Historical Background
Like numerous villages throughout Ashe County, Lansing began as a small trading center for the local agrarian population. It is not known where the name Lansing originated, but the name was used in the establishment of a post office on August 24, 1882. William Harrison Perkins was the community's first postmaster. A prominent local citizen, Harrison Perkins owned a large farm and operated a store on his property north of present-day Lansing. Perkins was postmaster for nearly twenty years and also served as County Commissioner. He is thought to have owned much of the land that is now Lansing.[1]


Lansing was one of the county's many modestly-sized rural communities in 1896. According to Branson's North Carolina Business Directory, its population was 40, Harrison Perkins' General Store was the only business, and a school is listed with teachers W.H. and Sherman Graybeal. The original Lansing School was built c. 1889 in association with the Graybeal Methodist Church in Lansing, and served a dual purpose as both church and school. [2]


The Virginia-Carolina Railroad (later owned by Norfolk & Western) was constructed through Ashe County in 1914 to 1916 and had a significant impact on the growth of Lansing. The tracks ran roughly north-south through Lansing, parallel to South Big Horse Creek Road / NC Highway 194. A railroad schedule from May 1915 shows that Lansing did not have a depot or a regular stop. The stops listed skip from Tuckerdale, north of Lansing, to West Jefferson, several miles to the south. However, by September 1916, the Lansing Depot was a regular stop. The train departed Lansing at 10:33 a.m. on its southbound run to Elkland (now Todd) and again at 2:10 that afternoon on its return northward to Abingdon, Virginia. The one-story frame depot was located across the street from the 9300 Block of NC Highway 194, at a site near where the Volunteer Fire Department now stands. The depot was typical of those built all along the “Virginia Creeper” line and is said to have been brought to Lansing in pieces from Virginia in 1920. Prior to this, train tickets were sold from an old box car located on the siding near the future site of the depot. The siding at Lansing accommodated seven cars. In 1926, hardware store owner Henry Gentry became the depot agent; it is not known who operated the depot before this time. Lester Duncan and Carl Carter were subsequent agents. The depot was demolished in 1982.[3]


With the construction of the railroad, industries based on the export of the county's natural resources sprang up. Small-scale mining of iron ore was conducted in the Lansing area and the shipment of the ore from the Lansing Depot contributed to the town's early growth. There were three iron veins in the county: the Ballou, or River Belt; Red Hill/Piney Creek; and the Titaniferous/McCarty vein. The latter, with its outcroppings on Grassy, Helton and Horse Creeks was the most likely source for the Lansing shipments. Ore shipment had slowed by 1922.[4]


The timber industry was even more important to the economy of Lansing and the county in general. Lumber and pulpwood, and probably tan bark, were all shipped from Lansing to processing plants that were located across Southwest Virginia and beyond. These products were the primary impetus for the construction of the railroad into Ashe County and created an economic boom for much of the 1910s and 1920s. The significance of the potential wealth associated with the timber industry is illustrated by the disagreement between the communities of Berlin (now Bina), Lansing, and Warrensville about the location of new depots in 1915. “Berlin timber resources [have] already furnished and will continue to furnish largely the lumber for the building at both Lansing and Warrensville,” wrote an angry Berliner in a 1915 editorial.[5] Despite the tense feelings at the time, the timber industry was not long lasting. Ashe County historian Arthur Fletcher noted that there was no indication that many of the newly created depot towns in Ashe County “benefited in the long run except West Jefferson and perhaps Smethport and Lansing.” Depots were generally located “where they could serve the sawmill men,” he added.[6]


The small community of Lansing blossomed into a busy town during the late 1910s and early 1920s. The Bank of Lansing (9278 NC Hwy. 194) was incorporated in March 1916 with J. W. Graybeal, J. F. Miller, S. A. Hartsoe, T. A. Farmer, Thomas J. Jones, E. L. Childers, J. D. Childers, J. H. Gentry, Monroe Welch, and E. H. Higginbottom as stockholders. Daniel Joines was the first president and E. H. Higginbottom the first cashier. It is said that this bank was at one time more wealthy than the bank in Jefferson. In 1919, the Ashe County Board of Commissioners discontinued the County Treasurer’s office position, selecting the Bank of Lansing to handle government funds as the County Finance Office. A bank advertisement from 1921, notes that D. H. Joines was president, J. F. Miller served as vice president, and G. E. Ashley was cashier. The advertisement went on to say: “We have come through the hard times in splendid condition. Our business methods are safe, sound, and conservative. We'll give you courteous treatment and handle your account in a correct and business like way. Come in and let us talk it over.” Correspondent J. R. Weaver gave the bank a positive review in a 1920 Ashe Recorder, noting that it was “forging to the front,” and that as cashier, Ashley “makes things hum.” The bank failed during the Great Depression and was liquidated by the Bank of Ashe.[7]


The economic boom culminated with the incorporation of the Town of Lansing on May 26, 1928. A picture of the bustling town during the busy 1925 to 1935 period can be had by listing many of the known businesses operating at this time. A large frame hotel served travelers including sales people and timber industry employees. The agriculture-related industries that would become important to the town and the county generally after the timber boom can be seen with the operation of a cheese plant in Lansing. Serving the town's population and the outlying farm population were a number of stores including Charlie Welch's clothing store at 9375 NC Hwy. 194, Young and Hudler's Hardware store (9288 NC Hwy. 194), Oscar Blevins' general store, and a hardware store at 9270 NC Hwy. 194. As a railroad town, Lansing was a distribution point for general stores throughout this part of the county as shown by the presence of the wholesale firm of Lansing Grocery Company. Bank Cashier G. E. Ashley owned stock in Lansing Grocery until he sold his interest to Lester M. Sturgill in 1924. Sturgill operated a wholesale grocery firm in Lansing until 1938. Similarly, Byron (Byrum) Graybeal (postmaster from 1925 through 1933) was also a dealer in produce, hides, and herbs, buying local goods for shipment to large warehouses outside the county. In addition, he did accounting and was a notary. His last place of business was located at 9383-9387 NC Hwy. 194. Service businesses included a coffin shop operated by a blind man named Elbert McCarter, The Bank of Lansing, a restaurant, a Shell Service Station built by Lester Sturgill at 9414 NC Hwy. 194 in about 1930 (the station was later operated by Clarence Parsons), and French Young's Barber Shop, which opened at 9360 NC Hwy. 194 by 1924. Young's shop operated until 1973 and sold magazines, comic books, sodas, fishing licenses and gear, and drug store items. Mrs. Young operated a seamstress business in the shop as well. Health-care was also available in Lansing provided by dentist Edgar Barr between 1927 and 1930. Physicians in Lansing were Dr. Thomas Jones, who lived just north of town (109 Baldwin Jones Road) and later his son, Dr. Thomas Lester Jones who lived at 154 Baldwin Jones Road.[8]


The influx of new residents to Lansing in the 1920s were accommodated at the large frame hotel (no longer extant), as boarders in private homes, and in several boarding houses that operated during this period. Mr. and Mrs. Charles E. Welch, for example, were noted in the 1920 Ashe Recorder as “keeping house now,” though they had previously boarded with “Mr. Gentry,” probably J. H. Gentry. The Welches “...seemed to be a very happy couple.”[9] The circa 1920 boarding house at 190 E Street is a large hip-roof dwelling that accommodated five bedrooms on the second floor. The house was built by Bob Miller who sold it to his sister and brother-in-law, Ray and Ella Mae Clark.[10] Several single-family dwellings, including modest bungalows and single-pile side-gable houses, were also built during the 1920s and 1930s. Photographs of Lansing from the 1920s show a number of houses; many similar to the hip-roof bungalow located at 274 A Street, perched on the hillsides above the commercial area. Also reflecting the population growth was the expansion of the Lansing School to a three-teacher school in the 1920s and then its relocation to an even larger facility with the construction of a stone building built by the WPA in 1937 (NR, 2008).


Amid the construction of new dwellings and businesses and the bustle of the depot, Lansing was still very much a rural place during the first thirty-five years of the twentieth century and townspeople were plagued by concerns such as inadequate roadways. “We are now having some of the worst weather [of] all,” wrote J. R. Weaver in 1920. “It is almost impossible to get to this place, but work is being pushed as fast as possible on the new road leading from here up Horse Creek. At the present rate we hope to see it completed sometime during the next decade,” he quipped. Weaver went on to write about the large new hay baler purchased by local landowner J. H. Gentry, showing that the surrounding agricultural neighborhood was still an important part of Lansing.[11]
The economic crash of the Great Depression was coupled in Ashe County with the depletion of timber resources after the onset of the chestnut blight.[12] In addition to the timber industry's decline, the livestock market, an important source of income in the county, also suffered decline. These economic realities were evidenced in the reduction of railroad service in the county (operations stopped south of West Jefferson) and the closure of businesses including the Bank of Lansing.


Economic recovery in Lansing was slowed by a disastrous fire on June 18, 1936. It began in the Weaver Cafe (former Young and Hudler Hardware store building, 9288 NC Hwy. 194) and destroyed much of the town's commercial area despite the bucket brigade formed by residents after Charley Campbell's chickens sounded an early-morning alarm.[13] It was not until the 1950s that the organization of a volunteer fire department would occur. A used fire truck was purchased and brought to Lansing from Florida. This fire department is thought to have been the second organized in Ashe County. The Flood of 1940 also did a great deal of damage to the town's low-lying commercial area. Victor Clark's furniture store (9306 NC Hwy. 194) was hard hit and the Clark family temporarily relocated to Washington, D. C. where better war-time wages were available after 1941.[14]


The postwar period in Lansing saw the continuation of modest commercial activity in town. Some of the enterprises included the hardware store operated by Victor Clark from 1946 until 1956. Clark built the store building at 9306 NC Hwy. 194 after the store's original quarters were destroyed in the 1936 fire. Down the street at 9294 NC Hwy. 194, Ray Blevins continued his father's (Oscar Blevins) hardware business from about 1946 through 1966 and also incorporated a five and dime store business. Blevins also served as Lansing's mayor in the 1950s.[15] Rose Harrison operated a restaurant and boarding house nearby, beginning about 1941. Several teachers lived and took their meals there and Dr. Bud Jones is said to have eaten there every day. Roey and Eura Hart built their two-story concrete block grocery store building at 9305 NC Hwy. 194 in 1945. Operated by Eura Hart into the 1990s, the Hart Store was a community center. Lansing native Mauvine Shepherd recalls: “You could have a cola and a snack and stay as long as you would like. She was always open after supper at 7 o'clock in the winter time. Everybody seemed to have their own special place to sit and if you did not show up good or bad you gave a report why you were not there the night before.”[16]


The commercial center in Lansing continued to grow with its service to the surrounding agricultural community. The beef and dairy cattle farmers of Ashe County thrived in the postwar period. Four buildings in Lansing represent the important role the town played in Ashe County's agrarian economy: the Lansing Grocery and Milling Company buildings at 126-128 and 130-132 South Big Horse Creek Road, the Lansing Mill Company's feed and grist mill at 185 South Big Horse Creek Road, and the Coble Dairy Plant at 226 South Big Horse Creek Road.


Raymond and Preston Powers opened the Lansing Mill Company about 1940 and operated it in partnership with B. and O. Grocery before the 1950s when it was sold to Walter Osborne and Howard Reeves. The mill produced cornmeal and feed for livestock. Osborne and Reeves successfully operated the business for many years with staff member Grant Baldwin who made feed and fertilizer deliveries. Built in c. 1940 and c. 1950 respectively, the Lansing Grocery and Milling Company buildings at 126-128 and 130-132 South Big Horse Creek Road were the commercial arm of the business and stocked groceries, dry goods, and clothes as well as seed, fertilizer, and feed. The store was open from 6:00 am to 9:00 pm six days a week, with owners Walter Osborne and Howard Reeves working overlapping schedules. Reeves, who had begun his career by working in the mill, opened. Osborne, who learned the mercantile business from Oscar Blevins, closed. Reeves and Osborne operated the company until about 1980.[17]
Coble Dairies opened its milk collection plant in Lansing in 1942. Early each morning, milk trucks drove through the countryside collecting cans of milk from farms to be delivered to the plant. The milk cans were emptied, washed and reloaded onto the trucks. Chilled milk from the plant was hauled by tank trucks to a processing plant in Lexington, North Carolina more than one hundred miles southeast of Lansing. The tanker drivers were well-known for their ability to negotiate the narrow winding roads and one-lane bridges that led out of Lansing at alarming speeds. The plant shipped 45,000 to 60,000 pounds of milk each day for twenty-five years (two tanker loads a day at its peak); it closed in 1967.[18]


By 1960, the population of Lansing, 278 people, was well behind that of West Jefferson at 1,000, and Jefferson, at 814, but ahead of the smaller towns of Warrensville, at 116 and Todd, at 32.[19] The discontinuance of railroad passenger service by Norfolk & Western in the 1960s and the cessation of all service in 1977 marked significant changes in the town's economy during the late twentieth century. As roadways were improved and the county's population became increasingly mobile via automobile shoppers were able to travel to larger towns bringing about the closure of many local stores.[20]


Lansing has almost always maintained a restaurant and a grocery store, however, and within the last five years, a number of new businesses that cater to tourists and summer residents have begun to populate the old commercial buildings. A creek-front park with paved walking and biking trails are among the recent improvements. Revitalization efforts include the annual Ola Belle Reed Homecoming bluegrass festival at the new park; it honors a well-known local musician.

 

[1] Ruth Weaver Shepherd, ed. The Heritage of Ashe County, North Carolina (Winston-Salem, N.C. : Hunter Pub. Co, 1984), 93; Ward Sexton, “Lansing Historical Notes,” unpublished history in vertical files of Ashe County Public Library; and “Lansing, NC, Brief History Complied 8-15-03,” unpublished history in vertical files of Ashe County Public Library.
[2] Levi Branson, Branson's North Carolina Business Directory, 1896, electronic version, <http://www.archive.org/stream/bransonsnorthcar1896bran#page/90/mode/2up/search/ashe> 13 November 2009 and Sherry Joines Wyatt, “Lansing School National Register Nomination,” 2009.
[3] Doug McGuinn, The “Virginia Creeper,” Boone: privately published by Bamboo Books, 1998, 21 and 37; and Mike Powers, “The Lansing Depot,” Mountaineer Heritage, Vol. 4, (Jefferson, NC: Northwest Ashe High School 1983), 26.
[4] “History,” Lansing, N.C. website < http://www.lansingnc. com/lansing_history.html> 14 January 2010; and Eleanor Baker Reeves, A Factual History of Early Ashe County, NC (Dallas: Taylor Publishing, 1986), 144.
[5] Ward Sexton, “Lansing Paragraphs,” unpublished history in vertical files of Ashe County Public Library and McGuinn, 39.
[6] Arthur L. Fletcher, Ashe County, A History (Jefferson: Ashe County Research Association, 1963), 265.
[7] Mauvine Shepherd, unpublished historical notes; Fletcher, 261; Lansing, N.C. website; Advertisement, The Ashe Recorder, 4 May 1921, microfilm at Ashe County Public Library; and “Lansing Historical Notes.”
[8] “French Young 1920s-1973,” Mountaineer Heritage, Vol. 2; Northwest Ashe High School Journalism Class, Jefferson, NC, 1981; Mauvine Shepherd, unpublished historical notes; The Northwestern Herald, 28 February 1924; Fletcher, 129; Ashe County, John Houck, Clarice Weaver, and Carol Williams, (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2000), 14; Kelly Baldwin, “Lansing – Town of Memories,” Mountaineer Heritage, vol. 13, 1992, 21-23; Mark Sturgill, “Lester M. Sturgill,” Mountaineer Heritage, Vol. 9 (Jefferson, NC: Northwest Ashe High School, 1988), 39; Mauvine Shepherd, email to Sherry Joines Wyatt, January 2010.“Lansing Historical Notes”; Shepherd, Heritage, 93.
[9] “Lansing News Items,” The Ashe Recorder, 11 March 1920.
[10] Mauvine Shepherd, unpublished historical notes.
[11] “Lansing News Items.”
[12] The chestnut blight, Cryphonectria parasitica, a highly contagious fungal disease, eventually destroyed the native American Chestnuts that were an important part of the region's forests.
[13] Kelly Baldwin, “Lansing – Town of Memories,” and newspaper article in the collection of Mauvine Shepherd.
[14] Kelly Baldwin, “Lansing – Town of Memories”; Ward Sexton, “Lansing Historical Notes”; and “Victor Clark.”
[15] Ward Sexton, “Lansing Historical Notes” and Marie Blevins, interview; and “Victor Clark.”
[16] Letter to Kelly Baldwin from Ben Harrison, 20 June 1992, vertical file, Ashe County Public Library; “Eura Hart and Her Store: A Lansing Tradition,” Mountaineer Heritage, Vol 14, (Jefferson, NC: Northwest Ashe High School 1993); and Mauvine Shepherd, unpublished historical notes.
[17] “Lansing Grocery and Milling Company,” Ashe County Public Library, Lansing Vertical File and Mauvine Shepherd, unpublished historical notes.
[18] Mountaineer Heritage, Volume 2, “Lansing’s Coble Dairy Plant”, Northwest Ashe High School Journalism Class, Jefferson, NC. 1981.
[19] Fletcher, 56.
[20] Sexton, “Lansing Paragraphs.”

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