Out in the shadows of the Blue Ridge in the southeastern corner of Rutherford county, just across the border from Cleveland and close to the South Carolina line, is the little town of Cliffside, one of the few “Model” towns in North Carolina.
To the student of sociology and applied economics the success of this venture is nothing short of marvelous.
For many years the writer has been intensely interested in rural community development, organization and legal incorporation. As an object lesson to the whole State of the benefit to be derived from such efforts, I believe the experiment at Cliffside to be without a parallel, hence this story.
Cliffside cannot be called a city or a town because it is not incorporated. It is not incorporated because there is no necessity for it. Incorporation is needed to give authority for self-government. Here is a community of 2,000 people, with supreme authority for law enforcement invested in one man, the president of the Cliffside Mills.
The town, if you are pleased to call it so, is built on about a dozen hills. The Cliffside Cotton Mills being the center, and situated in a curve of Second or Rocky Broad River, it is one of the cleanest towns in the South.
Fifteen years ago the president of the company, Mr. Raleigh R. Haynes, bought a few hundred acres of hills on both sides and including the river at Cliffside Falls. The river at this place is shaped like the hook end of a shoe buttoner, and not much larger but big enough to develop 600 horse power the year round. The first brick was laid in 1901. Today, one hears the roar of 40,000 spindles and 1,500 looms, making daily 70,000 yards of fancy and staple gingham, the largest outfit under one roof in the South. Nine hundred men, women and children find employment six days in the week; but no one works at night. Not a wheel turns after 6 o’clock. If this were all the story no one would be interested. The most important thing at this place is they are making something besides gingham.
They have three churches, Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian. The two former have a Sunday School of over 200 average attendance each. I was given the names of four young men who have gone out from this place and graduated from state colleges and are now ministers of the Gospel. One other will graduate at a state college in May and enter a seminary.
They have just closed a six months term of school with six teachers and an enrollment of 480. They have a fine new teachers’ home, erected by Mr. Haynes, with all modern conveniences. They have a community hall which seats 1,000 people, a public library and a band, a good moving picture theatre and skating rink.
There is a good municipal water supply, an electric ice cream freezer, and machinery is being rapidly installed for a modern steam laundry and ice plant.
No stock of any kind are allowed to run at large in the town, including chickens or dogs. Within a few weeks the can type of dry closet will be installed for all the homes beyond the sewer limit, thus insuring a minimum of fly-borne diseases. In another year they will have a modern sanitary dairy supplying certified milk at cost. One cannot buy such milk today at more than three places in North Carolina.
The municipal light plant makes the main street resemble Charlotte’s great white way. At 10:30 p.m. the gong sounds, the lights are cut off and everybody goes to bed. There is no need of a police force. The only code the writer could discover was the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule.
April 2nd to 9th inclusive was observed as Baby Week. Several hundred dollars in prizes were offered and an exhibit was arranged in the Community Hall at a cost of about $600.
The State Board of Health’s children exhibit was obtained; also Asheville, Charlotte, New York and other places were drawn upon for articles and literature on Baby Welfare. Mrs. Samuel Burts, an expert of Spartanburg, was placed in charge of the exhibit, assisted by the Cliffside community nurse.
The writer addressed 200 mothers each with a baby in her arms; 70,000 yards of gingham, but 4,000 pounds of babies, healthy and happy, tell the story of human welfare more eloquently than it can be written. I saw very few children of any age at work in these mills. The manager explained simply that they always complied with the law. They have no fear of child labor legislation.
While every house in the community is owned by the company, there is no sameness about construction which is so painful in the average mill settlement. No two houses look alike. The color of paint is different, each is set at different angles to the street, or has a different shaped porch or roof. Every yard in the place has a rosebush, a privet hedge, a bed of hyacinths, or a violet border. Violets simply run riot everywhere. One old man past 70 hustled me a block to show a great bed of tulips and hyacinths all in full bloom.
It would pay every farmer in the State to visit this settlement for a day. The great secret is systematic organization community team work and centralization of authority.
The moving spirits in this great human enterprise are Raleigh R. Haynes, the president and principal owner of the mills, Dr. J. Rush Shull, the community physician, and the pastors of the Churches. These men are taking a most neglected class of people and molding them into men and women of character, intelligence and reliability.
Mr. Haynes and his family live here among his workers in a fine, comfortable but unpretentious house. Dr. Shull is a University of Pennsylvania graduate. He has declined offers of more remunerative work with some of the great health agencies; but he prefers to live his ideals here among a people who need his services.
Some day the great hydro-electric power of the North Carolina hills coupled with the vast agricultural resources of the East will feed and clothe easily a population of 25,000,000. Then will North Carolina come into her own. Let the rural communities learn the lesson from Cliffside and pool their resources, incorporate their communities and thereby gain authority to ensure community development.
This item was printed in The Sun on April 20, 1916.
Article researched and prepared by Joyce Atkinson Hunter.
Copyright © 2010 The Cliffside Historical Society