By Milburn Gibbs
historical homes and businesses were included on the
Historical Tour of Siler City, sponsored by the Town of Siler
City and the Chatham County Historical Association.
addition, the Braxton School Gymnasium was filled with other
important historical data, photographs, and documents about
the town, beginning in its formative days of the late 1880’s.
boasted 254 citizens in 1890, three years after its
incorporation as a town. The prestigious privately owned
Thompson Boarding School operated from 1887‑1897, located
where the town hall now sits. Students were largely from out
of town, which paid $7.50 ‑ $8.00 a month to board.
Walter Davis Siler (1878‑1951) graduated from UNC Law School
and entered private practice in Siler City in 1900. He was
mayor of the town, served ten years in the N.C. Legislature
and was one of the leading early pioneers of the town.
(Siler City Police Chief June Moody) told me a story about
Judge Siler when he was a practicing lawyer," Siler City
Commissioner Helen Buckner said. "Siler was a short man. An
opposing lawyer said to him once that, 'I could swallow you
whole.' The attorney referred both to Siler's size and his
retorted: 'If you did, then you would have more brains in your
stomach than in your head."'
Rogers' DECA students from Jordan‑Matthews High School were
performing quite professionally as greeters at each location
on the tour. Caroline Butts, Curtis McBee and Andrew
VanSchooten were three who were stationed outside Chatham
Avenue buildings at Farmer's Alliance Store (1909), Chatham
Bank (1913) and the Old Hardware Store (1906) respectively.
Joe Cole and
Richard Danek were demonstrating their potting skills. Both
are Central Carolina Community College (CCCC) instructors in
addition, as so many artists are at the Arts Incubator.
Bank occupied the building on the southwest corner of Chatham
Avenue and Raleigh Street until 1935. The original permanent
vault is still operational, building owners Tam and Dennis de
St. Aubin said.
property was later both the Jewel Box and Buckner's Jewelers,
a barber shop, post office, Dr. Frank Swain's office, the law
offices of Moody and Moody, an insurance office, surveyor's
office, a cafe and the home of Beane's Grocery.
a local character who operated the grocery, reportedly refused
to take a local businessman's money once, stating she did not
accept "Yankee" money. She also was said to have called the
police when (in her opinion) too many non‑residents of Siler
City were crowding the streets of downtown. She wanted them
dispatched back from whence they had come.
"This building has worn lots of
hats," Dennis de St. Aubin said during the former bank's tour.
County Board of Commissioners' Chair Tommv Emerson was on hand
at the old Quality Motors building built around 1926. It is
now one of the eight buildings purchased by the NC Arts
Incubator, Siler City's innovative economic development
"My father, John W. Emerson,
founded this dealership when he was 21, and ran it until he
sold it to a Mr. Fisher, a salesman from Ramseur It was again
sold in the late 1930's to Frank Justice, who expanded the
business and built a building where the car lot had been next
door," Emerson said.
"My father opened the business as
Economy Motor Company and went into business with his
brother‑in‑law, Raymond Upchurch."
Justice was a former Indy
500 driver and a Chatham County native, Emerson said.
Emerson's father, John later
owned the Pure Oil distributorship and the Pure Oil
station where Jack Brewer's office is today. Emerson was later
county Recorder of Deeds and was the longest serving sheriff
in Chatham County history (18 years).
Several stately homes were on
the tour, including the Gregson‑Hadley House on E. Raleigh
Street, now owned by Julie Bourque. The home has recently had
some brilliant remodeling.
Edwards was on hand at her former residence, the SnipesFox
House (built 1897‑1902).
(now vacant) boasts six fireplaces and the original mantles,
floors and some beaded pine ceilings," Edwards said. "It is on
the National Historic Register.
restoration is in your blood, you forget how much work it is."
Edwards' moved to another renovation project in Pittsboro last
year, verifying her words.
Commissioner Larry Cheek explained the history of the Corinth
A.M.E. Zion Church on Martin Luther King Blvd. It was the
earliest organized church in Siler City, founded in 1884. The
present brick edifice was built in 1952.
family (contractors and masons) and men of the church donated
their labor after work and on Saturdays and did most of the
work themselves," Cheek remembered.
It was an
effort by the entire congregation, with a little outside help.
into the church in 1952 with no mortgage," member Elizabeth
Edwards said "Thomas Brooks said he would match whatever we
raised to build the church, and he did."
Cheek said the first church had
been a brush arbor before 1900, which meant the faithful
gathered under a grove of trees in lieu of a worship house,
Siler House was not open as the docent had a death in the
historical homes and buildings were the Matthews-Wren House,
the First Baptist Church and the City Hall (both on the
National Historic Register)
and Siler City High School (now
Braxton Manor) were also open to the public.
Weather was cool. and perfect
for a tour of Siler City's diverse history. What was once a
bustling downtown and later fell into disrepair today is being
revived mainly by efforts of the Arts Incubator. NC Incubator
CEO Leon Tongret said the Justice Building would soon be fully
occupied, as Terry C. McInturff Guitars will be moving in as
soon as inspections are completed.
burned‑out Methodist Church on S. Chatham Avenue will be the
next restoration project, and the jewel of the incubator.
Historical Association and the town put in a great deal of
work to organize and facilitate the Sunday afternoon tour.
With weather cooperating beautifully, the tour came together
as an informative and educational success.