While looking for something else, I came across the above picture on Digital Forsyth. The caption, obviously citing an inscription on the picture, said that it was the funeral of J.C. Bixton at 1st Presbyterian Church and that nothing else was known about Mr. Bixton.
I immediately knew why nothing was known about Mr. Bixton, because his name was John Cameron Buxton. But there was still a problem, because I also knew that Mr. Buxton was a founding member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, yet the church in the picture is indeed 1st Presby. It is quite a story.
John Cameron Buxton was admitted to the NC Bar in 1875 in Asheville. He practiced law in the town of Winston for the next 35 years, sometimes solo and sometimes in partnership with John W. Alspaugh or Cyrus B. Watson.
He was very active in local affairs, especially politics, serving a term as mayor of Winston, and a term in the state legislature. But his most important role was as the godfather of culture.
The state legislature had passed a law giving municipalities the right to establish a tax to fund a local school district, but no one jumped on the bandwagon right away. By the early 1880s, however, the leaders in Winston were ready to move. Buxton volunteered to head up the project. The Winston Graded School opened in 1884. Its first principal, hand picked by Buxton, was Charles Duncan McIver, who would later found the State Normal and Industrial School for Women, now UNC-G. The Depot Street Colored School opened in 1887. Both the white and colored achools were considered to be the best of their kind in the South.
Twenty years later, when the community went in search of a Carnegie grant to build a public library, Buxton again stepped up and got the job done. A new city high school for white children followed in 1908. That school can be seen in the background of the above picture. The Carnegie Library was across the street to the right.
When Buxton died on April 25, 1917, two simple services were planned, one in his home and a second at St.Paul’s. But it quickly became apparent that the two venues could never accomodate the number of people who wanted to say a final good-bye to the city’s king of culture.
The funeral began on Sunday at Buxton’s home on Summit Street, now the home of St. Paul’s Episcopal. More than a hundred people jammed the house for the service conducted by the Reverend W.A. Cheatham, rector of St. Paul’s, and the Reverend J. Kenneth Pfohl of Home Moravian. In the yard were gathered, in a body, the members of Buxton’s fraternal organizations, the Odd Fellows, the Knights of Pythias, the Elks and the Eagles. Also in the yard were 200 or more children from the white schools, all holding flowers.
When the coffin was moved the four blocks to St. Paul’s, which then stood at the northwest corner of Fourth and Cherry Streets, the sidewalks were filled by citizens of the black community, including dozens of school children holding flowers.
While the service was held at St. Paul’s, conducted by Cheatham, Bishop Cheshire of Raleigh and Bishop Edward Rondthaler of the Moravian Church, Southern Province, an overflow service was held barely a block away at 1st Presbyterian. Dr. D. Clay Lilly, pastor of 1st Presbyterian, began the service. The Reverend Howard E. Rondthaler, president of Salem Academy and College, read the scripture lesson and led the group in prayer.
Then Mayor Oscar B. Eaton delivered an eulogy, followed by Eugene E. Gray, speaking on behalf of the legal fraternity. The assembled then sang “Nearer My God To Thee” whereupon a huge throng accompanied the casket the eight blocks to Salem Cemetery, where they were greeted by the Home Moravian Church band under the direction of Bernard J. Pfohl.
The Winston-Salem Journal estimated the crowd at 6,000. It is the biggest sendoff we know of in the city’s history.