Spirit of Rowan 2023: Growing up with Rowan County through the generations

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 26, 2023

Terry Holt can still smell the burning. Back in 1964, Holt was just a kid when he was exposed to a Ku Klux Klan rally that took place in Rowan County and he still remembers it to this day.

“I remember going by on the school bus and smelling the kerosene soaking on the three crosses. People came and parked in our yard, put on their Klan robes, and walked a half a mile to get over,” Holt said.

To paint a better picture of what that time was like, Holt suggests checking out “Klansville, U.S.A.” a book about the Klan in the civil rights era, which shows a rally taking place in downtown Salisbury.

“If it had not rained a heavy rain on that day, there would’ve been dead people in the streets. There was a huge Klan rally here and a huge response rally and the police really just didn’t know what to do. It was about to break loose and God said, ‘OK, enough of this!’ and it just torrential down poured and sent everybody on his way. I sat beside one of the Klan members in church every Sunday,” Holt said.

Holt, a retired teacher, has lived in Rowan County for most of his life. The only time he lived anywhere else was when he moved to Virginia for eight years for a teaching job. It can be easy to take for granted how far America has come since those days of unrest. Even something as innocent as getting a drink of water took on whole new dimensions a few decades ago. Holt remembers a time when he was at the store with his mom and witnessed a powerful scene.

“A little girl had climbed up on the water fountain to get water and just about the time she was drinking this woman clothes-lined her off of the water stand because she had climbed up on the ‘colored’ water fountain,” Holt said. “I remember asking my mom, ‘Why does the water have a color?’ And her response was, ‘Well for right now, son, it just does.’ ”

Holt was born on Mt. Hope Church Road. An only child, his parents both used to work at the Cannon Mills. Looking back at how important those mills were to so many people, Holt can’t believe that they are gone now.

“I would never have thought in my life time that I would’ve watched the entire Cannon Mills torn down. My mom and dad made their living there. I worked there three years, partially in the summer. I never thought…”

One of the places that Holt and his friends always hung out at was “Dragging Town,” in his words, “It was just a place for teenagers to run miles up on their parent’s cars.” He can personally attest to this.

“So, I’m in Dragging Town, I picked up a buddy of mine. We’re just up and down, up and down. I got home and I’m asleep in the bed and my door comes open and I’ve never seen my dad this angry….He said, ‘How in the world did you put 656 miles on that car in one day?’”

Holt can’t help but notice all the changes to Rowan County since he was a kid. Like when all the big chains left Salisbury, he barely recognizes it anymore. “ I remember eating at the Woolworth’s counter…Watching China Grove change, the stores changed. I was there when the A&P store was still downtown.”

Holt taught history and worked with the Rowan Museum once he retired. The past has always fascinated him no matter what kind of history came his way. He went to Mount Hope Church where his mom taught Sunday school while his father was Sunday school superintendent. The original church was built in 1865, but was later demolished. Holt couldn’t help but go  through the rubble to get a souvenir.

“I went down and got some of the bricks that had the initials in it, had the little trinity markings on it. So I have that remembrance of my home church.”

He thinks back to bring into scope how far his family have had roots here in Rowan County. His sixth great-grandfather on his mother’s side was a Hessian soldier who fought in the Revolutionary War, but deserted the military. He found his way to Rowan County where other Germans lived. His father’s side, also from Germany, came here, too.

“They kept me here. Just those eight years in Virginia, rest of my life has been in Rowan County.”

Jonathan Barbee, 24, has also lived in Rowan County his whole life. He is very active in the community, where he has been a member of Civitans, Leadership Rowan and Salisbury Citizens Academy. He attended Salisbury High School and Catawba College. Barbee has always cared about where he grew up and has appreciated how much it’s improved.

“When other things started coming in, that became a central point for the community to actually hang out and stuff,” Barbee said. “Locals like a walkable city. The idea is of the diversity of things which we can go to. We do want to see these things filled up.”

Barbee can truly appreciate Bell Tower Green as a nice hub for residents to take in nice weather or be the de facto destination for fun events on weekends. All of the growth that has happened makes Barbee remember what the county was like when he was growing up not that long ago.

“I remember when Life Church and Juice Life used to be the Winn-Dixie,” Barbee said. “We’re maintaining the culture, doing responsible growth to make sure we’re not letting it go by the wayside.”

Barbee is also a part of the Rowan Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals organization. He thrives on being around like-minded individuals who share his need to do better for the community. The fact that it’s younger people taking charge in this way is what makes Barbee so excited about it.

“To be able to have something like that and have people who want to share a bond with you that is self improvement, finding connections, how to better help an individual… I’m happy that there are other people in my demographic group that have that mindset,” Barbee said.

Barbee will continue to do his best to make Rowan County live up to its full potential and be a place for future generations to call home.

“I love this place. I haven’t learned enough to make me feel comfortable that I have to go outside the nest when there was such a rich history and qualitative things that we can do to improve before I end up leaving.”

People who choose to stay in Rowan County have their reasons for doing so. Sometimes it’s due to familiarity or a desire to see where it’ll be going forward. It doesn’t matter how old you are, Rowan County will always be home to those that love it.