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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with J. D. Thomas and Lela Rigsby Thomas, November 14, 2000. Interview K-0507. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Changes in Madison County, North Carolina

J.D. remembers when Madison County, the home of a new highway at the time of the interview, did not have any paved roads. He and Lela describe some of the changes that have come to their area since the early 1900s, including electrification.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with J. D. Thomas and Lela Rigsby Thomas, November 14, 2000. Interview K-0507. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ROB AMBERG:
On your farm, then, do you remember getting your first vehicle?
J. D. THOMAS:
My first vehicle?
ROB AMBERG:
On your place.
J. D. THOMAS:
First vehicle on the place? We was living up here, and I guess I was four years old. 1934. Dad had an old 1928 Chevrolet. To go to Marshall and come back, it took all day long on account of the roads. There wasn't any paved roads, and if it was rainy weather and the ruts was real deep, you'd break a tire; you'd break an axle or you'd break a towbar. Something like that.
ROB AMBERG:
So 23 wasn't paved either?
J. D. THOMAS:
No. 23 wasn't even built. I'll get back to that. I know I was only four years old, and I saw the French Broad River and that scared me to death! [Laughter]
ROB AMBERG:
You'd never seen anything that big?
J. D. THOMAS:
Never seen anything that big! I'd saw all of our creeks and streams. In 1937 they started working on Highway 23. Down here there was a road coming in from Asheville down to about the county line. The road a-going in to Yancey County was unpaved; the road a-going in to Tennessee was unpaved; the road a-going to Marshall and all points east, west, north and south were unpaved. 1937 they got this road going through here, and in 1939 they opened highway between Tennessee going into Asheville. 1941 we got our first electricity in here.
ROB AMBERG:
You remember being without electricity?
LELA RIGSBY THOMAS:
Oh, I used to study by an oil lamp. Yes, and we had battery-powered radios. No TVs, no nothing. My daughter says, "Mother, well what did you do? How did you survive?" I said, "Well, Kim, that's all I knew!" I had to find ways to entertain myself. I had a battery-powered radio and oil kerosene lamps, and wood stoves to heat by and cook with.
ROB AMBERG:
Did you all ever heat with coal at any time?
LELA RIGSBY THOMAS:
Just wood.
J. D. THOMAS:
No, not really, because most all the farmers and all the boys—when they got most all of the fall crops in and all like that, before snow started coming in about Thanksgiving along to Christmas all families had to set aside two weeks to go to the mountains, saw the trees down, take their sleds team down the rocks, what have you, to get the wood in and get that laid in right next to the house or the wood shed, if they had a wood shed. All these out buildings. Most all of the families at that time, like one big house today that will cover everything—the families in those days had they an out-building for each thing. They had a hog pen. They had a chicken house. They had a barn for the cattle. They had a hay barn. They had a blacksmith place. Corn cribs and all like that, whereas today it's all combined in one.
ROB AMBERG:
And probably a tobacco barn, too?
J. D. THOMAS:
Yeah, tobacco barn. Right.
ROB AMBERG:
So 23 didn't even exist, then, until '37?
J. D. THOMAS:
'39 they finally opened it up.
ROB AMBERG:
How did you get into Marshall? What route did you take?
J. D. THOMAS:
They were old roads that mostly was made, Rob, in I'd say the early 1900s— well, even earlier than that. I'd go back to say 18 and 50 [1850] up to 1900 when they was in here. The reason it's called California Creek, some people was coming from down east and got over this far. They thought they was in California. So that's how California Creek got its name. And most of them was roads—trails—that the pioneers had used coming in here. So we would leave right here, you would go down, you would ford one, two, three creeks. Then you would go on down to California Creek, following the old ox-cart or the old horse and wagon trails on down lower California Creek. After you got down towards lower California Creek Ivy, you turned and went across what is known as the John White Hill. They had a dirt road out through there. Mars Hill at that time, no pavement there. It had board sidewalks. Then you headed down toward [unclear] Creek and Bull Creek, Hayses Run, Halewood and all those points. I don't know, ride it out dirt roads you got down to Marshall. Now, I do believe at that time in the 30s—the road from Asheville to Marshall—I believe they paved that road roughly in 1920s or 1916, Rob.
ROB AMBERG:
So that would have been the old [Highway] 25-70?
J. D. THOMAS:
25-70 into Marshall, yeah, because they had the railroad tracks. That was another amazing thing to see all those coal-fired engines pulling those big long trains through all that. And also looking at pulling in the passenger trains like that. It was a real experience.