Tag Archive | History

Thomas Wolfe and “The Old Kentucky Home”

The Old Kentucky Home in Asheville in 1946. Photo from the State Archives

On October 18, 1929, Charles Scribner’s Sons published Look Homeward, Angel, the best-known novel by Asheville author Thomas Wolfe. Inspired by a marble angel outside his father’s monument shop on Pack Square, Wolfe wrote his first and largely autobiographical novel about the fictional Gant family wherein the father is a volatile stonecutter and the mother a business-minded boardinghouse operator.

Wolfe was only 6 when his own mother, Julia Westall Wolfe, left her husband and older children and bought the “Old Kentucky Home,” a rambling Victorian boardinghouse in downtown Asheville, to which she brought young Tom. With his family divided, Tom felt lost amongst his mother’s tenants and resentful of the changes the tourists were wreaking on his hometown.

Always aware of the life and people around him, Wolfe later turned his observations into a novel in which his mother’s boardinghouse became “Dixieland” and Asheville, the fictional town of “Altamont.”  Although names were changed, Asheville residents still recognized Wolfe’s characters as themselves and were scandalized. Only in 1937, a year before he died, did Wolfe return home to visit. He was, however, buried in Asheville’s Riverside Cemetery. His mother’s boardinghouse is now the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, one of 27 state historic sites.

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“Choo Choo” Justice Barreled Down the Football Field

Justice with fellow Tarheel teammate Art Weiner in 1949. Image from the UNC-Chapel Hill Library

On October 17, 2003, football star Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice died at his home in Cherryville at the age of 79. A native of Asheville, Justice acquired his nickname in the Navy, into which he was drafted in 1943. Seeing him dodge tacklers for the Bainbridge Naval Training Center team, an officer remarked, “He looks like a runaway train. We ought to call him ‘Choo Choo.'”

After the war, Justice played for the UNC, though many other college vied for his talents. From 1946 to 1949, while Justice played for the Tar Heels, the team had a record of 32-9-2, went to three bowl games and even achieved a number one ranking in the AP Top 10. Justice was named National Player of the Year in 1948, was runner up for the Heisman Trophy in 1948 and 1949 and remains in the record books at UNC for a number of achievements.

Justice played for the Washington Redskins in the National Football League in 1950 and again between 1952 and 1954, before retiring to work in the oil business and then in the insurance industry. He was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1963.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Old East, UNC-Chapel Hill Landmark

An image of Old East from the State Historic Preservation Office

An image of Old East from the State Historic Preservation Office

On October 12, 1793, Grand Master Mason and future North Carolina governor William R. Davie helped lay the cornerstone of Old East, the nation’s oldest state university building and a dormitory at UNC-Chapel Hill for nearly 220 years.

The brick building housed the university’s first student, Hinton James, in 1795, and the future eleventh U.S. president, James K. Polk. Over the years Old East has also held classrooms and offices. It was home to the university library from 1853 through 1869.

Set at the crest of McCorkle Place, the structure originally stood two stories tall but had a third floor added in 1824 to mirror Old West, another dormitory constructed opposite it.  The “north towers” added to both buildings in 1848 became the library and debating chambers for the university’s two literary societies. Old East was home to the Philanthropic Society (the “Phi”), which took in students from eastern North Carolina, while Old West housed the Dialectic Society (the “Di”), which claimed students from the western half of the state.

Condemned as unsafe in 1922, Old East was extensively remodeled in that year and again between 1991 and 1993, when air conditioning and elevators were added.  It became a National Historic Landmark in 1966. 

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World War I Medal of Honor Recipient Robert Blackwell

A 1918 image of Blackwell from the N.C. Museum of HistoryOn October 11, 1918, Person County native Robert Lester Blackwell was killed when he attempted to
deliver a message asking for help for his unit near St. Souflet, France.

Blackwell’s unit had been cut off from the remainder of the force engaged in battle and was exposed to artillery and machine gun fire. The platoon commander ordered that a messenger be sent back for help; that man was promptly killed as was the second person sent behind him. Blackwell volunteered for the task and also lost his life. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The citation commended Blackwell for his “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty.”

Blackwell’s father received the award in a ceremony in the State Capitol. Governor Thomas Bickett spoke, noting that no medal could compensate for Blackwell’s death. The family subsequently donated the medal to what is now the North Carolina Museum of History. Blackwell was one of two North Carolinians to receive the medal in World War I, the other being Samuel I. Parker. Blackwell also received the Cross of War from both the Portuguese and Italian governments.

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Lemur Jovian, Star of “Zoboomafoo”

19529_3dh2710_pc-6583-jovianOn October 4, 1997, Jovian, the lemur that many television watchers came to know as Zoboomafoo, was introduced to the custom made sound stage at the Duke Lemur Center.

Jovian is a Coquerel’s sifaka, a species of lemur native to Madagascar. He was selected to appear in the educational wildlife show, “Zoboomafoo,” produced by Chris and Martin Kratt. The latter was a graduate of Duke University and had volunteered at the Lemur Center while in school.

The award-winning children’s show starred Jovian as Zoboomafoo, and included a puppet lookalike for scenes in which Zoboomafoo talked. For the program, a sound stage was attached to an animal care building, where Jovian lived with his parents while the live portions of the show were being filmed.

Zoboomafoo ended production in 2001. Since then Jovian has enjoyed his retirement in a natural habitat enclosure at the Lemur Center.

The Duke Lemur Center, formerly the Duke University Primate Center, was established to explore the genetic foundations of primate behavior. Today researchers investigate a wide variety of disciplines including behavior, physiology, paleontology and conservation biology.

Visit: The Duke Lemur Center in Durham. Tour information is available on their website.

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St. John’s at Colonial Williamsboro in Vance County

The church in 1961. Image from N.C. State University Libraries.

The church in 1961. Image from N.C. State University Libraries.

On September 30, 1956, St. John’s Episcopal Church in Williamsboro was reconsecrated by the Right Reverend Edwin A. Penick, Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina, following the building’s careful restoration.

The Anglican church building, constructed in 1773, is one of only three intact Colonial era churches remaining in North Carolina and the only one of frame construction.

The simple but well-crafted rectangular gable-front building rests on a Flemish bond brick foundation, is sheathed in molded weatherboards and features a modillion cornice and tall 16-pane-over-16-pane double-hung sash windows that illuminate the bright interior characteristic of the auditory Anglican church model.

The interior has an arched ceiling, original gallery with turned posts and boxed pews.

Master carpenter John Lynch built the church according to specifications drawn up in 1771, but it took two years of sporadic effort to complete. It originally was named Nutbush Church and was consecrated as St. John’s in 1825.

The small town of Williamsboro sprang up around the building at the heart of the wealthy plantation community in what would become northern Vance County.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

“Old Hickory” Division Breaks Hindenburg Line

The actions of the Old Hickory Division around the Hiddenburg Line in September and October 1918. Image from the State Archives.

The actions of the Old Hickory Division around the Hidenburg Line in September and October 1918. Image from the State Archives.

On September 29, 1918, the 30th Infantry Division broke the Hindenburg Line, an important segment of the German defensive network on the Western Front during World War I. The action was part of a series of Allied assaults known as the Hundred Days Offensive, which led to the Armistice of November 1918.

The 30th Division was organized from National Guard regiments from North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, supplemented by volunteers and draftees from around the United States. It was nicknamed the “Old Hickory Division” because of the historic ties that all three states had  to Andrew Jackson.

The 60th Brigade of the 30th Division's Signal Headquarters near Premont, France, in October 1918. Image of State Archives.

The 60th Brigade of the 30th Division’s Signal Headquarters near Premont, France, in October 1918. Image of State Archives.

The Division was assigned to the Second Corps of the American Expeditionary Force, which in turn was detached and operated under the control of the British. During the attack on the Hindenburg Line, the Division was part of the British Fourth Army.

The 119th and 120th Infantry Regiments, originally North Carolina National Guard units, led the assault. The Germans opened fire and inflicted heavy casualties. The attack of the 119th made little progress, but the 120th captured the village of Bellicourt after heavy fighting, breaking the Hindenburg Line.

Later in the afternoon, the Australian Corps took over the assault and further exploited the initial breakthrough.

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For more about North Carolina’s history, arts, nature and culture, visit DNCR online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.