07/23/07 — A town's family name

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A town's family name

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on July 23, 2007 1:46 PM

Is it Elroy or El-Roy?

Motorists speeding down U.S. 70 East might not notice the discrepancy, or be aware of the history of the tiny community.

The volunteer fire station bears the hyphenated version, reflective of the two names that comprise the moniker. But according to a small green road marker near Long's Plant Farm Road, it is Elroy.

Located about three miles east of the city limits of Goldsboro, its area measures about one square mile. Beginning at the intersection of N.C. 111 and U.S. 70 and running just past Casey's Chapel Church, it was bisected in the late 1960s when the four-lane highway was built.

A granite marker, a few feet from the sign, bears the name of the man credited with naming the community.

James Avant Long Sr. was the second engineer who ran the train from Wilmington to Weldon, says his great-grandson, Robert Beasley of Seven Springs. The train track still runs through LaGrange and in Goldsboro along Royall Avenue.

Investigating his own family's genealogy is how Beasley stumbled onto some of the Elroy history. But early records are sparse, he said.

"From what I can find out, right along close to the firehouse, there was once a post office and store," he said. Long, he added, operated both after retiring from the railroad.

Back in the early 1900s, Beasley said, small communities were popping up well before they were defined by city limits.

"Adamsville was considered a pretty good size area. There was a space between Adamsville and Elroy -- Elroy was near the Friends church and where the firehouse is now," he said.

J.K. Thompson, a retired teacher and author of a historical perspective of the area, "New Hope Friends Meeting and The Elroy Community" in 1987, has lived in that community all his life.

"I always counted the community from the stoplight at 111 down to the creek, which is Walnut Creek, and one-half mile on each side," he said. "The whole area's probably 50 people."

Both men agree on how Elroy came to be named.

"My mama used to say Jimmy Long took the first two letters of his wife's name (Ellen), and he had a son named Roy," Thompson said. "(He) put them together and called it Elroy."

Ellen was actually Long's second wife, Beasley said. And while his research has not turned up a son named Elroy, Leroy or even Roy, he shrugged it off with the explanation that his great-grandfather "probably called one of them Roy."

The once-hypenated name, he suggested, "is like a lot of other things -- over time they kind of cut it down to one word."

Back in the day, smaller areas developed their own centers of activity -- community schoolhouses, general stores and churches were meeting places where everyone knew each other.

The local country store also housed the post office before the days of rural free delivery, Thompson said.

"You had to walk to the store to get your mail," he said, noting in his book that in later years, "Council Best, driving a horse and buddy, delivered the mail."

The store served as a hub of life for the surrounding area. It was a gathering place for children after school and men on many an evening, Thompson said.

It was also considered a voting precinct for New Hope Township, and the women's society at the Friends Meeting would sell barbecue during the all-day voting.

In 1927, the book said, "Troy Wilson built and operated the first full-time garage and service station. ... It soon became another meeting place.

"Purchasing one of the first radios in the area, 'The Amos 'n Andy Show' brought large crowds out, as did 'The Grand Old Opry' on Saturday nights."

In the 1950s, Pete and Margaret Daniels operated the store, according to the book. Daniels was said to have purchased one of the first TV sets in the community and placed it in the store. It was a popular draw, especially on Monday nights when "I Love Lucy" was on.

Down the road from the store, the Elroy Meat Market was established in 1951, built and run by Needham Whitley.

Everything changed more than a decade later, when the state paved U.S. 70. Businesses, as well as many homes, were leveled as progress plowed through. A cemetery also had to be moved.

"They moved (Long) to the Friends Church cemetery but didn't have a marker up. We can't find any record of when the state moved him," Beasley said.

"The burying ground was up on the hill just beyond the creek and it was more or less a community burial ground," added Thompson. "It moved over to the Quaker cemetery on Dollard Town Road when the road was widened. All the people were moved over there."

Elizabeth Smith, 63, another great-grandchild of James Long and lifelong resident of Elroy, is now retired from the family business, Long's Plant Farm.

She recalls a few of the family names from the early days -- Hinnants, Longs, Uzzells and Whitleys -- some of whom have side streets there named for them. Her father once inherited some land where U.S. 70 now runs.

"This community has changed so much just during my lifetime. I can remember when our homeplace, (my father) Major Long's homeplace, Ray Anderson's homeplace, and my Aunt Vick, those houses were the only houses on this road. This has been, oh my goodness, 45, 50 years ago.

"My daddy actually traded that place for this place (where Long's Plant Farm now stands) and ended up here with my mom. I was born about 50 feet from where I am now standing."

Originally on an unpaved road, Mrs. Smith chuckles at the memory of how the decision was made to pave it and determine its naming.

"The state ran one of those lines across it to see how many people used it. My daddy would go out and stop and back up and drive over it again to make it feel like there was a little more traffic on it than there was," she said. "We did get it paved."

When it was later named after the nearby business, she said the family was very proud, "although it does take longer to address a letter," she laughed.