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Chapel Hill's Dying Community

The Chapel Hill I love is not a city, town, village, or university but a community of fascinating people in a beautiful location. As humans we all want to belong to something, and the communal nature that was Chapel Hill during most of my lifetime positively shaped and nurtured me. What made our community was shared experiences that were most often the interactions of someone sharing a story to one or more fellow townspeople in a store, along a sidewalk, on a phone call, over a meal, at school, or at church. Every time I heard a fellow Chapel Hillian share an amusing anecdote or recount things about the town they remembered I felt more a part of this community. I remember, for example, in 1958 when I was at the small farmer's market on Columbia Street just north of Rosemary Street listening to two grey-haired women talking about what life had been like when they were growing up in Chapel Hill in the 1890s when there was no indoor plumbing, telephones, nor electricity. I was transfixed in amazement and immediately felt a virtual connection to the town as it existed more than 60 years before I was born.


A Chapel Hill storyteller (right) enraptures his friends at a social gathering at a home on Purefoy Road in 1958


Huggins Hardware was a hotspot for Chapel Hill locals to chat with friends. In the photo from 1953 two coversations are going on simultaneously. 

I had hoped that Chapel Hill Memories could replicate through storytelling the same communal experience I remembered from my four decades of living in Chapel Hill, yet the very nature of this requires an array of narratives and listener responses that are community-building. There was no shortage of opportunities then to meet interesting people to engage in conversation with. At least once a week my parents invited four or more people over for dinner. The guests included couples from our neighborhood, UNC students from my Dad's classes, the ministers of various churches including The Chapel of the Cross, The Church of the Holy Family, St. Thomas Moore, an array of distinguished UNC professors and administrators, and even Jesse Helms – then a commentator on WRAL who my father often enjoyed heated debates with. As a family we would also go along with our parents several times a month to drop by and visit some family in the evening for a couple of hours after dinner. In most cases these were people who were "old" to me, probably in their early 60s. Invariably they would be great storytellers and their homes always contained enchanting collections of some kind, such as old train sets, vintage women's hats displayed on the top shelves of bookcases, or intricately carved figures that they had brought back from some exotic location.


A group of UNC students and professors discussing philosophy and religion at Harry's Restaurant, Chapel Hill's bohemian haven.


Three friends catching up with one another in front of Jeff's Confectionary in 1966

In addition to this, just accompanying my mother on her household errands several times a week was my favorite, and most fruitful, time for cultivating life-long relationships with a variety of fascinating people who worked at, or owned, various businesses in town including PACE's Gift Shop in Glen Lennox, Dickinson's Nursery, which was once considered out in the country, Billy Arthur's Hobby Shop in the Eastgate Shopping Center, and along Franklin Street, Danzigner Old World Gift Shop, Foister's Camera Shop, The Intimate Book Store, Ledbetter-Pickard Stationary Store, Sutton's Drug Store, Fowler's Grocery StoreJulian's Clothing Cupboard, McGinty's Sports Shop, Lacock's Shoes, Max Snipes Barber Shop, The HubThe Little Shop, Huggins Hardware, and Kemp's Record Store.


A very common experience along the north side of Franklin Street in the 1950s and early 1960s was a car stopped in street for the driver or passenger to have a conversation with someone the knew walking along the sidewalk. 


In the afternoons in the 1950s and 60s students gathered in large numbers on the steps of Wilson Library to have conversations with friends. In this photo you will see four separate groups of people talking.

I learned a lot from listening to, and occasionally participating in, conversations with these people. They recounted real stories, usually about a recent local event from their own life that was presented with a wealth of colorful information. I learned about their idiosyncratic friends, their favorite writers, books, and composers, places they had traveled to, difficulties they had overcome, and lessons they had learned. Through these encounters Chapel Hill was a shared world in which almost everyone living there became apart of one another's lives. Mundane topics such as the television show one had recently seenwere never discussed, and sports of any kind were rarely brought up by anyone over the age of 25. I remember Loften Gardner, a retired math professor who lived on North Street, telling me that watching sports, movies, and television were "spectator activities", and that conversation on the other hand was a shared experience which was the basis of all relationships. I also noticed that while one's personal life was a common topic of conversation, no one ever talked about his or her job. In this way we learned about each other's interests, weaknesses, and most of all their strengths. Most Chapel Hillians during this time had more real friends than the often-superficial couple of hundred acquaintances that make up the bulk of our Facebook friends. Through constant interaction with hundreds of fellow citizens on a weekly basis we cultivated a network of nurturing and supportive relationships that made us feel part of a close-knit community.


I recall living rooms were often full of friends and neighbors during the evenings in Chapel Hill from the 1950s through the mid 1980s. I have scores of photos in my collection displaying this ritual, and in almost everyone the couch is packed with people. The drinks these people are most likely holding, and usually served on these occassions, was iced tea. This photo is from 1955.

Today most of my contacts with Chapel Hill friends are through e-mails and Facebook. I see in them a steady decline of human contact as conversations are expressed in only a few words. I think this kind of interaction dehumanizes us and destroys our community. We now communicate in a new language some are calling Short Messages. Our e-mails, texts, Facebook postings, are rarely more than a sentence, and are often are full of symbols and abbreviations that further truncate how much we have to say (type). I suspect chimpanzees, who have a 3000-word vocabulary, are often having more meaningful conversations than us. The ravages of television are destroying our minds, along with the trivial postings we make and read on Facebook and Twitter. Our only real intimacy is with our cellphone, which is glued to most people at all times. While most Chapel Hill conversations were once lengthy, intimate, uplifting, and informative, they are now usually mundane and only a sentence or less.


Two Chapel Hill couples sitting and talking on the stone wall across from the downtown Post Office on a chilly January evening in 1952 after having dinner together at The Rathskeller. While this attire may look formal by today's standards, it was normal evening wear then for going out to dinner with friends.

by Charly Mann

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A Photographic Tour of early 1950s Chapel Hill and UNC

One day in 1796 William Davie was leaning against a poplar tree in a beautiful isolated forest in the center of North Carolina. He thought the place was so beautiful that it would make a great location for the nation's first state university and the town to support it. Davie Poplar still stands more than 200 years later, and a town and university aged with tradition now have replaced most of the surrounding dense forest. I was born into this town 64 years ago, yet have little recollection of my first four years there. This photographic essay is made up of a wide variety of images that clearly portray what Chapel Hill, UNC, and the people who lived there then looked like and behaved.

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Chapel Hill and UNC Photography Archive

Since I was ten I have been amassing a large collection of photographs of Chapel Hill and The University North Carolina. In recent years I have scanned about 1/10 of those pictures so that I can access them for articles in Chapel Hill Memories.

Last month I purchased a massive collection of primarily negatives of Chapel Hill photos taken by photographers who worked for several Chapel Hill newspapers from 1948 to 1989. I am not sure how many pictures are in this collection, but I would estimate it to be at least 10,000. The photos are mostly candid capturing Chapel Hillians and UNC students and faculty at work,in class, shopping, dining, and at play. There are many photos of the insides of businesses, homes, and classrooms, girl scouts selling cookies, cub scouts at soap box derbies, the entire town celebrating fourth of July on Fetzer field, Little League games, dozens of houses and new business under construction, several church congregation Sunday services and choir practices, as well as young Chapel Hillian’s at social dancing and ballet classes.

I hope to begin work on digitizing these pictures within the next five years. I doubt I will be able to go through all of them, but I hope to be able to do at least 20% within the next 15 years.
 

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The Rathskeller Today and Yesterday
Many Chapel Hill Memories readers have contacted me about the status of the planned reopening of The Ratskeller by Diane Fountain, originally scheduled for more than three years ago. We recently received the following sad news from a former longtime Rat employee.
 
In late February of 2012, Mary Stockwell, the general manager of Munch Family Properties (who owns the Rat's building), terminated Diane Fountain's lease, changed the locks and forbade her from again entering to the premises. Apparently, Diane had failed to pay the architects and the other construction workers who were due money, and this was a violation of her lease.
 

An ad for the Rathskeller in 1951

Months thereafter, Morris Commercial, the real estate company representing Munch Family Properties, began renovation work on the Rathskeller's old building. Presently, it intends to lease its space to as many as three tenants, though no lessees have, heretofore, expressed any interest in the property.


Ratskeller Menu Prices in 1954


Inside the Rathskeller in 1989

One thing is for sure: The Rathskeller will never again occupy its previous location. Not long after the termination of Diane Fountain's lease, she attempted to procure a location in NCNB plaza in the old "Ram Triple Theatre" location. That fell through as well. The reason apparently was lack of funding. Diane had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants fees, copyright procurements, demolition work and the like, and virtually all of this activity has availed nothing substantive.

The final nail in the coffin came on May 23 of this year when the NC Secretary of State's Corporations Division administratively dissolved Rathskeller Partners, LLC (Diane Fountain's company). Apparently, she had failed to file an annual report for 2012. Assuming no other entity assumes that corporate name, Diane can file for reinstatement in accordance with NC law.


Free Beer or Wine was a great incentive for many Chapel Hillians to dine at The Rathskeller

Finally, in a matter unrelated to the foregoing, Ed "Squeaky" Morgan, waiter from 1960 to 1993 and then again from 2002 to 2007, died at UNC Hospitals on October 13, aged 72. A cause of death was not revealed.

On a happier note, Ed Carr shared a beautiful story about downtown Chapel Hill that includes a happy ending at The Rathskeller:

It was the fall of 1967. My date and I enjoyed a meal of lasagna, bread and salad at the Rat, and we had some extra time, so we walked down to the Record Bar. Frankly, I loved that place, and took any excuse to hang out there. My date watched, on the brink of impatience, while I dug through the 45's for the hundredth time, and I noticed a young couple coming through the door.

 
Bobbie Gentry and Glen Campbell played at UNC in the Fall of 1968. 

She was attractive and wearing a pretty black and soft red dress. He was handsome and wearing jeans, a blue oxford shirt and a camel corduroy jacket. I recognized his face and hurried toward the door with my hand extended, grabbed his hand, and said to my date, "Let me introduce you to Glen Campbell." He replied, "Let me introduce you to Bobbie Gentry."


Glen Campbell arriving at the airport in 1968. A few years before he had played in Greensboro with The Beach Boys as a replacement for Brian Wilson.

Nobody else in the store seemed to notice, so we had them all to ourselves. Bobbie explained they were in town for a concert that evening, and we proudly showed off our tickets. She said they stopped by the Record Bar to see if their records were on the shelves. I ushered them to the proper shelf and pointed out their records. They seemed pleased.


Bobbie Gentry performing at UNC in 1968

When the evening was over I had enjoyed dining at the Rat, engaged in a memorable conversation with two up-and-coming music stars, got autographs on two 45 records - Ode to Billy Joe, and Gentle on My Mind, attended a fine concert, and impressed my date. ...A typical evening in Chapel Hill.


Charly Mann enjoying a pizza at The Rathskeller in 2003

All photos and ads in this article provided by Charly Mann

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Chapel Hill at the End of Innocence

In 1940 Chapel Hill was filled with love, hope, romance, and innocence. The Great Depression was finally showing signs of ending and the United States had a President who promised to keep us out of the war raging in Europe. The Jitterbug dance craze was engulfing the local high school and UNC student population. Even though some outside of Chapel Hill wanted this new dance banned because they considered it vulgar, there were five or six dances a week in town where everyone was jitterbugging. Most of these dances were sponsored by the University or one of  Carolina's fraternities. The overwhelming male-dominated UNC student population usually invited local town girls to these dances. Men wore rented tuxedos while women wore formal dresses that they, or their mother, made. After the dances couples typically went to a local downtown restaurant like Harry's, or a drugstore like Sutton's, for a milkshake or coffee and a piece of pie. Another popular combination was a Coca-Cola and a package of crackers which daters often shared and cost 11 cents. They next would usually attend a movie at one of Chapel Hill's two theaters – the Carolina or the Pickwick.  After the movie let out Franklin Street was filled with strolling couples holding hands or sitting on one of many benches along the street.

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In Search of Chapel Hill Friends
 
 
One of the primary purposes of Chapel Hill Memories is for old friends to reconnect and celebrate meaningful relationships they had while living in Chapel Hill. I would love Chapel Hill Memories readers to e-mail me stories about Chapel Hill friendships. I believe there is an elegance to writing an article that can enlighten and make us all aware of the many unique human beings who made our town great.  We are inundated by a culture of mediocrity and blandness and need to share our own words and creativity to honor our current and former Chapel Hill friends.

During the last five years I have received e-mails, phone calls and comments from readers on the subject of friendship in our town. One of the most surprising things I learned was how transitory most friendships were. The majority of people who had lived in Chapel Hill during at least some portion of their childhood and attended Chapel Hill schools or UNC recall many more friends than people who came to town as adults. During our school years acquaintances were plentiful with hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals in the same year of school and college, we spent many years in parallel lives. We also had the wonderful advantage of being immature and not knowing ourselves very well, which allowed us to be open to many more types of people. However almost everyone who had made good friends in their school and college years schools had lost touch or grown farther apart over the years as they became adults, married, had children, and most moved away from Chapel Hill. Recalling those times almost everyone remembered quite a few acquaintances, several girlfriends or boyfriends, and one or two close friends. When I started Chapel Hill Memories I still considered almost everyone I had known in Chapel Hill (from the time I was born until I moved away when I was 40) as my friends, but I now realize many of them may think of me as little more as an ex-friend or former acquaintance. 


Charly Mann October 2013

Readers I spoke to who came to Chapel Hill as adults said they made few if any close and long-lasting friendships. A common reason was that they had experienced a series of relationships in which they felt they gave far more than they received. They recounted stories of spending time listening to and helping people who they thought were their friends during challenging times for them, only to be ignored or cast aside when they had similar problems. Many also felt people had misrepresented their true nature to gain benefit from their friendship with no intention of forming an authentic friendship. I heard at least a dozen stories about rejection, betrayal, and selfishness from people who were thought of as friends.

I have written articles in Chapel Hill Memories about more than one hundred current and former Chapel Hill friends and acquaintances I admire and really have no ill will for anyone. Five years ago several people who regularly read Chapel Hill Memories convinced me I should join Facebook to connect with even more former Chapel Hill acquaintances. Within three months I had 437 "friends" with Chapel Hill connections. The only problem was that just a small fraction of those were people I had any close relationship with when I lived in Chapel Hill. Going through hundreds of Facebook posts every week from people I hardly knew quickly became very uninteresting to me. If we had talked on the phone or exchanged letters to share common experiences it would have been different, but I soon simply eliminated about 80% of these people as Facebook friends. Even among most people I kept as friends on Facebook there are no real back and forth friendly conversations. Interestingly, most of my closest friends have never even joined Facebook. With them I continue to regularly exchange letters or long e-mails that are both enjoyable and emotionally fulfilling to write and receive. I believe human interaction should rejuvenate, reaffirm and replenish our souls and social media does not do this for me. Although Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter provide us with hundreds of connections, a recent study by the American Sociological Review found the average American has fewer close friends today than they did twenty five years ago. Few of the people I communicated with for this article who were Facebook users had a single close confidante outside their own family.

The last bit of preparation I did before writing this article was to call six people I had previously talked to over the years about Chapel Hill friendships and collect their most current thoughts on the subject. A female, now in her late thirties and living in New York City, told me she had lost contact with all her old friends because she had to focus on the stresses and time commitments of her marriage, children, and job. A male friend in his early 60s who is recently divorced told me his only friends now are co-workers who he rarely sees outside of work. Even though I remember him as one of the most socially active in Chapel Hill during the 70s and 80s, there is only one Chapel Hill friend he keeps up with, by way of an annual phone conversation that lasts about ten minutes. A current Chapel Hill resident, who has lived in Chapel Hill on and off all of her life, says there are several old friends she grew up with who she gets together with several times a year for a meal, movie, or cultural event but they no longer share anything personal or have deep discussions like they did when they were young. A buddy of mine from elementary school, who now lives in Durham, says he still has a handful of good friends in Chapel Hill, but all they do when they get together is watch sporting events and occasional movies. One of my ex-girlfriends who still lives in town has a couple of girlfriends who she has known for most of her life, but one moved to Florida about a decade ago, the other to Raleigh, and now she hardly sees either. She says it is her relationships at work at UNC Memorial Hospital that sustain her, but none of those people are really friends.

Finally I have a friend who is a psychiatrist who I talked to about this subject. He told me that even close friendships rarely last more than seven years. Most people become our friends not so much because we have a lot in common, but because of their proximity to us at the time we met and because they were fun to hang out with. Through his work with patients over many years, he has found that one of the main reasons we seek friendship is it provides an alternative to loneliness.  He says the happiest people he knew were those who married someone with whom they had a lot in common and became their best friend for life.

by Charly Mann

Please send your experiences and stories about Chapel Hill friendships to me at chmemories@gmail.com.

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InformZoo
A Year of Charly Mann’s Thoughts
(August 2009 to August 2010):

http://www.informzoo.com

 



Chapel Hill is located on a hill whose only distinguishing feature in the 18th century was a small chapel on top called New Hope Chapel. This church was built in 1752 and is currently the location of The Carolina Inn. The town was founded in 1819, and chartered in 1851.

 

 

What is it that binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. or the crisp October nights. No, our love for this place is based upon the fact that it is as it was meant to be, The University of the People.

-- Charles Kuralt

 

 

Dark Side of the Hill -- Pink Floyd, the creators of the most popular album in history, Dark Side of the Moon, took the second half of their name from Floyd Council, a Chapel Hill native, and great blues singer and guitarist. He once belonged to a group called "The Chapel Hillbillies".

 

 

Check out Charly Mann's other website:
Oklahoma Birds and Butterflies

http://oklahomabirdsandbutterflies.com

 



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There would probably be no Chapel Hill if the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees in 1793 had not chosen land across from New Hope Chapel for the location of the university. By 1800 there were about 100 people living in thirty houses surrounding the campus.

 

 

The University North Carolina's first student was Hinton James, who enrolled in February, 1795. There is now a dormitory on the campus named in his honor.

 

 

 

 

The University of North Carolina was closed from 1870 to 1875 because of lack of state funding.

 

 

 

 

William Ackland left his art collection and $1.25 million to Duke University in 1940 on the condition that he would be buried in the art museum that the University was to build with his bequest. Duke rejected this condition even though members of the Duke Family are buried in Duke Chapel. What followed was a long and acrimonious legal battle between Ackland relatives who now wanted the inheritance, Rollins College, and the University of North Carolina, each attempting to receive the funds. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and in 1949 UNC was awarded the money for the museum. Ackland is buried near the museum's entrance. When the museum first opened, in the early sixties, there were rumors that his remains were leaking out of the mausoleum.

 

 

The official name of the Arboretum on the University of North Carolina campus is the Coker Arboretum. It is named after Dr. William Cocker, the University's first botany professor. It occupies a little more than five acres. It was founded in 1903.

 

 

Chapel Hill's main street has always been called Franklin Street. It was named after Benjamin Franklin in the early 1790s.

 

 



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Chapel Hill High School and Chapel Hill Junior High were on Franklin Street in the same location as University Square until the mid 1960s.

 

 

The Colonial Drug Store at 450 West Franklin Street was owned and operated by John Carswell. It was famous for a fresh-squeezed carbonated orange beverage called a "Big O". In the early 1970s, I managed the Record and Tape Center next door, and must have had over 100 of those drinks. The Colonial Drug Store closed in 1996.

 

 

Sutton's Drugstore, which opened in 1923, has one of the last soda fountains in the South. It is one of the few businesses remaining on Franklin Street that was in operation when I was growing up in the 1950s.

 

 

Future President Gerald Ford lived in Chapel Hill twice. First when he was 24, in 1938, he took a law couse in summer school at UNC. He lived in the Carr Building, which was a law school dormitory. At the same time, Richard Nixon, the man he served under as Vice President, was attending law school at Duke. In 1942, Ford returned to Chapel Hill to attend the U.S. Navy's Pre-Flight School training program. He lived in a rental house on Hidden Hills Drive.

 

 

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