Wiley Lash was interviewed by Salisbury Post newswoman Rose Post over the course of a year in 1991. Lash and Post discussed his life, and how Salisbury and Rowan County had changed since the time that he was a boy. There are a number of references to familiar places and people in Salisbury history and politics. These taped interviews are available at the Rowan Public Library Edith M. Clark History Room.
The interview presentation available here is the first of the interviews of Wiley Lash recorded on February 23, 1991. The interview is primarily about Lash, his family, and the town of Salisbury. Lash discusses changes in the town from the 1930's to the present. Included is information on his own contributions to the changing face of Salisbury. Wiley Lash passed away in 1995.
Mr. Lash: ______________ and redo the whole place. That was in 1960 or 1961. We had Tony Lampron. You know we hired him as the director. Even before he came we had decided all of that, and we had made plans to do it. So the money that we got, and it was millions and millions of dollars at that time. I don't recall how many - about 25 million. We decided that that was the place in Salisbury that needed to be rehabilitated completely, and what we decided to do was tear down everything and buy everything in the area and tear it down or move it. Where there happened to be a structure that needed to be moved, we would move it, buy we ended up tearing down all of them, even some of the brick houses that were there, substantial houses. Then we realigned the streets, bought the churches in the area.
Mrs. Post: How many churches were in there?
Mr. Lash: The House of Prayer and the Dixonville Baptist Church and Hall's Chapel. I know those three. Maybe one or two smaller churches, you know, what they call store-front churches in the area. And so we bought all the churches. The Dixonville Baptist Church, which, of course, is now Mount Calvary Baptist Church, we gave them, I think, something like thirty some thousand dollars for that old church that they had. It was right on the railroad track and every time a train came along they would have to stop preaching. Whatever they were doing, they would have to stop doing it and let the train pass.
Mrs. Post: And there were more trains then.
Mr. Lash: Oh, yes, there were twenty-three trains passing through here then, passenger trains, not counting the freight trains. So it was really a headache. Dr. Ezell was the head deacon in the church. He was a good friend of mine, and I talked with him about it. I said, "Don't you know that the best thing for you to do is take this money we are going to give you and build yourself a church away from here, and we can sell you land enough to really build a nice church and have plenty of parking and all other things you need." He had a hard time getting the deacon board to decide to do it. They finally decided to do it so we did give them something like $30,000.00 for the structure that they had, and they tore the church down and built this new church that they have now.
Mrs. Post: That's which church?
Mr. Lash: That's First Calvary Baptist Church.
Mrs. Post: The one on the corner.
Mr. Lash: In that whole area where there used to be houses down there, you know, along the railroad - I don't know what street they call it - but anyway there were houses all along in there.
Mrs. Post: That's on the corner of Horah and Old Concord Road.
Mr. Lash: Yes. It runs all the way down to Monroe Street. But all that along there were old houses and shacks and some old stores mixed up in there.
Mrs. Post: Dirt streets yet?
Mr. Lash: They were dirt streets and houses of ill repute and everything else you could think about, you know, whiskey, whiskey doings and all that kind of thing. We were able to clean all that up. Well, the first thing people said was, well, you can fix this place up for these folks, but it will be like that again in ten years.
Mrs. Post: It's not and it's thirty years now.
Mr. Lash: It's one of the better looking places in the whole county. It's a funny thing, my brother owned property down there. He used to buy property like my father, and he bought an estate called the Hargrave Estate, and the estate included that graveyard that's right behind the Lincoln Recreation Center. Do you know where that is? There is a swimming pool, and there is a cemetery there. So he bought the estate, and the estate included the cemetery, and my brother is one of these sort of superstitious people. He said one night he went to bed and this old lady - this Hargrave lady - she was dead, of course - appeared at the foot of his bed and told him he better get rid of that cemetery. He had better not stand anything in that cemetery.
Mrs. Post: Is the cemetery still there?
Mr. Lash: Yes. The next day he went and deeded it to the city. He gave it to the city.
Mrs. Post: So it will be there.
Mr. Lash: Yes. They keep it up now. It's part of that area right in there. It's kind of a park area, but it was funny the way he used to tell it.
Mrs. Post: That woman appeared at his -
Mr. Lash: He swore that this lady appeared in a dream to him at the foot of his bed and told him he better not do anything to that cemetery.
Mrs. Post: That's a great story. I love that. That's a beautiful area now.
Mr. Lash: Yes, it is, and I'm so proud because of what people used to say about it. I had all kind of trouble, you know. I had calls from people living in the area cursing me out for helping to break up their homes and all that kind of thing, you know.
Mrs. Post: That's change, and that's what we were talking about. It's so hard to make changes, but you've got to make them and move on. That was a major change.
Mr. Lash: That was a major change, a dramatic change because everything was torn up and moved and pulled out of there, you know, streets torn up and everything, plus the advantages they've got. They probably have better water lines and sewage lines and things like that than any place in Salisbury because it's a new development. After that it was a new development and everything was new in there. The sewage lines were new, and water lines were new.
Mrs. Post: And the houses now -
Mr. Lash: And the houses are all new.
Mrs. Post: And it's really a beautiful area. When I drive people around Salisbury who come to visit and want to see the town, they want to know if we have any slums in Salisbury, and I say, "You can look here and there where some neighborhoods aren't so good anymore, but I want to show you our worse slum." I drive them down there and say, "This is the worse slum."
Mr. Lash: And you know I have pictures of that old area, and the reason that I got the pictures is because I was in the city office one day upstairs in the development office, and the girl said to me, "You know I've got a whole lot of pictures that were taken back when old Dixonville was there when we talked about tearing it up, and I don't know what to do with them. I think I'm going to have to destroy them because there are so many of them, and I don't know what to do with them," so I told her to give them to me, and she did. They are pictures of the houses that used to be there, you know. What I intended to do was give them to the Eastside Community Club so that they could preserve them. I thought maybe they would be proud to make the comparison.
So I went to their meeting one night, and I gave them to the president of the club, and I told them that I thought maybe this would be something they would be interested in keeping preserved for future generations. They thanked me for it, you know, and I never did hear anymore it. I never did hear anymore about the album they were going to do or make a picture show of any kind so when, I believe, it was Ed Norvell asked me to be on some kind of committee for the Historic Foundation - they were interested in developing what they called historic black area to see what should be preserved and what could be preserved and what should be preserved - so I mentioned that I had gotten all these pictures of the city while I was mayor, and I had just decided that maybe something ought to be done with them.
I went back to the president of the club and asked him about the pictures. I said, "You know I presented some pictures to your club some years ago. I've never seen any record of where you've done anything with them." He said, "No, because they are out there in my garage." I said, "Do you mind if I take them and give them to somebody who might preserve them." He said, "No," he would be happy to do it, so he brought them to me, and I gave them to Fannie Kelsey and Roundtree and told them to try to fix them some way so they could be preserved because it is history.
Mrs. Post: Is it now in the Heritage Hall, you think, at Livingstone?
Mr. Lash: I'm sorry.
Mrs. Post: Do you think they are now in Heritage Hall at Livingstone?
Mr. Lash: Yes. I think that's probably what she ended up doing with them. I haven't talked with Fannie lately. Fannie said Garland had been sick so she hasn't had much chance to work on them, but she and Roundtree were getting them together and trying to line them up in such a way that they could be seen. They show the shacks of the area the way it looked.
Mrs. Post: Wiley, do you remember who was president of the Eastside Club then.
Mr. Lash: Yes, Raeford Jones.
Mrs. Post: What was the Eastside Club?
Mr. Lash: They still have the club. It's a club that they formed way back when the houses were first built in there to be sure that there would be no deterioration, not allow deterioration in the area, that they would be able to keep the place clean, and if any problems came up, they could come before the city council with the problems and that sort of thing. That's really what the Eastside Community Club was. They have done a good job that way, but I guess we like to forget where we came from.
Mrs. Post: I think there has to be a - and I'm no sociologist and I don't know - but I think there has to be a gap of time between it. You have to get comfortable in where you are before you can go back and look at where you were.
Mr. Lash: Maybe after most of the people who made that transition either died or moved out or something like that, that the others would be interested in it.
Mrs. Post: The next generation.
Mr. Lash: Yes, probably so, but I got the feeling after I made the presentation that night that maybe they weren't as happy to have those pictures as I would have been. Just like this area here. This area has gone down a whole lot since I was first in here, and it's worse now than it was when I moved here.
Mrs. Post: When did you move here?
Mr. Lash: Well, I built this home in 1937.
Mrs. Post: And at that time - I remember one time Sam Duncan was standing out front.
Mr. Lash: I can count the people that lived. Sam Duncan and his family lived right behind me, and right next door, of course, my mother and father lived, and then across the street O.C. Hall was principal of the high school lived with his wife, and she was a teacher, in the next house lived the Duncans, and in the next one Libby Koontz, and the next one was Joe, and in the next one was what they called the Fitzgeralds at that time. They were an old black family.
On the side street Trotts lived there. I have forgotten what he was. I think he worked at the transfer shed or something like that, but he was a substantial person, and he kept a good house, he and his wife, and the next one was Wisemans. They were substantial people. So the area has changed a whole lot since that time. I know when Joe lived here, I said to Joe one day, l told him, I tell you the neighbor across the street there whatever it was, a case of dogs running or something of that nature, and he said, "I'm certainly not going to bother those folks. I'm afraid of them as it is." He was afraid to say anything to them. "I don't know what they'll do to me. You know I'm going to get along with them." That's what he told me so areas change sometimes.
Mrs. Post: You know out on Mitchell and Wiley and those streets, they were such fine areas. When I came to Salisbury in 39 that was just considered the finest area. The country club hadn't grown up.
Mr. Lash: Yes, that's where the streetcar ran and everything else, as I told you, in years back. When my mother was in business, and I was growing up and had to carry groceries out there, that was always the fine area that I went and delivered groceries all out in that area.
Mrs. Post: Well, now though it's coming back again in a sense because they sold the houses to young families with small children. There are a lot of children out there now.
Mr. Lash: Well, they can buy those old houses, and if they can do some work themselves on them, you know, they can fix them up. That's the story. Now you talk about sociology, that was my major when I was in school, because they didn't have a business department at Livingstone at that time, and I wasn't interested in teaching, because I was already in the grocery business and already doing pretty good. I was making more money while I was in school than the folks who were teaching in the county or the city, and I knew that, so I decided I would take sociology, major in sociology, and that's what I did. Of course, they talked about areas in transition and prisons and all that kind of thing, you know.
Mrs. Post: It really fitted right in with all the work that you ended up doing.
Mr. Lash: Yes, it did.
Mrs. Post: Wiley, to go back to the time we talked about schooling up until you came home and didn't go back to Howard and your daddy -
Mr. Lash: Yes, I told you he had that car sitting there for my brother and myself. Of course, that was an enticement showing us that we could make money. By that time he had gotten disillusioned about the church as far as my ever being a minister or anything like that. In fact he had gotten disillusioned about it for himself and that's why he got into such an array of businesses, what we call neighborhood stores and things of that nature.
What I didn't know was that he had made some kind of arrangement with Peeler Distributing Company, which was a grocery wholesale house, and this man was going out of business. Some-how or another he and my father got into an agreement that my father would take over the merchandise that he had, a good bit of it anyway. Of course, he bought it on credit, you know, and that's why I was telling you about the 10%. He talked about that, 10% over and above the cost of the merchandise. So you see what that would have been. The man was making a profit on whatever he sold him plus the fact he was going to charge him 10% on top of that. Well, we didn't know that.
Mrs. Post: That was double what the interest was at that time.
Mr. Lash: At that time interest was 4% or 5%. I checked the records that were quoted if you got it at the bank, you know. But anyway it amounted to quite a lot of money. Well, he did all right. He had to do like you were talking about selling. He had to get the people to run the places. He couldn't run them all. He had seven stores, and I had one. He helped me on Council Street down there and put my brother in a store, I believe, in the old Dixonville area. At that time Ketners had stores just like we had. At that time Bob Ketner was living, and Bob had done the same thing we did. He put stores in all the neighborhoods.
Mrs. Post: So people could walk.
Mr. Lash: Yes, they could walk to the store. It was the thing to do. Of course, I guess we made pretty good money, I don't know, but anyway that's what he did. If it had not been for my brother, and I told you that last week, I believe, that my brother was smart enough to have the stores put in different names, not in his name.
Mrs. Post: So he couldn't lose them all.
Mr. Lash: That's right. Especially after he found out what he had done. He had the Council Street store put in my name. I believe the store in Dixonville was probably put in his name. I had two sisters and a brother, and he put -
Mrs. Post: Stores in all their names.
Mr. Lash: Yes, and that type of thing to protect us.
Mrs. Post: Wiley, how did the family feel? How did your daddy feel about the 10% interest.
Mr. Lash: Well, he couldn't borrow the money from the bank. They weren't going to let him have the money. I suppose he had a pretty good deal, especially in a neighborhood store he could charge a little more for the stuff, just like the neighborhood Quick-Mart and places like that do now.
Mrs. Post: For convenience.
Mr. Lash: Yes, for convenience. So I think he probably did make some money out of it. He probably would have made some money had it not been for the depression, but, you see, at the time he opened those things it was a booming time. It was after 29 that the depression came and everything fell. Of course, in my case I was on Council Street, and I had a pretty good business so it wasn't that hard on me. In some of those neighborhood stores it was pretty bad.
Mrs. Post: On Council Street though you drew from neighborhoods closer into town as well as -
Mr. Lash: Yes, I could pull on those mill people down on Cannon Mills # 7 or whatever it is down in there. I had a lot of the business from that area. Plus the fact, a lot of the people from the trains came up to buy. Whenever the train would stop there they would buy. The conductors and porters and people like that would buy cigarettes, etc., from me because I was close by. They would run up there and get them and then come back down. They could buy them in North Carolina cheaper than they could in some of the other states, like Atlanta and somewhere like that.
Mrs. Post: Or even up to Danville, Va.
Mr. Lash:: Or any place like that. So I didn't do so bad. Finally I decided to go back to school, I believe it was in 3l, yes, 3l, I think, because I decided that I wasn't going to be able to go back to Howard University because the business on Council Street had grown so much.
Another thing about it was I didn't feel like I wanted to leave my mother and father with all that responsibility so I decided if I wanted to go to school I had better go to Livingstone, and that's what I did. I went to back to Livingstone in 31 because I could go there and still operate the grocery store using my father, and then we put somebody else in the store in Dixonville., and my brother came up to Council Street to help me and called it Lash Brothers then. So he operated the store in the 30's, from 31 when I decided to go back to school until I actually graduated from college.
Mrs. Post: When did you graduate?
Mr. Lash:: In '34.
Mrs. Post: And how were your days structured?
Mr. Lash:: My days were - you know in college you don't have to go straight through like you do at other places - so I would go to my class and then I would come back to the store and work. The boys used to tease me because they said they would see me walking up the streets with a book in my hands trying to study between classes. I didn't have any time to be a college boy. I will put it this way, I wasn't a college boy because I didn't have that kind of time.
Mrs. Post: You were running a business.
Mr. Lash:: All of the time I was in college I was in business so I didn't have time to be a college boy as we think about it.
Mrs. Post: But you took a full course out there?
Mr. Lash:: Yes, I did, I took full courses and did all right as far as I'm concerned. My grades weren't A's, I don't think, but I did regular B work.
Mrs. Post: Did you go to summer school, too.
Mr. Lash:: No, I didn't go to summer school.
Mrs. Post: You would take the summer to work just in the stores. What time did you open up on Council Street?
Mr. Lash:: I opened up evidently about 7 o'clock and worked until time to go to school, about 9 o'clock, and then I would maybe spend an hour in whatever the course was, and then I would go back to the store, and then in the afternoon after class I would go back to the store and work until 10 o'clock at night.
Mrs. Post: You kept it open late every night and Saturday night, too.
Mr. Lash:: Right.
Mrs. Post: And it was still a family operation in that your daddy worked there and your brother worked there.
Mr. Lash:: He would come in and supply - He never did like to stay in the store just to run the place. He wouldn't mind coming in and spend an hour or two if we needed him.
Mrs. Post: If you had to go to class?
Mr. Lash:: At that time we had such a good business that we could afford to hire clerks to work at that time, and my brother and I at that time were in competition. I don't know if you are early enough to remember Brandt's Grocery in Spencer. Brandt had not a large store, but the way he had it arranged the whole front would open up with folding doors, and he could put the first quality merchandise on the front and the whole store would be exposed to the public.
Mrs. Post: Where was that store?
Mr. Lash:: In Spencer on - what is that street that runs? - I don't know the streets in Spencer, on a side street.
Mrs. Post: Right across from the Plaza.
Mr. Lash:: Where Stokes-Devereau used to have his ________________.
Mr. Lash:: He advertised a whole lot, made a big splurge, and then we had competition as I told you with the Ketners and Earnhardts, Ruftys.
Mrs. Post: Earnhardts out at Chestnut Hill.
Mr. Lash:: Jake Earnhardt's and Ruftys, and there was another Earnhardt out on this side of town where Bill Stanback's place is now. Bill bought the building, I believe.
Mrs. Post: I think I remember that. Mr. Lash: Yes, we had a lot of competition.
Mrs. Post: And then down on East Innes Street when we came here in 39 there were a couple of grocery stores there.
Mr. Lash: Right.
Mrs. Post: Walker it seems to me was one of them as well as I remember.
Mr. Lash: Well, West Innes Street had a Walker Store, a small brick store about as wide as this room, a pretty long store. It was across the street from my mother's store, but he never did do very much business. He just built the place. Finally I think as I remember either his son or his nephew sold the business or gave it to Don Clement for a Buick as I remember it.
Mrs. Post: Wiley, when we moved here in 39 the A&P had a little store that was the third down from us on Main Street, a small store. There was a Mr. Harris, who was the manager.
Mr. Lash: Yes, Harris was. Then they moved on Innes Street, you know, down near that alley there on Main Street. They had a little bit larger store. The first store of what we call a chain store was the Piggily Wiggily.
Mrs. Post: I don't remember that.
Mr. Lash: The Piggily Wiggily was up there where your place was. It was the kind that you go in, you know, and take the basket and walk through different aisles. That's why they called it Piggily Wiggily because you had to go this way and cut through another aisle.
Mrs. Post: I didn't know that. You had to follow the route.
Mr. Lash: Yes, that's why they called it the Piggily Wiggily. That was near where you all were running the store.
Mrs. Post: In the first block of North Main. Was that the same building that later became the A&P?
Mr. Lash: It could have been because the Piggily Wiggily didn't last that long as I remember it. The Piggily Wiggily went out of business, and the A&P came in.
Mrs. Post: When we moved here in '39. Our building, which was 110 North Main, had been empty for about ten years, and the last thing that had been in there was a grocery store.
Mr. Lash: That was probably the Piggily Wiggily. Now there was a Pender Store right around the corner in the building next to the Wallace Building. It later became the Colonial Stores, but it was originally Pender's. Pender's was a chain of stores, and then they had another one down there where I guess it's Hardiman and Son now. There was another Pender Store.
You know the funny thing about that was that back in those days - The Pender's people had managers naturally from out of town so I always did pretty good business. I had a real good business down on Council Street. I would sell pinto beans and things like that in 100 lb. bags, and by my staying open at night like I did, I sold a lot of that stuff, just worlds of it, and so the guy who was the manager of Pender's, they would give him so many specials every week that he could use to draw customers when he would advertise, etc., and so he came to see me one day and said, "Wiley, you've got a good business down here," and that I deserved it. I said, "Why?" He said, "I tell you what - They send me 500 lb. of pinto beans a week, five bags (or whatever it happens to be) that I'm supposed to sell at cost or something like this, and I can't get rid of it where I am." He said, "I'll sell it to you for what they bill it to me for, and since you stay open at night, I believe you can sell it." I said, "That sounds good to me. It depends on what you are going to let me have it for." He said, "I'll bring my specials down here."
Mrs. Post: So you were selling pinto beans.
Mr. Lash: And he said, "And you sell them, and you'll make a profit, and I'll get the credit." I said, "All right, that sounds like a good deal to me." He said, "All right, I'll start." So he did - he brought his pinto beans down there and that kind of thing. Sure enough at night I would sell them, you know. He said, "Now you know you open until l0 o'clock so I'm coming down here and help you after I close up." He closed at 6, and he would come down there, and he would help me sell the beans or whatever it happened to be. You know, he did real well. He did fine. He got a promotion.
Mrs. Post: What was his name?
Mr. Lash: I don't know. I didn't try to get into his business because I knew what he was doing was -
Mrs. Post: Working for a promotion.
Mr. Lash: That's right, and I was too happy to be a part of it.
Mrs. Post: To sell the beans and make a profit.
Mr. Lash: That's right, what his special - if it happened to be Jewel Shortening or whatever it happened to be, he would bring it down there and sell it.
End of tape - Side A