Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Saga of Lancaster, N. C.

by V. L. (Buck) Draughon

In 1895 when most people were folks, W .J. (Bill) Lancaster commenced a venture that was the last of its kind in Edgecombe County, North Carolina. He was the originator and spectator of the last distillery in the county. That is, the last one that was sanctioned by the State and carried the good graces of the brethren of the community.

Located ten miles east of Rocky Mount on present NC Hwy 43, the enterprise was a gigantic success from the beginning. Captain Billy, as he was called, was the father of the late Gus Z. Lancaster and grandfather of he present-day Joseph Lancaster of local stockyard fame.

W. J. Lancaster manufactured liquor, wine, brandy and other celebrated concoctions from fermented branch water. His rare brand of "yodeling oil" was bottled, stamped and sold on the premises. Off-premise license was unheard of at that time.

To facilitate the dram-glass boys, a general store was constructed with a bar room built adjacent in the store. In 1896, a post office was erected and the bustling metropolis officially became known as Lancaster, N.C.

A Negro man, Henry Lane, would make daily jaunts through the woods to Kingsboro [Edgecombe County] to retrieve the mail. Kingsboro, three miles east of Lancaster, was served by the Norfolk branch of the Coast Line Railroad.

Almost overnight Lancaster's became the social and entertainment center of the county. On special occasions the neighborhood fiddler, before he became inebriated, would saw out such pieces as "Whistlin' Rufus" and "Yonder Comes Harry Powell" while the brogan boys would pop the timber with an old-fashioned buck dance.

The emporium was frequented by mule skinners, ridge runners, tobacco drummers, and other celebrities who enjoyed the "pleasures of the flesh." From the Polecat Community in Nash Co. to Dogtown in Edgecombe, they came to partake of the distillery's wares.

In the proximity of Lancaster's lived a clod-hopper who long since had fallen from grace. He was a Republican. Since Lancaster's was a Democrat stronghold, a Republican was as welcome in Lancaster's as the influenza. This gentleman of high conviction usually met with a small band of fellow abstainers across the creek from Lancaster's at a place called Temperance Hall.

As the turn of the century approached, Lancaster's was made a voting precinct and, naturally, became the hub of much political activity. The political potentials from Tarboro [Edgecombe County] would meet at Lancaster's to extol the grandeur of their cause. In general, political aspirants who were "long on the wind and short on the green" liked to stop at Lancaster's in the evening to tender a small blaze of oratory on current events. After a few brief remarks they always adjourned and retired to the dram room to indulge in a less dry subject.

A less-known celebrity, still remembered by a few old timers, was a boomer brakeman who lived on Gibson Hill. For the purpose of anonymity, he shall be known as "Clarence." Now Clarence was not the most virtuous man to live on the hill. He would tell a lie. Clarence had another vice that had matured into a habit—a fondness for strong drink. The only time he ever refused an invitation to drink was when he misunderstood the question. One Saturday evening Clarence was not feeling "up to snuff." The winds of adversity had been blowing a strong gale against him since early morning. He decided to regale himself with the aggregation in a winding out at Lancaster's. Though all of Clarence's activities while there are unknown, it is reasonably assured that he worked his dram glass over-time. By the time he reached home he was in the general vicinity of being drunk.

Clarence's wife was anxiously awaiting his arrival. Seeing his condition, she let loose a blistering tirade about his iniquities and transgressions that scorched his ear drums. After much consultation between them, Clarence sauntered off to his room in search of a little tranquility.

Early next morning found Clarence suffering with infirmities of the flesh. His head felt like John Henry and his famous sledge hammer were locked inside, frantically trying to drive his way out.

His wife said, "Clarence, are you going to attend services this morning?"

Clarence replied, "No!" He said, "Call the funeral home and tell 'em to send the man out here."

"You're not dead are you?" she asked.

Clarence replied, "No, but I'll be dead by the time he gets here."

Why did Lancaster, NC vanish into oblivion? Two reasons. First, in 1908 liquor by the drink was voted out. The State took over the operation of all alphabet stores. Second, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad ran a branch line from Tarboro into Pinetops [Edgecombe County] and on to Macclesfield for the shipment of lumber into that region. It diverted all trade and traffic that had been Lancaster's.

The moral of this article is this: if the next State Legislature passes a liquor-by-the-drink law, they will have advanced back to where they started in 1908, when liquor by the drink was legal.

Note: Much of this data was given by the astute little lady of Shady Lane on Highway 43, Mrs. Gus Z. Lancaster, Sr. Help was also rendered by the sisters of the late Gus Z. Lancaster, Sr.

Buck Draughon

Source: Rocky Mount Evenming Telegram, 12/10/1967. This article was also published in The Connector, newsletter of Tar River Connections Genealogical Society in the Summer 2007 issue. Buck Draughon was the author of Edgecombe County Trivia, Nash County Trivia, and Welcome to Rocky Mount Trivia.

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