Just as I was finishing grad school, I got a contract to do a picture history about my hometown Winston-Salem. I knew nothing about writing a history book, but why should I let that stop me?
So off I went. Fortunately, there were many people out there willing to help a bumbling amateur. I created a lavish acknowledgment page for them, which somehow never made it into the book. That might be because just days from the printer’s deadline, the publisher decided to standardize the size of their local histories, which meant I had to cut almost a third of the content. I spent a weekend at a local history conference in Raleigh in my hotel room on the phone with my editor making decisions on what to keep and what to cut.
Thanks to a great man named Frank Jones, I had more than enough photographs. But one of the biggest problems was finding maps, especially early maps of the town of Winston. Supposedly, they simply did not exist.
At some point, someone showed me a sort of sketch map of Winston in 1867. It was only a brief glimpse. I was not allowed to copy or photograph it, but was promised that I would receive a copy at some later time. That never happened.
Fortunately, immediately thereafter, I recreated the map from memory. As the printer’s deadline approached, I sent my map to the publisher, with the understanding that it would be redone professionally by the designer, who eventually won an award for his work on my book. But it was too late. So my amateur map ended up being published in the book. (As always, click on the image for a readable version)
Looks pretty bad, doesn’t it? I, who had zero training in graphics, was embarrassed. But that was then and this is now. The idea was to depict a backwater county seat that would eventually rise above itself and become a vibrant 20th century city. Looking back after over 35 years, I think that that worked.
But I do find one serious mistake. The 1850s “Old Plank Road” just wasn’t where I said it was. The Green Berets at Fort Bragg had just done a survey of the Fayetteville & Western Plank Road from Fayetteville to Bethania. Their route agreed with what I put on my map.
But many years later, thanks to Rod Meyer, the ultimate guru of local historic roads, we now know the exact route of the Fayetteville & Western Plank Road through Forsyth County.
It pretty much followed old US 311 (Waughtown Street) down to Salem Creek. But the Moravians, realizing that the planks, unless well maintained, would deteriorate, refused to allow planks on their main street. So the planks ended at the Salem line and took up at the Winston line.
From there, the plank road continued up Main Street in Winston, turned left at Fourth Street, jogged north a bit at Cherry Street, continued westward to the future Spruce Street, jogged northward again to become the future Four and 1/2 street, thence to what is now Brookstown Avenue, down the hill to the current Hanes Park, thence out along the current Reynolda Road to the current Midkiff Road and on to Bethania. I will leave it to Rod to fill in the details.
Herein, my belated acknowledgment page, in no particular order. Done from memory, so somebody almost certainly gets left out:
John Fries Blair (who, much to his regret, was not the publisher, but an enormous help and adviser anyway), Joe Bradshaw (my walking encyclopedia of black history), George Black (my non-walking encyclopedia of black history and nearly everything else), Larry Tise, Bill East, Roy Thompson, Chester Davis Sr, Myrtle Hairston Stepp, John Tom Spach, Sam Dalton, Arthur Spaugh, Luther Lashmit, Elizabeth (Beth Tartan) Sparks, Charles and Laura Phillipps, Gwen Taylor, John Larson, Joe Goodman, Francis Griffin (read her marvelous history of the Salem Female Academy Less Time For Meddling), Ed Bouldin, Alan Willis, David Bailey, Miss Terrell Young (West End girl stories from the 1890s), Ed Hendrix, Dr. Frank Albright, Dr. Bob Pritchard (founder of the Bowman Gray School of Medicine history project), Robert Neilson (author of History of government, city of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the All-America City. 1766 – Bicentennial – 1966),
My favorite moments over the 18 month process occurred on two front porches:
One was on Cemetery Street, overlooking the Salem God’s Acre and Salem Cemetery, where Bob Neilson’s wife served cookies and lemonade of a quality that I have not had since, and Bob recited local history from memory.
The other was on Dellabrook Road, near Winston Lake Park, where George Black served his special brand of detailed memory. always laced with a wicked sense of humor.
Bob was a “you can look it up” kind of guy…he never said anything that he had not documented himself.
George was a “that’s what I remember” kind of guy…everything he said came from inside his own head.
Yet when I checked them out, they were both dead accurate on nearly everything.
My favorite moment of all:
Me: “George, in 1918 there was an incident that some have called a race riot, although it looks more to me like an attempted lynching gone awry…do you…?”
George: “Oh, honey, I can’t help you there. I heard one shot…went and locked the front door…turned off the lights…ain’t nobody home at the Black place!”
Followed by an understated laugh. Certainly there were no fools home at the Black place that night, or any other.