Poignant Memories: Long-Time Residents Recall Southern Pines' Past
As each page of the calendar is flipped, and as each year passes, the memories of long-time Southern Pines citizens become more poignant. The town that was incorporated in 1887 has seen many changes, and its history has often been forgotten or even unknown to present-day residents. But there are still those who remember
Norris Hodgkins, affectionately called by many "Mr. Southern Pines," has lived here for seven decades. He is one of the town's most prominent citizens and, quoting from an article written about him that appeared in The Pilot in 2004, "From his earliest associations in Southern Pines, Hodgkins was concerned about everything from good government and job opportunities to heritage and the arts." Town Council member, mayor, member or chair of numerous boards of directors and committees, this "perfect gentleman" has memories and more to spare.
His father was president of the local bank in Southern Pines and, after college, Hodgkins came home to work for him in 1949. Unlike today, it was the only bank in town until 1962. Hodgkins recalls that banks were heavily regulated at that time with limits on both interest paid on deposits and interest charged on loans. Banks in small towns were close to their customers and loan losses were small. And, he adds that banking, even in Southern Pines, is very different these days.
The Southern Pines public schools, which Hodgkins attended through his high school graduation in 1943, were run by a local administrative unit separate from the county system, and they enjoyed a fine reputation, he says, with many students going on to college and doing well. The high school had only about 100 students. There was no football, and basketball was the big sport. He was a member of the team and also was in the band, and remembers leaving the team during the half to play tuba in the band during intermission.
Speaking about the industrial recruitment efforts that took place in the 1950s and 1960s, Hodgkins says it was an all-volunteer effort, "but we worked closely with professionals from the state. Our two biggest successes were Pride Trimble and Proctor Silex. While these two projects have had their ups and downs over the years, other companies have followed. The Smithson and Taws families have now been here for around 50 years and have contributed a great deal to our community."
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Felton Capel is another Southern Pines success story. An African-American, he lived through the bleak days of segregation while growing up. Starting out as a marketer for a large corporation that sold waterless cookware, he led the firm's international division in sales in his first year and became a Southeastern area sales director, before buying out the company with several associates.
In 1959, he had been elected to town council. Prior to that time, he was very active in community affairs. He and his wife, Jean, had three sons who were enrolled in school. At that time, all the schools were segregated, and his sons went to a black school.
The battle of school integration was beginning to take place in other parts of the South. For instance, rather than integrate its school system, Virginia had closed all their schools.
"Several of us tried to reason and talk with the leaders of some demonstrations that took place in Southern Pines, and asked them to give us a shot and let us work on the problem," says Capel. "Of course, we also had to talk with the people who served on the boards and commissions and the multiple boards of education."
Capel's suggestion was to build one high school to take care of the students of the three black high schools, and also to take care of all high school students in the southern part of the county. Through the efforts of some good people, and his friend, Voit Gilmore, who was a mayor of Southern Pines, they were able to convince county, local and school officials to put the subject on a referendum and, ultimately, Pinecrest High School was built.
"Voit Gilmore and I met with dozens of people. We even traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with the NAACP and to Atlanta to meet with Dr. Martin Luther King's people to learn how to avoid having some of the problems that other school districts faced, and, consequently, we were able to handle our situation peacefully."
Together, Voit Gilmore and Felton Capel integrated more than one public place by appearing together. Once they took their wives to a bowling alley, and no one said a word to them, as they bowled several strings. And, on several occasions, the two men golfed together at local courses.
"You could hear the caddies betting amongst themselves and just waiting to see if we were denied the right to play, but we never had a problem," says Capel.
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Mac Fowler is a Southern Pines native. His wife, Jan, has lived here since graduating from high school, although she visited her grandparents on their horse farm frequently in her growing-up years. The closeness of the community is one of their special memories.
Back then, everyone knew everybody else. When Mac was a youngster, U.S. 1 was routed through town on May Street, and carried all the trucks and traffic on the Florida to New York highway. In the beginning days of Sandhills Community College, which both he and Jan attended, the courses were taught at night over the stores in downtown Southern Pines.
Jan also can remember when she was a junior rider in the fox hunts which drew about 20 people, and marvels in recent years, there are about five times that number. Most of the larger parcels in horse country now have been broken up, she says, but thanks to the foresight of 'Pappy' Moss, who inherited the hounds from the Boyds, and his wife, Ginny, the woodland trails of the Walthour-Moss Foundation remain unspoiled.
In later years, Mac Fowler took over his father's electrical business, which he still runs, and Jan has operated Sandhills Feed Supply on Bennett Street. When she first started the business, she concentrated on selling horse feed, but what with the slim profit margin and too many overdue accounts, she has switched the focus of the business to lawn and garden items.
The two of them have shared a letter written in 1995 by Jan McDonald, Class of 1961 of Southern Pines High School, that was read at a class reunion. In it, Jan McDonald names the townspeople whom she remembers fondly from her high school days, and concludes by saying, "These were surrogate parents, band boosters, rooters at ball games. They bought our Girl Scout cookies, raffle tickets, came to our car washes They kept us safe from harm They were the movers and shakers and leaders, sturdy and steadfast. They chaperoned us, praised us, prayed for us, punished us and thank God, they did. They are the folks who molded our lives."
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