Have you ever been to ‘Chicken Town?’
Michael Hardy / (firstname.lastname@example.org)
“What follows is a record which ought to be preserved,” once wrote Edmund N. Joyner, a pastor from Caldwell County who was concerned with people who lived in the remote sections of the mountains of northwest North Carolina.
One of those remote communities was “Chicken Town,” an area in Avery County between Linville and Edgemont Community of Caldwell County, which had started out as a lumber camp for Ritter Lumber Company. William M. Ritter was the founder of the company, which logged land not only in North Carolina, but also in West Virginia, South Carolina and Virginia. It was Ritter who purchased the property of the Camp brothers in the Pineola area and reorganized and completed Linville River Railway, a narrow-gauge engine that ran out of Cranberry and up to the company offices and sawmill in Pineola. In 1906, Ritter constructed a temporary line from Pineola to Edgemont and moved his sawmill to Caldwell County. He soon sold Linville River Railway to Cranberry Iron and Coal Company, which also owned East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad.
Branch lines were often run out from where the main sawmills were located. At the end of these branch lines, railcars and loaders were stationed to load the lumber being hauled down (or up) the mountains. At times, company employees lived in converted boxcars. Sometimes, cabins were constructed for the workers' residences.
There were a few people already living in the area when Ritter's branch line arrived in the vicinity of “Chicken Town.” According to Joyner, “A passing tradesman ... buying poultry in this neighborhood, found such a supply of chickens that he humorously spoke of it as ‘Chicken Town.’ The foolish name stuck, and, where the people were not known for their real character, naturally carried a reproach."
People in the community were few. One of the leading residents was Madison Gragg, who, with his wife Caroline, had 13 children. Other families included the Webbs, Coffeys and Hullenders. The Graggs and Hailgers were mining gold in the area as early as 1866, and small-scale logging was under way until the railroad arrived. The problem with the timbering industry was that once the trees were cut, the work went elsewhere.
The area contained no roads other than a simple path through the woods. In an article appearing in Lenoir News Topic in 1920, Joyner wrote, “there are two ways, good and safe ones, to get up to Rosborough. One of these is to ride your ‘mammy's colts,’ if they are stout enough to serve you. The other is, get into our farm wagon behind ‘Frank’ Chester (or ‘Rosey,’ when he comes) at Edgemont, and just hold on; in less than three hours you will arrive.” Joyner continued, “We have no mails, except by chance; no doctor nor nurse, so that you are very silly to get sick to any great extent.
“There is no church of any denomination,” Joyner continued, "nearer than Edgemont, where our Baptist brethren have a neat church building, but no preaching. On the other side of us the nearest church is at Linville, where there are four, most of them with irregular services.”
There was an old schoolhouse in the area, but according to what little information is available, there was seldom a teacher. In 1913, J.G. Hood was listed as teaching at Harper's Creek, but he lived in Montezuma. The next closest school might have been at Gragg, with Miss Katherine Smith of Lenoir as the teacher. In September 1915, Miss Kate Rosborough of Chester, S.C., answered the call and came to teach. “Very few of the grown people could read, and there were many young men at the lumber camp, besides those in the settlement,” wrote Joyner. “She gave them a night school, three times a week.” Rosborough taught the children's class at a Sunday school and worked with local women. “She went from house to house, for miles, visiting the sick, comforting the sorrowing, stood by the dying, and followed them to the grave, in one instance, holding a funeral service.
“For four months she taught the neighborhood school, and imparted altogether new ideals in children and parents. There are no roads to speak of through that region. The post office and railroad station are five miles to the county seat, which double themselves across three creeks and many logs. She walked it again and again ... She trailed a party of men and women 12 miles to the county seat, to make appeal for help in road building in that neglected quarter. She tried to get a rural route and a post office, which the government could not give in a district of mere trails. In every way she poured herself into and wrapped herself around with the people and their interest, and no human being ever became nearer or more justly, to the dangerous standards of the idol."
In summer 1916, Rosborough went home for a few weeks, traveling to Newland to board a train. Before returning to Avery County, she went to visit her brother, an attorney in Atlanta, filling in for an absent secretary. According to Rev. Joyner, “On the evening of Aug. 18, having finished her work and her visit, she closed the office and started to her rooms. It was raining furiously. Starting to cross the street, an automobile ran against her, throwing her against the curbing with such violence as to crush her head. In less than three hours her great soul had flown back to Him Who breathed it into her wonderful bodily frame."
Residents in the Chicken Town community met one Sunday after receiving the news, and voted to continue the work that Rosborough started. At this same meeting the area neighbors unanimously decided to name their settlement “Rosborough” in honor of Miss Kate Rosborough. All of those present agreed to erect a community building in honor of Rosborough. Subscriptions were pledged, and eventually the old homestead of Madison and Caroline Gragg was purchased and refurbished. A new schoolhouse was constructed, and for a time, Miss Elise E. Bradley of Stancell, Northampton County, North Carolina was appointed to take Rosborough's place as teacher and supporter of the community.
At some point in time, the name of the community changed slightly, from Rosborough to Roseboro. You can get to Roseboro today, by following the paved road out of Linville, and across the Blue Ridge Parkway, where it soon turns to gravel. There are paved roads at Roseboro, and a few houses for a few blessed residents who call the area home.