Cooleemee students learn history of community

Published 8:35 am Thursday, May 17, 2018

On Friday, May 11, the Cooleemee Historical Association had its annual economics education for Cooleemee School fourth graders.

A woman by the name of Backwoods Betsy (Susan Wall) guided the  journey from 300 years ago that took them through the beautiful trails of RiverPark.

In the 1700s, she came down the Great Wagon Road from Pennsylvania with her parents. Since she has been living in the backwoods of the Carolinas for 300 years, her stories helped educate the fourth graders about how to build an economy.

Located by the roaring dam, where the water gently glides over the huge bedrock and flows southward, Backwoods Betsy introduced a Native American woman to the class, (Randi Harris), who taught them about what they wore, ate, how they hunted and the everyday tools that helped them accomplish those tasks.

Many artifacts were on the table and they talked and asked questions about most of them.

Backwoods Betsy took them forward 100 years and they made their way up the hill to where Mr. Bost (Sandra Ferrell) was waiting.  He had on overalls and a small hat with a short brim. Mr. Bost operated the gristmill.

He showed a picture of the gristmill that was located near the South Yadkin River. He explained that the people who lived there grew their corn, dried it and then brought it to the gristmill for grinding.  The small pieces of corn could now be used for recipes like cornbread. These small farm villages learned to trade and barter.

Each student took a handful of dried corn from the metal bucket and handed it to a worker in the mill (Angie Kiplinger Errante) and they in turn handed them a small pouch that contained dried corn that had been ground up for cooking.

Two fourth grade classes traveled on this journey and while at the gristmill, they divided up into two groups.  One group was call the “Nutters” and the other was called the “Appletons.”

Mr. Bost told them when they built a house they didn’t go to Lowes to get the wood, but instead they chopped down trees and made their own. Neighbors would come by and offer a helping hand because when they built their home, they had neighbors to help them.  It was like, “neighbors helping neighbors”, he said.

Some neighbors grew fruit and some had vegetable gardens. So, since money was tight, they would barter their goods to help each other get what they needed for their families.

The two groups intermingled until they found what they needed and traded with each other.

From there the journey continued forward 100 more years until they came upon a woman who they learned was Mama (Donna Mills), who taught them what it was like to be so young and work in a cotton mill to help make money, not for themselves to spend on their own, but to help make ends meet for the family.

So, they worked hard and on payday, they gave all their earnings to their mama.

Each student was given 25 cents where they got to buy a pickle, a peppermint stick and they got to taste some good hoop cheese on a cracker.

President of the CHA, Tony Steele, talked more about what it was like to work in the mill, how they didn’t make the cotton but the villagers grew it, took it to a place where it was made into a bail and the mill bought the bails of cotton to make cloth.

Jim and Lynn Rumley, including the role of Backwoods Betsy, whose name was taken from Daniel Boone’s rifle, developed these lessons.

These programs are wonderful assets to the historical heritage of Cooleemee and the children walk away with a clear understanding how this small quaint town got started and how it has survived through the years – a town that refuses to die.

Third graders will visit the Mill House Museum on Cross Street next Friday, where they will learn several chores like hanging clothes on a clothesline, collecting eggs and learning how to use a hoe in the garden to plant vegetables.

Feel free to contact me at or call 336.250.1133.I would love to hear from you.