After The Flood And During The War - Watauga County Hunkers Down For the 1940's

After The Flood And During The War - Watauga County Hunkers Down For the 1940's

The two definitive events of the decade brought pain and suffering to Watauga County. Halfway through the first year of the 1940's, the worst flood - the worst disaster of any kind in the county - washed away roads, homes, and sixteen lives.

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Then the call-up for World War II took away far more than that, as 2,200 draftees and volunteers left the mountains to serve; ten times the number that had gone to Europe for war twenty-five years earlier.

The first American was killed overseas in September of 1940, around the same time that the draft was signing up the first of thousands at an office in Boone. On January 23, 1941, the first dozen volunteers went down to Fort Bragg for basic training. The first 88 Wataugans to be called into action were ready six months later, on June 30, 1941.

By the end of the war, 63 had been lost, 57 officially declared dead. Of those, eighteen were killed in action, and another two died of wounds or injuries.

The honor roll records many well-known local names, including three Eggers and three Wards. With a population of only 18,000 in the whole county, many tasks fell on the women left behind, and their 'official' call-up - to replace the men at work - came in 1941.

By the 1940 census that total represented not only the largest number but largest jump in population ever recorded in Watauga County. The war years brought lean times, but for many not much leaner than they were used to.

The flood had carried away the only train lines, so badly damaged that the railroad company decided not to rebuild. The first telegraph lines did go in that year, as did the first burley tobacco warehouse in Boone in November of 1940.

Other modern conveniences also came up the mountain despite war-time restrictions, including city mail service to Boone in 1941. On the other hand, some things did not change in the area; Watauga County Sheriff's deputies found and destroyed two large stills and illegal liquor operations in Blowing Rock the same year.

Also in 1941, the Watauga Board of Education called their first meeting. Things were likewise busy at the Appalachian Teacher's College; 94 graduated in 1940 and by the end of the decade the college could boast its first enrollment of more than 1,000 students.

The graduate school began in 1942. The WPA, which had built many schools and other projects in Watauga during the 1930's, came to its end in 1941, signaling a complete end to school construction for the next decade. Electricity had also come earlier, but the '40 flood destroyed the largest power station at Shull's Mill.

But this advancement was not to be denied; the Forties saw the advent of electric power county-wide, and by 1949 BREMCO could count 10,000 customers. In the last decade before industry (the first committee to attract industry was formed in the county in 1949, but the first success - IRC - wasn't attracted until 1952 - farming continued to form the livelihood of many Wataugans.

By 1944, production of Irish potatoes reached the $500,000 mark for the first time. Vegetables, especially cabbage, tobacco, sheep, dairy, and beef cattle also represented important staples of the local economy.

The Farmer's Home Administration granted credit for farm homes and farms for the first time in 1946, and the Soil Conservation Service established a local district in 1949. By the end of the decade, industrialization was looking to take hold, and farm production started to drop at that time.

Other signs of the times came in at the end of the 1940's as well; Blowing Rock Road was finished in 1948, the same year the first automatic laundry was started in Boone. And in 1949, Watauga saw its first bookmobile and welcomed Horn in the West.

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