Those who know history before High Rock slipping away

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 25, 2014

Within the last few years, the last remaining World War I veterans have passed away. According to a 2012 article that appeared in British newspaper The Telegraph, 110-year-old Florence Green, a member of the Women’s Royal Air Force, died in February of that year. She signed up for service to her country in September of 1918. Two months later the war ended. With the passing of any generation, the unrecorded first-hand accounts of historical events pass along with them.
In November of 1927, nine years after the end of the World War I, the Salisbury Post reported that the lower gates of the High Rock dam were closed to allow for the backing up of the new reservoir. Construction was not completely finished on the dam, but workers felt confident that rising waters would not interfere with their remaining work.
Things were definitely changing. The surface of High Rock Lake would eventually cover over 15,000 acres. Since the land under the water was not flat, many more acres of the earth’s surface lie underneath. The same 1927 article estimated that 25,500 acres were covered. After some time, the water would back up into the many creeks of Davidson and Rowan counties that feed into the broad basin. It has the feeling of small lakes attached to other lakes.
High Rock Lake would become the second largest man-made lake in the south at the time.
In the 86˝ years since the gates of the dam closed, much has happened in and around High Rock Lake. Many water sports-related activities occurred in its early years. The Salisbury Yachting and Boating Association was formed in early 1928 with plans to hold sailboat races with trophies by July 4. The very next year, 4th of July of 1929, The High Rock Boat Club sponsored a motorboat race that drew a crowd of more than 2,000 people.
Spectators lined the shore near the old Long’s ferry to watch motorboats with names like “Z-33,” “Baby Whale,” “Whoopie,” ”Good old Rube” and others compete in several classes of timed races. The day’s events ended in a “free for all” race with boats averaging speeds of 37 miles per hour.
In the same vein of water sports, a Lexington man, Greely Hilton, in the 1930s swam 18 miles from the Southern Railway bridge near York Hill to the warning buoys at the High Rock dam. For 10 hours and 15 minutes, he followed a small rowboat across the “big lake.” The rowboat was manned by his brother, Omar Hilton, and two other men who would stop periodically to give the champion swimmer egg sandwiches, raw eggs, chocolate bars, coffee and water.
The article stated that as soon as Hilton entered the water, he took off his bathing suit, and having been “well greased,” he proceeded to move quickly through the water.
Sadly, much of the first-hand information about life leading up to the backing up of High Rock is not so readily available. Much like the passing away of the last of the World War I veterans, many of the Rowan and Davidson residents who remembered when flowers grew on the banks of creeks are slipping through time like Mr. Hilton moved through the water.