A recently discovered issue of The Franklin Times sheds valuable light on life in Franklin County during World War I. Published on April 6, 1917, the day the United States House of Representatives concurred with the Senate's earlier declaration of war against Germany, the special eight-page "Agricultural and Industrial Edition" contains numerous articles concerning Franklin County and its principal towns-Louisburg, Franklinton, and Youngsville.
Editor Asher F. Johnson used the issue as a forum for promoting civic pride and investment in the community. According to an article by S. A. Newell, secretary of the chamber of commerce in Louisburg, "the north and northwest is flooded with money. The war prices on food and ammunition products have been unprecedented. Fortunes have been accumulated and these moneys are seeking investment." He touted the county's abundant natural resources, including cotton and timber, and urged citizens to "put your shoulders together and give one united push for the industrial progress of Louisburg." Newell was aware that textile mills and furniture factories were being built throughout the state and felt that Louisburg was an ideal location for more of them. "But so long as we all remain 'Doubting Thomases' and wait for the other fellow to make the move," he warned, "just so long will we be at a standstill."
The paper is filled with superlatives concerning existing businesses and their proprietors. Lengthy illustrated articles describe two of Louisburg's banks. The county's first one, the Farmers & Merchants Bank, occupied a brick building on Main Street. It's popular cashier, Maurice S. Clifton, had "inaugurated an excellent system of books" that reflected modern banking principles. Down the street, on the northwest corner of Main and Nash streets, the two-story First National Bank boasted a newly renovated interior containing white marble wainscoting and mosaic floors. Of particular interest was this bank's illuminated exterior clock, which had been installed in 1916. Visible from Main and Nash streets, the clock contained Westminster chimes that struck every quarter hour and hour. Also included in the issue are glowing descriptions of clothiers, hardware stores, dry goods establishments, druggists, furniture dealers, and other businesses.
Franklinton receives considerable attention. A handsome photograph accompanies an article about the Citizens Bank, whose president was E. J. Cheatham. According to a piece about the Sterling Cotton Mills, that company had been "the foremost factor in the development of the town . . . ." The Sterling Store Company operated by this enterprise in a downtown building had been established in 1913. It contained 8,000 square feet of floor space for the display of groceries, clothing, shoes, notions, dry goods, agricultural implements, farming supplies, hardware, and building materials.
A piece by Bland G. Mitchell describes Youngsville as a "beautiful, clean, progressive little town situate on the main line of the Seaboard Railway...." The town's bustling tobacco market had handled nearly three million pounds of bright leaf tobacco in 1916. Citizens looked forward to the installation of electric lights, made possible by the legislature's recent approval of the issuance of $5,000 in bonds. The Bank of Youngsville, established in 1900, provided a safe haven for savings and a source of capital for business, and the Youngsville Bottling Works made "high grade soda waters and fountain syrups."
Also included in the special edition are sketches of prominent professional men, biographies of county officials, and descriptions of educational institutions. Although little of a negative nature tempers the buoyant narratives, the issue opens a window on Franklin County at an important time in history.
Published in The Franklin Times on March 19, 2015.
Maury York is director of the Tar River Center for History and Culture at Louisburg College. He can be reached at email@example.com.