Monday, April 7, 2014

A Journey In Time

Last week Jim and I took a journey that was first planned and hoped for and put on hold for a dozen years.
J.'s paternal line was well-established by the late 1700's in the area that became 
Pitt County, North Carolina. The Whitehurst family first settled in Virginia, immigrating from Dilhorne and Cheadle in Staffordshire, England. Several heads of households re-established in North Carolina. J.'s
 g-g-g-grandfather was born there in 1803.

The Kelly Whitehurst Store at Whitehurst Station, closed since 2006.

 The older building was opened as a store in 1890 by Samuel C. Whitehurst when the Atlantic Coastal RR laid a branch line from Greenville and Parmele into the hamlet then known as Grindool, from the proximity of Grindel Creek which was often cited as a boundary in deeds recording the land transactions of the Whitehurst families. S.C. Whitehurst applied for a post office and served as the postmaster. By 1892 the crossroads boasted the store and P.O. a sawmill and a cotton gin.
In 1916 William 'Kelly' Whitehurst opened a store on the opposite side of the road.
The store was manned by his sons Ralph and Dean until they closed it in 2006. Both men died within a few years of retirement. Perhaps a few of the 'regulars' at the old store would have remembered Julius and Roy Whitehurst who lived within walking distance as boys.
The store was never tided after closing.  the property is now owned by Clayton Everett who was gracious in sharing his memories when we stopped there.
 [See next post for a story written in 2006 by a local reporter to commemorate the closing of the Kelly Whitehurst Store.]

Th old depot once stood on the right side of the road just beyond the RR tracks.

I'm not a believer in coincidence. Therefore, it must have been 'meant' that the first person we encountered in Bethel, NC was a man who shares J.'s lineage. We stopped for directions at a hardware store, thinking we might first look for the Methodist church in town.
We didn't realize at the time that although J.'s g-g-g-g-grandfather had been instrumental in founding the church, the present day building is located a few blocks away from the earlier log chapel.
The timely meeting in the hardware store resulted in our being invited to follow Cousin F. to his office where he summoned Cousin C. to join us. 
We fell over ourselves for several delightful hours of questions and sorting out the various family connections.

It is a strange thing to go to an area where ancestors lived for several hundreds of years and to see that surname on buildings and road signs.

We spent the night at a motel in Tarboro and were back in Bethel the next morning, parking the car to stroll around a small town that would have been very familiar to my late father-in-law.
This weathered rusty bell is on display outside a white-painted church in town.

Jim was fascinated by this mural on the side wall of an empty building.
Bethel, NC is not exactly teeming with business at this time and many storefronts were empty.

A close-up of "Engine 97."

Sign on the Bethel station.
The crossing at Whitehurst Station a few miles away must have been a 'whistle-stop'--a place perhaps to unload freight for the store and the sawmill.

I don't know which 'Whitehurst' once conducted business here.

The present day Methodist church is an imposing building.
As we walked into the parking lot, a little old lady was emerging from her car, Bible in hand. 
Greetings were exchanged and J. introduced himself.
The woman seemed not a bit surprised to find a strange Whitehurst on the sidewalk. She calmly informed us that her 'grand daddy' had been a Whitehurst.
We were soon joined by another elderly lady who insisted we must go inside to the church office.
In the office we were introduced to the sister-in-law of Cousin F. and the youth leader who popped by informed us that he was married to Cousin. C.'s daughter.
This was the pattern for our stay in the area.  Seldom have we been more warmly welcomed.
Before we left the church we were given a booklet which compiles the early history of the church--with mention of names that are familiar from my research of J.'s family.

Jim's sister, Jane, and her husband, Chuck, were headed home to Ohio from a month in Florida. 
They were able to manage a detour of a few hours to meet us and explore this territory of deep roots.
Here Jane and Jim pose outside the Kelly Whitehurst Store.

Chuck and Jane holding down the sign.

We drove slowly along narrow roads that wound through the fertile farm land once owned by 
Whitehurst families.
Many of the old houses were torn down over the years.
The dilapidated farmhouse once owned by J.'s g-g-g-grandfather was demolished only a few years ago. The site has since been plowed and harrowed smoothly, indistinguishable  from the surrounding field.
J. later discovered that on the google map of the area, the imprint of the 2 story house could be recognized.

 Many families of the 1800's and well into the 20th century buried their dead in roughly fenced plots on the home farms. We trudged across a soggy field to view the tottering headstones behind a rusty iron fence.
Not J.'s immediate line, but one of the many branches of  'cousins.'
Some of the graves, perhaps never marked with a stone, have been lost, including that of J.'s g-grandfather.
Cousin D's meticulous search turned up his death certificate from 1920 with the notation
 "buried in the country."
We had with us a copy of the Whitehurst Genealogy researched and published by Cousin D, well marked with paperclips and scraps of paper. Later, wandering around the large cemetery in town we became bewildered by the many names and initials chiseled into gravestones. Everywhere we looked was yet another Whitehurst plot.
Many generations had a fondness for naming their sons, Richard, John, James, or William--with only a middle initial to help in sorting the inter-married lines. Favored names for the daughters were Elizabeth, Mary, Nancy and Caroline. 

Its seems a bit trite to state that these two days in Whitehurst territory were unforgettable--almost over-whelming with so many friendly folks encountered, the sense that we were following roads that would have been familiar to J.'s father, grandfather--so many generations back in time.
Our explorations were the more memorable because the time was shared with our dear sister and 
her husband.
Family matters.


  1. Replies
    1. We are still amazed! I'm gathering photos and data to share with the newly discovered cousins there.

  2. What an incredible experience for you all! To find so many building and places familiar to the early Whitehursts and then to meet so many distant cousins, still living in those places.

    Thank you for this post. So interesting1

    1. It was astonishing to meet 'cousins' who were quickly willing to claim us! For Jim and Jane to see their name everywhere was especially gratifying.

  3. Absolutely unforgettable, and so glad you were able to go finally. As someone who has moved a lot, I appreciate any and all knowledge of my family tree. Good names....we have an Elizabeth, Caroline, John, William and James knocking around now! Loved the post and even better to be able to share with close family.

    1. My husband's parents moved around more than most--in part a sense of adventure. Jim and I have moved more often than I could have imagined, and far from our New England roots.

  4. Wow ~ how wonderful for you two. I loved reading all about this trip and seeing the wonderful photos. Missed seeing a photo of you though!!

    Love and hugs to you ~ FlowerLady

    1. I am usually the person behind the camera. Whatever attractiveness I may have in person never transfers to a photo, so just as well that I take most of the pictures. It was wonderful blue sky weather for touring.

  5. This had to be the ultimate dream trip for someone interested in genealogy.

    1. The visit was all we could have hoped--and more than I dared to expect!

  6. Gosh, talk about striking lucky! It sounds like the Whitehursts were a fairly prolific bunch, with plenty of sons to carry on the family name (my Bolts were not such good breeders . . .) That spot really must be the biggest concentration of Jim's family line, and how wonderful to finally get there. Great photos and an interesting post.

    1. Cousin F. informed us that most anyone we might encounter in the area would have a Whitehurst somewhere in their background.
      The earlier patriarchs had big families with a good dose of sons to carry on the name. If they wore out a first wife with child-bearing, they married again and added to the family.