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Gone But Not Forgotten: The Fading Legacy of Yadkin College

By Antionette Kerr

For longtime resident and property owner Florence Greene, the deteriorating brick walls of the original Yadkin College building and the unoccupied historic homes remind her of what was once a thriving intellectual and self-sustaining community. Nestled along the banks of one of the state’s longest rivers, the community named for the Yadkin established institutions of higher learning, and had farms, factories, brick stores, a post office, a barbershop, a blacksmith shop, and a jail called “the calaboose.” On the eve of what would have been her fifty-fifth anniversary at Yadkin College, Florence, the widow of native Rhett Edward Greene, spoke nostalgically of bustling streets, wooden sidewalks, and a promising community.

“History is beginning to deteriorate as time goes on,” said the retired educator. “I don’t know of another community in Davidson County that has changed so drastically from where it was.”

From a little college on the river to High Point University

Sometime before 1775, Pennsylvania German settler Casper Walser and his wife, Margaretha, purchased 629 acres on the eastern side of the Yadkin River. Later, their son, Frederick, married and helped to establish the community. In 1822, Davidson County was formed. By 1852, the Walsers were well established in leadership when one of Casper’s descendants, Henry Walser, decided the region needed an institution of higher learning to train ministers as well as their own sons. An ardent member of the Methodist Protestant Church, Henry’s determination led to the establishment of a college.

Henry presented a plan to the Methodist Protestant Conference to establish a school, known as Yadkin College (aka Yadkin Institute) and proposed how to furnish the land. The proposal was met with a lackluster response by the conference, so Walser offered to build the college at his own expense if no others desired to join with him.

A postcard of the 1881 building was one of the most outstanding college buildings in the state.  Designed and built by H. Bentley Owen at a cost of $7,000.  Photo credit Lexington Library of Genealogy Department
A postcard of the 1881 building was one of the most outstanding college buildings in the state. Designed and built by H. Bentley Owen at a cost of $7,000. Photo credit Lexington Library of Genealogy Department

Walser’s offer was accepted. It is said that he was aided by David Michael, another Methodist Protestant, to the extent of $50 to purchase hardware. Henry donated land worth $500 and set to work building a kiln and making bricks. The college opened in 1856 as Yadkin College, a Methodist institution, and Henry proceeded with the construction of a very large brick and stucco building suitable to the times in which it was built. Its doors were opened only to young men.

Named for the nearby river, Yadkin College was one of the area’s first colleges and was, for years, a primary establishment of higher learning in the area. In addition to construction of the classroom facility, Henry Walser bore the expense of constructing the first dormitory for one of three institutes of higher education sponsored by the Methodist Church in North Carolina. The school was re-chartered as Yadkin College by the legislature in February 1861.

This opening celebration did not last long as more than three-quarters of the students volunteered for the Confederate Army. Shortly after opening, the school closed and was used as a storage house for tobacco. The empty school was vandalized during the war years, but it was later restored by the community.

The Ciceronian Literary Society of Yadkin College met on Friday nights to debate issues important to the era.  At commencement, metals like the one pictured, were awarded.
The Ciceronian Literary Society of Yadkin College met on Friday nights to debate issues important to the era. At commencement, metals like the one pictured, were awarded.

When classes resumed in 1867 under the leadership of Professor H.T. Phillips, sentiment grew for young women to be accepted. By 1868, Yadkin College became the first coeducational institution in the south. The school began to offer collegiate courses in 1873 under President Shadrach Simpson.

Leadership believed the growing student body and the promise of future development of the Yadkin area called for the construction of a new three-story brick building with a five-story mansard tower overlooking the bluff. In 1881, the college completed an impressive new building including a five-story tower, 92 windows, classrooms, auditorium, and a library.

The new building was one of the most outstanding college buildings in the state. Designed and built by H. Bentley Owen at a cost of $7,000, its construction was said to create an embarrassing debt. The college and church administrators could not dissolve its financial burdens for the building. Those burdens began to take a toll on the school and in 1924, Yadkin College closed, suffering from low attendance as a result of the establishment of public schools in the state. At that time it consolidated with what is now High Point University, and the structure was declared unsafe by the county and demolished. Professor W. T. Trotten faithfully headed the college until it shut down in 1924 when High Point College (now High Point University) assumed the Methodist Protestant educational responsibility.

Historians point to the legacy of the 1924 merger that formed High Point College, which opened as a cooperative venture between the Methodist Protestant Church and the city of High Point. The campus consisted of three partially-completed buildings, nine faculty members, and student enrollment was 122. Today, the university has 122 buildings, is attractively landscaped, the full-time faculty numbers nearly 300, and approximately 4,600 students are enrolled.

A distinguished legacy of students traces its roots back to Yadkin College. This includes descendants of Henry Walser, who served in several elected offices. The 1879 graduate Zeb Vance Walser was elected to the state house of representatives, and in 1890, to the state senate, where he was minority leader. Walser, also a grandson of the founder, is quoted in “Pathfinders Past and Present: A History of Davidson County,” as follows: “It was one of the great schools of the state; in fact, it came near being the greatest school in the state. Many leaders of Davidson County, as well as other sections, were educated at the college. It contributed more than any institution to the pulpits of the Methodist Protestant church in North Carolina and High Point College.”

The Once Incorporated Town of Yadkin College

Contrary to the name, Yadkin College is not part of Yadkin county. Currently, the unincorporated town of Yadkin College remains in rural Davidson County approximately nine miles northwest of Lexington. Its history begins with Casper Walser, who came from Pennsylvania in 1770 and developed a farming tract on the westward loop of the Yakin River along with other early settlers. Farming became the chief industry with a focus on tobacco. The growing community of churches and educational opportunities by the river attracted residents from across the county. Ferries took families across the river to the town of Davie. Soon, there was a push for incorporation of the small area that once held the promise of becoming a major port.

The movement to incorporate the town was accomplished March 10, 1875 with corporate limits that extended one-half mile in each direction of the college. The town was incorporated with approximately 150 permanent residents. Many fine homes were built in the Yadkin College community. Henry Walser served as the first mayor, followed by his son Gaither Walser, then J. Sandford Phillis, H. Bentley Owen, W.L. Thompson, and Edward L. Greene.

CollegeBuildingBy 1910, the population had only grown to 250, with a mayor, treasury, and post office. A telephone company, stores, a boot repair shop, photographers, saw mill, churches, physician, manufacturing plants, and Green, Rea & Co. tobacco factory were also available. However, after Greene’s death in 1949, no new organization was established for leadership of the town. Accounts of the day blame the failed promise of building a major port nearby for its demise.

Some of Davidson County’s Most Significant Historic Properties

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Yadkin College’s small district is dense with historic properties including 23 principal buildings and 23 outbuildings, five structures, and four sites. The contributing buildings are the 1856 college building, one antebellum house, 11 houses built between 1870 and 1890, and an 1886 church. The noncontributing buildings are nine houses built after the end of the period of significance.

The site is marked by a large granite and brass monument erected in 1940 by Yadkin College Alumni. The first Yadkin College building still stands while the grand brick building on College Hill was demolished.

Architectural records show about 15 large homes built between the 1850s and 1870s still standing, with half abandoned and in need of restoration. As of summer 2017, all the homes are in private ownership. Two families, descendants of Henry Walser and E.L. Greene, are working to protect and preserve what remains. According to the register listing, “The nine houses built during the two decades after the Civil War represent unusual prosperity during the Reconstruction Era, when little construction occurred in North Carolina. These houses reflect the economic rewards of reopening following the War.”

Historic homes include the Benson-Taylor House, ca. 1870 and the Gaither Walser House (I), built before 1875. According to historic designation, “The two-story frame house is an ambitious example of Italianate Revival design, with a two-story pediment portico projecting from the center bay, a one-story pediment entrance porch, and one-story shed porches across the flanking bays of the main block. The exterior end chimneys are framed by pediment end gables, and brackets adorn all eaves.”

In 1879, the Walsers sold this house and soon after built the Gaither Walser House (II), directly across the way. The simpler home is said to have unique massing with a central projecting block. Design and construction is attributed to H. Bentley Owen, the local builder who built the grand second college building in 1881. On the interior, however, the second Gaither Walser house has understated features except for the grained woodwork and an unparalleled grand central staircase with an overhead balcony. The home is currently owned by the family of descendant David “Tonte” Craver and is used for the making and selling of pottery.

Latin inscription still displayed on the second story in the old college building.
Latin inscription still displayed on the second story in the old college building.

Another visually striking house in the district, and the only building in the district with gothic revival traits, is the E. L. Greene House that appeared on the cover essay for “Historic Resources of Davidson County” and is deemed “the closest example to the pattern book ‘Gothic Cottage’” in Davidson County.

Also of historical significance is the Yadkin College Methodist Protestant Church, built in 1886. It is typical of traditional rural North Carolina churches, with a rectangular gable-front form and a belfry projecting from the front peak.

Approximately 25 outbuildings survive on the grounds of the contributing houses in the district. Nearly every house has at least one outbuilding, typically a smokehouse, barn, or well-house, illustrating the importance of self-sufficiency in small-town as well as farm life.

Looking To The Future  

tobaccoMuch of the area includes rental property and several of the historic homes are unoccupied. Greene points to the lack of knowledge and the loss of many of the families who owned the property for the decline over the past 15 years. Both the Craver family (descendants of Walser kin) and the Greene family are holding on to their land and history. They consider it valuable despite the talk of industry and ships never happened. “It wasn’t really the town that people thought. All that went away when things didn’t turn out the way people thought it would. It was going to be a different place,”  said Greene.

Craver has committed to placing his land in a trust for future generations of Walsers. “My children and one day my grandchildren will be able to see where their ancestors grew up,” Craver said. “They will know the sequence of events and how it was. I don’t see it going back; that is why I am glad there has been a lot written about the Yadkin College community.”

Although the promise of big industry has come and gone, the Yadkin River is as beautiful as ever and the original school built by the hands of Henry Walser remains a symbol of one man’s determination for all of Davidson County.


Humane Society of Davidson County Celebrates 40 Years of Helping Animals

By Becky Everhart

In the summer of 1977, a notice appeared in The Dispatch from Jane Arey, a member of the Humane Society of Rowan County, asking if anyone was interested in beginning a humane society in Davidson County. “Corky” Briggs, Vicky Green, and I responded. A handful of people attended the first meeting, and the Humane Society was born. The tenets the society holds dear are simple: alleviate animal suffering and promote humane treatment of animals. Corky worked tirelessly for the organization for almost 20 years. Vicky, as Secretary, served more than 30 years. Both are now deceased. I served as Treasurer for 36 years and continue to be active.

The HSDC’s first full year of operation was 1978, with a total income of $1,270. In 2016, it topped $109,000. We are an all-volunteer force; approximately 90% of funds collected are used directly for program services. They include the Spay/Neuter and Sick/Injured Animal programs, Foster Care/Adoptions, Investigations, and the Pet Food Pantry.

Whitney Pope holds a loving cat during an adoption event.
Whitney Pope holds a loving cat during an adoption event.

Kristie Miller, the Secretary of the HSDC and one of the coordinators of the Pet Food Pantry program, said she knew we helped a lot of animals, but until she became a Board member last year, she had no idea how much people benefited as well. Help, we did. Last year, the pantry distributed over 10 tons of pet food to hundreds of animals.

In 1978, our first investigators traveled 1,270 miles. In 2001, we logged 8,000 miles. Currently, our president, Bruce Kingsbury, along with Gay Hutchins and Donna Harrington, travel to all corners of the county checking on cases of potential neglect or abuse and offering help.

Janet Fluharty, one of the HSDC Foster Care providers, loves cuddly puppies. She and other volunteers have placed hundreds of dogs and cats over the years into forever homes. Angie Byerly, a cat adoption coordinator, has found homes for more than 20 cats this year alone, thanks in part to our adoption fairs at PetSmart. Both volunteers love what they do, but admit fostering is hard work. Last year we spent over $23,000 on the program, rehoming over 100 dogs and cats. Foster Care/Adoptions is labor intensive and expensive to operate, but it is also deeply rewarding.

I serve as the coordinator of the Spay/Neuter and Sick/Injured Animal programs, allocating funds for veterinary care for many animals yearly. In 1983, the year the Spay/Neuter program began, the amount spent on both programs was $462. Last year, the total was more than $46,000, helping hundreds of animals and people, too. Countless times we hear a tearful “God bless you,” when funds are allocated for owners who struggle on a fixed income to have their pets fixed or to provide emergency veterinary care.

Conservatively, over 15,000 animals have been altered through our Spay/Neuter programs. Adding in the number of kittens and puppies not born, the number becomes exponential! Reimbursement for some surgeries from the State Spay/Neuter Fund helps to maintain the program. Another resource we utilize is a transport to Planned Pethood in Greensboro, a low-cost, high-volume spay/neuter clinic. Through this partnership, over 2,000 animals have been altered over the last five years.

Helping the helpless yesterday, today and tomorrow

In the 1980s, we focused on helping animals surrendered to horse show 2014 zthe local shelter. We convinced Sheriff “Jaybird” McCrary to discontinue selling shelter dogs to Leach Kennels in Virginia, where they were then sold to research labs for experimentation. We pushed to have all shelter animals kept at least three days. We took “Pet of the Week” pictures weekly in hopes of saving animals’ lives and drawing attention to the tragedy of pet overpopulation. We developed an adoption fee waiver program whereby the cost of adopting an animal was waived if the adopter deposited the fee at a local veterinary office toward the cost of spay/neuter. We paid the balance of the spay/neuter fee.

In the 1990s, we were instrumental in making the public aware of the need for a new animal shelter to replace the antiquated “dog pound.” The newly formed Animal Center of Davidson County (ACDC) began the daunting task of fundraising for a new shelter to be owned and operated by Davidson County. We worked hand in hand with the ACDC, donating $12,000 for the new facility and thousands of volunteer hours, as well. In 1999, after four long years of fundraising, the new Animal Shelter was built on Glendale Road.

In the 2000s, we continued to work to alleviate animal suffering. We also participated in the creation and review of multiple animal ordinances for the City of Lexington and Davidson County. We finally purchased property on Piedmont Drive, where we run our Spay-Neuter Transport and operate our Pet Food Pantry monthly, as well as hosting fund-raising events.

What’s ahead? We are helping the City of Lexington to build a dog park! As past president and long-time member Gay Hutchins recently noted, “The dog park will benefit more than just the dogs in Davidson County. The health and well-being of all the citizens that use the park is a huge plus.” She is right. Not only will dogs enjoy the freedom to run and play and socialize with other dogs, many of which spend their days on tethers or inside apartments, but also the park will provide an opportunity for people to socialize and form the bonds that tie our community together.

Working for the animals and for the people of our cities and county is what we have done for the past 40 years. The next 40? We are just getting started!

Please contact us if you would like to be a part of making the Lexington Dog Park happen or to support our programs! We always need volunteers, pet food, and monetary donations.


Humane Society of Davidson County

PO Box 1791

Lexington, NC 27293

Regular line: 336-248-2706

Spay/Neuter line: 336-237-0131


Follow us on Facebook! Megan McRee does a great job keeping everyone updated!


Officers and Board Members

Bruce Kingsbury, President

Kristie Miller, Secretary

Gay Hutchins, Treasurer

Jane Blackerby

Angie Byerly

Becky Everhart

Janet Fluharty

Donna Harrington

Megan Williams-McRee

Melody Williams


More Than Just a Game

By Coach Mike Gurley

Excitement is in the air as high school football quickly approaches. College football and the NFL will follow soon after. Communities throughout the nation will be filled with adrenaline as each school tries to answer “yes” to the question of whether this will be the year. There will be new helmets and uniforms shining under the Friday night lights, cheerleaders dancing, bands playing, children running and laughing, parents sitting proudly in their seats watching their child in uniform, hot dogs being cooked, popcorn popping, and community support at its highest. The agenda is simple: WIN! However, as you watch the games this fall, I hope all fans will take some time from their cheering to see that the games go way beyond the scoreboard. There is more to the game than the game itself.

Football, like all other sports, teaches many life lessons to young people that won’t be reflected on a team’s win/loss record. I have coached for more than 25 years and I can promise you that sports is a wonderful way for young people to practice the biggest game of them all – the game of life. I have had teams that won it all and teams that struggled to the finish line. I know that the lessons learned by players could not be taught anywhere else. John Wooden, the great basketball coach at UCLA, liked to say, “Success is a journey, not a destination.” That simple phrase describes how, during a young player’s journey, valuable life lessons occur that become the ingredients to help mold values and character. As stated earlier, the goal of all teams is to win. But every step on the journey to a victory helps our young people grow, grow up, and become adults.

I have always said that sports is a great way to practice the game of life. During a season, a player on any team will have a chance to use the right qualities and overcome the wrong attributes to help their team be a success. When children play sports, they learn to win. But, more importantly, they learn to lose. They also learn how to be the best they can be and they learn to adapt their skills to help the team when they are not. They learn what it is like to be a star and they learn how to be a substitute when their skills are not as good as another’s. They learn to play a role and execute a game plan that the coach puts in because winning teams must be on the same page during a game. Players find things they are good at and they find things that take work. All those things face us as adults, but our young people are dealing with it for the first time. Luckily, in a sports setting, the highs and lows of competition won’t affect their future.

If a young person learns to handle situations maturely and intellectually, those same young people are going to become good mommas and daddies, good employees, good friends, good husbands and wives, and good people who will make their communities stronger by their presence. They will learn all the traits and qualities that a person will need to be a productive, positive member of society. As fans, you see the final product from the assembly line. Coaches see the journey and the work that is required of all members of a team. They help players develop time management skills, discipline to do the work, dedication to a common cause, pride in their work, understanding of the fundamentals, focus on the job they have, intensity to be ready to play, integrity to do things right and to be a good sport, unity and bonding of a team, endurance to see a goal achieved, and the skills needed to be the best they can be.

Coaching staffs play a big role in helping their children develop. It is important that all parents stay positive with their child even if the child is not a star! Any bitterness and anger that parents display in front of their children will delay the development of their child. Parents, you may not be happy that “Junior” isn’t the starting quarterback, but you can make it a positive experience for him or her by encouraging them, supporting the team, being positive about their role, and letting your child stand on their own two feet as they practice the game of life on their football teams. Instead of raising a bitter, excuse-making child, you will have a strong-minded, problem-solving child who will be a success in the game of life.

 I love sports. It helped take a young, skinny, unsure kid like myself and help me become a man. My dad came to all my games, but he insisted that I handle my own business. He didn’t talk to the coach, he didn’t bad mouth my teammates who played in front of me, and he always wanted me to keep working because he felt it would make me better. He was right! I loved it so much that I made it my career. Like all teachers, I wish I made more money, but I have never regretted the decision I made to be a teacher and coach. It taught me to work for what I want, to find a ladder for every wall I encountered, to get up when I got knocked down, and to feel good about myself. I learned what it takes to make it in this great big world!

All those Jackets, Dragons, Black Knights, Spartans, Eagles, Bulldogs, and Panthers are itching to play that first game and hear the roar of their fans as they try to lead their team to victory. Every team is going to be the best it can be to win the game! But don’t forget there is more to it. Sports can help your child grow up and be a productive citizen. Enjoy that. Celebrate that. What you will find then is that everyone will be a winner. Success does have destinations, but isn’t it exciting to know that your child will benefit on the journey because they played high school sports? There is more to the game than the game.

Davidson County Fondly Remembers Soda Fountains

“The confidence it keeps”

By Ryan Jones

Before social media and coffee shops, the news of the day traveled via drug stores. As gathering place, rest stop, and convenience store combined, drug store soda fountains were neighborhood fixtures, thriving on offers of five cent ice cream, house-mixed soda, and made-to-order small plates.

Davidson County’s collective memory contains several notable establishments scattered throughout Lexington, Thomasville, and Denton. Some are still serving up sandwiches and sodas today, blending past and present, old and new.

Lexington’s most enduring institution is Lexington Drug, which the Welborn family began running almost 120 years ago. After the original building burned in 1905, William Welborn reopened the business uptown near the Old Davidson County Courthouse, where it remained for the next 80 years. By the early 60s, the business had grown into a second location and Lexington Drug Store No. 2 opened where the current and only pharmacy carrying the name still operates today.

The local favorite has managed to ride the tide of big-box buyouts and closings over the years, outlasting stores like Mann’s Drug and People’s Drug. Both had locations along Main Street and also featured soda fountains that drew regular customers seeking good conversation and novelty snacks.

People’s Drug located on the corner of First Avenue and South Main Street in Lexington

Mark Motlow, who now owns and operates Lexington Drug with his wife, Connie Motlow, understands the lasting appeal of the soda fountain and has no plans to remove the counter there any time soon. Though he has had to make equipment updates to meet code standards, the layout of the store has remained largely unchanged over the last 50-plus years.

“We’ll keep the soda fountain as long as we can. When we paid off the building in 2003 (after purchasing it in 1993) we had to bring it up to code and get rid of some of the older fixtures that gave it that nostalgia, but we still have the main fixture that’s been there since 1962,” said Mark Motlow. “There are three sinks and compartments to hold syrups for the sundaes, milkshakes, and the sugar and water for the soda.”

Beyond milkshakes, sundaes and sodas, the simple menu features pimento cheese and chicken salad sandwiches – made with Conrad and Hinkle products, of course – and house-made egg salad sandwiches. Those in the know always grab up the egg salad before Wednesday because that’s about how long the good stuff sticks around. The store is also famous for hand-squeezed orange and limeades that many longtime locals find impossible to unravel from childhood memories.

Denton Soda Fountain. Photo currently hangs in the old Denton Soda Fountain location where Dr. Cranford’s Optometry currently operates.

The Motlows purchased Lexington Drug from the Welborn family when John Welborn was ready to retire from his role as pharmacist. “Connie had already worked for Mr. Welborn for probably eight years. At the time she was his only pharmacist and he approached us to ask if we wanted to take over and make it an easy transition. It was because all the customers already knew Connie,” said Mark Motlow.

That kind of continuity is important for a place like Lexington Drug, Motlow explained. “We’ve had probably three generations that I know of — people bringing their kids in who used to come in when they were kids to get an orangeade after school. The fact that you can sit down at the counter and see people you know, it’s a nostalgic thing. We have people that come in and sit for hours. All walks of life, all ages.”

“I and many others would walk there after getting out of school at Cecil School in the afternoons. I loved the cherry smashes, limeades and orangeades. The staff was so nice,” said Lexington resident, Helen Fitzgerald. “It was just a neat place for 5th and 6th graders to safely walk and hang out after school. We could just chat and relax, see other friends.”

Fitzgerald also enjoyed spending her pocket money on the small items Lexington Drug carried in addition to pharmaceuticals. “As a young girl with a limited budget, I could do most of my Christmas shopping there. They had neat jewelry — used to carry collectible Boyds Bears, perfumes, candy, books. Most of the same things they carry now.”

Jeni Walden Lawson remembers her grandmother, Vera Walden, taking her to Lexington Drug for ice cream. “She never drank sodas, but would always treat herself to a Dr. Pepper. She said it reminded her of when she was a young girl. She would go there with friends.”

Besides being places of communion, drug stores and their soda fountains in particular also sometimes served a utilitarian purpose.

“The drug stores were kind of like an oasis between stops,” said Scott Gibson, noting that normal household shopping today looks much different than the way it did during the heyday of the soda fountain. “The shops uptown were rather exclusive. An average shopping day might take you from one end of town to the other simply to find the variety of goods sought. The drug store was practically designed to get you back into shape to continue on.”

The soda counter was also just a convenient place to pass the time while waiting for a prescription to be filled, said Tony Cranford, whose optometry practice is located on the corner of South Main and Peacock Avenue where Denton Drug operated for several decades. Growing up, he remembers visiting the store where he now welcomes patients. Back then it also featured an upper level with a doctor’s office and living quarters, he said.

“I remember it as a child. I guess I remember the soda fountain better than anything. It had a high ceiling and a fairly ornate tin mosaic in the ceiling with two large fans,” said Cranford, who also worked during his high school years behind the soda counter at a Mann’s Drug location in Asheboro, as did his brother, Delbert (Del) Cranford, the current co-owner of the Denton Drug store, now located on Highway 109.

Del Cranford started working at Denton Drug as a pharmacist in the early 80s for Harold Tanner and Bob Barrett, and by the end of the decade had become the owner. Later, his daughter, Lora Griffin, became a pharmacist and partner in the business. The store was moved to its current location in 2002. Somewhere along the way dwindling revenue led the store to close its soda fountain, but Cranford remembers it fondly.

“It was a gathering, social type thing as well as a place to get a snack. We had a lot of the same people come in,” he said. It was like a community center. People would come in and shoot the bull and have a fountain coke.”

Those who have worked at soda fountains share much the same sentiment toward the experience as those who simply grew up visiting them. The day-to-day experience of greeting rotating regulars and fixing up familiar foods carries with it a certain brand of nostalgia for Davidson County natives like Joni Walser.

Walser, who worked at People’s Drug on the corner of First Avenue and South Main Street in the 70s, remembers the high soda fountain counter at the store as well-worn but rooted in its own history. Her mom and two aunts had also worked at the store, so she remembers feeling particularly driven to land a job there.

“I desperately wanted to work there. I loved the idea of following in their footsteps. I liked the legacy of it,” Walser said. “Also I was following in the footsteps of some older high school girls I admired and sort of modeled myself after.”

“People’s was a popular spot for downtown workers to come for their lunch hour and for afternoon regulars who came in for an orangeade or milkshake,” she said. “We served them hot lunches, sandwiches, and there was always banana pudding. When we ran out of oranges or lemons or pimento cheese, I’d grab a basket and walk across the square to Conrad and Hinkle for replenishments, chatting with people I knew as I passed them on the sidewalk. This felt quaint and small-town special to me even then. I was sort of living my nostalgia in the present. I never dreaded going in to work those Saturday mornings because the social aspect of it was such fun.”

Walser worked at People’s for about a year until she hopped over to Lexington Drug No. 2, “which felt quite modern by comparison, but with the same conviviality,” she said. “Thankfully its soda counter is still serving up those magical orangeades and the counter still wears the same red Formica top from the 70s.”

Both Kyle Ann Bowers and Connie Miller worked at Lexington Drug while they were students at Lexington Senior High School in the early 2000s. They share an appreciation for the personal, customer-centered business model of the soda fountain.

“I loved talking to the customers who came in regularly. Most of them cared deeply about the drug store and those who worked there. They didn’t mind talking and relaxing for a moment. The environment was very intimate and caring,” said Miller. “People like to come to a place that feels genuine and trustworthy. Customers like to feel appreciated, and they value genuine respect and kindness. No one is rude or impatient. The service and conversation is heartfelt and not forced.”

“The clientele is definitely broad. There are families who have been coming there for generations — kids who grew into teens, who grew into adults, and then parents — and started the cycle again. For me, having worked there for so long, it’s really neat to see children I made ice cream for who are now in college,” said Bowers. “I loved the feeling that I was part of history.”

Long before Miller and Bowers took their first shifts at Lexington Drug, Elizabeth Loftin was serving the people of Denton at the original Denton Drug store soda fountain. She eventually became a pharmacy technician and recently retired after 50 years with the establishment.

“We mixed our drinks. We made our own syrups with a gallon jug and five pounds of sugar and mixed it up. Ice cream was like five cents a scoop and a milkshake was a quarter,” remembers Loftin. “We had Coble Dairy products.”

Loftin now owns the machine that made orangeades, and though she rarely pulls it out, citing the difficult cleanup process, she loves having it as a memento.

“My favorite memory is just meeting different people and just being in touch with everybody. At one time I could say I knew just about everybody in town,” said Loftin. She remembers some of the quirky requests she would get from soda fountain customers. “We had a couple of elderly people – well, I wouldn’t call them elderly now because I’m older now than they were – that liked to have ammonia put in their coke. It was supposed to help with their headache,” she laughed.

Walser remembers similar orders. “People would order them for a headache or, I guess, a hangover. It was just coke with a squirt from the small bottle of ammonia that sat just within my reach. I can’t believe people drank this. I wonder if they still do.”

“It was fun when you could remember the one or two particular customers who preferred soda water in their orangeade or those that ordered a Newton (coke, milk, and vanilla syrup). Learning and perfecting those unique requests taught me so much about using good customer service skills,” said Miller. “I appreciate someone who is genuinely appreciative of hard work and good customer service.”

Good customer service is the root of lasting success according to both Del Cranford and Motlow. While Cranford has no plans to reinstall the beloved Denton Drug soda fountain – “I have a lot of people ask me about it but I doubt I ever would” – he knows the business has only survived for the last 100-plus years because of the community atmosphere garnered by those early years at the counter.

“We’re independent so we can make our own decisions. If somebody comes in and has a problem we can decide what to do and not have to contact somebody at corporate and have them wait,” said Cranford. “We try to meet needs and accommodate whatever they want within reason.”

“We get to spend a good amount of time with each customer, more so than the big box stores. That’s kind of our ace in the hole. The local people in the community need that one-on-one attention,” said Motlow, adding that the soda fountain helps keep the business afloat in a lot of ways because the relationship between pharmacies and insurance companies doesn’t allow for a large profit margin. “The Welborns in later years felt like it was a mistake when they took the fountain out of Lexington Drug No. 1. That was a big drawing card.”

Walser thinks she understands the ultimate appeal of the soda fountain, and perhaps why Lexington Drug has withstood the test of time and why folks still ask about Denton Drug and look back at their childhood experiences visiting other soda fountains with such delight.

“I guess folks like soda fountains for the same reason they like a coffee shop these days, or a bar — a place where everybody knows, or will soon know, your name. A place where you can find company about any time of day, a place to take a break and have a treat, to sit by yourself on a stool and listen or contribute to conversation,” she said “This was the real charm. The interpersonal interactions it fostered, the friendships and confidences it kept.”