Robbins Postcard to Raise Funds for Theater
BY JOHN CHAPPELL
A new postcard celebrating the long lineage of Robbins will help raise money to turn an old movie theater into a remodeled showplace.
Leslie Baldwin, who now lives in Vass, took pictures of a number of places residents around the northern Moore County town tend to remember. She picked six for the postcard.
There is the midtown water tank, the Methodist church, the old rock house, the mine where her godmother's family - the R.T. Vanderbilts - dig for pyrophyllite, the talc- like mineral their company has mined for generations.
It is the oldest continuously operating Robbins business, with nearly 100 years of proven reserves remaining.
The Vanderbilts' Standard Mineral Co. operates the mine and its plant on the railroad near the town reservoir, and paid the cost of printing these postcards. They are being sold as fundraisers to help the Robbins Village Theater Foundation. The nonprofit bought the old theater building with help from a private donor and a targeted grant of N.C. Rural Center funds.
Baldwin wanted people to know the town as more than home to a failed mill that now lies in ruins. Nobody knows exactly how far back early English settlers set up there, along this neck of the Bear Creek, or what they first called it. Some say the section was known as Hazel Neck back then.
The earliest regular name came from the 18th century, when gunsmiths at the Kennedy family's rifle works used water power from the creek's rushing stream to power gun barrel drills. About 100 of them worked there by 1799. They called the place Mechanics Hill back then, so that's the first name on the card.
When the railroad came through, an engineer mapped the village and filed the map at the county courthouse in Carthage as Elise - said to be the name of one of the Pennsylvania railroad owner's daughters. As Elise, it grew and prospered, a plank road ran through it from the Salisbury area down to Carthage, crossing the creeks, as did the rail line. Elise is the second old name on Baldwin's card.
The town incorporated, but word came that the post office - then a department of the federal government - would not accept the name Elise.
"They said they already had a town named Elsie, and the mail might get mixed up," the late John "Dink" Frye used to say. "They asked for a list of other names."
According to Frye's tale, a fellow sitting on a coil of rope at the hardware store suggested they put hemp on the list, and the post office department thought that first name was the preferred one. Elise became Hemp, which was the name until well into the days of World War II.
Karl Robbins had rescued the failing Pinehurst Silk Mills and brought it roaring to life. He built a ball park for the town out behind it and did other things. Folks wanted to know what Hemp could do for him. Somebody suggested naming the town in his honor (some say it was Robbins himself) and - after a vote of its residents, despite opposition that lingers to this day - that's what they did. The mill is long closed, but to this day the Robbins Family Foundation supports the area public library financially.
It has been Robbins since 1943, and that's what Baldwin says beneath the pictures on her postcard.
"Robbins is a town with plenty of authentic character," she said. "It's a friendly down-home place, where people still wave as they pass, even if they don't know you."
Baldwin is a horsewoman, but since coming to the Sandhills she has fallen in love with the hardwood-covered clay hills around Robbins. She's run in the cross-country races along trails blazed by Foothills Outdoors, and wanted to do something for Robbins.
Selling these postcards - the price has been set - will help the foundation raise money to meet new codes so it can open the Village Theater as a cultural, educational and entertainment attraction.
Contact John Chappell at (910) 783-5841 or jfchappell@ gmail.com.
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