Surviving the Great Depression in Polk County

Published 10:38 pm Thursday, October 2, 2014

Personal Legacies
By Robin A. Edgar

Many African Americans settled in the Pea Ridge area where most of the inhabitants were family by blood or marriage. There were also a few white families living there as well. Most of the residents were farmers and, when they weren’t working the land, they attended local places of worship like the Wheat Creek Baptist Church where it’s new building still stands today at Pea Ridge Road and Highway 74.

Theodore “Ted” King’s family moved to Pea Ridge after his grandfather, Henry King, was freed from slavery from the King plantation in Chimney Rock Park. (Henry probably received the 40 acres and a mule that was offered to freed slaves during those times.) Ted’s father, Frank King, was one of 12 children, as was his mother Hattie. Ted was born in 1916 on a farm that belonged to his father’s brother, Mount, who had moved to Tryon to run a neighborhood grocery store. The first son, Ted was the third of 11 siblings. When he was old enough, he helped to take care of the farm while his father worked at the Spurlin saw mill. When the Depression hit, the family did the best they could.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“We didn’t have any money, so we worked as hard as we could and ate whatever we had to survive. We had a cow for milk and butter; grew vegetables and cotton; made molasses; raised chickens and hogs; hunted for wild game; and picked berries, selling everything we could. There were two grocery stores in the area, one in Pea Ridge and one in Ponderville, where we traded eggs for lard, flour, sugar, and coffee. At that time, eggs were a penny apiece. We would trade a bushel of corn in payment for grinding our corn into meal at the mill near the farm.”

“I walked five miles to the Ponderville schoolhouse in Green River. Once I knew how to read and write, I dropped out of school to run the farm after completing sixth grade. Back in that day, by the time you were 10 or 12 years old, you were old enough to work.“

“If you weren’t working the farm, you went to church. My father was an associate pastor at the Wheat Creek Baptist Church and we were there all day long on Sunday. Everyone brought food for Sunday dinner and after the service, everyone ate together. That way, everybody had a meal and the less fortunate were taken care of. Sometimes, we would have another service in the afternoon. During the revival meetings in August, you would go every night since most of the farm work was done.”

“For Christmas, if you got a stick of candy, or a mouth harp, or a pocketknife, you were blessed. If your parents could afford it, you got shoes or clothes, otherwise, you got hand-me downs. The girls cut paper into flowers and homemade ornaments to decorate the holiday tree.”

“In 1932, I moved to Lake Lure to live with my aunt Emma and work at the Lake Lure Inn as the second cook for my room and board. I prepared vegetables to cook meals for the 14 or 15 help. When I got older, I was the bellhop and carried people’s luggage up three flights of stairs since there was no elevator.”

“I moved to Tryon in 1940 to work at Oak Hall Hotel. I met my future wife, Cora Mills, whose parents lived in Tryon. They had built a house at One Peake Street in 1925, where we lived after they both passed on. Her father, Garfield Mills, was one of the founders of the St. Luke’s CME Methodist Church, built on Markham Road, where the new church building stands today. He worked for Misseldine’s Drug Store, often driving the horse and buggy wagon to deliver prescriptions. Her mother, Cora Bell, washed clothes for white folks and did special cooking for parties. She was famous for her ‘Miss Cora’s pies’.”

Ted married Cora in 1943 before going into the army and serving overseas in World War II. When he returned, he went back to work at Oak Hall and became the dining room captain. He and Cora had three daughters, Carolyn, Jacqueline, and Anita. When Oak Hall closed in 1979, he went to work at the Lake Lanier Tea House. After the Tea House closed when he was 89 years old, he finally decided to retire. His advice for future generations is to get your education and finish school.

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 828-859-9151.