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Fairmont Town

Fairmont Town Hall is located at 421 South Main Street, Fairmont, NC 28340; phone: 910-628-9766.

Beginnings [1]

Previous to the founding of the town of Fairmont, the community was known by two other names. Soon after the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad arrived in 1898 from Elrod, a community to the southwest, the town, founded on February 27, 1899, was known as Union City. The first mayor of Union City was Robert Edward Lee, and the town commissioners were Charles B. Thompson, Alford Lafayette Jones (builder of the A. L. Jones Building 201-205 S. Main Street), and John P. Brown. The second name for the town was Ashpole, which was founded on February 8, 1901. The town of Fairmont was not founded until February 7, 1907.

Initially, the town grew due to the lumbering industry, but quickly became a center for tobacco sales and transport with the arrival of the railroad. In 1899, when the town was named Union City, the first tobacco sales warehouse, operated by T. F. Reeves, E. J. Chambers, J. D. Kyle, and Charles R. Traynham, was built near the center of town by Southeast Lumber Company. The first tobacco market was held in August 1899, bringing hundreds to the town to sell their products. Wagons were loaded with tobacco and the streets were packed. In a 1905 advertisement paid for by the Ashpole Land and Improvement Company in the Lumberton Argus newspaper, the town was advertised as a good place to buy property for those who wanted to invest in "...the biggest tobacco market town in southeastern North Carolina, a prosperous town, and blessed with pleasant environments and with pure water gushing from artesian wells..." Dr. J. P. Brown was mayor of the town in 1905 and a member of Ashpole Land and Improvement Company. Businesses in the town at this time included A. J. Floyd, general merchant, located in a large double brick store, and E. V. McDaniel's general merchandise store, recently built and noted as "...a good brick store..." A second tobacco warehouse opened in 1906.

At its incorporation in 1907, the dominant economic interests that supported the town continued to be leaf tobacco and cotton. The tobacco market was held every year in August, and until cotton diminished in production in the 1930s and 1940s, due to the advent of the boll weevil infestation, bales of cotton were also brought to Fairmont for sale and transport to markets west and north via the train. In 1907, there were two tobacco warehouses, a post office, a school, several cotton gins, a newspaper, a few churches, and a Masonic lodge. F. L. Blue was the mayor. According to an article in the Raleigh News and Observer which focused on Robeson County towns, Fairmont, in 1909, sold over 2,500,000 pounds of tobacco through the market. The cotton market was also going strong by this time, and Fairmont was considered to be a strong, healthy, growing town with many handsome brick buildings. The population, by this time, had reached 1,000 and the Southeastern Railroad, a branch line of the Atlantic Coast Line, was active, with four passenger and two freight trains daily. The town had telephone and telegraph service. According to this same article, five sawmills were located within the town, a cotton oil and fertilizer company was being planned, there were over twenty brick stores, two cotton gins, two iron and woodworking shops, and a race course for horses. Businesses located in Fairmont at the time, according to newspaper advertisements, included White & Gough Department Store, the Bank of Fairmont, with $10,000 in capital, Pittman Drug Company, A. J. Floyd's general store, and J. D. McLean & Company, clothing. The latter three businesses were located in brick buildings on Main Street. The Robeson Warehouse opened in 1911, and by 1912, A. L. Jones, builder of one of the largest sawmills in town and a large real estate owner, had built one of the larger brick buildings on Main Street, at the corner of East Thompson and S. Main Street (201-205 S. Main Street). The Fairmont Messenger, in its January 25, 1912 edition, included advertisements for Lorena Lewis, milliner, Pittman Drug Company, J. D. McLean&Company, clothing, Bank of Fairmont, W. F. Mitchell Grocery, W. B. Brice & Son Wagons, A. J. Floyd, general store, and Fairmont Furniture Company. Fairmont Light & Power Company was founded on September 10, 1913, with a full plant in operation by February 1914. The town then had electricity, including street lights downtown, and many homes and businesses began receiving electrical services. By 1914, there was also a movie theater on Main Street, the Dixie Motion Picture House, which ran three to four movies every night, and People's Tobacco Warehouse was in operation. Fairmont had eighteen stores by 1915, including dry goods stores, groceries, hardware stores, barber shops, banks, millinery stores, department stores and drug stores, as well as medical offices, five churches, and two grade schools, one colored.

The tobacco market, often known locally as "yellow gold," continued to thrive in the 1920s, with 23 warehouses in the town by that time and a total of six million pounds of tobacco sold in one year in the latter part of the decade. The mayor of Fairmont in 1920 was E. Fisher. There were two banks at this time, Bank of Fairmont and People's Bank & Trust Company. Types of businesses included boarding houses, shoemakers, tobacco warehouses, garages, press clubs, merchants, plumbers, and electricians. The town had a designated fire district encompassing ninety feet to the east and west of S. Main Street and from the depot to the First Baptist Church on Main Street, with a second district encompassing ninety feet to the north and south of Center Street where only brick or concrete buildings could be built, with the exception of temporary food and drink stands for tobacco market days, which had to be torn down after the market ended.

By the 1930s, the town boasted thirty businesses downtown including two general stores, two furniture stores, four auto sales shops, one bank, two drug stores, two barbers, four doctors, two lawyers, and two dentists. The town had grown enough to need to purchase their first fire truck, a large department store, Levinson's, was in operation, and the Capital Theatre had been built (now demolished). In 1931, 28,757,968 pounds of tobacco was sold at the market for $11.47 per pound. The July 15, 1932 edition of the Fairmont Times included advertisements from Floyd & Floyd discount store, Robeson Sales Company, the Hotel Fairmont, McDaniel's Department Store (which was scheduled to open July 29, 1932), First National Bank, J. R. Collins & Sons grocery and hardware, Fairmont Drug Company, and McNeil Cleaners. The 1937 city directory for Fairmont, a small portion of which is on display in the town museum, lists seven clothing and general stores, several doctor's, lawyer's, and general offices, two groceries, two cotton gin companies, eight automobile sales and service businesses, one real estate company, one cafe, two drug stores, one cleaners, one hotel, one bank, one newspaper office, one furniture store, the telephone company, one beauty shop, and one tobacco company. The Fairmont Times-Messenger, on April 27, 1939, included advertisements for P. R. Floyd & Son fertilizers, Fisher Grocery, Fairmont Drug Company, Rawls Chevrolet, Williams Motor Company, Fairmont Stockyard, and Tedder's Grocery and Market.

The 1940s continued to be a time of growth and prosperity for Fairmont. A flyer produced by the South Carolina Economic Association in 1941 notes that Fairmont was the most progressive town in the Carolinas, with a population of 2,000, and the best tobacco and cotton markets. It was served by paved roads in every direction, as well as the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, and visitors could find modern accommodations during the tobacco market in several modern hotels, the most well-known of which was the Hotel Fairmont (now City Hall). Webster's Pharmacy was also established on August 1, 1948 located in the building where the Weinstein Medical Clinic had been located (212-216 S. Main Street). By 1950, the population of Fairmont had grown to 2,319 and this decade, perhaps more than any other, was the heyday of the tobacco industry, with 49,349,708 pounds sold in 1950 alone, at a price of $57.61 per pound. With this kind of selling price, local merchants and other businesses in Fairmont thrived also, as farmers and others in the tobacco sales industry spent their earnings in downtown, which, according to the 1951 Farmer's Festival bulletin, included over fifty merchants. Through the 1950s and 1960s, Fairmont continued to flourish, with the tobacco market bringing in thousands of visitors every summer. The Farmer's Festival, a town-wide celebration which began in 1950, was held every summer during the tobacco market days. Among other events, it included a parade featuring participation by a competitive array of floats, school bands, and community organizations, many parties and celebrations, and was one of the major celebrations in the town each year. Many families rented rooms to tobacconists, farmers, and their families, and downtown was filled with activity.

  1. Sybil H. Argintar, consultant, Southeastern Preservation Services, Fairmont Commercial Historic District, nomination document, 2009, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

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