Sketches of Old Warrenton
OLD WARRENTON AND THE NEW TOWN - A CONTRAST
The physical and material conditions of the Warrenton of today are so
changed from those of the first half-century of its existence that I think
it most appropriate, in the beginning, to draw the contrast rather than to
wait to do so at the conclusion of these pages. During the first period,
the town consisted largely of a map and survey of the streets; the houses
and homes being limited in number, and for the most part unpretentious in
appearance. There were only half dozen, or maybe fewer, residences of any
claim to size or style, and the streets and sidewalks, where they had been
laid out at all, were only wider roads of red mud in winter, and dust in
summer. To find one's way from house to house at night lanterns with
lighted candles were necessary, as well as to prevent bodily injury from
falling into some pond of water, or hole in the streets, or upon the lots
not improved or built upon.
The Warrenton of today is in some respects the most
remarkable town in the country. There are many beautiful and convenient
homes, all in good repair, with yards and gardens adorned with roses and
flowers of every variety, and furnished with all domestic comforts. The
streets and sidewalks have been laid with improved granolithic pavements,
and where, during the winter season, the plain and heavy vehicles of
ancient days moved, as it were, up to the hubs in mud and water,
automobiles of the most improved type roll over the smooth paved streets
without noise and without effort. The chief of these streets, more than a
mile and a quarter long, is especially striking.
modern courthouse in the center of the town has been recently erected, as
has been also a commodious town-hall, well finished and furnished.
The old fashioned dug well, in diameter about five feet, and in depth
about forty or fifty feet, with its necessary windlass, bucket and chain,
has been replaced with up-to-date waterworks for all modern uses, both
municipal and domestic. A small municipal tax provides a sinking fund to
meet annual payments on the system.
For the old fashioned lantern and tallow candle, as the
only lights on the streets at night, electricity now affords Warrentonians
a brilliant white way, the lighting being furnished by the power of the
Peck cotton factory, on the northern edge of the town, equipped with the
most improved and modern motor. In place of the old excavation known in
old times as the ice house, the town government manufactures ice for its
citizens and the surrounding country, in a factory owned, debt free, by
the town. The homes are lighted by electricity, and telephones are in
almost every house, their use dispensing with messengers for communication
between citizens, as was the old-time custom.
government renews its streets and pavements, or builds new ones, with
stone crushed at its own quarries lying within half a mile of the
Until the "short cut" from Petersburg to Norlina was
built by the Seaboard Air Line a village and station were established
there, and a direct macadam road was run to Warrenton, the citizens of the
town, and the stranger who came into its' gates, used a railway three
miles long, from Warren Plains, a station on the Seaboard Air Line,
formerly the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad.
The railroad's history is interesting. About 1877 three
of the most estimable but most impracticable citizens of the town started
the movement. At the first public meeting at the courthouse, the chief
speaker met with the misfortune of having his manuscript of many sheets,
lying by him on a table loose and unweighted, scattered over the floor in
every direction by a strong gust of wind. After an awkward and
unsuccessful attempt to recover the pages, he announced that he could not
proceed as he was not prepared to extemporaneously produce the statistics
and arguments contained in his written production. In consequence the
meeting was adjourned.
In a short time about $2,000 was subscribed for stock, and was paid in,
and the amount spent on grading and for some crossties. There were no
streams to be crossed, and the surface of gray with a good clay subsoil
was so level, that the grading was done with a small force equipped with
pick and shovel and plumb. A good hand could then be hired for about
seventy-five cents a day, the laborer furnishing his own rations.
But the enterprise halted, and the crossties were sold as fire-wood. In
about 1883 the town subscribed $20,000 in bonds toward the stock (nearly
the 'entire stock subscription). A gentleman (my husband) was employed as
the attorney of the company to sell the bonds. He knew well a prosperous
banker of New York City, formerly of North Carolina, and went to see him.
The banker laughed heartily at the proposition to buy the bonds, but
suggested that the attorney call on a gentleman whose name he gave him,
saying that he might take the chance.
The gentleman to whom the attorney was referred was originally from
Connecticut, then a banker in New York. The statement made by the attorney
interested him. When. he had been informed of all the facts and conditions
it was felt that the large negro population of the town, and especially
that of the county — the proportion then being nearly three to one — was
the main impediment to the negotiation. The attorney then mentioned that
the negro question, neither in Warrenton nor in Warren County, had ever
been a menacing one; that in the Reconstruction period the negroes there
were respectful, polite, law-abiding and industrious.
The banker seemed satisfied, and said that he had just that amount
$20,000, belonging to two maiden ladies in Connecticut, for investment,
and that he would make the purchase for them. He said that he needed no
counsel as he had experience in such investments, but that an examination
of the North Carolina Constitution, and the Act of the General Assembly
authorizing the issue of the bonds would be necessary. These documents
were then produced from the hand bag of the attorney; and after an
examination of probably an hour, the banker said the money could be had as
soon as the bonds were executed and delivered. In a very short time the
bonds were delivered, and the money paid over to the company.
Often the request was made by the company to pay bonds ($1,000 each
through a series of twenty years) before maturity, but the request was
always refused. The bondholders did not desire to change the investment.
For several years past the town stock has paid in yearly dividends from
$6,000 to $9,000.
The railroad was completed on the 8th day of November, 1884. The entrance
of the first train, locomotive and two cars, into the town, was celebrated
by a great concourse of people. There were fireworks, speeches, music and
general good, cheer. The track at that time did not run any further than
to the northern limit of the town. The citizens felt that they had a
double cause for jubilation, as they were, after nearly a century of
isolation, in touch with the outer world, and had also received the news
confirming the election of Grover Cleveland as President of the United
States, the first Democratic President since Buchanan.
The population of the town (1922) is only 813 souls (500 whites, 313
colored), the number of citizens not varying from 1850 to the present time
a hundred persons. The government of the town consists of a mayor and
seven aldermen, three of whom are negroes. Good feeling exists between the
races, as has always been the case ; and it is a proverbial saying in all
the adjoining towns and cities, that the Warren County servants are the
most intelligent and reliable of all the domestic help.