotton. And also down in front of Highway 29 when we were having the stop light right of way negotiated a few years ago, he told me that in that flat area in front of the house they grew cotton there. And I think, Mother, do you remember that there was cotton actually grown, kind of in the front field area at one time?
MA: I was not adept at cotton, all there--everything in Kentucky was tobacco, so I remember that.
DM: Any other stories about the barn? Anything you can think of, memories, your own personal memories?
DA: Well, when I was about 5 or 6 years old, I think more like 6 but I'm not, I'm a little fuzzy on that now, there was a relative that was a Watkins, my grandmother's side of the family. He was a fireman in Charlotte, his name was Bruce Watkins. And during the summer kind of as a part time sort of thing he built--as you entered the barn, there was a wooden wall built and that's where my father stored his stokers and other machinery parts when he was in the stoker business, before he go into, really got into the manufacturing of fuel oil tanks. Anyway he built that on that on that side and then on the other side to the right was another kind of a bend area and I don't know whether they put--
MA: That was a corn bin.
DA: Corn.
MA: Corn, stored corn.
DA: Uh huh.
MA: As you go in the door, to the left was Bruce's work that he did for the stokers, storage for the stokers. On the right was a large area for storing corn. I remember that.
DA: And I remember I was down at the barn a lot at the time that thing was being built and to me the barn, the kind of the gothic shape, the roof area was to me like Noah's Ark turned upside down. That's the way I kind of visualized the barn. And it's funny when later when Margaret, my sister, and I were at Sterling Castle in Scotland, we walked into the banquet room which incidentally during WWII had been used a kind of, by the military, there were actually troops that were in that area of the castle. And the man that was our tour guide, an elderly man had lived in that banquet room while he was part of the renovation process to make, return this back to a medieval looking banquet area. And when you'd look up the wooden beams and everything it was just like the barn, it was a little bit taller than our barn but--
DM: Let, let me. Do y'all need to take a break? 'Cause I'm--
SR: Let me mention one thing. Did you tell the story about the use of the barn during WWII as an early warning place for potential--
MA: Well, I tried to pull that in. I don't know whether--
DM: I know about the planes. I got the feeling that the planes used it, that were going to land at Morris Field, as an orientation point, that's what I understood.
MA: My impression, well maybe they did, I don't know--my impression was particularly for D-Day it was a focal point when they flew over Charlotte, that this was on the northeast side and it was on a direct line to Fort Bragg.
SR: I think maybe you're right.
DM: I got'cha, I got'cha. Now, do y'all need to take a break, anybody need to take a break for a minute?
PR: Would you like some water?
DA: Oh yes, why don't you just turn it off for a minute. Have you turned it off? [break]
MA: What I'm going to tell you now is some more about the barn. After they ( ) operation with the house and everything else that was there they needed a watering trough.
DM: Now are we talking about back when the barn was first built, back in the 20s or are we talking about after you came or what time was it?
DA: It would be back in the early period.
MA: When they were kind of finishing up to use the barn.
DM: I got'cha.
MA: Alright, I don't know how they did it but this man here might be able to tell you. Down under the ground level, there's a huge container, even there today. To hold water, to water the cows, the stock. I was told when I came that this big thing, its larger than this table was taken from a gold mine, in Mecklenburg County and the grapevine is that the gold mine was somewhere over there where 85 is today and the Heffners, Eric Heffner family, the old home place is on Sugar Creek Road and Highway 85, and the house is still standing. And Eric Heffner, one of the sons, has been my plumber through the years. Everybody on Mallard Creek more or less uses the Heffners, and this is the address of the Heffners, and he's very much interested in history, I think he'd be delighted to tell you all he knows about that old thing from the goldmine.
DA: In other words we think that--
DM: That's a wonderful story.
DA: That circular thing was used by a gold mine somewhere in the general area. We don't know the specific area where it was and they didn't have a use for it for gold mining anymore so they just used it as sort of a trough.
MA: I don't know how they negotiated to get it from the barn.
DA: It's very heavy, it's made out of metal.
DM: Now, just briefly about the barn, 'cause we're gonna--I might have to come back again but--Was it Hurricane Hugo that put trees into the barn? Now it's obviously had some damage. How did the damage to the barn--?
DA: Well that started, I think my father had the barn painted sometime in the early 1950s and at that time it was still in more or less the shape that it was in 1944 and that period, and it just sort of became a storage facility. He kept bringing--when his building burned he brought some of the old machinery from that fire over and just set it in the barn, it's probably there today. There was old machinery from the farm operations that's in the barn. The barn was so big I couldn't climb up there and do the roof. My father--the sons had lost interest--my grandfather had built the barn as a dairy barn. He died suddenly of a stroke in 1928, the year that the barn, was for all practical purposes finished. They had no interest in farming 'cause they weren't making any money commercially in that thing. They still had--they lived on what had been a farm, they did a few little farming operations. My father had a herd of 60 heifer cows that he had on the farm in the late 1940s and the early 1950s.
MA: Now let me interrupt, my brother was a farmer and he had ( ) just like Alexander. He convinced my husband, the thing for him to do was to go into farming.
DM: ( )
MA: Oooh
DM: It's alright, go ahead, go ahead.
MA: So my husband agreed with my brother that's how he got started with these what are they called
DA: Heifers
MA: Heifers. My husband, his heart was not in farming at all. And it just kind of took a natural death. And after their father died, when the barn was more or less finished. Dr. James M. Alexander was in Med school. I: Dr. James . . . (next tape). 542 Tape 2, Side A
DA: I've got one or two more things. There's one in particular thing that I want to say about the man that did the building of the barn and I haven't mentioned that.
MA: I think Gene Kirk could probably give you the name--
DA: What were we talking about that she was explaining, something about uncle--
DM: She was talking about the barn had a natural death. That's basically what she was saying.
MA: That's right and Mr. Bob was in military training.
DA: Or in the 3C camps.
DM: Who is Mr. Bob?
DA: That's Robert F. Alexander and I can give you his daughter . . After graduating from N.C. State in engineering and architecture, there were no jobs in architecture you know after the Great Depression so he found a job working for the 3C camps during the 1930s and from there that gave him the background in order to go into the military at that time of World War II.
DM: But you were going to speak about-- 'cause time's precious. You have some information about the building of the barn?
DA: The man that actually did the building and I don't know his first name was Neal. And I do not know whether that name was N-E-A-L, N-E-I-L. There're probably any number of ways it could be spelt. He was from Macon County up in the mountains near Franklin, that I do know from the interview with Daddy. He lived on the farm in a tenant house and probably the tenant house that Watt Walker lived in in the 1940s and the 1950s. That was down near 29 on the other side of Mallard Creek about 150 yards from a branch on Mallard Creek, I think is the way my father described it.
MA: On the way to the slave cemetery.
DA: Below the slave cemetery but it was closer to 29 than the slave cemetery. Well he lived in that house and did the rock work for the barn, retaining wall and, I imagine, the garage. And the garage was built at a slightly later period than the barn.
MA: And Mr. Bob designed the garage.
DM: Well now, let me real quickly--let's--we're going to have to do it. I wish you'd quit me at twelve. What time is it?
SR: 11:30
DM: Let's talk about the house. The house. OK. Tell me what you know either from records, research or by anecdotal evidence from the family. Who built the house? When was the house built? When did, uh, how did the Alexander family come in to--it was marriage into the Orr family but tell me what you know about the earliest history of the house.
DA: Well this is going back to interviewing my grandmother when she was living. She told me some of this information and then from my own research and then just kind of hitting a blank wall and not being able to find some of the facts that I would like to find. My great-grandfather's mother was Mary Elizabeth Orr. So there was a family connection going that far back into the Orr family. The Orrs were Scots. How they came to Mecklenburg, I don't know the history of the Orr family like I know a little bit more about the Alexanders. I do know the name Orr, O-R-R, is of Scandinavian origin coming into Scotland. And they immigrated as many of the Scotch-Irish did to, I'm not sure whether they actually lived in Scotland before coming to North America or what but anyway they ended up coming to Mecklenburg before the Revolutionary War period. And there was a number of Orrs just as there were a number of Alexanders in Mecklenburg County. And the grapevine, through my grandmother's recollection about the house--the house was built in 1799 and completed in 1800. There was a man by the name of John Hanna Orr through family grapevine that was supposedly the builder of the house.
DM: H-A-N-N-A-H? Hannah? H-A-N-N . . .
MA: No
DM: It's OK.
DA: I'd have to--I think I'm right about that but I'm not absolutely certain. I'd have to look that. I have never been able to verify that fact. I don't know whether this was an older man that died and somehow or nother through the 1820s more or less my grandfather acquired the land. He was married four times, my grandfather.
DM: Now this was not your grandfather.
DA: William - great-grandfather - William Tasse Alexander the First. His first wife was a Hunter, Mary Hunter. I don't know anything about her family. She was older than he was, I do know that. She died of childbirth, I think. And then he married, I think, the second wife was an Orror a Harris. I'd have to get Seymour maybe to research that. I know he married a Harris.
SR: Let me interrupt you for just a second. You need to lend Dan the scrapbook. This scrapbook has many of the details.
DA: And I have more other places, than I have with me.
SR: When wives died, who he married next and when he died and all those sorts of things, as well as a lot of pictures. You will get to review this scrapbook.
DM: OK. So you think that would be a more effective way to do it today than to do it orally.
SR: I think this would be a good starting point for you and would give you a sort of a macro overview and then its going to cause you to ask questions.
DM: Right. Well then let me focus on this part of the house. I want y'all to talk about your personal association with the house. You came in 1943. You were born in 1944. Tell me about the house, your experiences with the house. Tell me stories that you might share. I believe one time I heard that the house actually caught on fire or you there were--I mean there are a lot of stories, I know that you--your feelings about the house. I mean, just spin stories for me.
MA: Well, I always felt like I was an outsider. At that time, when I came there as a bride, Grandmother was in the driver's seat, legally, and I think Bill Alexander did for her what you're doing for me, legally speaking. So I always kind of felt like I was an outsider. Her wishes came first.
DM: Where did she live when you came?
MA: She lived at the old home place.
DM: She was there in the house?
MA: Yes.
DM: So here you were, a young bride coming in 1943 to live in your mother-in-law's house.
MA: That's right.
DM: OK.
DA: And at that time my uncle was in the military, Robert F. Alexander. And his wife, and was it two small children?
MA: Yes.
DA: Were living at the house but they were in the process of being transferred--was it to California?
MA: California.
DM: OK, now go and stay with the house. Your personal--you felt like an outsider.
MA: Well, I don't mean that in a negative sense.
DM: Right.
MA: She was a beautiful person and it was a joy to be with her. And she came the same way as a teacher and she lived with the other--
DA: William T. Alexander II.
MA: So Miss Lottie and I just clicked it off beautifully, it had already been done a generation before. You know how families worked at that time, we weren't enemies we were friends. And I'd of never made it as a bride I mean as a new person.
DA: Now, how old was she when you moved to the house?
MA: Oh dear, I don't know, I guess.
DA: Was she in her seventies maybe by that time, she was born in 1864 I think. I'd have to go and research that.
MA: She was very active
DA: She was getting up in her years but she was not up in her 90s by that time, I'd say late 60s or early 70s would be my guess.
DM: Now, was that rear addition to the house there at the time when you came in 1943?
DA: It had been built I think about 1936.
SR: According to this scrapbook it was 19--
DA: Right, that information is what I got from my father.
DM: So, reflect on your--tell me personal stories about the house. What it was like to live there. Interesting incidents that happened there, any story that you can tell me about your personal. You Seymour, you went there and visited as--this is Seymour Robinson-- you went there and visited as a young boy. So I want to know about, what it was like, the personal aspects or what is was like as a place, what is was like as a space. The house and the whole barn for that matter.
SR: I'm Seymour Robinson we moved, we moved to Mallard Creek Church Road in 1947. My dad was pastor at Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church at the time and we lived just west of the church on and toward of Mallard Creek road, and as I was growing up with my two sisters who are younger than I am. We spent a lot of time at that house, because that house was kind of, because of the barn and the house and the ( ) the road, it was a ( ) for young people. And Mrs. Alexander here was always hostess for gatherings of young people, and we spent a lot of time playing in the barn, playing in the house, going up in the attic, having cook outs outside, I spent a lot of my time
DM: What is the, would you characterize the farm as a happy place?
SR: Extremely, very very happy place where everybody felt welcome, we had wonderful times there.
MA: We always had the egg, what was it at Easter time? Egg
SR: Egg hunt
MA: Always there.
DA: Sunday school aged children at Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church, I remember them.
MA: I don't remember an egg hunt at the church, do you during that time
DA: Now when we were
DM: Was there egg hunts held at the barn?
MA: Yes.
DA: In the front yard, behind the wall
DM: These were typical Easter egg hunts that children for Mallard Creek Presbyterian Church, is that correct.
DA: Right, Now when we were in Scouts, he mentioned cook outs we had a camping experiences down behind the area of the chicken house, we got involved with
DM: You went back in the woods behind the chicken house?
DA: We got involved with the UNICEF organization through the, UNICEF you know the uh
DM: United Nations
DA: United Nations
DM: When you were referring to scouts did you mean,
DA: Girl scouts
DM: Girl scouts
DA: So we had, one time we had like a gypsy camp back in that camping area and kind like ( ) around in people would tell fortunes and all those kinds of things we had cans with candles in them, they were just big juice cans I guess, I'm not sure what they had in the originally but we used the cans and we had along the wire fence going towards the campsite we had nailed into he post we had a place that you could follow the trail over to the campsite. That was one activity and then in the attic another time a church group, we had a pirates den in the attic, that we entertained
DM: The attic of the house
DA: Of the house and we entertained the little children
DM: You say what again.
DA: A pirates house, we were my sister and I were dressed up as pirates and it was like a bar the way we arranged it and we had swords or something and we would put on a show (chuckles) fall in the middle of the floor you know that sort of thing
MA: That was at Halloween wasn't it.
DA: That was at Halloween, and then we ad cook outs
DM: Cook outs for what kind of ( )
DA: Girl scouts
DM: Cook outs, what are talking about a cook out.
SR: All of those activities kind of centered around church life
MA: That's right
SR: The church was kind of the focal point of the community and with Sarah and Verral being so active in the church they hosted these sort of get togethers forv various age groups.
DA: And that, that was through high school age and of coarse with my sister and I went off too college, and you know it just changed, the times changed
DM: Seymour talk to me a little bit about what the area was like when you were there.
SR: How did you know I was getting ready to talk about that All chuckle
SR: We were there in 1947 and Mallard Creek Church road was a 2 way lined gravel road, and it was paved shortly after we moved there but the thing I remember most there is the, we can put this in sort of a social structure of the community. That was a ( ) in an agrarian community. Almost everybody there farmed at least part time if not full time.
MA: We were true ( )
SR: That's right.
DA: I wouldn't say that totally, but when you for the most part people, 'cause we rode the school bus up and down the road we knew people who lived on the road but now there is such an intense influx in population you don't even know your neighbors.
DM: Yes.
SR: And some of this you may want to edit this out. The Alexanders' were sort of a cove up the rest of the Mallard Creek community. Sensed that they were well educated in those times relatively affluent family. Most of the rest of Mallard Creek society were farmers or blue collar workers so it was sort of a that place was sort of a magnet to pull people in. I can remember playing a game of ( ) as a small people.
MA: Oh dear Seymour.
SR: And It was a very different family from most of the rest of the Mallard Creek Society as a ( )
MA: And I think grandmother gets the full credit for that. She had been a teacher she respected education and my dad and mother back home they insisted that we traveled and I remembered this story. SarahI guess it's when you finished 8th grade. It's some where in that period of time. I talked to Mr. Temple at Newall school, he was the principal before we planned a trip to Washington D.C, the first time they went to Washington D.C with the family. I was ( ) whether she would take the children out of school and he told me he says go ahead and take them more there 'cause two or three days in Washington D.C and this school will be ( ) 6 months. So we had to, that was other ways to be educated other than through a book.
DM: One of the interesting facts to me is that William Tassey Alexander II had only two ( )
DA: I think that 7/5, I was thinking about the first one when I was 13.
DM: ( ) and who was the 5th one.
DA: Tom, he was the oldest
DM: These people, these children were born in the late 19 early 20th century. All of them were college educated.
DA: And that was probably because my grandfather did not go to Davidson as he probably should have, but at the time he was about. I don't know how to describe, I always thought he was a little ( ) the sign maybe. Not in a really really bad sense of the word but as far as getting the real education he wasn't the book worm sort of person in his earlier life. His sister Rebecca was sort of a different situation she went to a boarding school in Charlotte, there became part of Queens College. She studied French, art.
DM: His wife was educated because she went to college, college courses as late as 90 years old.
SR: What I thought was interesting, what you said when you first met your husband he started quoting Shakespeare, and that was indicative of education and sophistication and
DM: Right, right.
DM: Well, I'm going to break it off. We could go on and on and on and on and on and on and on why don't we just cut it off to
MA: That was the 2 daughters of the ( ) family one with . . .
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