Looking back at Person County a century ago

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Person County boasts a long and varied history, and for a newcomer like me it can be overwhelming to process all that has happened within these county lines. With the dawn of 2020, I decided to pick the nice round number of 100 and look back at Person County in 1920. During my research, I discovered there are no known issues of The Courier newspaper between the years 1918-1920, making it difficult, but not impossible, to reconstruct some of what was happening here during that time period.

As of July 2019, Person County had a population of 39,507 people. In contrast, the Person County of 1920 boasted less than half that number, at 18,973. The county was segregated, and later in the year saw the horrifying lynching of Edmund Roach. In January 1920, women in Person County still did not have the right to vote. Though they made up close to half the population, women nationwide would not be legally recognized as voters until August 1920.

A short 10 years earlier, in 1910, Person County got its first electric lights. Automobiles were beginning to overtake buggies and wagons, and residents who made more than $3,000 a year had only been filing income taxes since 1914. The year 1920 also marked the beginning of prohibition, making illegal the “manufacture, sale or transport intoxicating liquors.”

The economy of Person County was dominated by textiles and agriculture. Less than 10 percent of the population lived in Roxboro, with the bulk of the county made up of residents in one of the many townships flanking the town. Church was often the social hub of the community, with the local general store coming in a close second. Children between the ages of 8-12 were required to attend school at least six months per year, and the responsibility for the majority of school funding lay with the community where the schools were located, with a small portion of funds provided by the state.

Entertainment was very different in 1920 Person County. It would be seven years before there were talking movies, and the first commercial radio station in the country didn’t go on the air until November 1920. Chub Lake was a common recreational site, offering the opportunity to swim, picnic and fish, as well as take a ride on the steamboat that would traverse the lily pad strewn lake. It would be more than 40 years before the county was home to Hyco and Mayo Lakes.

I learned a great deal about the Person County of 1920, but I know I only scratched the surface. I feel like Person County has adopted me, and I can’t wait to learn everything I can about its people and places of interest. Feel free to come by the museum and share your stories of Person County History with me.

Carrie Currie is the museum coordinator at The Person County Museum of History where she enjoys “Making History Personal.” You can learn more about the museum at www.pcmuseumnc.com.

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