Surviving the Great Depression in Polk County

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, August 28, 2014

Personal Legacies
By Robin A. Edgar
Many families in Polk County were fortunate to be able to have gardens and a few animals to put food on the table during the lean years of the Depression. Everyone, from the littlest to the oldest had to pitch in and work in order to survive.
Lula Burrell, born in 1920, was the middle one of 11 siblings. Her father, Mark William Burrell, came from Buncombe County and her mother, Mabel Pace, from Polk County, near Saluda at Mountain Page. They married in 1909 and bought 13 acres on Melrose Mountain for $100 from Ms. Livingston. In addition to working the farm, to make ends meet, her father worked in a quarry with his dad and as a rock mason until that work came to a halt when the Depression hit. Fortunately, the ground was really fertile and they were able to live off the land and make do.
Lula Burrell (1)
“We had chickens, hogs, pigs, and Daddy had a steer. We grew apples and vegetables, which we sold in town and Mother grew flowers and sold them to Oak Hall Hotel. We had food and clothing all the time, but I don’t know how they managed it. We went to church and stuck together. Each one had something to do to pitch in to help.”
“The Southern (now Norfolk Southern) railroad train was our enjoyment. We would go there to count which train had the most cars: the Number Nine, the Eleven, or the Twenty-eight. I used to pretend the train said, “I think I can,” going up and, “I thought I could,” going down. Grayson Edney was the brakeman and he would always wave to us and would blow his horn to his children in the valley. We also flew kites in the cow pastures.”
“When I went to school, I had to walk three and a half miles down the mountain. After they got a bus, we only had to walk down a little over a mile to Pacolet Valley. That was easier, but we still had to walk straight up going home. We didn’t have paved roads up to our home until 1997 and Daddy said he had to work one day a month without pay just to keep up that dirt road. We also didn’t get electricity until 1952, so I did my homework by kerosene lamp.”
“Miss Jervey was my third grade teacher and she called me ‘Lulie.’ One day, she called on me to read, but I forgot my book and she said, ‘Lulie, a carpenter never goes to work with out his tools.’ I never forgot that.”
“For three years before I graduated in 1938, I was a member of the National Youth Association, which was part of Roosevelt’s recovery plan. About ten or twelve students, mostly boys did anything the superintendent, Mr. Schilletter, who was there when our school first opened in 1923, found for us to do. We got twenty cents a day and got a check for six dollars at the end of the month. The boys did work like cleaning out the furnace and digging weeds out of the playground and I helped to read to kids as a teacher’s aide after school.”
“Mr. Schilletter tried me out to replace his wife as secretary when I graduated. He gave me a long report to fill out called a 503 that had to go to Raleigh. I must have done okay because he gave me the job. The first check I wrote as secretary was to the first grade teacher, Miss Kittrell, for $89 a month.”
“I also worked at the old Ballinger Company on weekends. They sold groceries, dry goods, clothes, and shoes on the main level and tools and schoolbooks in the basement. Mr. Ballinger was an old Southern gentleman. The Tryon Daily Bulletin was there, even then, and the barbershop was downstairs. I remember saving my money and the first thing I bought was a commode to replace the outhouse for my parents’ house. I also bought a bathtub and a sink.”
Lula never married and worked for twenty years for the Tryon and thirty for the Henderson County school systems before retiring to Tryon fulltime in 1992. She still misses the trains and dreams of them returning, en route from Spartanburg to Asheville. Her advice for future generations is to never use a credit card and pay for what you need with cash that you save.
Did your family live in Polk County during 1929 to 1939? For more information on how to share your story, please contact Robin Edgar at or call The Tryon Daily Bulletin at 828-859-2737.

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