PELHAM, NORTH CAROLINA – There are rocking chairs on the porch, purple Dutch Iris blooming in the front garden. I concluded after a stop here this must be one of the friendlies state visitor and information centers in America.
Located at the edge of the Virginia/North Carolina border on US-29, it is just south of Danville, Va.
Lynchville where the late Jerry Falwell founded Liberty University, (which offers more than 200 accredited online courses) is several miles to the north.
I prefer driving US-29 because it is a four-lane divided highway and hil busy, has far less traffic than Interstate 95 or Interstate 81.
I must admit I have a bias for the Pelham rest area, since my nephew, also named for his grandfather, (my father) Howard James, Sr., is the respected and well liked Methodist minister here.
Howie, as our family calls him, was ordained in recent years after studying theology at Duke University. He also is an amazingly skilled and prolific potter with his own throwing wheel and kiln.
Howie had no role in my stopping at this outstanding visitor center. In fact, I had forgotten he was assigned to preach here while he was still a student and was asked to stay after graduation. I am behind schedule because a logging truck gave my earlier motorhome a sudden “kiss” and I had to replace it.
I had stopped for the night in Burlington, N.C. to visit my brother, Dan and his wife, Paula. (Howie’s mother passed on several years ago).
Dan is a superb cook and Paula is a gentle, bright, charming hostess. We feasted on Dan’s roast pork, potatoes, carrots and a delicious tossed salad. During the evening Dan’s daughter, Audrey, dropped by to chat. She is the same age as Jon, our youngest son.
Pelham is so small I searched the internet for the population. It may be there, but I couldn’t find it.
Just to the north is Danville, Va. and for generations Pelham people worked at the huge cotton mill there. It has been suggested as many as 3,000 men and woman were once employed during the mill’s prime. But Dan River fell on tough times and filed for bankruptcy. There were just 500 people on the payroll by then.
In 2005 Gujarat Heavy Chemicals, a company in India, bought and closed the mill and moved manufacturing overseas where labor costs were far lower and environmental standards were said to be less demanding.
JCPenney was one of the companies that sold Dan River products. That brought television personality Martha Stewart to town.
Pelham used to be a tobacco-growing area, but only a few farmers grow that crop now. For good reason, tobacco has made the US most hated list, along with asbestos and mercury. I did learn one family is still growing special tobacco then seeking ways to remove the addictive nicotine. But many of the small farmers now survive because they produce garden vegetables for families.
People have been moving here from Chapel Hill and other communities in the state’s Northern tier to raise horses. Awhile back a pair of neurologists came to town and conducted sleep studies.
Later someone began producing “Sleepy Goat Cheese.” Unfortunately it is still not a best seller around the nation.
Caswell County was, for years, a stronghold for Democrats. But in recent years more people have voted for Republicans. I asked how these voters should be described and it was suggested they probably wouldn’t mind being called Reagan/Goldwater Republicans.
This a beautiful area, and if there is anything that holds it back it is the high drop-out rate at the consolidated high school. More than the usual number of parents and grandparents, involved in agriculture, didn’t finish high school and so there still is less emphasis on high school graduation or going on to college.
It may take time to turn this tend around. As we lose more manufacturing jobs getting a solid education becomes essential.
Someday local youngsters will get that message. But they have a head start in life because they have farm family, “salt of the earth” values.