Watauga County In 1950

A well-known book is entitled "The Past Is A Different Country." That statement is certainly true when it comes to Watauga County.


ty In 1950Watauga County had just finished celebrating its centennial when the decade of the 1950s began. In many ways, the county more resembled itself in 1900 than it does today. Few could have guessed the incredible changes that were about to take place.

Agriculture was still the big business of the county. There were major changes over the previous two decades, however, as improving roads allowed farmers to market their products outside the area. Cabbage was booming, with much of it leaving the county or being used by a local sauerkraut factory.

The real news, however, was burley tobacco. In 1929, just six acres of burley was cultivated in the county. By 1939, there were 420 acres. By 1950, the number had topped 1,150 acres - with cash sales of over $2.2 million. Truck crops, most notably snap beans, were much in demand.

One of the largest industries in the county was the Appalachian Evergreen Co., which bought and shipped millions of galax leaves, holly, hemlock and other native plants and shrubs. Wilcox Drug Co. was then purchasing over 100 different roots, herbs and barks, sending out millions of pounds each year.

Boone, then as now, was the commercial center of the region. Belk's, Smithey's and Hunt's Department store were mainstays in the downtown. People from throughout the county came to Farmer's Hardware. Young couples looking for wedding rings might head for Walker's Jewelry Store. Boone Drug and Carolina Pharmacy were the places to get a prescription filled. That might keep you out of the hospital - located in what is now Founder's Hall on the ASU campus.

Boone, of course, was much slower. The town basically ended near the present McKinney Alumni Center. At the present south end of town, near Wal Mart, cattle drives were a regular part of life and almost all the land was in farms. Over 100 Grade A dairies were in operation in the county, by the way.

As for Appalachian State Teachers College, it had about 1,000 students. As he had for over half a century, Dr. B.B. Dougherty led the school. But age was beginning to show on this giant of education. Nearing 80, however, he remained active in the school and business world of the town. Younger fellows like Alfred Adams and Wade Brown listened and learned from the old man. Some, however, were beginning to notice how many of Appalachian's buildings were starting to show serious signs of aging.

Out in the county, general stores still supplied many of the needs of their local communities. Not everyone could afford cars, so the smaller stores were a necessity of life. Some still bartered for goods, giving cash-poor families a chance to trade for what they needed.

Power was coming into the remoter parts of the county. Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corp. was constantly stringing line, reaching more and more customers. Interestingly, taxes were higher in those days. The tax rate for Watauga County was $1.25 per $100 valuation, roughly twice as much as today.

Church membership was pretty much the norm in the county. Local churches claimed roughly 13,000 members, or over two-thirds of the population. The largest single denomination was Baptist, with over 8,000 members.

The county was completely "dry" as far as alcohol sales. After some wide-open periods, when there were bars in Boone, the liquor business was shut down. In the late 1940s, a referendum for beer and wine sales was defeated by a 12-to-1 margin.

If you wanted to catch a movie, you could go by the Yonahlossee Theatre in Blowing Rock, or Boone's Appalachian Theatre and Pastime Theatre. Afterwards, you might stop by the Appalachian Soda Shop or -across from the Post Office - the Boone Trail Cafe "the eating place of Weestern North Carolina."

Finally, if you wanted to call someone, you only needed a few numbers. Call 14 and you could speak to Mrs. A.E. Hamby, manager of Hamby Tourist Court, which offered rooms and cabins in the downtown. Dial 194-M and you could speak to Hillside Dairy, opposite the bus station, which produced pasteurized milk, whipping cream, butter, and ice cream. Trailway Laundry Inc. has the number 79. And you could send flowers to a loved one by ringing Boone Flower Shop at 214-J (or 321-W at night).

Among this, there are some familiar names and places. But Watauga County has changed dramatically during this last half century.

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