Therrell Farms, A Brief Overview

Therrell Farms MonumentThe property for Therrell Farms and hundreds of acres surrounding have been owned by my family for a number of generations. Further, the property was owned by both sides of my family, paternal and maternal. Fortunately it became the catalyst for the meeting, courtship and marriage of my parents. Over the decades, the property was farmed and mechanized with a variety of improvements. In addition to the diversified farming operations it was home to the first cotton gin in the area. The initial gin was powered by a steam engine as there was no electricity available for many miles. At the same location the steam engine powered other machinery such as a gristmill for grinding wheat into flour and corn into cornmeal, as well as a sawmill. Together with the newly constructed country store and equipped blacksmith shop, the farm quickly became a business and social hub for the local farming community. During the days and especially Saturdays area farmers would bring their crops to be ginned, wheat and corn to be ground or timber to be sawed. Horses and mules would be shod at the blacksmith shop just across the road from the store. Freshly trimmed hooves and new horseshoes were a regular necessity. The blacksmith could also mend plows and work about all things iron. Days were spent under the big oak trees pitching horseshoes, playing checkers, rolling cigarettes, sitting on benches and sharing stories. Throughout the days there was a constant flow into the store to purchase hoop cheese, canned sardines, Vienna sausages, “dopes” i.e. Coca-Cola’s or RC’s, watermelons and other lunch items. At the end of the day needed staples would be purchased often on credit and loaded into the wagons. In the winter evenings when most farm work was completed except for the daily chores, the locals would sit around the potbelly stove on sacks of feed and fertilizer or on the old salt pork box sharing humorous stories and occasionally engaging in heated political debates. While visiting the store and steam mill, they could sell much of their crops such as bales of cotton and seeds. The early bales from the steam engine powered gin were much smaller than bales that would later be ginned on the premises by the huge 3 – gin powered by 220 volt electricity which would come years later. Both in the early days and later times the patrons could purchase anything available on credit where there was a separate book for every customer family. Often the outstanding bills would be paid only once a year in the Fall when the crops were harvested and marketed. Most or all of these activities and traditions remained pretty much constant from horse and buggy days on through the mid 1940s.

Before the gasoline engine and trucks, the crops purchased from the local farmers by my great grand relatives were transported to the nearest railhead which was five or six miles southeast to the then thriving train station in Waxhaw. More on Waxhaw in a future edition.

Electricity: Initiative and Hard Work Brings Electricity to the Farm

With all roads in every direction still dirt and only a few T model Ford vehicles, great uncle George grew restless and committed to the new innovations available with electricity. Yet the nearest electricity was more than 5 miles away in Waxhaw with no apparent or easy way to be accessed. After a bit of planning and much negotiating with Duke Power Company, great uncle George forged an agreement. He quickly realized the agreement may have well been the easiest part of the equation. It became his responsibility to cut, erect, string and maintain the utility poles and lines for the entire distance. Although this was a daunting task it was achieved. Electricity for his big new cotton gin to be built, his store, and across the road his home was at last a reality…. even running water with an electric pump motor as large as a washing machine. And, to top it off George decided that as long as he was running and installing the electric lines he would just add a telephone line to the polls as well.

Thus for decades it was home of the only telephone and electrical power for a radius of 5 miles to the south and many more miles in all other directions. The 5 miles of utility poles and lines first installed and maintained by my great uncle George and later by my grandfather Walter had changed the community forever. Now huge bales of cotton could be ginned and in a fraction of the time. The telephone on the other hand was a mixed blessing. Often great uncle George and later grandfather Walter and their families were awakened in the middle of the night when there was an emergency requiring a telephone call. Many times people would travel for miles on mules, or horses or wagons and later some automobiles to have calls made to the nearest doctor or other locations where runners would carry messages to their relatives telling of accidents or medical emergencies within their families. Much later in World War II, all of the young soldiers from the area knew the phone to call to get word to their families that they had returned to the states. The calls would come at all hours and Grandfather Walter never failed to go or send a driver, regardless of weather or distance, to share the happy news of every local soldiers return. Calls would come from all over the country, from the Brooklyn Naval Yard to San Diego.

Now On To The Romantic Part That Got Me Here

Great uncle George always the visionary found himself like so many others when the crash of 1929 hit nationwide. At that time my mother’s father, my grandfather Walter Greene, was living with his family on a farm in the opposite end of the county. His well-educated teacher and farmer father had died while fording a flood swollen stream on horseback. Both he and his prize horse drowned when Grandfather Walter was still in school. Great-grandfather Greene left behind not only his children but his soul mate and love of his life since first they met. (Another great story for another time) Not liking his new M.D. stepfather, grandfather set out on his own as a teenager. By the time of the 1929 depression, grandfather had his own family and was well-established on his own and had two prosperous entrepreneurial and merchant partners, the McCrae brothers. The trio quickly decided to purchase all of the holdings of great uncle George. The McCrae brothers were well situated in the County seat. Grandfather Walter agreed to move to the new property and be the new proprietor and resident partner. He soon realized that he would like this to be his permanent residence. His partners agreed and amazingly in the middle of the depression he paid off his partners and all of the debt within six months, then owning the property free and clear, bought a new Buick and paid cash. He was known to a relentless hard worker, kept all of his tenant farmers in good standing and quickly became one of the most beloved, generous, yet hard-nosed businessmen in the area. To this day I occasionally have people, now in their 80s or older who grew up in the area, tell me they would have never made it through the winters without grandfather’s generosity, not only by credit at the store, but actually handing over cash when customer families and neighbors were in need just to get by for a while.

His goodwill was quietly remembered and sometimes repaid in dramatic ways. With still no other electricity in the area the REA, Rural Electric Association, went about setting poles and stringing power lines throughout the community up and down and crisscrossing all of the dirt roads. However, REA was only providing 110 volts and grandfathers big cotton gin required 220 volts. Without the 220 volts the big gin would be permanently out of service. REA would not relent and 110 volts was the maximum they would provide anywhere in their area. Word quickly and quietly traveled throughout the community and no one, no exceptions, and without grandfather’s awareness no one would connect onto the REA power lines in front of their homes and already functional. When pressed by the disbelieving REA, the neighboring farmers would reply we’ve never had electricity so we won’t miss it. You get Mr. Greene his 220 volts and will sign on otherwise were not interested”. As you already guessed the 220 volts were quickly provided for the gin.

Promotional Video For Therrell Farms As It Is Today

The Meeting

My father grew up a couple of miles away from the property, as the crow flies. It was his uncle George who initially made the dramatic improvements to the property. Being next to the youngest of 11 children, my father had already moved to High Point to obtain profitable employment during the depression. His older brother and sister-in-law were already well established there and work seemed likely even at his young age. (More great stories about this era to come). Dad had an M.D. bachelor friend from Waxhaw who was then living and practicing in High Point. When he was coming back home for the weekend he often called my Father to see if he would like to ride with him. On one of these weekends my father was attending church in the village of Marvin when he and my Mother first met. Dad was the strong draft horse can work 12 hours a day every day with no signs of stress or fatigue type. Mother was very talkative and outgoing, socially correct, but warm and caring while strict in her beliefs. In a short time and after my father’s frequent trips back the romance was set and they were married when my mother was 20 and my father 25. With a bit of nudging, probably on a daily basis, my father was convinced to move back to Charlotte. They purchased a new home in a new neighborhood where the three of us lived for several years. By that time grandfather Greene had died from a brain hemorrhage at age 61. Mother was insistent that they purchase a portion of the big farm from grandmother and move the 20 some miles southeast to the farm. Dad agreed even though it meant commuting 25 miles each way to his hardware store, but he had grown up enjoying the farm life and looked forward to the prospects on the farm with livestock and his quality bird dogs for quail hunting, the perennial sport of the time for the greater Charlotte area. Doctors, lawyers, executives, ministers, the chief of detectives, and businessman all flocked to the Farm for weekly in season quail hunts. As my father’s older brother had and trained the one time bird-dog National Field Trial Champion, our farm was often the gathering point for area bird hunts.

My Father, The Farm, and Simmental Cattle

In the early days of our tenure on The Farm, my father’s choice for livestock was registered hampshire hogs with supporting feed crops of corn and barley, and always two large vegetable gardens. With my father’s nearest hardware store more than 25 miles away and I being the only child we know who was doing a lot of the farm work from an early age, industrious but not joyful. About age thirteen, I decided it was time for some less intensive livestock so I purchased the first registered head of cattle. Shortly thereafter my father caught on and after some diligent study, he surprised us all by being the first person ever to bring Simmental cattle to the Southern US. He was the first person to enter a bull in the North Carolina bull testing station and over time achieved considerable recognition and acclaim for his prize Bulls. The longest sitting Governor in the history of North Carolina converted to a Simmental herd which began a running dialogue between my father and the family of the governor as they worked to improve the quality of their herd. Although annually Dad sold only a few of his cherished Bulls, they were sometimes purchased and shipped all the way to Louisiana and Texas.

Leaving The Farm

After my mother died, I tried to think of all of the things to add to the farm that might increase Dad’s comfort level: automatic entry gate for the driveway and about everything else I could think of. But four years after my mother died and at Dad’s age 91, he and I had one of our few heart-to-heart chats. Although the days were okay, he reported, after four years the nights were getting pretty rough. And then the quiet resignation of age when he confided that it was getting to be too much just getting over the pastures. I ask if he was using the “gator” I’d given him and with caution that I should not tell anyone he indicated that even that was getting a bit too painful for him to handle. In spite of his age this was a bit of a surprise as he was still walking smartly, driving constantly to town, to meet friends for lunch and church; even driving much further to visit relatives. He seemed to be resigned that the time had come for the move. I quickly volunteered multiple options: I would buy a much larger house with the wing already built for him on some acreage nearby, or I would have an architect design a wing on our house with all of his requirements Incorporated. After some weeks of visiting and deliberation he said, “I really appreciate all of your efforts to accommodate me on the move, but I really think I’d like to be around people of my age”. My reply: “in that case Pop we’ve got a real problem cause there ain’t nobody your age at least not that can do all of the things you do.” In the end, he made his own decision and my wife and I helped make the transition as easy as possible, only to find he had become the new hero of the retirement community. This was largely because when any lady ask if he would like to ride somewhere, take them somewhere, he was instantly headed toward the car.

It had been the intent that my wife and I would build a new home and keep the remainder of the farm, now Therrell Farms for ourselves. After considerable deliberations we concluded it was never going to feel right to us without Mom and Dad being there. Thus, with Dad watching all and alternating between pride and mild remorse at the change, The Farm – Therrell Farms- was named for my parents. I am delighted that it turned out so beautiful, that Dad lived to see the “Therrell Farms” entry sign go up and that it has become one of the name recognizable gated communities in the Southeast Charlotte corridor.