Dicy McCullough: The bear in the poplar tree
I moved to Bear Poplar Road from Old Mocksville Road 27 years ago. Iíll never forget being too tired to move, nine months pregnant, with nowhere to sit because the furniture hadnít arrived yet. Now many years later, that memory is just as fresh as ever.
Little did I know what a wonderful friend I would find in my new neighborhood. Billie McCauley was my next-door neighbor at the time, and over the years she has become one of my best friends. I was hooked when she showed up at my back door a few days after we moved in with a tin full of homemade chocolate chip cookies.
The cookies were just a taste of things to come, and I do mean taste because I found out rather quickly Billieís an awesome cook. Since that day Billie and I have seen each other through good times and bad, which includes the death of her husband, Jim McCauley.
Three years ago Billie decided to move to Washington state to be near her daughter, Becky. When she moved we bought her property, which up until that time had been in her husbandís family for almost 100 years. Through correspondence back and forth, I was able to learn more about its history.
In Billieís records, she found the property was bought in 1893 for $1,250 by a group of men from Camden, N.J. A two-story house stood on the property, and it became known as ěThe Withrow Hunting Club for the promotion and practice of gunning, fishing, and other legitimate recreations and amusements.î
Jimís grandparents bought the hunting lodge in 1911, and it became their family home. Jimís mother, Ola Mae, grew up in the house, but moved to Salem, Va., when she was 17. After she married, she often came home bringing her three children for a visit with their grandparents. They rode the train to Bear Poplar, got off and walked the tracks to the house, which was only a short distance. When Ola Maeís husband died she moved back to take care of her dad, who by then was a widower. Later, Billie and Jim moved to Bear Poplar to take care of Ola Mae. She died before I moved in next door.
Billie and Jim were neighbors on one side of my house, while Melvin and Margaret Shook were neighbors on the other. Recently, I went to a meeting where a local historian, Ronnie Steele, was the guest speaker. Her topic was the community of Bear Poplar. Ronnie has a lot of knowledge about this subject, but at the meeting she also shared some of Melvinís stories. I had heard many of Melvinís stories before because I often found myself sitting in his den listening to his ěrecollections.î Margaret and Melvin enjoyed having company and this was a highlight of their afternoons. They both have since passed away and are missed very much in our little community.
Iíll never forget when Margaret died because she had wanted to live to see one more snowfall. It was November and rarely do we have snow in November. The day she died was a Sunday and it snowed. Melvin lived a few more years after that.
Bonnie Myers, Melvinís daughter, said of Melvin, ěHe lived all his life on Bear Poplar Road and had no desire to go anywhere else. He had everything he wanted here. He loved rural life with friends, family and his garden. When he married Margaret, he told her he couldnít promise her riches and fame, but he could promise they would never go hungry.î
Melvin liked to tell how Bear Poplar got its name. Even though this happened long before he was born, I have a feeling the information was passed down to him through his family. It seems a Revolutionary War officer, Mr. Thomas Cowan, and his wife were on their way to church one Sunday. As Mr. and Mrs. Cowan were riding along in their horse and buggy they noticed a bear up a poplar tree. Mr. Cowan went back to the house to get his gun, while his wife stayed in the buggy to watch the bear. Iím not going into detail about what happened to the bear, but you can fill in the gaps.
As a result of this incident, the name of the little community eventually became Bear Poplar.
Not to be confused with Bear Poplar Road, the center of Bear Poplar is actually at the crossroads of Graham Road, Hall Road and N.C. 801. John Steele, who owns Steele Feed and Seed at this intersection, says the community probably extends in each direction a little more than a mile.
Little did I know when I moved here what a wealth of history I would be living in the midst of. I just wish I had listened closer to Melvinís stories, yet Iím grateful for people like Ronnie Steele and Billie McCauley who are willing to research and dig for answers. When it comes to this community thereís a lot more left to be explored. Ronnie alluded to that in her speech. Iíll give you a clue as to what she said. It has something to do with corn. Any guesses?
Dicy McCullough of Salisbury is the author of the childrenís book, ěTired of My Bath.î