When the older generation thinks of “yesteryear,” memories flood their minds of many good times, hard times and different times.
Calvin Duncan recently shared a newspaper article about his granddaddy who “went to the big city” during the 1920s to see the hotel they erected where he once cut wheat with a cradle.
Back in the 20s and 30s, life was different for people in the country. There was still no electricity, no TV and nearly everyone in Craig County still traveled by horse.
A.J. Duncan was no different. Born and raised across the ridge from Level Green Church in Sinking Creek, he lived a hard, but satisfying life. It is believed that he enjoyed a good tame of horseshoe and liked baseball.
Calvin said that every Sunday morning he would walk over to the church, across from where he lived and light the stove and oil lamps.
“He was named Andrew Jackson after the President,” Calvin noted. “He got the nickname ‘Little Jack’ because he wasn’t very tall.”
Calvin shared clippings from the Roanoke Times of his grandaddy’s trip to Roanoke to see things he had never seen before.
Sadly, Calvin never knew his grandaddy as he passed before he was born, and his sister, Cornell Lipes was only five. He died eating supper at the table. Their grandmother died before either were born and both were buried at the Williams cemetery.
Calvin shared his familiarity of the heart-warming story of his grandaddy’s visit to Roanoke: “He and a group of farmers traveled around and cut people’s wheat and oats with what we call a cradle. (It caught the oats or wheat on the wooden things that came up from the blade.) Word got out that there was a group of farmers in Craig that cut wheat. There use to be a huge wheat field where Hotel Roanoke and their parking lots are now. He and two of his brothers and a third man went and cut that wheat. About five to 10 years later when Hotel Roanoke was built someone mentioned the wheat fields and mentioned his name, so they thought it would be nice, since he was the only survivor (he was 81), to bring him to Roanoke to let him see their progress.”
Calvin also noted, that many years ago, when the train went through Craig County, it was a booming place to be.
“Lignite and Fenwick Mines were booming with theatres, bowling alleys, a big laundromat and restaurants,” he said. “Both of those towns were bigger than New Castle at the time.”
The Roanoke Times wrote several articles about the visit. Calvin shared the four that he had. The first one informed the town that he was coming and what would be happening. And the others, different views of his visit. They explained that he did not get to see all he wanted the first day, so accepted to stay in a hotel, which he had never done.
“The last time Uncle Jack had been to Roanoke was over 25 years, and it was to work,” Calvin said. “Downtown Roanoke was nothing but fields of wheat. The only transportation he had was horseback and no way to communicate, except at a later time, when his eldest son made a radio box, which they later listened to the interview when he made his city visit to Roanoke.”
Upon the invitation from Ben Moomaw, Chamber of Commerce secretary, he and H.M. Taylor, Chairman of the Craig Board of Supervisors, were picked up by automobile, which Duncan was enthralled with and driven to Roanoke.
“Mr. Duncan agreed to risk coming if H. M. Taylor would accompany him,” the Roanoke Times stated.
The paper described him as, “slightly stooped old man, uses a light, varnished cane, wore a dark blue suit, black hat with wide brim, turned up in front, black high-top shoes, and a black string tie. He is nearly bald and has a drooping moustache and doesn’t wear glasses.”
“Mr. Duncan is active enough to pitch a mean game of horseshoes,” Mr. Taylor told the men. “And he follows baseball games pretty close.”
They toured through Roanoke, including Mill Mountain, the airport, by the Viscose, to see how the newspaper was printed, to a manicurist and barbershop and to Hotel Patrick Henry for lunch with the Kiwanis.
These are some of the paragraphs the newspaper wrote in the articles, I wish to share with Craig County today, though I’d like to share them all.
The Roanoke Times wrote about his trip in the 1920s:
- “Uncle Jack” Duncan, Craig County farmer who cut wheat here with a cradle for 13 harvests in a row, more than half a century ago, came to town today for the first time in his life and said as he viewed the panorama views from atop Mill Mountain, that it was a “Turrible sight!”
- Except for one short train ride he has never been out of the county and has never before been to the city.
- He was met early this morning by Ben Moomaw, Chamber of Commerce secretary, and E. D. Nininger. He and H.M. Taylor, Chairman of the Craig Board of Supervisors, were brought to the COC and introduced to S.F. Woody, P.T. Jamison and Joe Walton. The party started immediately for a tour of the city.
- He was intensely interested and slightly bewildered, and his attention was attracted mainly by street cars which he had never seen before, wanting to know, “What makes them go?” He believes automobiles are going to run the United States to “rack and ruin.”
- He is 81 and has done enough work to “kill a hoss” in his time, and said when shown some roses at Crystal Springs, that they were “mighty purty, but I’m so old I can’t smell a polecat.”
- He was invited by Frank Reynolds and Clayton Lemon to go for a ride in a big cabin plane. He declined saying he was going to stay on the ground and not go up in one of those “scary things.”
- He was given the opportunity to say a few words over WDBJ, Roanoke Times and World News radio station as they gave Roanoke a brief personal contact with the visitor and afforded him a new idea of the “workings” behind the battery set his son had at home.
- (After lunch) he visited the Ponce de Leon where the springs that used to be surrounded by two oaks, wheat and a stable lot still bubble and trickle away in the of the new structure, and then to the home of Mr. and Mrs. D.C. Moomaw on whose property he cut wheat his last years, then to the American Theatre where he saw his first moving picture show. During a scene showing an encounter with the police, he told his friend, H. M. Taylor, “they’re just going to fight all day – let’s get out of here.”
- Many Roanokers, recognizing him with Mr. Moomaw and from newspaper description, stopped Mr. Duncan on the street to speak to him.
- Duncan shared his opinion after a long day touring, “Judgement-day is not very far off.” He prophesied, adding, “The world is getting worse and worse, men do all manner of evil – kill one another, anything. You remember the good book says, ‘You shant know the hour I come.’ It’s going to the fireplace. People don’t like one another like they ought. They were put here to like one another.” He likes to talk about the more serious aspects of life, for, as he says, ‘I am living on borrowed years,’” referring to the Biblical three score and ten.
- “Are you a Democrat?” he was asked. “No, I lean to the other side,” he said. “That man in now, what’s his name? Hoover? He’s liable to get in again. He seems to be a pretty good feller. It’s hard to say.” His politics took away none of the enjoyment of being entertained in a Democratic city.
They gave him a key to the city and at the conclusion of his visit, Duncan shared, “These Roanoke folks sure are mighty nice – I don’t know when I’ve had such a time. People out in Craig and Giles are missing something if they don’t come here often.”