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Interview with Samuel C. Poteat

Poteat, Samuel C.
Perzel, Edward
Date of Interview: 
World War I; Farming; Camp Greene; Charlotte Observer; Early Charlotte; Automobiles; Entertainment
Mr. Poteat tells about his service during World War I, cut short when he contracted measles and influenza. He describes his work life in early Charlotte and the changes automobiles brought to the city as well as opportunities for entertainment in the downtown area.
Interview Setting: 
Interview as part of the WSOC-TV Oral History Project. Interviews conducted at either the downtown public library or the Midtown Shopping Mall.
WSOC-TV Oral History Project
Collection Description: 
The Oral History Project of 1979, headed by Dr. Edward Perzel, was an effort to gather and preserve spoken recollections. Interviews were conducted with older citizens, primarily over the age of 65, who were encouraged to share their memories and stories.
EP (Edward Perzel): OK. I think we're ready here. What, what would you like to talk to us about today? You got any real memories that you think we ought to cover?
SP (Samuel Poteat): [clears throat] Well I got a whole lot. I don't know whether there's too much on it about World War I or not.
EP: Were you in World War I?
SP: I was in World War I.
EP: Tell us about your experiences in the army at that time.
SP: Well, I went to camp in July 1918. I went down to Camp Hancock, Georgia. I was in the Sixth Machine Gun Company, AEF, and went overseas in November, the first of November. Took the measles and the flu when I was overseas. ( ) off in Liverpool, England. I stayed there ninety days in the hospital in rehabilitation center or camp. And then they sent me back to Petersburg, Virginia. And I was discharged in, in February of 1919. And so I don't know just what else you'd like to know about it.
EP: You had a real short career in the army.
SP: Yeah, I had a short career. I was living on the farm, and they wouldn't take me. [laughter]
EP: Is that right? Why wouldn't they take me?
SP: They put them off to the last.
EP: Because they needed you to produce--.
SP: All over the country, put them off to the last.
EP: Where were you living, in Georgia at the time?
SP: No, I lived up in Huntersville.
EP: In Huntersville. And what kind of a farm did you have up there?
SP: Well, my father was a rebel, and so we mostly raised cotton.
EP: How, how much cotton did you raise in Huntersville?
SP: Oh, around fifteen to eighteen acres or something like that.
EP: How many pounds or bales would that make?
SP: Well, usually twenty bales. Weighing approximately 500 pounds.
EP: About five hundred pounds
SP: Yeah.
EP: off of eighteen acres.
SP: Eighteen to twenty acres, yeah.
EP: Do you remember how much money that brought in?
SP: Well, the last years I farmed out there, I raised twenty bales and brought just a little over two thousand dollars.
EP: Was that considered big money or?
SP: Well, at that time, yes.
EP: That was when?
SP: That was in 1921.
EP: I forgot to mention on this tape. I made a mistake that I'm interviewing Samuel C. Poteat on May 22, 1979. This is Ed Perzel. I had to get that on the tape so we'd know who we talking to.
SP: Yeah.
EP: You, did you grow up in Huntersville?
SP: Practically, yes. I was born in Horry County between a concrete church in Mooresville that's out to the right of Davidson. A few miles not far about six or seven miles, something like that. My, my father moved to Huntersville. I think it was about 1902. I lived in Huntersville until 1921. And in the fall of 1921, I moved to Paw Creek and farmed. And done some dairy work. Then moved to Charlotte in 1924, been here ever since.
EP: Where, where do you live in Charlotte?
SP: Well, I [clears throat] I first moved on Pigham Street. 1500 block of Pigham Street. And in 19, December 1928, I bought out 2922 Morrison Street and been living there ever since.
EP: Where is Morrison Street?
SP: It's off Tuckaseegee Road ( ). It's in the old Camp Greene section.
EP: It is in the Camp Greene section.
SP: Yeah.
EP: Do you remember anything about Camp Greene?
SP: Yeah, quite a bit. I remember ice laying on the ground out in the ( ) for about sixteen weeks. [laughter]
EP: Is that right.
SP: 1917, '18.
EP: A bad time for weather there wasn't it.
SP: Yeah. About the worst one we ever had.
EP: Did you visit Camp Greene?
SP: Well, I lived right there and I went down there several times. Specially out at Liberty Park. Old Liberty Park is out there where the seventy-five hundred and the bypass is.
EP: And what kind of a park was that?
SP: Well, I don't, I don't know. They had a, they just a general little park, you know.
EP: Did the soldiers visit that a lot?
SP: Well, it belonged to the Camp.
EP: It was on the Camp?
SP: Yeah, yeah. But anyway, any civilians could go in and visit it. And the P and N railroad, it wasn't the P and N during that time, Duke Power company no it wasn't Duke Power company it was Atlanta they--.
EP: Southern Utilities Company.
SP: Yeah. They, they run a side track from the main line going to ( ) up to Liberty Park. By, oh, right above Lakewood. It turned off in there
EP: What was at Liberty Park just a picnic area or?
SP: Well, it just kind of a recreation, and they, they had a place out there for organizations building where they could get stationary and write letters and so forth. [coughs]
EP: Do you remember the hospital that was up near Tuckaseegee Road that was part of the Camp?
SP: Yeah. The old outhouse that was general headquarters, and then on Alexander, the old Alexander place, there on 2900 block of Tuckaseegee Road, which is 2900 now, it was headquarters but it wasn't the general headquarters.
EP: That house isn't standing now is it?
SP: No, the school got, the city got a recreation, park and recreation in there, but [clears throat] they tore down the ( ) Hill House. About the only thing that's standing out there right now, well the old Stewart House down on Morrison Street is still standing.
EP: Was that part of the camp?
SP: Yes. Camp was all around it, yeah.
EP: It was.
SP: In other words, the camp run from what's now the P and N railroad see the word coach line from there over across, well across the railroad over there off of Wilkinson Boulevard. There, there was a--. When, when you crossed the railroad over there they had some magazines over there. You know storage ( ) so forth and so on.
EP: Do you remember the big remount station?
SP: Oh yeah.
EP: The stables in that area?
SP: Oh yeah, that was out, that was out, on the south edge or the west edge or whatever you want to call it of the camp.
EP: Let, me go back to your experience in, in the war. You, you joined the army rather late--.
SP: Yeah.
EP: And how, how come they finally decided to take you?
SP: Well they were getting scarce on people. That, that was the general idea. In other words they, they didn't, they didn't take none of the farmers. They were exempt they say.
EP: Did you volunteer finally?
SP: No, they wouldn't let me volunteer. [pause] I did manage to volunteer. It was about 1916. Went to Columbus, Ohio, they kept me there two days, and ( ) said you go back and farm.
EP: They sent you to Columbus?
SP: Yep. I volunteered. ( ) They says you go back and farm.
EP: Well, how did they finally get you in the army then? Did they, did they finally ask you to join or did you--?
SP: No. They drafted.
EP: They did draft you finally.
SP: Oh yeah. Oh yeah, yeah.
EP: Were you happy to be drafted at that time?
SP: No, I, I didn't make no difference to me. I was young and I didn't care.
EP: You--. [laughter]
EP: They, they sent you to basic training?
SP: In Camp Hancock, Augusta, Georgia.
EP: Was that camp similar to Camp Greene?
SP: I never was in Camp Greene. They sent me directly to Georgia a machine gun outfit.
EP: How much training did you have down there?
SP: Well we didn't have too much down there until the flu hit. ( ) everybody down to the hospital down there. Now we had somebody that didn't have, fella Smitty here he used to run the barber shop, he passed away, now he, he wasn't down there, he was down there less than thirty days, just around thirty days and then they sent him overseas. In other words the only time they'd send a bunch--. There was about five or six companies of us down there. Well, it was a machine gun training center is what it was. And they just come along and pick out one here, one up yonder, one over there, 'til they got what they wanted, you know, and then come back and pick it over again. [laughter]
EP: And they finally picked you.
SP: They finally picked me.
EP: In November. But that was--.
SP: We were on, we was on high seas when the armistice was signed.
EP: Oh you were out the sea so--. How, how did you feel about hearing the war ended when you were--?
SP: Well, I didn't know nothing about it. I, I went, I went to the hospital. We sailed on Sunday, and I went into the hospital on Monday. And it was about thirty days before I, I knew anything, you know, practicaly anything. I had the measles and the flu and everything. And I was just wild. The only thing I remember going to the hospital on Monday night, and I didn't remember anything else until we got to Liverpool, England. I remember them, seeing some of them double-decker streetcars, you see. And then my memory left me again, and I didn't know anything again until oh, it was in December, you know. I don't remember the dates. [coughs] We had a wonderful time over there. There, there was a fella right over there, West Dabney they called it. He had a piece of land you know, you see. I don't know maybe it was about four acres or something. He had it fenced in. That was Christmas, we got out of the hospital--. No we were still in the hospital Christmas, but they had moved us out of where we didn't need no care much on just a checking on, you see. And we'd go over there and steal lettuce, no, no not lettuce but onions and celery, see. [laughter] I probably stole a whole 100 dollars worth of lettuce and celery, see. But the whole funny part about of it, but come to Christmas, Christmas Eve, there was a fella in our company, a fella Archie F. Andrews from Brumblelee, NC down in the eastern part of the state. Well, you wasn't supposed to buy anything to drink over there or allowed to drink you know. Weren't supposed to buy a bottle of nothing, you see. There was only certain hours that you could buy, see. And so he said, he never did tell us where he got the information or how, he said, he said, "How many of you all like, like some whiskey." Well, a lot of them said they liked it. "Well, how many like wine?" [coughs] Well, they told him. He figured up about what and they all paid him. He went out and brought it in. I don't know where he got it from or what else but anyway, the whole ( ) we going to have a big party, you see. Well we had whiskey and wine. And so we didn't have nothing to burn over there in them, them old long barracks. Had two stoves in there, one on one end and one on the other. We didn't have nothing to burn but coke. And [clears throat] up at the mess hall, the kitchen, they had a pile of coal up there big as this building, and some of them chunks was, oh, that big around. Two or three of them stout fellas said, "Well, we'll have a good fire, so we'll go up here and steal some coal." They went up there and stole a bunch of that coal. [laughter] Then two or three went over and got the onions and celery, and we had a time until about two or three o'clock in the morning. We had a nurse, Ms. Cottrell from Oakland, Indiana. She come up there, said, "Boys, you had to have this light out at ten o'clock." Says so on and so forth. "Yes, ma'am, we're going to turn it out right now." [laughter] She'd come back in about an hour, she'd come back, and we weren't in bed until about two o'clock in the morning. We had a good time over there.
EP: It wasn't a difficult war for you then was it?
SP: Nah. We had a good time.
EP: So, did you retire from the army?
SP: No I didn't no. No.
EP: You remained in the army?
SP: No. I didn't, I didn't remain. I got out. Discharged us at Petersburg, Virginia.
EP: And, and, did you, were you discharged on disability as a result of your sickness at that time?
SP: I should have, but I didn't.
EP: You didn't? You could have, you would have been eligible?
SP: But, really, really it was partly my fault. I'll have to admit to it. I have a bad cough, shortness of breath when I was discharged. And I didn't have that put on the discharge you see. Of course, they, they have given me a non-service connected disability. I'm still working on that thing. I've got all, all the papers and everything I got from the VA and anywheres else. So I'm going to give them another round. [laughter]
EP: Well at eighty-three, you waited long enough that's for sure.
SP: I've been on them since after the war.
EP: Is that right?
SP: Oh yeah.
EP: Tell me why you moved from Huntersville to Charlotte?
SP: Well, I got married, and I quit farming. Went to Paw Creek and farmed and dairy for about three years and then moved to Charlotte. I got a job with old man W. G. Schumacher, down here in the old auditorium building on the corner of 5th and College. Fire department and City Hall the fire department was on 5th Street, City Hall and come out and face Tryon.
EP: What, what were you doing at the city auditorium?
SP: The grocery business. He had a grocery store there. W. G. Shumacher had a grocery store. [clears throat] Andrews had a plumbing shop and the old man Wilburn, the old man, old grandpa Wilburn, he had a plumbing shop, and the hundred and fifty engineers was in there. I was with them for three years, and then the main auditorium up there.
EP: And then, where what, what kind of job did you take after that?
SP: I went with Charlotte Observer for thirteen years.
EP: What?
SP: Went with the Charlotte Observer for thirteen years.
EP: What, what did you do for the Observer?
SP: Well I drive. I, when they first started this Observer Transportation see, we had our own trucks see. And all now, and then when the ICC come in, well, then they taken over, see. Of course, we could have kept it, but you couldn't get enough of them together, you know to--. All we had done was just applied for the permit, you know. During the Depression--.
EP: Who was running the Observer at that time?
SP: Mr. Johnson.
EP: Do you remember him? Did you ever meet him?
SP: Oh, yeah. Well. [pause] He was one of the finest fella you ever met. Curtis B.
EP: Was he a good man to work for?
SP: Curtis B. Johnson. He was a fine fella.
EP: He treated the help right?
SP: Oh yeah. You know, we organized the employee security bank down there you know, you know what it is, and we asked him to take some stock in it, you know, so we could start it in business. He said, " No," said, "I don't want no stock. I want you all to own that." He said, "You go up to the bank and get a note for a thousand dollars. Tell the bank you want a thousand dollars and sign a damn note." We did.
EP: Did you sign the note for him?
SP: Yeah. Omega Trust Company. [coughs]
EP: What do you remember any of the people who worked for the Observer at that time?
SP: Oh, yeah.
EP: There have been some famous people like Wilber Cash. Do you remember him?
SP: Yeah, Claude Alber. Claude Alber later years worked for the Observer. And M. M. Strange and H. A. Allen. White. You see, Mr. Johnson brought White with him from Tennessee when he bought the Observer. Mr. Johnson had a paper in Tennessee so he brought White with him. White was a typographical foreman, you see.
EP: Where was the Observer at that time?
SP: It was when I went to work for them they were on Church Street right down there.
EP: Close to where they are now?
SP: No, on the first block of Church Street.
EP: Way down by--.
SP: First block of Church Street off a Trade.
EP: Between 5th and Trade.
SP: Yeah. Right, right over Church Street. Going on to South Church.
EP: On 4th and Trade? They were in that--.
SP: Right down there next to 4th.
EP: And what, where did you go when you left the Observer?
SP: Well, I left the Observer ( ) and I went to the quartermaster, I stayed at the quartermaster between '44, March 1944. Then I come to the post office through '49. My old boss he used to pull the ( ) postmaster tell them a ( ).
EP: Is that right?
SP: Yeah, ( ).
EP: You retired after the post office.
SP: No. I could, I could have retired. See I was hired as a quartermaster and the post office on a WSI appointment, see. War Service Inducted, see. I but I could have retired because I had the time, but I didn't have the age. And at that time, even if I'd had the age I wouldn't have drawed but about between ten to twelve dollars a month. ( ) I only had fourteen hundred dollars in there you see. By that time I couldn't afford to retire on that little bit ( )
EP: What, what are some of the things you remember about Charlotte back then, in you were working downtown?
SP: What do I remember about Charlotte? Well I remember down here between 4th and 3rd Street, now that's on the left hand side. And they called it the cotton's platform, see. There were several dealers here. Buyers you know, see. But everybody had to take their cotton down there get it weighed, see. He weighed it and put it on that platform and give you a ticket on how much it was. And you'd come back and whoever you sell it to, give you a check. [coughs] And the cotton board was elected. He wasn't ( ) at all, see. Then right below there was ( ) bottling company. Then there was Edwards and across the street over there was the old Latta Building. And then there, there was a bunch of big buildings out there, gone now. Carter Colton and Bigger Brothers, they were in there at one time. ( ) Howard was across the street. ( ) was across the street and Howard down a little further. [coughs] There was about three furniture stores and a café on the on the first block of South College Street. Come over here on the second block, I mean the first block of, of North College Street. Up over that pawn street was old W. L. Lamb Drug Company. ( ) pumping barrels of chemical stuff. And then there was a barbershop. The service barbershop was in there, and some of the old service barber shop people they got one right here on College now. On the corner of College and 6th. And so down here a little bit further was old man Pickett. He sold bicycles. And old man ( ) was in the second block. He, he dealed in eggs and butter. And then old man Ferguson he deals in straight eggs. And come down to 6th Street, coming, coming down North College and you turn on 6th Street and just below and right on the railroad ( ) and Howard Biggers started that business in there with a little place, I'd say, not over twenty feet square. And they didn't have nothing but eggs and chickens and all they had from the start in there. Howard Biggers. I used to know Howard well. I knew ( ) well. I think ( ) still living here ( ) but he's retired. And then across the street over there was J. W. ( ) Sons and Company, and they sold horses, wagons, mules, buggies, you just name it, and they sold it. And then later years, they went into the automobile business after that died down. ( ). They sold automobiles out a long time, nothing much there now.
EP: Do you, do you remember then the Ivey's store opening and things like that?
SP: I really ( ).
EP: Do remember when it was built?
SP: Yeah, I don't know what year it was.
EP: It was in 1923 ( ). And you remember the old City Hall you said was over on North Tryon Street.
SP: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Had the fire department right behind it--.
EP: Was the jail in that area too?
SP: Well the city jail, yes.
EP: Was it in City Hall?
SP: But, but the jail was down on Mint Street. On the 300 block of Mint Street was the jail. And at that time, the courthouse was up there on 3rd and Tryon, North Tryon.
EP: Do you, do you think all the changes that have taken place are for the better or do think it was a better city back then?
SP: [pause] Yes, I think so, with a few exceptions. We had back then no law and order, absolutely not.
EP: You think you had more law and order back then?
SP: Well, yeah. I tell you. I lived here in Charlotte until after World War II, I was about three or four three blocks of the church. If I wanted to go to church or anything like that, I come into town in a little bit. Didn't lock no doors and nobody bothered nothing. [pause]
EP: You can't do that now.
SP: No we didn't have no law and order, but the biggest big thing I see. You've got to lay it all on Washington.
EP: Did, do you remember the automobiles coming to Charlotte?
SP: Oh, yeah. The first automobile came up ( ) in 1899, and old man Baringer you know he started selling automobiles here. J. L. Choate and Company up in Huntersville and Barkers Brothers had a built, built before my time. Was built in 1880s. And Choate and ( ) were brothers-in-law and they opened a store or bought it out in 1895 according to the old books that got burned up in the store. What Don ( ) told me. And they sold automobiles at one time. Grocery stores, they've been here a long time. They sold ( ). You can see them on display or nothing but of course, at that time, they were the only people I know that would buy a ( ). [laughter]
EP: You remember the trolley cars then?
SP: The what?
EP: The trolley cars in Charlotte?
SP: Oh yeah, yeah.
EP: Do you remember when they started?
SP: I rode them for years and years. You know the first, first gas light in Charlotte was 1899 I think. You know they used to make the gas down here on South Boulevard.
EP: Where on South Boulevard.
SP: [pause] It was about three blocks this side of where West Boulevard comes in on the right going down. In other words, just below down where old Lance Packing Company used to be.
EP: That used to be the gas company?
SP: Yes, that was the Latta. He come down here from the North. He's the man that started Charlotte to rolling. But he built Dilworth.
EP: Did you ever know him or-- ?
SP: Huh?
EP: Did you ever see Mr. Latta?
SP: I see the Junior, but I didn't know the old man. I knew Junior well. I bought some lots from Junior out next to where I live. Part the ( ) Company. See they own all that land in there old Lakewood Park around in there, see.
EP: You live in the area of Lakewood Park?
SP: Yeah.
EP: Where Lakewood was. Did you visit Lakewood?
SP: Oh yeah. I've been there many times. That was a nice park at one time, nicer than anything they had in Charlotte now.
EP: Is that right?
SP: Yeah.
EP: Do you remember when they, when it quit being a park?
SP: Well, it quit being a park when the dam broke, about '31 or someone along in there.
EP: And they lost the lake.
SP: Yeah. You take up to, way up into the 20s there, see they had that big lake there and had boats there and had a merry-go-round, and a ferris wheel, and they had a bear and some other animals. And some of these carnival stuff like baby dolls and so forth. ( ) Oh it was, it was an enjoyable. You could get hot dogs and Coca-Colas and things. In other words, back at that time you could take a, you could take thirty-five cents out there and have a pretty good time.
EP: [laughter] Is that right? Money went a lot further.
SP: You could get a hot dog for a nickel. You get a Coca-Cola for a nickel. Get on any of those rides for a nickel. That was it.
EP: Do you, do you remember the Depression in Charlotte? How, how did that affect you?
SP: Well that didn't affect me too much.
EP: Why not?
SP: Well, I, I had a pretty good paying job at that time. That is the reason.
EP: You were at the Observer at that time?
SP: Yeah.
EP: And they didn't have to cut back or anything.
SP: Nah. I, I was making, I was making over a hundred dollars a week, but I was furnishing my own truck you see. And I don't know what ( ) down there. In other words, [pause] that was during the Depression, one thing I didn't owe nobody nothing. I owed a little bit on the truck. And, and the payments on my house, it was eight dollars and fourty-one cents a week. You know, I was keeping everything up you know. Back then when I built my house, you couldn't get but I think about two [pause] six and two-thirds years. That's all you could get. And at ( ). Truck, you had to pay one third down of it, and you had twelve months to pay the rest.
EP: Did you, did you have many debts then during the depression?
SP: Well, I owed on my house, but I was able to keep it up.
EP: What about your truck. Had that been paid for?
SP: Oh yeah, yeah. Well, I bought several trucks. I bought a truck about every year or fifteen months. [laughter]
EP: You traded them.
SP: Yeah, just traded them.
EP: You only had one truck.
SP: That's all.
EP: What kind of truck did you have?
SP: Well, back then there weren't too many trucks you know. Well half-ton truck, ton truck back in those days that was the biggest thing they had. Well I had a Dodge, Chevrolet, Ford, GMC. Bought about half of them from the old City Chevrolet Company. Paul Abernathy.
EP: What kind, were they flatbed truck or ?
SP: No, they, they were panel.
EP: Panel trucks?
SP: The Observer had, at that time the Observer had two old white trucks with solid tires on them and ( ) bodies.
EP: All right, you got any other memories you'd like to share with us?
SP: Well, [long pause] I can't think of too many. I remember when the old youth home around here was built.
EP: That was in Myers Park.
SP: Myers Park. [pause] and everything. Of course back ( ) between here and ( ) there wasn't about six or eight houses along there heading in to Charlotte.
EP: You remember houses along Tryon Street?
SP: Oh yeah, yeah. Well, all of them. And I, I remember when the ( ) lived down there where the old, where the ol--, old Charlotte Hotel is standing. That was the old ( ) home.
EP: That is where his house was.
SP: Yeah.
EP: Samuel.
SP: That was, that, that was the ( ) home, and the George Wilson home was down here where, where [clears throat] Jack Wood is on South Tryon Street. Right, right on that corner ( ) Wilson's home.
EP: Do you remember the old Carnegie Library?
SP: Oh yeah.
EP: Had you been in there?
SP: Yeah. And you know, you know way back yonder, we used to have about five of six good theatres up down here.
EP: Is that right?
SP: Oh, yeah. Had the Vaudeville and everything. They talking about Charlotte around here as uptown and this that and the other, they got nothing now but a bunch of empty buildings, see. We haven't, they haven't got an all night sidewalk cafe. During the Depression, you had about seven or eight on Tryon and streets around there. Had the ( ) café on East Trade stayed open twenty-four hours a day seven days a week, during the Depression. I don't know what's wrong. The only way you're going to build up Charlotte as I see is to get some get moving picture shows in here and hadn't got none now since that's gone out of business up on the corner. And now you think they building all these apartment housing in here. The nearest the grocery store is a mile. And all those people what they need down in there is a small shopping center and a, and, a, and, a, and, super--, supermarket. Tell you what I mean, ( ) they need a barber shop, a hairdresser, a little ol' not a big cafe, just a little snack bar and so forth. You ain't got nothing out there except that Jiffy Market down on Church Street.
EP: Do you, do you come downtown much?
SP: Well, quite a little bit. I got good bus service, and ( ) right to the sqaure.
EP: But you used to come downtown more.
SP: No, I don't know what I did. I used to come through town more for, for the last twenty years, I'd been working for security working different places. I've been, coming, coming through town but. In other words, since they've built these shopping centers I've not come to town like I did before, you see. You have these shopping center, I'm just a few blocks away from Freedom Village. So you can just get about anything in Freedom Village you can get over here. Of course you want to ( ) through march ( ) or something like that, you have to come over here. But, of course, any odd little thing get it up there.
EP: Well we certainly thank you for coming down here.
SP: Well, it was a pleasure to be down here.
EP: It was fun.