THOMAS DUNCAN ROSE 1889-1981
By Tom Roberts
Posted August 09, 2005 by Myrtle Bridges
My great grandmother gave birth to my grandfather in Fayetteville, NC on August 9, 1889. Tom Rose
was the seventh of eight children born to George McNeill and Augusta Jane Steel Rose. His middle name
came from his great grandfather Duncan Rose, but I do not know where his first name came from. He grew
to be about 5'11" tall weighing 156 pounds with gray eyes. The ladies considered him to be a very
good looking man with his light brown hair, which turned gray as he aged. He also lost a good bit of
it before he turned 50 years old.
My grandfather; born during the presidency of Benjamin Harrison, the reign of Queen Victoria of England
and the building of the Eiffel Tower; grew up during the industrial revolution in the 1890's and early
1900's. In 1900 the population of the United States was around 70,000,000, but only around 4000 people
lived in Fayetteville. The towns population exploded during World War I with the building of Fort Bragg
in 1917. Young Tom Rose graduated from Fayetteville Graded School on May 10, 1905 at the age of fifteen.
The class consisted of eight woman and three men. My grandfather gave an oration " The American Flag"
during the graduation exercises. In 1905 only six percent of all Americans graduated from high school. In
addition, the life expectancy in the United States was only 47 years and a large majority of the population
lived on the farm.
The 1905 Fayetteville, NC Graduating Class. Tom Rose is
on the first row on the left and three of the students did not graduate.
After graduation Tom Rose
attended Horner Military School
in Oxford, NC in the fall of 1905
and the spring of 1906. James H.
Horner, M. A., LL. D., founded
the school in 1851 in Oxford, NC.
The school sought to prepare boys
for college and to develop character,
first; body, second and scholarship,
third. In 1913 the barracks burned
and in 1914 the school moved to the
Myers Park area of Charlotte. During
the mid 1910's the school enrolled
around 150 boys in five grades.
During the year that he attended
Horner, he achieved the rank of
third sergeant company B and
received four medals. The four
medals included Drill, Neatness,
Declaimer and SH. The Declaimer
medal, for some speaking award, was in the shape of a shield and had two rifles lying across
each other. The school presented to him the SH medal for some achievement or award.
When he went off to college, he never had any doubt about what he wanted to do in life. As an early teen
he became interested in electricity and often played with a "shocking machine". Therefore, he
majored in electricity and graduated from The University of North Carolina (UNC) with a BS degree,
Certificate in Electrical Engineering in 1910. While at UNC he took courses in English, Latin, French,
math, drawing and science. The science courses included three years of chemistry and four years of physics.
During his last three years, he took more than one course in physics each year. These courses must have
fulfilled his requirement for his Certificate in Electrical Engineering. The courses lasted for one year
rather than for a semester. He made mostly grades of 3's and 4's his freshman year but improved to 1's and
2's by his senior year. My grandfather made his best grades in physics [electricity].
On campus he lived in Carr Dormitory for three years and the S.A.E. fraternity hall his senior year. He
involved himself in a number of activities while at North Carolina including - German Club (a social dance
club), Gorgon's Head (a social club), Philanthropic Society (a debate/speaking club) and Sigma Alpha Epsilon
Fraternity. In addition, he played class baseball during his freshman and sophomore years and scrub football
in his junior and senior years playing quarterback. During his senior year he started on the varsity baseball
team playing right field and had 12 hits in 55 at bats for an average of 218. The average for all starters
varied from 148 to 270. Beside his senior picture in the UNC 1910 Annual was the following:"Yet the life
of a whole life dies When love is done""Corporal"
"Our prize winner in good looks. Has lots of friends and is always making more. Dresses well, but can
make himself right at home in a pair of overalls doctoring motors, dynamos, and engines. Knows what he
is about and takes no back talk. Had a beautiful boot on Ed Latta, but deserved it. Has been unfortunate
in love, and it took him until Christmas to retain his normal happy mood."
The Horner medals and the UNC baseball statistics are in the possession his late son's children. The
other information came from the UNC transcript and 1908 to 1911 University of North Carolina annuals.
CAREER AND MARRIAGE
Sometimes in around 1912 my grandfather and six of the Carolina engineering graduates purchased a car
and drove it from the east coast to the west coast. Granddaddy said that he joined them by train in St
Louis, MO, because he had been in Fayetteville, NC proposing to grandmother. He claimed that they drove
the car across America, and it had a number of mechanical problems including over 200 flat tires. When
they reached the west coast they backed the car in to the Pacific Ocean. After selling the car they
returned east by train.
After graduation from UNC my grandfather moved to Schenectady, NY to work as a student engineer for
The General Electric Company. The average United States worker made around $500 per year or 25 cents
per hour in 1910. I do not know what electrical engineers made per year, but mechanical engineers
earned around $5,000 per year during that time or around $100,000 in 2006.
Tom Rose second left on a hike to Helderberg Mountains in New York, Labor Day 1911
The city of Schenectady is located on the Mohawk River
that feeds into the Hudson at nearby Albany. My grandfather
claimed in the winters, when he lived in New York, that the
river froze solid enough for him to walk across. He also
related to me a story of men cutting ice from the river,
and storing it for later use the following summer. He enjoyed
hiking and boating in the summer in New York and took a lot of
pictures of his adventures. The pictures showed him and his
friends hiking in rugged territory while wearing ties. These
pictures are in the position of the author in Greensboro, GA.
In 1912 he moved to Baltimore, MD to work as an Electrical
Power Engineer for Consolidated Gas, Electric Light and Power
Company located on Lexington Liberty Street.
On a visit home to Fayetteville in the early 1910's my grand-
father met Lila Williams. His brother Augustus, who married
Lila's Aunt Jean Evans, likely introduced them. They had a
long distance courtship between Baltimore, MD and Cumberland Co, NC. My grandfather wrote my grandmother a
number of letters and an eleven page letter dated August 8, 1914 still survives today. Some unedited quotes
are as follows: "you are, indeed, the sweetest girl in the world
I wish that I could have you in
.I'l return the twenty-five kisses
with me to-morrow
we could go to church
together and hear a good sermon. We could get a nice Sunday dinner
sitting there overlooking the lake
with the moon overlooking us, we could tell each other the sweetest story ever told. Oh Lila, how I do love
you." On October 27, 1914 they married at her Evans ancestral home, Woodland, in Cumberland Co, NC.
After the wedding, the young couple moved to Baltimore, MD.
While in Baltimore the members of The National Electric Light Association elected him chairman of the Baltimore
Consolidated Company Section. He was able to keep the section active (164 members) even during World War I and
the major flu epidemic of 1919. Information on his activities in this association is in the possession of the
children of Thomas D. Rose, Jr.
Tom Rose with two unidentified ladies in the mid 1910's
In January 1919 he came down with the flu and traveled to Fayetteville
to obtain care most likely from his brother Augustus, who was a physician.
My grandmother, also, was sick following the birth of her second child with
severe phlebitis. While in NC, he developed very severe headaches. The doctors
recommended that his teeth be pulled to relieve his headache. The teeth were
pulled, and he wore false teeth the rest of his life. Doctors often recommended
pulling teeth as a means to combat and prevent infections from spreading during
this time. He most likely had a severe infection around his teeth during his
bout with the flu. This practice shows the primitive nature of medical science
in the early 1900's before antibiotics.
Later in 1919 the family moved from Baltimore to Fayetteville, most likely
to be near their families and to get away from the colder northern winters. The
1920 census listed them living in a rented home on Hillside Avenue with their
oldest two children and my grandfather working as a buyer in the cotton business.
The street is just west of downtown Fayetteville. On November 17, 1920 my grand-
father's father, George M. Rose, transferred a lot measuring 100 feet by 267 feet
on the west side of Hillside Avenue to Thomas D. Rose and Lila W. Rose. My great
grandfather helped several of his children with a lot so they could build a home. The land originally came from Augusta
Steel Rose's parents. In the early 1920's, my grandparents, I believe, built a brick front house on this lot on Hillside
Avenue. The 1930 Cumberland Co, NC census listed the value of the home at $10,000.
Tom Rose with with Lila Williams (seated) in the mid 1910's
In Fayetteville, he worked in the cotton business as Secretary/Treasurer of Cape
Fear Bonded Warehouse Company until 1923. In 1923 he took a part time job as the City
Engineer of Fayetteville, a job he held until 1934. He claimed to be an electrical
engineer working for the city government according to the 1930 census. He took a
number of pictures of the projects he was responsible for, including the Ray Avenue
and Halfway Bridge projects, as well as, sewerage disposal projects. The picture album
is in the possession of the family of Thomas D. Rose, Jr. In 1923 my grandfather, also,
worked as engineer and manager of the contracts department for Hunter Brothers Electrical
Company. Sometime later he started his own civil engineering company designing culverts,
bridges, and disposal plants. The business did well and he made six or seven thousand
dollars a year during the nineteen twenties. This was a lot of money during the nineteen
twenties and equivalent to about $80,000 in 2006. In the early 1930's, work dried up
because during the depression and the area had little need for engineering work. He had
paid all but the last year or so off on the mortgage on his home that he had built during
the 1920's. Since he had no money to repay the mortgage, in 1934 the family lost their home
to the bank. In fact, he amassed some amount of debt during the depression all of which
he later paid off with interest.
During the depression he struggled mightily to support his family by moving from one place
to another as jobs became available. He first moved his family from Fayetteville to
Charlotte and then, in September 1934, to Chapel Hill, NC working as an engineer for
the Federal Government with the Public Works Administration, the Construction Division. He served as resident and
traveling engineer inspector and then the state engineering inspector. The job required a lot of traveling across
all parts of North Carolina. He did not like to travel and did not like working for the federal government so,
as soon as, the economy improved in 1938, he returned to private practice working in the Gilbert C. White Company
in Durham and then Mr. Breeze's Architectural Firm in Shelby, NC. His family moved to Shelby in late 1938 and then
in late 1940 they returned to Chapel Hill. He continued to work for Mr. White until 1946 when he again established
his own engineering firm. While self employed, he designed the Lake Fisher Dam, a water treatment plant for the
city of Concord, the Richland Dam for Greensboro, and a sewage treatment plant for Chapel Hill. At some point during
this time, he became part time city engineer for the town of Chapel Hill and the University of North Carolina. For
six months during World War II, he taught mechanical drawing in the math department of The University of North Carolina.
Tom Rose in the early 1930's
On July 6, 1949 the city of Chapel Hill Board of Aldermen elected Thomas D. Rose town
manager starting on July 15 at a salary of $5,000 a year or about $40,000 in 2006
dollars. He served for twelve years under three different mayors and his salary ranged
from $4800 to more than $6000 per year plus up to $800 in a car allowance. The citizens
elected the Mayor, a part time position, and the Board of Aldermen. The Aldermen then
elected the town manager, who worked full time running the day-to-day affairs of the
city. The Chapel Hill Weekly newspaper reported, "If there was ever a case of the
office seeking the man, not the man seeking the office, this was it. The aldermen
offered him the post, but he declined because of his unwillingness to quit his profession
of engineering." After reconsideration for a few days he accepted the position.
Years later he admitted that he was not making a very good living at engineering during
and after World War II. My grandfather earned the respect of the mayors and the University
of North Carolina administration and he, with his engineering background, did the job with
great distinction. On July 10, 1961, at the age of 71, he announced his retirement as Town
Manager effective September 1, 1961. He claimed that Chapel Hill needed someone younger to
manage the rapidly growing city.
On August 14, 1961 the Mayor and Aldermen of Chapel Hill gathered at their regular meeting.
Alderman Giduz, acting as spokesman, read the following unedited statement of appreciation
to Thomas D. Rose. "During the last dozen years the Town of Chapel Hill has tripled in size, budget, problems
and opportunities. An able public servant has competently handled all four of these matters. Thomas Duncan Rose has
been a Town Manager who truly sensed the spirit of Chapel Hill. Though a civil engineer by profession, he has been
a town manager who realized that this municipality is not so much an area of 2,500 acres, nor a taxable valuation
of $30 million, as it is home of 12,000 persons who know it as the Southern Part of Heaven.
During his tenure Town Manager Rose has been totally concerned with the welfare of the town - concerned even at
the cost of his own health. He has been careful, cheerful, forthright, and completely sincere. He has handled the
public treasury with the responsibility of his Scotch ancestry, while planning for the future of the growing Town
with the vision of his long years of experience. His associates on this Board of Aldermen could cite the many
accomplishments of Thomas D. Rose in terms of the Town's added physical assets. But they prefer to declare more
simply, and most sincerely, that he has made this municipality a better place in which to live.
In speaking (sic) the gratitude of all citizens of Chapel Hill the Board of Aldermen hereby formally expresses
its appreciation to Town Manager for his capable and devoted public service and further declares its pleasure
in the realization that the Town will continue to enjoy his services as the Town Engineer."
After his retirement from the city on September 1, 1961 he opened an office in the Vine Professional Building
to do municipal and civil engineering design and to carry out his duties as Chapel Hill city engineer. He designed
a sewer plant for Hillsboro as his first project. This engineering firm later became Rose, Pridgen, and Freeman.
They designed dams, sewerage disposal plants, etc. He worked with this firm until he sold his interest to his
partners in his early 80's.
CHARACTER AND OUTSIDE ACTIVITIES
My grandparents lived in Chapel Hill in their ladder years and were greatly respected by their family and friends.
They loved being home and having their children and grandchildren pay them a visit. They lived a very modest lifestyle
rather than living high like so many families do today. This helped them during the ups and down of the economy.
I remember my grandfather as a bright man of great integrity. He was friendly but a very conservative and unassuming
man. I believe, as a young man he most likely was outgoing and fun loving. This is based on pictures taken of him
in the 1910's in a party setting and because of all of the social activities he was involved with while at The
University of North Carolina. Age and the depression most likely had a great effect on him. As a young man my
grandfather had a great interest in gadgets. He would be truly fascinated with all of the computer/cell phones/digital
cameras, and other high tech gadgets of the 2000's. During the 1920's he purchased the first radio in the neighborhood.
These early radios did not have speakers, only earphones. If two people wanted to listen to, for example, a sports
event, one would remove the earphones from the headset and each person would hold one of them next to their ear. He
kept up to date on the latest cameras and took and developed lots of pictures of his family and events during the
first half of his life.
My grandfather was involved in the community activities; he served in the Rotary Club, as president of the club, and
as a member of the University Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill serving on the board of deacons and as an elder. He
was a quiet, honest, decent very well respected engineer. While running his own business during the 1960's and 1970's
he had the reputation of being an excellent engineer. He received a lot of business and, for the first time in his life,
was financially secure. He was reluctant to sell himself, so most of his private engineering work came by word of mouth.
My father, who was an excellent salesman, once said with my grandfather's engineering talent and his sales talent they
would have gone far as a team.
Family in late 1930's Eliza, Sara, Annie Lea, Tom, Lila, and Tommy
My grandfather was very bright and loved to
read history, particularly about the Civil War,
Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln. His father had
served in the Civil War, and this must have peaked
his interest. He studied his family history as
early as the 1950's and helped his nephew Ben Lacy
Rose with the book on Alexander Rose and his
descendents. He loved sports and closely followed
UNC football and basketball. He and his daughter
Sara would diagram each play during a Carolina
football game. He also enjoyed baseball since he
played it as a young man. I can remember visiting
him while in his 80's and being amazed at his
knowledge of the statistics of the major league
baseball players. In his retirement, he enjoyed
being a ham radio operator and communicated with
people from all over the world. He volunteered at
the local hospital assisting and reading to older
patients, who were most likely, younger than him.
I also marveled at his intelligence and how his
mind was as sharp as a 90 year old as it must
have been as a 40 year old.
Politically he was a very conservative man. He read extensively about Barry Goldwater and was elated when Mr. Goldwater
won the Republican nomination for President in 1964, but disappointed when Goldwater did not win in November. I believe
many of his conservative beliefs were formed during the depression while working for the government and seeing all of
My grandfather was basically healthy all of his life, although he had sinus problems and suffered with stomach and
intestinal maladies during the second half of his life. In addition, he struggled with respiratory problems in the
winter. These problems improved after he retired from the town of Chapel Hill. His doctor claimed he had a heart
attack in the late 1950's after he complained of chest pains. This was one of the reasons he gave for retiring as
Town Manager of Chapel Hill. He, like many men of his time in North Carolina, smoked for at least 75 years, first
cigarettes and later a pipe. In September 1981 he was diagnosed with lung cancer. His cancer spread fast and he died
on December 26, 1981. His death certificate indicated he died of a melanoma that resulted from a spot on his neck,
although he had developed lung cancer before the melanoma was discovered. I last visited him in August of 1981 while
he and my grandmother were living at Carroll Woods, a retirement community in Chapel Hill. His energy level was very
high for a 91 year old, and his mind was sharper than mine. He is buried beside his wife in the University Cemetery
in Chapel Hill, NC. Throughout his life he demonstrated the virtues of honesty, morality, responsibility, hard work
and devotion to his family. He became a great role model for his grandchildren and hopefully his young descendents
who read his life story will be so inspired.
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