As always, click on the pics for larger size.

This is what started it…a picture left anonymously on a desk at the local newspaper…it didn’t look right, because no one living has ever seen that view…so it must be Photoshopped…right?

On October 25, 1728, William Byrd II stood at the end of the newly surveyed dividing line between North Carolina and Virginia and gazed southward into what would become Surry County, NC. Behind him to the north and west and southwest was the solid wall of the Blue Ridge Mountains. But what he saw before him were two bizarre and lonely mountains jutting up independently from the rolling foothills of the western Piedmont. He later described them in his “History of the Dividing Line”:

“One of the Southern Mountains was so vastly high, it seem’d to hide its head in the Clouds, and the West End of it terminated in a horrible Precipice, that we call’d the Despairing Lovers Leap. The Next to it, towards the East, was lower, except at one End, where it heaved itself up in the form of a vast Stack of Chimnys.”

The “Despairing Lover’s Leap” was Moore’s Knob in the Sauratown Mountains; the “Stack of Chimnys” was the Big Pinnacle at Pilot Mountain.

William Byrd’s 1728 sketch map shows the “Despairing Lover’s Leap” in Carolina land…

In the beginning…

Once upon a long time ago what is now the western Piedmont of North Carolina was covered by a shallow sea called Iepetus, lapping at the base of the world’s oldest mountain range, the Appalachians. The sea was named for the father of Atlantis. Hundreds of millions years ago, a significant amount of volcanic activity occurred on the floor of Iepetus to the east, creating a string of islands, primarily today’s Uwharrie Mountains (now Morrow Mountain State Park), the Sauratowns and Pilot Mountain. Afterward, they were modified a good bit by seismic activity in the area, then further modified by eons of erosion.

One result was the creation of several monadnocks, which are isolated remains of the early island chain, often composed of quartzite, as is Pilot Mountain, strongly resistant to erosion.

Pilot Mountain interacts with people, the early years…

For thousands of years, the earliest settlers of the western Piedmont in North Carolina were intimately familiar with Pilot Mountain. It sat at a junction of two ancient trading paths, the east – west one roughly following today’s NC highway 268, the north – south one roughly following today’s US 52.

The local Saura Indians called it Jomeokee, which apparently translates to “the Great Guide” or “the Pilot”, a traveler’s signpost. The first mention of the Pilot by Europeans came from William Byrd II in his diary of the surveying of the North Carolina – Virginia border in 1728.

On November 7, 1753, as the first Moravian settlers from Pennsylvania made the arduous trek to their new home “der Wachau”, they were encouraged by a brief sighting made from a little hill in Virginia: “We saw the Pilot Mountain in North Carolina, and rejoiced to think that we would soon see the boundary of North Carolina, and set foot in our own dear land.”

The Fry-Jefferson map was surveyed in 1749 by Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson’s father, and created in 1751. It was published in London in 1755, with late additions, by John Jeffreys

The 1755 Fry – Jefferson map shows the first depiction of Pilot Mountain and the Sauratown range. It is inaccurate, but instructive. Early European settlers called it “Mt. Ararat”, after the Biblical flood story, or simply “The Stonehead”.

The early Moravian settlers made frequent trips to the Pilot to obtain essential elements for their settlement, one being whetstones for sharpening tools:

“The Brn. Ettwein and Gammern returned toward evening. They had climbed the rock of the Pilot, which is a very wonderful creation, reckoned to be more than 200 ft. high and more than 500 yards around, composed of the best whet-stone sand-stone. From the top, one sees the Brushy Mountains and the Blue Mountains and a high range beyond the New River…”

The Pilot was also a source of protein:

“A man brought a young bear which he had shot, and we bought it for 15 shillings. It weighed 130 pounds, of which 24 pounds were fat; not counting the fat, the meat cost about one half-penny per pound.”


“Jacob van der Merk has gone bear hunting. There are many bears this year in the Hollow (Mt. Airy area) and about the Pilot Mountain.”

But we can surmise that at least a part of every trip included the sheer joy of the adventure and the fabulous views. That is confirmed by the the many non-essential trips to the mountain during the next century.

In 1796, Andre Matthis purchased the mountain and some of the surrounding land. Over the next few decades, his heirs added to the holdings. By the 1850s, one of those heirs, H.T. Gillam, had established an inn near the base of the mountain and was operating a tourist business. If you spent the night at his inn, you got a free tour of the summit. Day trippers were charged an admission fee.

The first known depiction of Pilot Mountain to appear in a newspaper, engraving from the “Weekly Chronicle and Farmer’s Register”, Salem, NC, Saturday, June 18, 1836

Pilot Mountain and the Civil War…

In February, 1861, the state of North Carolina held a referendum. Voters would decide two issues. First, should North Carolina call a convention to decide whether to secede from the United States of America? And if so, who should represent each voting district at such a convention?

The final tally was announced on March 10. Tarheel citizens had voted by a narrow margin of 661 votes NOT to hold a secession convention. And they had elected representatives, should such a convention be held, who would have voted 74-46 against secession. Even so, most people realized that if a convention were called, the secessionists, driven by hysteria, would manage to find a way to win the vote, so the convention vote itself was more important.

Eastern slaveholding counties voted overwhelmingly to call a convention. Western counties, where there were far fewer slaves, voted even more overwhelmingly NOT to call a convention. The vote in some Triad area counties:

Stokes 890-204 NO CONVENTION
Davidson 1,806-366 NO CONVENTION
Forsyth 1,409-286 NO CONVENTION
Surry 1,136-207 NO CONVENTION

Unfortunately, just a few weeks later, the wisdom of NC citizens would be overwhelmed by events and the worst disaster in the history of the United States of America would be underway. Right from the start there was zero chance that the Confederacy would succeed. And in the end, it would be those who opposed the disaster who paid the highest price.

Once the war began, the western Piedmont of North Carolina became the focus of dissent against the foolishness. As the Confederate desertion rate climbed geometrically, Wilkes, Yadkin, Surry and Forsyth Counties became havens for those refusing to fight. Ashe County, to the west of Wilkes, endured its own mini-Civil War, with pitched battles between Union and Confederate supporters.

Ironically, one of the last operations of the Civil War would be aimed at the most reluctant supporters of the secession movement. In late March, 1865, the 6,000 man Cavalry Division of the District of East Tennessee, under the command of six foot, four inch Major General George Stoneman, left Mossy Creek, Tennessee, crossed the North Carolina line onto the turnpike leading to Watauga and began a campaign aimed at destroying the last remnants of Confederate war making power and the last remnants of civilian support for the Confederacy in northwestern North Carolina and southwestern Virginia.

General George Stoneman

The portion of Stoneman’s raid that affected the western Piedmont in general and Surry County in particular was under the command of Colonel William J. Palmer, a Quaker and Mason from Pennsylvania. Leaving Boone and traveling to Elkin via Wilkesboro, Colonel Palmer’s men were delighted to discover, on All Fools’ Day, the Elkin Manufacturing Company, a cotton mill that had been in operation since the 1840s.

The Elkin Manufacturing Company, on Elkin Creek, began as a grist mill (left), in the early 1840s. By 1847, they had added a cotton mill (right). If you look closely at the image, you can see that the employees of the cotton mill , most of them young women, are posing in the windows.

Almost out of rations, there they found plentiful supplies of bacon, flour, butter, honey, molasses, chestnuts and tobacco. But the real find was that most of the mill’s 60 or so employees were single women, who gave them “quite a reception”. Mass flirtation broke out. Part of Stoneman’s orders was to destroy any Confederate manufacturing facilities, but because of the hospitality extended by the young women, the Elkin Manufacturing Company was spared.

But the next morning the troops reluctantly departed for Rockford, the former county seat. There a detail was left as a rear guard while the main body struck out for Dobson, the current county seat. A small detachment was sent eastward to investigate Siloam, near where the Ararat River flowed into the Yadkin.

That led to the only violence in Surry. It seems that Lieutenant Colonel William Luffman of Georgia was recuperating from wounds at the home of his friend, Major R.E. Reeves of Siloam. Early on the morning of April 2, while having a bath, Colonel Luffman happened to look outside and spied a group of Union soldiers approaching.

Lieutenant Colonel William Luffman

“Great heavens, Major, the Yankees are upon us!” he cried. He grabbed his rifle and dashed outside, only to find his own horse standing there with a Union trooper in the saddle. Ordered to surrender, he instead fired, killing the officer. The Union troops returned fire. Either they were poor shots or their hearts weren’t in it, because the two Confederate officers were able to scuttle out the back door, dash down to the river and submerge themselves, with only their noses above water, in the Yadkin. Two other Union soldiers were severely wounded in the exchange.

Unable to find them, the Union troopers tried to burn the house, scraping embers out of the fireplace onto the floor. But the Major’s 71 year old mother, Elizabeth Early Reeves, a cousin of Confederate general Jubal Early, scooped them up and tossed them back into the fireplace. She begged them not to burn her home and they gave in when she promised to give their fallen comrade a dignified burial. His final resting place is atop a nearby hillside.

The detachment then moved out to join the main force in Mt. Airy, and the following day, April 3, left Surry County and North Carolina for Hillsville, Virginia. The night before, Jefferson Davis and his cabinet had fled the city of Richmond, followed closely by the army. On April 3, Federal troops took possession of the city. The next day, president Lincoln visited the ruins. And five days later Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox.

The Pilot in the latter 19th and early 20th century…

After the war, the residents of the Pilot Mountain area were busy trying to survive. Much of the mountainside had been developed as farmland and more was added in the next fifty years. At some point a tradition developed in which the locals set fire to the mountain every year around Easter to clear vines and young trees for planting. That continued into the 1930s.

But the Pilot remained a major attraction for almost everyone. It would appear that every girl who attended the Salem Female Academy made at least one trip there.



All area newspapers promoted the Pilot…this from the Salem People’s Press, 1879


Daring young men and women could not wait to scramble up the spindly ladders…as in this 1889 scene…


The Pilot was so popular that well known Winston hardware man S.E. Allen could not resist making it a part of his advertising


Six local boys try to impress their out-of-town girlfriends, with Jim Robinson, editor of the Winston Leader, the most creative writer of the 1870s in the Twin City, reporting.

In 1887, the Cape Fear & Yadkin Valley Railway completed its Yadkin section with depots in Mt. Airy, Ararat, Pinnacle and Dalton. When the Dalton station opened, there was a huge celebration in the streets, lit by bonfires on top of the Pilot. The new depot in the town of Pilot Mountain ignited the local economy. By the early 1990s, the town had nine tobacco factories, overshadowed in the area only by the 33 in Winston.

Main Street in Pilot Mountain


Pilot Mountain’s Depot Street gave a close-up view of the Pilot from the north


A Cape Fear & Yadkin Valley excursion train pauses for the view

Pilot Mountain excursions had always been time limited by the speed of buggies. But the new railroad provided a connection via the Roanoke & Southern line out of Winston that made Pilot trips a simple day affair.

Forsyth County Public Library Picture Collection


That peaceful group in the buggy came armed…people often took firearms to the pilot, citing fear of bears and rattlesnakes, but mostly just did target shooting…Forsyth County Public Library Picture Collection


Forsyth County Public Library Picture Collection


In February of 1895, the Western Sentinel in Winston made this report…no one was injured…we have not heard the like since…

The Gibson Girl shirtwaists tell us that this picture was taken around 1900

By the late 1890s, the Matthis / Gillam empire had grown to cover much of the area on and around the Pilot. And a multitude of heirs had scattered across the USA. Many wanted to get their share of the wealth. When negotiations failed, a lawsuit was brought in 1897. It would drag on for almost two decades. Finally, in late 1914, a court ruled that the property must all be sold at auction, with the heirs sharing in the proceeds.

The sale made headlines around the area and even the nation. Although the ad made it appear that the property would be auctioned in subdivided lots, on November 9, 1915 the entirety was bid out by Max C. Butner of Pinnacle for $26,500. When asked by reporters, he would only say that he represented a syndicate of Winston-Salem businessmen, who planned to sell the land off as farm tracts. Nobody really believed that. Some editorials suggested that the Pilot might become a major resort, with a grand hotel and other amenities, such as swimming pools, ballrooms and the like, as found in other areas of the country. The swimming pool got built, but none of the other ever happened.

Exploitation of the Pilot continued for another forty years. But nobody ever got rich off it. That did not discourage some from trying.

1925 postcard


Pilot Mountain becomes a state park…

By the 1950s, thoughtful people had realized that the Pilot needed to become a state park, available to all citizens. There is no need here to go into the complicated maneuvering required to create a state park. The original 1970 Master Plan for Pilot Mountain State Park contains all the relevant information, including the names of those who made it happen and detailed information about the geology and other natural features. You can view that here by clicking on the picture below:


In 1967, needing to raise over $300,000 (more than$2 million in 2017 dollars) to attract matching grants to establish the state park, the organizers held a huge event, complete with fireworks atop the mountain. Before the night was over they had far more money than they needed. Forsyth County Public Library Picture Collection

Pilot Mountain today…

Most of the best pictures taken on the Pilot are taken from the overlook on top of the Little Pinnacle


The Little Pinnacle today…

The easiest way to enjoy the work of the many who made Pilot Mountain State Park happen is to drive US 52 to the entrance, find a parking place and get moving. But if you want to have more fun, I have a suggestion. From anywhere south of the park, drive to Winston-Salem…take NC highway 67 (Reynolda Road) west to just shy of the Yadkin River…turn north on Donnaha Road, then left on Spainhour Mill Road. In about half a mile, you will reach the Little Yadkin River, with the ruins of the old Spainhour Mill on your left.

Continue for another mile or so to Hauser Road. There you have two choices:

1. Turn left on Hauser Road and follow the signs to the Yadkin River section of the Pilot Mountain State Park. If you do that, forget the actual Pilot Peak for that day, but you will find much to entertain you for hours in the river section.

2. Continue on Spainhour Mill Road which will become Perch Road, a twisty piece of devilment which will soon have you playing hide and seek with views of Pilot Mountain until you reach the US 52 interchange, where you can turn northward to the entrance to the mountain section.

Either way, you will want to try this route again soon. Guaranteed.

The routes to the summit of the Pilot were mostly on the north side, toward Mt. Airy. If you walk the trail around the Big Pinnacle, you will see why. This is the only image we could find where you can actually see the last set of stairs, which many of us remember from our childhoods. They were removed shortly after the Pilot became a state park. It is interesting to note that newspapers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries often warned that the route to the summit was probably too strenuous for “the fair sex”, yet most of the pictures from that time show more women than men. Certainly, hundreds of Salem Female Academy students and their teachers, mostly Single Sisters, climbed the knob.

Back to that cannon…

Photoshopped? Not really…

But what about the cannon picture? We know that no Union troops were ever near Pilot Mountain. So whose cannon is that? My wild guess: The local Home Guard heard that Stoneman was on his way. Of course, they had no idea what they were up against, so they decided to watch and defend the two main north-south roads, one the current US 601 that connects Dobson with Mt. Airy, the other the current US 52, connecting Winston-Salem and Mt. Airy. If you look at the picture, you can see that the road at the bottom of the hill roughly corresponds with US 52. So the Home Guard went out there with what looks like a six pounder mountain cannon, determined to take on Stoneman’s 6,000 cavalrymen. Fortunately for them, Stoneman’s troops never came. The war soon ended. We have no way of dating the picture. The cannon may have remained there for years, even decades. But the picture is as real as all the horrors of war. At least we can rest easy that the mule down below was never really in danger.

A 3 minute movie of the Pilot, 1942:


As always, click on the pic for full size…

In the beginning

From the start, for thousands of years, public entertainment has been a part of human existence. For all but the last couple of hundred years, that was mostly done outdoors. In the early American South, public entertainment centered on the village green or the courthouse square. In slavery days, white folks, free blacks and slaves all both participated in and spectated at such events. There was always a clear division among the spectators by race, but all were welcome. When weather dictated, events moved indoors to warehouses or other large buildings. There was never any question that black spectators were welcome, as long as the racial divide, often marginal, was maintained.

Brown’s Opera House at Fourth and Main…Forsyth County Public Library Picture Collection

In 1880, the town of Winston, NC got its first dedicated indoor entertainment venue, Brown’s Opera House, on Fourth Street across from the county courthouse. Brown’s seated about 600, but there was a separate gallery for black citizens. And that gallery was usually the first to fill up, whether the show was a lecture, a famous opera singer, a touring Shakespeare company or Blind Tom, the most popular American music act of the latter 19th century.

See: Blind Tom in the Twin City

The movies

In the late 19th century, a number of people in various parts of the world introduced the concept of motion pictures. In 1903, the Winston Elks Club built a headquarters on Liberty Street at the corner of Fifth that incorporated an auditorium especially adapted for stage productions, including drops with a collection of generic stage backgrounds and was considered the finest theater between Washington, DC and Atlanta. It had a balcony with a separate entrance set aside for black patrons. It would not be equipped for movies until several years later.

The Elks’ Auditorium opened on September 24, 1903 with a vaudeville show put on by the local Elks. It drew a standing room only crowd of over 1,300 and brought in $1,100, more than enough to pay for the seats and interior fixtures of the $35,000 building. A second showing was given the next night at half price to accommodate those who had not been able to get in the night before. The gallery for black patrons was accessed by the side door on Fifth Street, which had a separate lobby with stairs on both sides leading to the third level. It had nine rows of seats, the first three reserved at a premium price, and seated 450, a bit over a third of the total capacity of 1,225.

But as the idea of “movies” gained ground, a number of motion picture theaters opened in the Twin City, only one of which, The Liberty, had accommodations for black audiences. By 1912, there were four such venues in Winston, as there were in other similar sized southern cities. But Winston was a bit different, because from the start in 1875, R.J. Reynolds had employed a large number of black workers and Winston-Salem had a flourishing black community who could afford leisure time pleasures.

The only picture we have of the Rex comes from a 1912 newspaper ad…this image is significantly enlarged and Photoshopped for as much clarity as possible…

So that year, a group of local black businessmen, including Clarence and Edward Dorrity, opened the Rex Theater at 104 East Fourth Street in the vibrant black business district between Third, Fourth, Church and Chestnut Streets. The Rex was an instant success, so in 1916, the Dunbars, of Charlotte, who already operated a number of theaters for black patrons in other cities, opened the Dunbar Theater on Depot Street (Patterson) at Sixth in a building owned by Bishop Linwood W. Kyle of the AME Zion Church.

The Whitman Sisters, considered the royalty of vaudeville, frequently appeared at the Dunbar


One of the first attractions at the Lafayette Theater was the world famous all black Alabama Minstrels, whose show included a hot rhythm band, chorus dancers, comedy sketches, acrobats, animal acts and sometimes sideshows. The headliners were “black pearls,” covered in rhinestones and bugle beads, who closed the show shouting the blues—Ma Rainey and her protégé Bessie Smith.

Both theaters did well, so in 1919, William S. Scales and others opened a second theater in the 100 block of East Fourth, just two doors down from the Rex. That theater was known as the Lafayette. Few southern cities had even one theater for black patrons. Durham had two. But by early 1921, all three local theaters were thriving.

Hollywood comes calling

The early days of movie theaters were much more about vaudeville acts than movies, for the simple reason that only a handful of true feature movies were released each year in the US. The competition among theaters for those features was fierce. Most theaters were left with numerous short films, which showed a few minutes of water flowing over Niagara Falls, or some street scenes of Paris, or the latest dog and pony act. Black theaters were especially at a disadvantage, since the top pictures went to the highest bidder, almost always white theater owners.

At the time, the Orpheum group, which owned many theaters in major cities, dominated the booking of new features east of the Mississippi. Scales joined a new organization, the Theater Owners Booking Agency and soon became an officer of TOBA, but the group was dominated by white theater owners and soon became known as “Tough on Black Artists.”

William S. Scales, taken from a bad microfilm image and enhanced…Scales was an entrepreneur, operating cafes, billiard parlors, manufacturing plants, a funeral home, a bank and, of course, theaters.

Then, someone noticed that black audiences had a stronger response to movies that depicted successful black people, real or fictional. And so, the “race picture” was born, targeted specifically at black theaters and their audiences.

Oscar Devereaux Micheaux

A number of people scrambled to cash in on the new idea. By far the most successful was Oscar Devereaux Micheaux, a black novelist and film director director and producer based in Chicago. His first film, “The Homesteader”, derived from one of his novels, was released in 1918 with considerable success. It told the story of a black family’s triumph over racism and and economic hardship on a farm in the Midwest. Michaeux would eventually write, direct and produce 44 films in the silent and early talky eras.

In the spring of 1921, three white men in Winston-Salem decided to join the “race picture” parade. They formed the North State Film Company. William Scales was not an official member of the group, but he played an important part in their planning. In late April, people traveling the Winston – Bethania Road (now Reynolda) noticed some strange activity along Mill Creek near where the Yadkinville Road branched off from the Bethania Road. Someone was building “teepees” along the creek bottom. Eventually a local reporter tracked down the perpetrators, who turned out to be the North State Film folks.

Apparently, someone had second thoughts about releasing a lion in the Old Town area. The picture was never made. But North State had already contracted with another “race picture” pioneer, Ben Strasser of New York. He brought a professional crew down from the Big Apple, and in May, 1921, began filming a new fiction film “A Giant of His Race”, with a production budget of $50,000. All of the characters in the movie except for the half dozen big stars, were local people, mostly black. Most of the exteriors and interiors were shot at the home of industrialist and attorney Lindsay Patterson on Patterson Avenue, a few blocks north of Liberty Street.

A Giant of His Race” had its world premier over a three day period beginning August 28, 1921 at the Lafayette Theater in Winston-Salem. It then moved to the famous Lincoln Theater in Chicago for its second premier, then on to Harlem for a long run. It showed in other theaters across the country and received generally excellent criticism.

from Within Our Gates: Ethnicity in American Feature Films, 1911-1960
Alan Gevinson – 1997


Princess Theatre, Vicksburg, Mississippi, December, 1921

But it appears that only one print of the film was made. Today, it is on the missing in action list, thought to be lost forever.

Billboard comes to town

In the early 20th century, Billboard devoted a page each week to the black entertainment business. It was known as “J.A. Jackson’s Page: In the Interest of the Colored Actor, Actress and Musician of America”. Jackson referred to both the page and himself as “The Page”. In late October 1921 he traveled to Winston-Salem to check out the North State Film Company, the Piedmont Colored Fair and the local black theaters and entertainers.

Jackson enjoyed a tour of a Reynolds tobacco factory and the Reynolda estate. He noted that the population of the city was almost 50% black and mentioned that black citizens owned and operated an insurance company, two banks, a building and loan company, a number of commercial buildings and two of the three black theaters. Although the fair, a statewide organization directed mostly by local people, was quite a production, second in size in the Carolinas only to the NC state fair in Raleigh, Jackson was dazzled by the lively local theater and entertainment scene.

Click to read

He gave detailed information about the staffs of the three theaters, singling out William S. Scales, the owner of the Lafayette and also a director of the fair and treasurer of TOBA. He also mentioned that the famous Japanese cameraman H.G. Uyama was in town and filmed him (Jackson), Scales and black actor Luke Scott for a Monumental Pictures Corporation short. Unfortunately, that film too has long since gone missing.

He listed the three local black brass bands:

Odd Fellows Band – I. Greer, leader

Gold Leaf Cornet Band – Professor Branchfield

Freddie Pratt’s All-Star Band

The Gold Leaf band had been performing since the 1870s and was popular all over the mid-Atlantic region.

Pratt’s Palace Hotel was the primary destination for traveling acts visiting the Twin City…it was located in the 700 block of Depot/Patterson, near the well known 700 Club, a popular speakeasy…

And Jackson mentioned a number of local acts that had fame well outside the area, including concert singer Maude O’Kelly, who had a wide regional following and whose husband Jackson was the projectionist at the Dunbar Theater. An array of other local talent’s names are listed in the accompanying Billboard image above.

The Land of Lincoln

Barely two months after Jackson’s visit, in January 1922, the Dunbar closed its doors forever, unable to compete with the two other theaters. One theater history source tells us that the North State Film Company made four more feature films: “A Shot in the Night” 1922, “The Devil’s Match”, “His Great Chance” and “His Last Chance”, all in 1923. But that is apparently mistaken, because just two months after the Dunbar closed, on March 20, 1922, North State petitioned the NC secretary of state to dissolve the corporation, which was done. They probably succumbed to the still intense effects of the 1921 depression. Since all four of the named films were made by Ben Strasser, the historian probably assumed that they too had been made by North State. At any rate, they have also vanished from the earth.

But something new was on the horizon, a new theater in a new building just around the corner from the Lafayette and the Rex. And, of course, William Scales was behind it. The business was incorporated on August 28, 1923. On April 21, 1924, the Lincoln Theater opened in a brand new building at 311 North Church Street. The Winston-Salem Journal described it as one of the finest theaters in the South, white or black. The manager was Abe Long, well known in the theater business both locally and regionally and former manager of the Rex. He would manage the Lincoln for many years, along with, after 1929, the balcony for black customers at the Carolina Theater. But he would be outshone in fame by his two brothers, Walter and Sylvester. Look for the saga of the Long Brothers, coming soon to this blog.

Abe Long began working as the janitor at the North Winston Graded School around 1900. But he was soon up to his neck in the theater management business at the Rex, the Lincoln and the Carolina.

The Lincoln opened with a week-long run by the Burinos, a slack-wire act featuring toe dancer Marie Burino, and the Kennedy Children, a song and dance show featuring Imogene Kennedy. A fifteen foot tall man roamed the streets urging customers to visit the new venue. The Lincoln was an instant success. The new three story building began filling up with other businesses, with doctors, dentists, lawyers, insurance offices and such on the upper floors, while a fruit stand and a barber shop occupied the spaces flanking the theater entrance. The Lincoln Barber Shop, initially under C. W. Williams, would become a local institution. In the first week of June, Madame Graves opened her beauty parlor at the front of the second floor, advertising the latest modern equipment and six years of training and experience. At its peak, the Lincoln building would boast three beauty parlors. In the basement was the Tuxedo Club, where rumor had it that a thirsty citizen might get a Manhattan or a cold beer, even during prohibition.

Winston-Salem Journal, April 14, 1928

The Lincoln had an immediate effect on the competition. The Rex closed in early 1925. And the Layfayette a year later. But the New Rex opened in the same spot on April 14, 1928 with new management, including E.B. Johnson up front, Annie Perry Riviera in the box office and Jack Kelly in the projection booth. The New Rex would survive for three years until beaten by the Great Depression. But the Lafayette would remain dark for a decade.

A comeback, decades of joy, and the end…

But in 1936, with FDR’s New Deal working to ease the depression, William Scales again saw an opportunity. He went to work remodeling the old Lafayette, which reopened on January 13, 1937 with the spicy movie “Palm Springs”. As the star of the show, Frances Langford said “I don’t want to make history…I just want to make love.” The Lafayette would never again be a first run movie house.

East Fourth and Church in the 1950s…by then the Rex was closed…identified for location only…it had become the Rex billiards and cafe…

Under the management of “Slim” Moseby in the 1940s and Jasper Jones in the 1950s, it offered westerns and action pictures, along with newsreels and serials, or “chapter pictures”. On Saturday mornings the kids got in for 9¢ to see a double feature, cartoons, an endless serial and news of the day for children. That formula kept the theater operating at a reasonable profit until integration and urban renewal arrived in the early 1960s. In 1965, the Lafayette closed for “remodeling”. It never reopened. The next year, the mighty Lincoln closed as well. A few years later, the entire block was demolished and replaced by the Phillips Building, today the home of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Department. But many still alive remember joyous hours spent at both the Lafayette and the Lincoln.

Lincoln interior, early 1960s


Lincoln, early 1960s…Blanche Brown is in command of the ticket booth…William H. Tapp was the last manager…

Fresh from the Digital North Carolina Blog 

World War II era Winston-Salem city directories now online


Hill's Winston-Salem City (Forsyth County, N.C.) Directory [1945], page 5

Forsyth County Public Library has provided four more city directories documenting Winston Salem and the surrounding area. These directories cover 1940-1945, adding to the set that was previously available. The large volumes can be extremely useful for many types of researchers because they are full-text searchable. City directories offer a wealth of information about property rights, business ownership, and local economic history.You can view all of the newly available city directories at the links below:

To view more city directories from the Forsyth County Public Library and browse all of their collections available on DigitalNC, please visit the contributor page. To learn more about the library and the services that it offers, please visit the website.

As always, click on the pic for full size…


Wayne (April 1, 1910) and Lawrence (September 8, 1914) Staley were the second and third born sons of Rowan and Roxie Mathis Staley. Around 1932, they began operating a gas station in Roaring River, NC, just a few miles down the road from Junior Johnson’s home near Ronda. Soon it was a busy drive-in restaurant known as the Friendly Cafe. In September, 1935, Wayne moved to Forsyth County and, in partnership with his hometown friend Arville Blackburn, opened a drive-in cafe and Shell gas station on state highway 60 (Reynolda Road), about six miles west of Winston-Salem. Lawrence stayed behind to run the Friendly Cafe. In March, 1937, Lawrence sold the Roaring River establishment to a neighboring businessman, Grover Longbottom, and moved to Winston-Salem and took over the Reynolda Road cafe.



Staley & Blackburn, on Reynolda Road, c 1935. The information pasted onto the picture at lower left is incorrect.

Staley & Blackburn, on Reynolda Road, c 1935. The sign in the window at right clearly states “Staley & Blackburn”. The information pasted onto the picture at lower left is incorrect. Forsyth County Public Library Picture Collection.


This item, which appears in the Wilke Journal-Patriot, September 12, 1935, clearly establishes the date of the Staley/Bllackburn partnership and the move to Winston-Salem. The Wilkes Journal-Patriot is stilled published as a weekly. The NC Room is a subscriber. Still one of our better area newspapers.

This item, which appears in the Wilkes Journal-Patriot, September 12, 1935, clearly establishes the date of the Staley/Blackburn partnership and the move to Winston-Salem. The Wilkes Journal-Patriot is still published as a weekly. The NC Room is a subscriber…still one of our better area newspapers.

Wayne soon joined the Merchant Marine, where he served as a cook. After World War II, he often worked on commercial vessels, traveling to Europe, Asia and Central and South America. Lawrence had built a large house on Reynolda Road where he lived with his mother Maxie. Between voyages, Wayne usually came to Winston-Salem and helped out with the restaurants. He died at Butner in 1967 of a heart attack while battling amphetamine and barbiturate addiction, a problem common to seagoing folks.

By the early 1950s, the original Reynolda Road Staley's had evolved into a full-fledged drive-in. One of Lawrence's early Cadillacs is at the right.

By the early 1950s, the original Reynolda Road Staley’s had evolved into a full-fledged drive-in. One of Lawrence’s first Cadillacs is at the right.

During World War II, Lawrence served in the Fourth Service Command Military Police, attaining the rank of sergeant. He worked as a town patrolman, as a traffic control officer and as a train safety officer, his last detail being the train run between Columbia, SC and Miami.

Sgt. Lawrence Staley receives a plaque on behalf of the Fourth Command MPs from David A. Crawford, president of the Pullman Company as Major General Archer J. Lerch looks on. June, 1945.

Sgt. Lawrence Staley receives a plaque on behalf of the Fourth Command MPs from David A. Crawford, president of the Pullman Company as Major General Archer J. Lerch looks on. June, 1945.

In the 1930s, a man named Windsor operated a gas station/grocery out in the woods at what is now the corner of Stratford Road and Knollwood Street. It gradually evolved into a restaurant and by the mid-1940s had grown into something of a roadhouse, known as the Forest Inn, noted more for beer and dancing than for food and gasoline. In 1951, Lawrence leased the building and began it’s conversion to his second drive-in. It became a cruising destination for teenagers, with later stops along Stratford at the Triangle Drive-in, the Chuckwagon and the Castle Drive-in near Oakwood. Several renovations later, it closed in the mid-1960s and was replaced by a drive-thru bank branch.

Forest Inn ad, 1947

Forest Inn ad, 1947


The former Forest Inn has become Staley's Stratford drive-in, early 1950s

The former Forest Inn has become Staley’s Stratford drive-in, early 1950s

By the late 1950s, all Staley’s drive-ins were very popular, with the signature menu item being the triple decker cheeseburger. After the early 1960s redo, the Stratford Staley’s no longer had car hop service, but you could still go to a door at the back to pick up your takeout triple decker and fries for whatever private party you were having.

In 1954, Lawrence opened a third drive-in, Staley’s Grill, at 2985 Waughtown Street (Five Points at High Point Road). Meanwhile, around 1948, Robert E. Banner, who lived on East Polo Road, opened The Banners Restaurant in the 2400 block of Reynolda Road across from the Reynolds’ country estate. That family style restaurant was soon taken over by the Collier family, who also operated Morris Service downtown. When The Banners closed in 1956, Staley and Ken Cheek, an old friend from Wilkes county who had been managing the Reynolda road drive-in, formed a partnership, bought the former Banners property, and after extensive interior renovation, opened Staley’s Charcoal Steak House in 1957.

Ken Cheek (left), Lawrence and their chef at the opening of Staley's Charcoal Steakhouse, 1957

Ken Cheek (left), Lawrence and their chef at the opening of Staley’s Charcoal Steakhouse, 1957

It instantly became THE place to eat in the Twin City for both locals and visiting parents at the brand new Wake Forest College campus nearby. If a high school boy wanted to impress a date, he took her there, where she might be more impressed by some of the clientele, ranging from early NASCAR legends Curtis Turner and Junior Johnson to some mysterious sharp-dressed men and their flashy women over in the far corner, than she was by the excellent food and service.

A far cry from the later charcoal steakhouse...note a couple more of Lawrence's collectible Cadillacs...

A far cry from the later charcoal steakhouse…note a couple more of Lawrence’s collectible Cadillacs…

In 1960, Staley acquired the former Leroy’s Restaurant across from Northside Shopping Center (not to be confused with Leroy’s Barbecue and Leroy’s Confectionary on South Main Street) and created his fourth drive-in restaurant in Winston-Salem. He also operated a restaurant in Danville, Virginia, where sit-ins took place in 1963.

Ralph Eaton at the opening of Leroy's Northside Drive-in in 1959. Within a year, he had sold it to Lawrence Staley for his fourth and final local drive-in.

Ralph Eaton at the opening of Leroy’s Northside Drive-in in 1959. Within a year, he had sold it to Lawrence Staley for his fourth and final local drive-in. Forsyth County Public Library Picture Collection.


In the early 1960s, Lawrence opened a second Staley’s Charcoal Steak House at 2401 Wilkinson Boulevard in Charlotte. A few years later, on Clanton Road in Charlotte, they opened Staley’s Elegante, which placed less emphasis on steak and offered three meals a day, seven days a week.

First page of the Charlotte menu, 1978

First page of the Charlotte menu, 1978


Second page of the Charlotte menu, 1978

Second page of the Charlotte menu, 1978

The Staley’s empire lasted for more than sixty years, the last to close being the original Charcoal Steakhouse in the Twin City in 2003. By then, Lawrence was long dead. On the night of December 25/26, 1973 Lawrence was driving his Rolls Royce near Lexington, NC. Shortly after midnight, the Rolls ran off the road, over an embankment and crashed. Because the wreck was not easily visible from the road, Lawrence lay unconscious for about four hours until the wreck was discovered. Lawrence was taken to Forsyth Memorial Hospital where he was found to have a fractured femur and other injuries. For two days, he seemed to be recovering, but he had a second heart attack and died on December 28. The autopsy determined that he had had a heart attack while driving. He was buried at the Roaring River Baptist Church cemetery in Wilkes County.

1971 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow Cornich convertible

1971 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow Cornich convertible

Lawrence was a serious automobile collector. He owned a wide range of cars, many of which he lent to NASCAR as pace cars. The heart of his collection was possibly the largest assemblage of Cadillacs in the country. But the car that Lawrence was driving when he had his accident was a light blue Rolls Royce Silver Shadow convertible. He had seen it, the only one in the United States, at the New York auto show a couple of years earlier. A number of wealthy collectors were competing to buy it, but Lawrence pulled a few strings and ended up driving it home.

The infamous bull, which had its own little corral, annoyed neighbors, at one point igniting a zoning battle, but delighted everyone else. It traveled widely, appearing in parades and at NASCAR events. It was stolen at least once, but found and returned.


It was built by a Wisconsin company in 1957, fiberglass and steel, eleven feet tall, 2000 pounds. Ken Cheek bought it at restaurant trade show in Chicago for $6,000. When the restaurant closed in 2003, Cheek moved the bull to his farm in the Shepperd’s Crossroads community north of Roaring River. Later, it returned briefly to Reynolda Road and also was displayed in Waughtown and at a restaurant in Elkin.

After Cheek’s death in 2009, the bull was sold to a resident of Davie County for $10,000, where it resides in pastoral peace.

The third edition of Staley's Reynolda Road drive-in opened in the early 1960s with a menu and microphone for ordering by each car

The third edition of Staley’s Reynolda Road drive-in opened in the early 1960s with a menu and microphone for ordering by each car

Almost immediately, the Reynolda drive-in underwent yet another update to become Staley's Open Hearth, a great favorite of Wake Forest faculty and students

Almost immediately, the Reynolda drive-in underwent yet another update to become Staley’s Open Hearth, a great favorite of Wake Forest faculty and students




“…went in to Alexandria to a Barbecue and stayed all Night,”

George Washington’s diary, May 27, 1769

While there, the future Father of His Country ate hog, drank craft beer and won eight shillings playing cards…no better way to spend an evening. George did spend a night in Salem a few years later…he liked the local beer…no gambling was recorded…and we know for sure that he did not get to eat at one of our sometimes neglected institutions, Hill’s Lexington Barbecue, which was mentioned this week on Facebook by none other than Carroll Leggett…

Lexington B-B-Q, 1951, from the 1952 city directory. Joe Hill lived on nearby Motor Road.

Lexington Bar-B-Q, 1951, from the 1952 city directory. Joe Hill lived on nearby Motor Road.

Joe Allen Hill opened “Lexington Bar-B-Q” in an Atlantic gas station at the Patterson Avenue exit of Highway 52 N in 1951. Hill was from Lexington. In 1951 there were a few small side street barbecues in Lexington operated by Stamey, Beck and Swicegood. But none called their barbecue place “Lexington Barbecue.” So Hill’s claims to be the first to use the “Lexington Barbecue” title. Joe’s wife Edna was the true driving force behind the success of the business. You will find her portrait behind the cash register. Other than adding “Hill’s” to the name, they are still doing it the same way they did back then.

Hill's in 1958, from the 1959 city directory. Note that the Atlantic gasoline is no longer available.

Hill’s in 1958, from the 1959 city directory. Note that the Atlantic gasoline is no longer available.

Hill’s is one of four NC-style barbecue joints in Forsyth County that meet the “Truecue” requirements, the most important of which is using wood coals or charcoal for the cooking:

Hill’s Lexington – N. Patterson (1951)
Clark’s – 66 South, K’ville (1993)
Original Little Richard’s – Country Club (1991)
Mr. Barbecue – Peter’s Creek Pkwy (1962)

TrueCueNC link


That Atlantic sign leads us to the fact that Hill’s is a perfect example of how most roadside restaurants got started over the last hundred years or so. As automobile use increased in the early 20th century, rural gas stations popped up. Travelers were hungry, so owners began stocking snacks and sandwiches. Before they knew it, some of them were cooking and making more money off the food than the gasoline. Naturally, this brings us to the story of how gas station cafes led to a restaurant empire for one of Winston-Salem’s local legends.


Coming soon to a blog near you, the tale of the Staley brothers and their two state, four city restaurant empire.

As always, click the pics for full size…some are already at full size…

This ad ran in the Winston-Salem Journal and the Twin City Sentinel on Friday, August 10, 1945

This ad ran in the Winston-Salem Journal and the Twin City Sentinel on Friday, August 10, 1945


While doing research for our upcoming blog post on the history of local black theaters, I noticed a picture on the highly popular Cinema Treasures website purporting to be the site of the short-lived Ardmore Theater.


Unfortunately, that is not the place. What is shown is the currently quite popular Cin Cin Burger Bar, formerly the quite popular Twin City Diner, which originated as a quite popular Kroger store in the 1950s…no theater in its genealogy.


It is just a hop, skip and a jump to the real place, over in the 100 block of South Hawthorne Road. That block was originally residential in the early days of Ardmore, but in 1938 James M. Wooten opened the Food Palace Super Market in the middle of the block at 120-122 South Hawthorne. In 1945, the building was remodeled and on August 10, 1945, the Ardmore Theater opened there. It lasted less than a year. The building stood vacant for a couple of years.

Then, in January1948, the Winston-Salem Journal ran the picture below, announcing that the US Postal Service would be taking over the space for its Ardmore substation. The USPS would remain there until a new Ardmore station was built on Miller Street in 1962.


The former Ardmore Theater is at center. There were two ticket windows, one at each side of the entrance. At left is the residence of Rufus S. Cottingham, who operated Patty’s Sandwich Shop at 124 South Main. To the right is the new Kroger Store, which would move a half a block to First Street a few years later. Scanned from a badly faded clipping in our vertical files.


The Ardmore Post Office, c. 1950. The Sanborn Insurance map below shows us what else was where in 1950.


Who ran it in 1950?

First Street

Gulf Oil – John A. Woodward
Howard’s Service Station – Howard H. Valentine
Shore Bros Pure Oil – Rollin J. & Chester W. Shore
NA King ESSO N. Archie King

101 Herman C. Kennedy – chiropractor
103 Hawthorne Pharmacy – Carlton Robinson, Howard S. Fox
105 School of the Dance – Vinnie Frederick, Helen Stanley
107 Hawthorne Road Barber Shop – Wm. N. Tedder, C.C. Cranfill
109 Ardmore Restaurant – James R. Wood, Lynn F. Pierce
115 Quality Cleaners – Wm. H. Ellison, James R. Morrill, Jr.
Weatherman Shoe Service – Wm. W. Weatherman
117 Forsyth Self Service Laundry – Robert M. Cox
118 Kroger – James M. Wooten
119 Town Steak House – Wm. J. Chamis
120-22 USPS Ardmore
120 Russell Cleaners – W.B. Russell

Bobbitt’s College Pharmacy – A.B. Bobbitt, Hilliard Bobbitt, Kelse Collett


While doing the research for our “next” blog post on the history of black theaters in Winston-Salem, in light of the announced closing of the Ringling Brothers circus, I was diverted to another story, the arrival of the Adam Forepaugh Circus in the town of Winston in 1894. The history of the Rex, the Dunbar, the Lafayette and the Lincoln theaters is still next, but first:

Adam Forepaugh

Adam Forepaugh

Adam Forepaugh was born into poverty in Philadelphia. Around age 12, he ran away from home and wound up in Ohio, where he became an expert on horses. During the Civil War, he made a fortune selling horses to the Union Army. In 1864, he got into the circus business and soon became P.T. Barnum’s greatest rival…they battled back and forth for 25 years until Forepaugh’s death in 1890, when his son, Adam Forepaugh, Jr. took over. He spent several years organizing his father’s estate but eventually arranged a merger with Sell Brothers Circus and left the show business scene. The Forepaughs always maintained an agent in Europe to scout out new shows and attractions, so usually had the advantage over Barnum.

On April 26, 1894, an ad appeared in the Western Sentinel.


Early on the morning of May 1, 1894. two trains arrived at the Southern Railway depot in Winston and began unloading the Forepaugh Circus.

Seven of the eight performing elephants are seen at the railway depot in Winston. The Forepaugh show required two trains, both of which can be seen here. Just beyond them are, left to right, the R.J. Reynolds plant #256, the Life Insurance Company of Virginia offices, S.T. Mathis, wines & liquors, and Coleman Brothers, leaf tobacco dealers. Above Coleman Bros is a Reynolds leaf storage house and to its right, the tobacco factory of Benjamin Franklin Hanes, brother of P.H. Hanes. In the distance, is the steeple of the First Baptist Church of Winston, on Second Street between Church and Main. The 35’ smokestack next to it marks the site of the Winston Electric Light and Car Plant, where the power to run the streetcar system was generated and cars were stored when not in service.

Seven of the eight performing elephants are seen at the railway depot in Winston. The Forepaugh show required two trains, both of which can be seen here. Just beyond them along Depot Street are, left to right, the six story R.J. Reynolds plant #256, the Life Insurance Company of Virginia offices, S.T. Mathis, wines & liquors, and Coleman Brothers, leaf tobacco dealers.
Above Coleman Bros is a Reynolds leaf storage house and to its right, the tobacco factory of Benjamin Franklin Hanes, brother of P.H. Hanes. In the distance, is the steeple of the First Baptist Church of Winston, on Second Street between Church and Main. The 35’ smokestack next to it marks the site of the Winston Electric Light and Car Plant, where the power to run the streetcar system was generated and cars were stored when not in service.

Circuses never bothered to mention where they would be performing because the event began with a free public parade which led the spectators to the site.. Here we see the 1894 parade moving up the first block of Main Street from First Street in Winston.

Circuses never bothered to mention where they would be performing because the event began with a free public parade which led the spectators to the site.. Here we see the 1894 parade moving up the first block of Main Street from First Street in Winston.

By the time that the parade arrived at the circus grounds, the crew had erected the huge tent that seated over 10,000 and the sideshows were waiting to collect extra dollars. We know that the Forebaugh Circus performed at Piedmont Park, on North Liberty Street near the Smith Reynolds Airport, because of the telltale picket fences.

By the time that the parade arrived at the circus grounds, the crew had erected the huge tent that seated over 10,000 and the sideshows were waiting to collect extra dollars. We know that the Forebaugh Circus performed at Piedmont Park, on North Liberty Street near the Smith Reynolds Airport, because of the telltale picket fences.

Two days later, the Sentinel reported on the event.


The Piedmont Park remained the principal circus and fairground in the Twin City from the 1890s into the 1950s, when the current fairground was created.

Unidentified circus at Piedmont Park, 1936. The 1/2 mile dirt race track was built by R.J. Reynolds' brother Will in the late 1890s for harness racing, in which he was a major player nationally. The track also hosted the first motorcycle race held in North Carolina in 1912...another blog post coming soon on that event.

Unidentified circus at Piedmont Park, 1936. The 1/2 mile dirt race track was built by R.J. Reynolds’ brother Will in the late 1890s for harness racing, in which he was a major player nationally. The track also hosted the first motorcycle race held in North Carolina, in 1912…another blog post coming soon on that event, which was inspired by my motorcycle racing cousin Johnny Sink.