Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
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 >>

Modern changes come to Madison County

In a passage that reveals the emotional toll of development, Lela describes the changes that have taken place in Madison County as "unreal." She also remembers what appears to be the destruction by fire of J.D.'s parents' home.

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:
When you say, "developed," what do you think it's going to look like? What do you perceive that "developed" means?
LELA RIGSBY THOMAS:
Well, we heard they were going to sell lots and later on they might build houses on those lots.
J. D. THOMAS:
Similar to this, the environmental group and/or your Corps of Engineers—what feedback are you getting on this watershed in here now?
ROB AMBERG:
I don't know anything about that.
J. D. THOMAS:
Because you're not involved in it? You're down yonder and it has nothing to do with what we go through up here. Their ordinances up here and laws up here are ten times worse than they are in the lower end of the state. Our overall law, where the water flows elsewhere from here.
ROB AMBERG:
So they're really doing a lot of water monitoring over here?
J. D. THOMAS:
Yeah. It also cuts back and goes into Barnardsville, over that way.
ROB AMBERG:
I saw that's all the same watershed on this side of the mountain.
LELA RIGSBY THOMAS:
The neighbors complain about,"Oh, they're going to take this much land. They're going to take my land here, and they're going to take it there. They want to do this and do that." All these changes about what the land's going to be and stuff.
J. D. THOMAS:
No, I don't think anybody will really have a complaint on this road there, Rob, because first of all, they was going to build it down real low. As a matter of fact, the road would have been right over here at this bridge, right up through here. But according to your geologists and your surveyors and all like that, it wouldn't have been feasible. So they said, "We'll go up high on the account of pollution and what have you, where we can drain water. Where we can go ahead and take all the land and put it back in shape."
ROB AMBERG:
Does it disturb you? You were both raised right here and I know that you can remember back and see a different picture. How does it feel to see that the place that you were on all your life is changing this drastically?
LELA RIGSBY THOMAS:
It's just unreal. We used to walk over all those hills. We used to go after school and on the weekends, and we'd walk all the way to Big Knob. We'd play, and we'd go up in the fields and pick apples and grapes and all that stuff off the farm. It never even dawned on me that this was going to happen to that place.
ROB AMBERG:
Does it upset you that it did happen?
LELA RIGSBY THOMAS:
It did. It really did. At first it did. To see the house burnt down and his momma had to leave and all that stuff. It really did.
ROB AMBERG:
I was going to ask you. J.D., I've showed you that picture. I think I gave you a copy of that. Can you remember back that night when they did that? Was that a pretty tough thing to deal with?
J. D. THOMAS:
Well, Rob, you can date back in your life wherever your way of life was, and do you think of your family going in there—like as I stated—no house much over there. One little barn. And blessed be, we got in there and the neighbors come in, and we had to build two barns. And during the war, we had to build one little house. Brother-in-law married my older sister, wanted to live here on the farm and they built a house up for him. What gets me is this, though, not much as the road as right now seventy-five percent of all the beautiful fields is growing up into woods again.
LELA RIGSBY THOMAS:
He won't admit this, but I knew that night they burned the house I could see tears.
J. D. THOMAS:
Well now, you look. I was raised there.
LELA RIGSBY THOMAS:
It really hurt him, it really did.