Davie County to install seventh historic marker
By Lynn Rumley
For the Salisbury Post
COOLEEMEE ó The temptation for modern society to lapse into historical amnesia is powerful. Yet, like individuals, the past has made us who we are.
Davie County will soon get another reminder of its heritage ó its seventh North Carolina highway historic marker. On May 17 at 10 a.m., an installation ceremony will be held in the southern end of the county in Cooleemee. The public is invited.
The cast iron marker will pay homage to the life of a famous North Carolinian, state historian Hugh Talmage Lefler. His passion was to convey that “the past is a preface to the present.”
To the strains of the Davie County High School band, the marker will be unveiled. It reads: “HUGH T. LEFLER 1901-1981. Preeminent historian of North Carolina, author & editor. Professor at UNC, 1935-1972. His birthplace is one mile east.”
Dr. Jerry Cashion, chairman of the N.C. Historical Commission, will be on hand. He was once a Lefler student at Chapel Hill ó along with perhaps 18,000 others. Cashion says that Lefler could “make you believe that you were the only person in the class.” He petitioned for this marker after Lefler passed away, but state rules prevent the erection of markers until at least 25 years have passed since an individual’s death ó no matter how famous.
Born on a Davie County farm to Charles D. and Eva Swicegood Lefler, young Hugh was lucky to have lived near the new cotton mill town of Cooleemee. In 1903, Erwin Mills had constructed a modern “graded” school ó the first in Davie County ó consolidating 11 mostly one-room country schools into one with an excellent teaching staff.
“We do know that Lefler made the honor roll in fourth grade here,” says historian Jim Rumley. After eleven years, he graduated from the eight-room, wood-frame school that sat at the corner of Watts and Cross Streets. From Weaver Junior College, Lefler went on to study at Trinity College (Duke) in Durham and then to the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his Ph.D. The country boy had gone far.
After nine years of teaching history at North Carolina State University, Lefler became a faculty fixture for decades at Chapel Hill. Davie County historian James Wall, another Lefler student, found his lecture style “fascinating.” Wall began his history teaching career in the early 1940s at Cooleemee High School and taught for many years at Davie High School.
Today, many history professors teach very narrow, highly specialized segments of history. Lefler, in contrast, might be called a generalist, conveying his expansive knowledge of both American and his native state’s history. He didn’t pull punches, publicly refused to go along with fads or popular pressure and called historic events as he saw them.
Aside from his remarkable teaching career, Lefler will be remembered for his research and writing. Rising early most mornings to write, he also spent holidays and summer vacations documenting American colonial and North Carolina historical events. Lefler wrote, co-authored or edited 20 books and too many journal and magazine articles to count. For grade-school students, Lefler co-authored the standard textbook “The Growth of North Carolina”ó required reading for Tar Heel girls and boys for more than a generation. “North Carolina: The History of a Southern State,” co-authored with Albert Ray Newsome, became the required reading for college.
It is no surprise that Lefler was elected to serve as president of both the North Carolina Historical Society and the Southern Historical Society. Now, it is fitting that he will be honored with a state historic highway marker just up the road.
A program of tribute and music will follow the marker installation at 10:45 a.m. at Liberty United Methodist Church, where many Leflers are buried. Cashion will be the keynote speaker and the voices of the Davie Singing Seniors will convey how dear the rich heritage we share is.
The program is being organized by the Lefler family and hosted by the Cooleemee Historical Association. The 10 a.m. marker ceremony will take place at the intersection of N.C. 801 South and Watts Street in Cooleemee. Park near the old cotton mill.
Liberty United Methodist Church is located at 141 Liberty Circle, just off U.S. 601, about a mile north of Greasy Corner.