History of Conover, North Carolina

Map of Conover, from 1876 R.A. Yoder map
<click on map for enlargement>

The town of Conover had its beginning in the year 1871, when, according to early history of the community, the late Francis Smyre secured a portion of land from J. P. Spencer and erected a home for himself and his bride who was before her marriage Miss Ellen Miller, daughter of Ephriam and Amy Isenhower Miller.

Their son, Clinton Eugene Smyre was the first child to be born here."

The site chosen by the Smyres for Conover's first residence was known as the "WYE" and was a junction point from which the Southern Railway ran a branch line or track to the town of Newton, three miles to the south. This junction point served as a turn table for trains going either North or South. .

In the early years of their married life Mr. and Mrs. Smyre operated an eating place and boarding house for the railroad men, later Mr. Smyre went into business making and repairing shoes. The ancestral home was located on the North corner of Main street intersection on a site now occupied by the Phillips 66 Service Co. It was demolished a number of years ago.

Another one of Conover's first families was that of Mr. and Mrs. J. Pinkney Spencer, Mrs. Spencer before her marriage was Miss Dianah Herman, and came into possession of a large tract of land through her father. This tract is a portion of the present town of Conover. Through the philanthropy of this couple the property of Concordia College and the Lutheran church was secured by religious leaders in the early life of the town.

J. Pinkney Spencer and his
wife, Dianah Herman Spencer

An early resident of the neighborhood was Mose Herman, a man of rare judgement and great liberality who owned much of the land between the junction point and the town of Newton along the road leading from Oxford Ford beside which the town of Conover was springing up. The Herman land was sold to John Q. Seitz, a North Carolinian by birth, but at that time a resident of Columbia, S. C. Mr. Seitz is described as a man of brilliant mind, a mechanic by trade and a builder of railway cars in the South Carolina town.

Moving to the then very young town of Conover, Mr. Seitz brought with him his aged parents, his father also being named John Q. Seitz. The couple died here and both were buried in the apple orchard behind the residence which was located on the present site of the Conover Graded School. Happy children romping on the school playground, little dream that beneath their dancing feet rest two of the town's early residents.

The name of Conover was given to the small hamlet by the wife of John Q. Seitz, who was Julia Ann Rowe before her marriage, a sister of the late Dallas Rowe of Catawba County; and Miss Mattie Miller, sister of Mrs. Smyre, who married A. D. Hollar, the couple later' going to Rock Hill, S. C, for their residence. There is a legend that the name was derived by the two ladies from that of Canova, a noted sculptor.

The Seitz property in Conover for many years was the subject of much discussion and investigation by local attorneys and citizens as a result of Mr. Seitz's will, the only heir being his son, John Hamilton Seitz.

Around sixty-five years ago Mr. Mueller and Mr. Wagner, coming from Wisconsin, bought the land. It was later sold to the late John L. Isenhower, from which it was obtained for school purposes.

The first mercantile business was opened by the firm Town-send, McCreery and Finger, a building being erected near the hotel. Soon, other firms were established such as Hinkle, Lippard and Reitzel; Cline, Roseman and Co., Smith Hunsucker and Co., and Smith Brothers.

One of the first houses in Conover,
the Yount house on Main Street

The Herman store and J. Knox Smith home where
Branch Bank & Trust and parking lot now stands

The establishment of Smith Yount and Co., was a cabinet shop where doors, blinds and sash were made, the proprietors also being engaged in the contracting business. The late Caleb Herman and his son E. A. Herman were also among the early merchants of the town. The late Ciscero S. Simmons was also at one time engaged in the mercantile business.

In the year 1883 P. E. Isenhower moved with his family into the growing community. For a number of years he was associated with his brother, J. L. Isenhower and others in the mercantile business. At the time of his death he had operated a store in Conover for nearly fifty years. For the last thirty-five years the firm was known as P. E. Isenhower and Son, John A. Isenhower, being a member of the organization. The business was dissolved upon the death of P. E. Isenhower.

A successful merchant in the town for a long period was the late J. A. Yount. Near the depot at the "Y" was the Burr mill, operated by M. J. Rowe and S. G. Shell. This was the beginning of milling in this section. Many years later the business, after changing hands several times, was sold to S. S. Rowe. the present proprietor of the Hickory Flour Mills.

Near the mill Mr. Shell, with his brother-in-law, the late Hosea Herman, established a cotton gin and lumber plant. Mr. Shell worked there for sixteen years. During those years Mr. Shell, who is the source of much of the information contained in this article, says he did the work of two men for the meager sum of a dollar a day. When the buildings were destroyed by fire, the owners re-built the plant several hundred yards distant and there Mr. Shell had as partner the late J. P. Yount.

When the town of Conover was incorporated in 1877, Capt. Peter F. Smith was elected its first Mayor. Capt. Smith was a veteran of the War Between the States, having suffered a severe injury in the conflict which made him a cripple. The veteran also served as Postmaster for a. number of years. The first Postmaster was Noah Town-send.

Another veteran of the War who rendered public service was J. P. Spencer, who served as constable and tax collector for years. A small jail, or "calaboose" was built near the center of town, but loyal descendants of pioneers say it was seldom in use.

An important enterprise in the early days was the Blacksmith shop operated by Elkanah Eckard, near his home on what is now North Main street. The Eckard home was among the first to built in the town.

A prominent citizen and pioneer manufacturer was the late Jonas Hunsucker, the founder of the Picker Stick and Handle Factory from which a number of enterprises have evolved.

Mr. Hunsucker built a handsome home near the city where he reared a large family. He served as magistrate and mayor of the town and was one of the organizers of the Citizen's Bank. He was known in the community as "Squire" Hunsucker.

T. L. Hunsucker moved into the town from his home in the country some years after its organization. He was also a merchant and at one time served as mayor.

In the early part of the 1880's the town of Newton appealed to Southern Railway to move their tracks so as to include that town. The change did away with the "WYE" and necessitated the moving of the depot to its present location. The old structure which stood beside the discarded roadbed gave way to progress in 1908. An interesting figure in the life of the town sixty-five years ago was Captain Phillip Carpenter, who came here upon his retirement from active farming, having resided in Lincoln county prior to that time. Mr. Carpenter moved to Conover to place his children in Concordia college shortly after it opened in 1877.

Mr. Carpenter was a staunch "Rebel" having been Captain of Company G, 57th Regiment, in the War Between the States. He was also a politician keeping posted on national and local events.

During Mr. Carpenter's residence for a time in Newton he assisted his son, P. 0. Carpenter, in his mercantile place, also clerking for J. P. Cline in Conover. At one time during his first years in Conover Mr. Carpenter was a salesman for a state fertilizer company.

According to history, the late J. Pierce Yount was among Conover's first manufacturers, making doors, sash and blinds in a shop which stood on what is now a corner of North Main street leading West toward Hickory.

In the year 1874 there moved to Conover a man who was prominently connected with the early history of the town, J. Patrick Cline. Mr. Cline lived near Oxford Ford where he was a partner with the late Q. M. Smith in the mercantile business. After moving to Conover with his family Mr. Cline became a partner of Daniel Roseman in a general merchandise establishment. This firm is listed among the first to operate in the town. Mr. Cline was a charter member) of Trinity Reformed church:

During the early years several physicians located in Conover for the practice of medicine. Among them were Dr. Albert Fox, Dr. Greenwade and a Dr. Marshburn. In the year' 1884, Dr. D. McDuffie Yount came with his family from a farm near the Catawba river and remained to practice in the community for thirty years. Dr. Marion Moser was among the early physicians of Conover. Dr. Moser practiced here for a number of years, later locating in Claremont where he died. He married Miss Anna Yount, a daughter of the late Dr. and Mrs. McDuffie Yount. With the passing of a generation new faces appear in the business houses on Main street, and with a number of large industrial plants giving employment to hundreds of people the populace is fast changing from that of several years ago.

Quite a few of the first residences are still, occupied, many of them in splendid preservation.

[Source: Observer-News-Enterprise, Catawba Report, a special edition on
the 90th anniversary of the O-N-E, January, 1969; by Mrs. J. A. Isenhower]

All photos courtesy of Don Barker

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