“Our Vanishing Americana” team returns to Saluda for Saluda Train Tales

Published 4:04 pm Thursday, July 13, 2017

Someone once said, “If you start forgetting how things began, you stop beginning things.” With undaunted energy and perseverance, Mike Lassiter spent six years traveling across the state of North Carolina, looking for the lifeblood of small towns, community icons and historic businesses — the beginnings of Tar Heel commerce, livelihoods, family enterprises.

At first, it was old storefronts and signage that captured his imagination; soon he became enamored with the people inside the buildings and their stories.

Lassiter’s photo shoot turned into a decades-long odyssey covering 30,000 miles and 100 counties, yielding “Our Vanishing Americana,” a 2006 photo book followed by a 2009 PBS documentary of the same name.

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Lassiter will share discoveries from his journey when he brings “Our Vanishing Americana — A North Carolina Portrait” to the Saluda Historic Depot for Saluda Train Tales, Friday, July 21 at 7 p.m.

Joining Mike is Scott Galloway who was the film director and producer for the PBS documentary. Mike and Scott will tell how they “discovered” the small town of Saluda and its two general stores operating on Main Street just like they had for decades, and how the people of Saluda enchanted them.

In the old days, before big box retailers and interstates, folks relied on mainstays within their communities. Pretty much whatever anyone needed they purchased at the general store. (As they say at Mast Store, the granddaddy of all North Carolina’s general stores, “If you can’t buy it here, you don’t need it.”)

Back then, folks gathered their news while sitting around a pot-bellied stove at the hardware store or in a chair at the barber shop. The local druggists whipped up cures for whatever ailed their customers (or their customers’ livestock); likewise, they created some of the tastiest confections known to youngsters, ice cream sodas and orangeades. For entertainment, nothing beat the picture show or a meal out.

Today, some of these institutions still survive—a few thriving, others mere skeletons of their former selves. Often, just a faded signpost or abandoned marquee is all that’s left and must suffice to conjure a memory of how life used to be.

The book and documentary explore not only beginnings, but continuations, and sadly a few endings, too. It showcases second-, third- and, in a few rare cases, fifth-generation businesses. Nine chapters, each devoted to one business genre—from general stores to barber shops to theatres— include an informative and entertaining essay and numerous photographs.

A county-by-county index follows, making “Our Vanishing Americana” a testament to North Carolina’s unsung heroes and an indispensable guide to the state’s treasures and will be shown in its entirely during Saluda Train Tales.

Mike Lassiter is originally from Statesville where he practiced law and now lives in Davidson with his three children.

 Scott Galloway owns the film and television production company Susie Films. He has directed and produced two theatrically released documentary films: “A Man Named Pearl” and “Children of All Ages.” He also written and directed two PBS national specials: “Our Vanishing Americana,” a look at the rapid decline of family businesses and “Overdraft,” a deep look into the federal debt crisis.

Galloway’s films have won multiple film festival awards, Tellys, a Cine Golden Eagle and Prestige Film Award. He has also produced and executive produced more than 800 television programs for networks including ABC, A&E, ESPN, Food Network, HGTV, History Channel, PBS and Travel Channel. In 2014, Galloway created and launched the 100 Words Film Festival. 

“Our Vanishing Americana” books will be available to purchase and proceeds will go toward the fundraising for the Depot.

 Saluda Train Tales is a free monthly event to educate the community of the importance of Saluda’s railroad history and the Saluda Grade. These events are at the Saluda Historic Depot, 32 W. Main Street, Saluda, N.C. Doors open at 6:30. Presentation is from 7-9 p.m. The events are free and voluntary donations are appreciated. 

– article submitted by Cathy Jackson