Cooleemee history alive thanks to the Rumleys

Published 9:51 am Thursday, November 1, 2018

Talk to an old timer in Cooleemee, and they either like or dislike Jim and Lynn Rumley.

You don’t have to like them, but the couple who chose Cooleemee as their adopted hometown should be thanked. Their work should be appreciated.

They just happened upon Cooleemee, and liked what they saw.

They stayed, and over the years, have made more positive impact than just about everyone else combined.

Ever heard of the Cooleemee Historical Association? Thank Jim and Lynn Rumley.

Ever heard of RiverPark at Cooleemee Falls? Thank Jim and Lynn Rumley.

Ever heard of the Mill House Museum or the Family Life Museum? Thank Jim and Lynn Rumley.

Ever heard of the Discovering Our Heritage history program taught to elementary school children in Cooleemee every year? Thank Jim and Lynn Rumley.

Amateur historians, the couple dove into Cooleemee with all of the enthusiasm they could muster. They knew nothing about their new hometown, or its history.

But they made friends, and talked to them and their neighbors. They convinced them they had something worth preserving, something to be celebrated. They convinced them to tell their stories, let go of some historical items.

For too long, mill towns had been considered “the other side of the tracks,” home to people respectable folks didn’t associate with.  That perception was wrong – dead wrong – and the Rumleys proved it. Mill towns – including Cooleemee – were made up of proud people. Most had come from farms, and had little money. The thought of a job that paid cash was appealing, and they headed to town.

Cooleemee thrived. It was Davie’s largest town at one time. It was the center of the action.

Even when I was young, going to Cooleemee to play a Little League baseball game was a big deal. You could expect way more spectators than we had in Mocksville. And they supported their team in a big way (Which usually won, by the way.).

Jim Rumley wrote a book about mill people and Cooleemee. It’s worth reading, and will give you a fresh look at an old stereotype. For a transplant, he really hit the nail on the head.

The Rumleys immersed themselves in Cooleemee history. The museums were a result. The park was a result. The school programs were a result. They even invented “Blinkey,” the catfish character who helped teach young and old about The Bullhole and other goings on at that place on the South Yadkin River.

But as it does sometimes, politics got in the way. Being a small town, they surely were involved in politics, even holding office. That in itself makes enemies. Take a stand, and the number of enemies grew. They got involved in controversy over water rights in the river, and that didn’t help. People took sides. The fight was ugly.

When the Rumleys retired, Cooleemee suffered, especially the historical association. The numbers of volunteers dwindled. The donations dwindled.

On Saturday from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., the Cooleemee Historical Association will hold a barbecue fundraiser, including a bake sale. Go get a sandwich and a piece of cake. Enjoy the museums. Visit the park.

And remember, it all didn’t just happen overnight. It took people who care. People like Jim and Lynn Rumley. People like you.

Support the Cooleemee Historical Association by volunteering, or making a donation. It’s our history, and it is worth preserving.

– Mike Barnhardt