Up until right after WWI the streets of Clinton were all dirt. In dry weather, they were real dusty, in wet weather, very, very muddy. A lot of the sidewalks didn’t have any boarding on them at all, and some of them did.
When I was a small boy there was a fence all around the town which was done to keep stray animals from roaming in. There were gates at all the main roads leading in and out of town. I remember two of these gates very well. One was on McKoy Street near where it intersects with Lee Street, near Mr. Nolley’s store. I would hang around the gate and wait for wagons or carriages. I would open and close the gate for people to pass through, and sometimes they would throw me a penny and I could do a lot with a penny back in those days. Another gate that I remember was at the very end of Fayetteville Street where it intersects with Barden Street. That part of Fayetteville Street.was later closed after Sunset Avenue was built.
According to Mr. Ferdie Johnson, the first post office that he had any recollection of in Clinton was in the Farmer’s Alliance Store at the intersection of Fayetteville and Sycamore streets. The first one that I have any recollection of being in Clinton was at the northwest corner of Main and Sampson streets. Mr. Gibb Morisey was the postmaster at one time in that building. The post office was later moved to the west side of Lisbon Street, next door to where the Williams boys, John Blaney and George, have their law offices. It stayed there until sometime in the 1920’s when Henry Vann built the barber shop and the buildings adjacent to it on Main St. One of the postmasters there was Mr. Malcolm Thornton and also Mrs. O. J. Peterson, Jr., and it stayed there until the government built our present post office on the south side of Main St. in 1936 and has remained there since that time.
There was a deep ditch running from the intersection of Fayetteville and Sycamore streets. It was on the south side of Fayetteville and ran all the way out to Dollar Branch. Prior to the early 20’s, there was no Sunset Avenue, no Finch, Herring, or Kerr streets at that time. The further out toward the branch it went, the deeper the ditch went. There was a bridge leading from the street to every one of the houses that was on the south side of Fayetteville Street. Whenever you get to the front of the Presbyterian Church, there was a wooden bridge over the ditch. Also, where Chesnutt Street. runs into Fayetteville Street. there was a double-wide wooden bridge there for vehicles and then there was a narrow wooden bridge for the pedestrians. As I say, there was no sidewalk on the south side of Fayetteville Street at all and the only way you could get to those houses was over a little wooden bridge.
A number of offices occupied the second floor offices on Main Street. The Home Guard, as it was called then, now called the National Guard, was quartered on the second floor of the A.M. Lee building on Main Street. The downstairs part of that building was later occupied by Leder Brothers Store. The gun racks were along the wall and the soldiers were drilled upstairs in that building. The stairs leading from the second floor to where the Home Guard was situated was real wide and was in the middle of what was then two stores.
A little further down on Main Street. was the Rob Herring building, later owned by Pope Stores, and in the upstairs there was a an opera house where plays were held. There were also two stores downstairs with a wide set of stairs in the center of the building. Traveling entertainers would come here and perform. I remember it had a number of oil lamps hanging from the ceiling. The woodwork on the ceiling was very ornamental and it and the stage are probably still there. In later years the Sampson County Board of Education used the second floor as offices. Also, Dr. Hollingsworth, the Sampson County Health Officer, and the Mr. Louis Whitfield, with the Sampson County Roads Department, all had offices up there.
Each year on the tenth of May, which was Confederate Memorial Day, there was always a big celebration in Clinton. Soldiers, marchers, folks on horseback, and bands all came to be in the parade. The soldiers would march out to the local cemetery to the graves of Confederate veterans and fire their rifles in a salute. They’d have political speakers, too, and often time there was dancing in the streets at night.
There were three Powell brothers in the mercantile business here in Clinton. Their store was about midway up Main Street directly across from the courthouse. They were Ben, John, and June Powell. Mr. June and Mr. Ben never married. Mr. John, however, did marry and had a family. I never recall seeing Mr. June working in the store but Mr. Ben and Mr. John did work there. Mr. Ben was considered a most thrifty-I wouldn’t use the word stingy- man, but the old saying goes that he wouldn’t give you a nickel to see you skin a cat.
There was a man that had an organ grinder and a monkey and a bear in town. This bear was trained and wore a long chain or a rope, I don’t remember, and he would grind the organ. When he did, the bear would climb up a tree to attract attention. One day Mr. Ben was in the crowd that was watching and this man waited until the bear climbed to the top of the tree, then he’d take his hat or a little can and walk through the crowd saying, “Who’ll give me a nickel to see the bear come down the tree.” And it is reported that Mr. Ben said he didn’t give a darn if that bear stayed up there, he wasn’t giving the man any money.
There were a large number of livery stables in an around Clinton during those days, most of which I remember. They all had mules and horses for sale or trade, also horse, buggies, surreys for rent, and so on. The Murphy House stables on College Street. where the Clinton Theatre and Clinton Appliance now stand, was once owned by my father and Fleet Rose Cooper, an attorney.
Another was owned by Mr. Ruf Hiatt, who lived with his wife in a house on Lisbon Street (beside the Farmer’s Market). His mule stables stood on the southwest corner of Lisbon and Elizabeth Streets.
Rob Herring had a livery stable on the south side of Elizabeth Street where the Sampson Ace Hardware is now located. Mr. Rob and his wife, Miss Rowena, built a palatial home on the east side of Sampson Street where it intersects with Faison Street. Their daughter, Mary Anna, married Bob Shields and they lived there later. Today their house is known as the Shield House.
(Editor’s note: These articles were written by Mr. Reynolds in 1991 and were edited by Joel Rose with the Sampson County Historical Society)