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Interview with Aileen Thomas

Thomas, Aileen
Additional Speaker
White, Jane
Date of Interview: 
early Charlotte, NC; rooming house
Mrs. Thomas gives an overview of running a guest house in downtown Charlotte. She gives information about early Charlotte and the people she met.
Charlotte; 1916-1979
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.
AT (Aileen Thomas): ( ) times to do that don't you.
JW (Jane White): Alright Mrs. Thomas. Now if you would tell us where you live, and how long you've lived in Charlotte? We'll be happy to know.
AT: Alright I've lived in Charlotte for about, I have to figure it up. I came here in 1916. I've lived here continuously, except for two and half years I spent in Jackonsville, Florida.
JW: Um-hum.
AT: [clears throat] It was July 6, 1916, and my late husband and I arrived in Charlotte. My husband was transferred by Southern Bell telephone company, from Evansville, Indiana where we had lived for over a year. We came by train and went across the street to the Mecklenburg Hotel, which incidentally was recently demol-demol-demolished. Then he called, he called the office to check in-
JW: Excuse me, Mrs. Thomas can tell us how long it took you at that time to come from Evansville to Charlotte?
AT: I don't remember. We had changed in Atlanta.
JW: Atlanta.
AT: It took us a good many hours.
JW: Atlanta again.
AT: Uh-hum, Atlanta.
JW: Everything changes in Atlanta.
AT: I went there as a bride.
JW: Oh, I see
AT: When we were married, we were married in Memphis. Then we rented a room for a week, while we looked for a place to live. All the streetcars carried a sign on the side saying buy a home in Dilworth, the ideal place to live. Eventually we did that.
JW: You did?
AT: Crepe Myrtle trees were in full bloom and it was the prettiest sight that welcomed us. We found the people really kind and friendly and felt sure we were going to enjoy living in North Carolina and especially in Charlotte. It was a big, overgrown town with 40,000 people. By near by, Camp Greene boasted having 40,000 service men. The United States had entered the War and many of our boys had gone over there to participate in the War that was going to end all wars. Military parades were heard frequently. In 1918, we experienced one of the worst flu epidemics our country has ever known. A great number of soldiers at Camp Greene did not survive the disease. And many caskets containing their bodies was shipped to their homes. The railway station was a depressing place to go, as one often would see five or six coffins being loaded on the train.
JW: Did you do any volunteer work at that time?
AT: I did later in the Second World War. My premature twin daughter weighing three and a half pounds born at old St. Peter's hospital October 17th 1918. Was three weeks old when armistice was signed. People went wild with joy, cars were being driven up and down Tryon Street with people shouting and cheering. It was my first day out of the house since two weeks in the hospital and all I saw was fat healthy babies compared to the tiny little one I left at home. My June is now sixty years old, now is living in Florida. Her mother is eighty-five years old and trying for ninety. I was born in Birmingham, Alabama, December the 27th 1893, lived in Vicksburg and Jackson, Mississippi; Memphis, Tennessee; Atlanta, Georgia; Louisville, Kentucky; Evansville, Indiana and Jacksonville, Florida. And of all these interesting cities, I can truthfully say like Charlotte, North Carolina the very best of all and hope I can live here until I receive my promotion. I made my own living for thirty-eight years, sold my property and retired three years ago. My husband died in Florida forty-one years ago.
JW: Um-hum. Well now when you had this guesthouse, Mrs. Thomas, where was it in town?
AT: For twelve years, I occupied a home known as the former Dr. ( ) Home. He had a country place, and he and his family had moved back there. I had the-
JW: Was it Uptown Charlotte?
AT: It's on the corner of East, East Trade and Alexander Street. Right across from the City Hall.
JW: I see.
AT: I often had-I had twenty-five college business girls who lived there and served them three meals a day, but in order to off set that that I went to town everyday for lunch. [laughter] The, on several occasion's they were holding trials at the courthouse, and they would call me and ask me if I could take care of the juror. They had a hung juror and could I serve them dinner that night. I said send them over. So we just opened the pantry and get out a few more things to prepare and serve them a real good supper.
JW: Um-hum.
AT: I served meals for the public for six months, as it was the least expensive way I could advertise. It cost money to put ads in the paper and by having all these people come over the mayor, and the city manager and various ones. By word of mouth, I begun to establish myself, and I was pleased when they told me at the fire department right down in town, that on a holiday a young woman and her father came to Charlotte and asked him if he could recommend a place where she could live, and his answer was "If you have a nice daughter, she can go to Mrs. C.C. Thomas' at Royal Oaks. If she isn't a nice girl she won't let her stay there."
JW: I see.
AT: So I established a reputation for my place in that way.
JW: Alright, and now tell me about the city hall and moving to where it is or to where it was or to where they wanted it?
AT: Well it's, they, they had, the people on the side of the street I lived on which was 629 East Trade. They were very anxious to have the city hall built on the high level that those houses where on. That there were four families, four houses that were rented there and all but one would give consent to sell the place and use it, but this one woman just did not want to move. She'd been there for years and years. All those houses have been demolished now and they're a parking lots and one is used as a used car lot. The part Ford people and that of course has all become business. I lived there for twelve years and the amounts of doubling my rent. I refused to pay it, and I went out on East Church Street and bought eleven-room four-bathroom home.
JW: Excuse me just a minute. You were talking about the city hall.
AT: The city hall was a beautiful building and it was very convenient for people to come over at my house to have lunch, and I always enjoyed meeting the people and knowing them. After I decided to move, I bought a home on Fifth Street, on the corner of East Fifth and, and I can't think of the name of the place. It was a corner lot and not having quite enough income with just my rooms upstairs. I built a duplex facing Ridgeway, that was the name of the street. I solicited just young men, first I had school boys in Kings Business College and there was so much running up and down the steps, and I had a telephone extension upstairs that it became the main phone I little chance to use the phone myself. So I told the boys they were not to date over the phone, just to make a date. And then go on do it, but they didn't listen very closely. I also had a little discussion with them charging the long distance calls to my phone. I had a notice up there that's strictly against the rules. But they either couldn't read or they didn't believe what I said. Then I had the joy of trying to collect money for the out of town calls. I lived there for, I bought it in 1950, and I lived there for twenty-six years. I-
JW: You saw a lot of changes in that area.
AT: I really did, and I, I enjoyed the work, and I had a good income from it. The only thing it was a little confining. I could go away and stay a week and in fact in 1960, I went to California and stayed three weeks in California and came back through Mississippi and visited my sister in Memphis and visited my brother.
JW: But in the meantime, though, I understand you had something to do with the Salvation Army auxiliary, will you tell us about that?
AT: Well it was in 1945, and one of the officers belonged to the business and professional woman's club of which I belonged, and she asked me if I would help her organize an auxiliary. Charlotte was growing by leaps and bounds, and she felt it was a large enough place that we needed an auxiliary. So I agreed to help her, and we gathered ten or twelve women who were interested in the same thing. And the first year, we worked without an organization. We had Easter egg hunts for the children. We had Halloween parties. We had Christmas parties, and all kinds of things. And it was a very soul satisfying work. I enjoyed every minute of it.
JW: Where these affairs for children of the community?
AT: Children, children of the Salvation Army.
JW: Of the Salvation Army.
AT: If their parents-the children who belonged to, whose parents belonged to the Salvation Army. At the beginning of 1945, I went to, down to S and W, down in town for lunch. And much to my surprise, there was two tables put together and about eight or ten women sitting there. All people I had been working with, and they motioned me to bring my tray and come over. And I said, "Well how lucky to see you. Why are all of you here?" And one of them said, "Well, we had a meeting last night." and I said, "Well no one notified me." And another one said, "Well, we weren't supposed to notify you." And I begun to get my fear inside a little bit, but I sat down on and another one said, "Well, we decided to elect officers and u-, u-, unanimously elected president of the organization."
JW: Uh, this is the Salvation Army Auxiliary?
AT: Auxiliary, and I served in that capacity from 1945 through 1948.
JW: Was the Salvation Army always in the same headquarters at that time, or did they move?
AT: They had new, new quarters, and for a while, they had the, the out of state offices had a big deal to move on Morehead Street, but we had our meetings, we had our board meetings in the, in the room that, at, at, that what was then an American Bank and Trust company and later became national - NCNB. And when we'd have our board meetings, we'd all decide whose chair we'd sit in. These beautiful upholstered chairs with the names, and since I was president of the auxiliary, I chose the bank president's chair to sit in. [laughter] We always had a little, a mom--, a devotional before our business meeting. And our, the person who gave that was the secretary of the YWCA. And she gave some very beautiful devotionals.
JW: Are you active in a church right in Charlotte?
AT: I belong to Westminster, not the Westminster, oh pardon me. I was there fifteen years, and I've started getting into a habit of saying it. I'm in Caldwell Memorial Church, which is right around the corner from where I live, in the DeWitt apartments.
JW: Um-hum.
AT: I, I played quite an active part. I belong to a bible class and a prayer group that meets every Wednesday. I belong to a social and I'm off doing that. And go to Church almost every Sunday unless it's pouring down raining.
JW: Is the Church been there a long time or-
AT: Quite an old Church it's been there many, many years. And it's very friendly, nice place. It's called the church, inner church with the outer outlook. And we sought to interest people who aren't members of any Church in coming into Caldwell Memorial.
JW: Um-hum. Well you have seen a lot of changes in Charlotte haven't you?
AT: Indeed I have. The City Hall was on, it was on North, it was on North Tryon Street. On the corner of North Tryon and Fifth as I recall it when I first came here. They had a great big auditorium over on College Street, just right around the corner. And I had the pleasure of hearing Madam Schulman Height and several other outstanding artists there. Irving Carver addressed a group.
JW: Nice.
AT: And various a sundry people.
JW: What is, what is the entertainment, were, were they well attended?
AT: Very well attended. Calluso came and I longed to hear him, but I couldn't quite reach the price. I didn't get to hear him. My husband had heard him in Atlanta, Grand opera.
JW: Did you ever remember a seat at that time?
AT: No I don't have any idea. I'm supposed to have a very good memory, but I don't believe I recall that. [clears throat] I heard a, let me see [pause] the man who, who wrote such beautiful poems that the poets didn't consider him a poet, a poet. But he, he spoke it at the Chamber of Commerce, and I had the pleasure of hearing him. I'm trying to recall his name.
JW: Was that also in the Coliseum or where was that?
AT: No that was in the Chamber of Commerce building, a different one from the one they have now, it was on, I believe it was on West Fifth Street and had an auditorium up above it.
JW: I see. [pause] Well that's really very interesting I must say.
AT: I've done a bit of writing. I've had a few things published. I published a poem I wrote to my mother many years ago. I also published another little poem I wrote to the Mr. Kuester, business manager for the Chamber of Commerce. In it I said we could all be a booster even though we were not Clarence Kuester.
JW: And was that published in the Chamber of Commerce magazine?
AT: I'm not sure, it was published in the Charlotte Observer.
JW: Oh I see.
AT: I also wrote an article on the fact that a postage stamp had been issued honoring [pause] the man that did so much here. They said that all he knew was that he wrote on wrote on post cards and I can't think of his name, but maybe it will come to me in a minute. I wrote this article saying it was the first time a postage stamp have ever been honored, had ever honored an entertainer. And I sent his article to the New York Times and much to my joy, it was published in the New York Times.
JW: Yeah, yeah.
AT: I have in mind now, I'm writing another article of on I'm capitalizing on the popularity of life with mother, and I'm calling mine life with father.
JW: Oh nice.
AT: And I hope, hope to get it published in a magazine.
JW: Well, I certainly hope you do, Mrs. Thomas, and it's been very pleasant talking to you. And you telling me about, telling us about Charlotte as you knew it.
AT: Well, thank you.
JW: I'm sure you're going to live much longer than ( ).
AT: Yes, but I'd like to say, I'd like to say one thing, during the second World War, I had all these girls living in my home at Royal Oaks. And when the message came over the air saying that Pearl Harbor had been attacked, it was such a shock to all of us. And after some little bit we had many, many camps in and near Charlotte all around Charlotte. When I'd be in my room upstairs and look across the street to see those young boys sleeping on the grass in the City Hall, I just couldn't stand it, so I sent word from my maid to tell them that if they'd come over that I'd fix up places for them to sleep in the third floor, that provided that they didn't smoke. I didn't want to burn the place down. And I've had as many as twelve or fifteen on the weekend.
JW: Oh, how ( ).
AT: Some one said, "Now charge them a little bit because they won't appreciate it unless you do." So for one dollar, I gave them a bed to sleep in, and a real good breakfast the next morning. We'd have bacon and eggs and toast and coffee and some kind of fruit and orange juice and waffles.
JW: Oh my.
AT: So that was my contribution to the second World War.
JW: I'm, I'm certain that those men appreciated it.
AT: Well I've had wonderful letters from them after they went over seas and various places telling me what a joy it was to be in my home. And be--
JW: I'm sure it was.
AT: Welcomed as I welcomed them. And I play the piano so I'd play, and we'd all have sings--songs to sing. Many times we sang "Over by Anne" and we sang "When the Lights Come on Again," "All Over the World" and so many, many popular songs at that time. I also went to the YWCA and played for the boys and girls down there. We used to sing, and it was a great pleasure.
JW: Well I'm sure that it was a pleasure for them to have heard you and have you do those things for them.
AT: Thank you.
JW: And we appreciate you coming in and telling us your history here.
AT: Well it was a joy to me. I belong to a little club that meets every Thursday called the Elizabethan Club, since I lived in the Elizabeth section. And we've had some speakers, there've been two recently who have, who have told us a lot of the early start in, in Charlotte. And one of them was Judge Clarkson. And he said, "I'm 83 years old." And he was real proud of it, and he went on to make the talk. And I almost stumbled going down to greet him and I said, "I'm older than you are." And he was real disappointed, he said, "I thought I was the oldest person here."
JW: [laughter]
AT: Then Jack, let's see--