Sometimes the assault of time against the collective memory of a place can obscure names and stories that were once meaningful to it. Much of what I do in researching local events and people is the attempt to rediscover these lost entities and tell their story as best I can with what remains.
This story begins with a small softcover chapbook of poetry I came upon. Really quite insignificant in material and not terribly interesting to look at, save for the title printed in silver paint on the red embossed cover: “Songs of Iredell.” I venture outside of the county on occasion, but Iredell is my home and my main area of study, and so it immediately grabbed my attention. What were these “songs?” What is their content? And just who was Sarah Anderson Heinzerling?
Sarah Anderson Chance was born September 11th, 1862 in Reidsville, North Carolina to William Anderson Chance and his wife Elizabeth Jane Allen Chance.
Sarah would never know her father. He enlisted into the 13th NC Infantry Regiment as part of K company, known as the “Dixie Boys” shortly before she was born. William likely saw fighting at South Mountain and Antietam before the regiment was transferred to Pender’s Brigade of the Army of Northern Virginia. William would contract diphtheria and die at a hospital in Staunton, Virginia in October of 1862 at only 25 years old. He was buried at the Thornrose Cemetery with other casualties from the field hospital.
William’s family wouldn’t even hear of his death until six months later. One of Sarah’s uncles would go to Virginia to look for the grave, eventually finding it and marking it as best he could, but nothing remains of William’s grave today.
I don’t know how Sarah’s mother Elizabeth managed to keep up herself and her daughter. Pension for confederate widows wouldn’t start in NC until 1885 so one would assume her family assisted in some way. Whatever the case, she must have been a formidable woman. Sadly, we know very little about her.
Being an only child, Sarah entertained herself in any way she could. This included reading books, such as the novel Morton House (which she devoured at 16 years old) by NC native “Christian Reid,” the male pen name of female author Frances Tiernan. The book made such an impression on her that she decided after finishing the book she would write her own novel, but eventually decided not to simply write “light novels and verse” for money. Tiernan’s impact on the young girl was such that later in life Sarah wrote a poem to memorialize Tiernan’s passing.
Despite this, Sarah recalled in a 1934 Statesville Daily Record article that her chief delight as a child had been memorizing and reciting poetry. This was done at home but also at the regular Friday afternoon poetry recitals her first schoolmaster F.P. Hopgood organized. It was said even poems like Grays Elegy were no match for her.
To My First Teacher
Your precepts live within my heart;
From tiny seeds of learning sown
In my young mind so long ago
Have sturdy plants of knowledge grown
To bud and blow.
The memory of your face, I hold
With other treasures of those days,
(the happiest life could bestow),
When you were pointing out the ways
My feet should go.
Our paths diverged as life paths will;
I was a child, now I am gray,
But this I write that you may know
I travel still the same highway
You bade me go.
In addition to her first schoolmaster, she also spent time under the tutelage of Miss Emma Scales, who was the sister of governor Alfred Scales, and who founded the Reidsville Seminary in 1874. According to Sarah, Miss Scales would get “highly indignant” if the girls of her school did not read with expression.
At 19 years old on April 28th, 1881 Sarah would marry for the first time to John Thomas Cubbage (or “McCubbage” depending on where you find his name printed) who would have been 27 at the time. Not much is known about her first marriage or her husband. John was originally from Connecticut and was a painter by profession according to census records, but beyond that there’s very little to tell us who he was or how he met Sarah. The marriage would only last two years, and John would die in 1883 while in Ohio likely visiting family. Whether due to illness or accident is unknown.
Sarah herself began writing poetry seriously at age 20 during this marriage.
In 1890, an outsider from Washington, D.C. named John Ernest Heinzerling came to Reidsville. Heinzerling was a widower himself, having lost his first wife Alice, and had come to town as a worker for the Corbett brothers, who were in the business of installing mills and milling equipment.
The millwright Heinzerling had done this sort of job in the past and was in the habit of attending prayer meetings at the Baptist churches in the communities where he found himself working. In Reidsville, his entry into the First Baptist church must have been destiny, and he soon fell in love with an attractive young widow in the church’s choir named Sarah.
John and Sarah were married on Christmas eve, 1891 in the same church where they first met.
To My Valentine
May cupid’s arrow
Pierce through your heart
To lodge in mine
The newlyweds would move to Salem, Virginia as John pursued another milling job there, but would be back in Reidsville by 1894. It’s believed Sarah’s mother lived with them permanently after they were married, and was most certainly with them in 1900 when the census is taken. Elizabeth would die in 1907. She would be buried with her sister Rachel Allen, who had died in 1894.
Sarah and John were deeply involved in the First Baptist Church of Reidsville. In addition to Sarah’s place in the choir, she was part of many groups within the church and regularly read poems on special occasions. Even after they moved away, Sarah would send poems to her friends at the church.
John would become a deacon, teach Sunday school, and serve as the Sunday school superintendent in 1909.
During these first years of marriage, Sarah would give birth to 4 children; Ernest Percy in 1892, Amy Anderson in 1895, Myrtle Louise in 1896, and Henry Allen in 1900. During these years she worked at least part time as a florist.
In 1911 the flour mill in Statesville was looking for a head miller, and through unknown means came upon an experienced and hardworking man named Heinzerling, who they offered the position to.
Sarah and John would move to Statesville that year, taking a house somewhere on Broad Street. They would remain there until 1914, when they would move to 113 North Tradd Street in downtown Statesville, across the road from where the First Baptist Church was located at the time. Today the church and the Heinzerling’s house are long gone. The church was replaced with a large bank building sometime after the church moved to a larger building on Davie Avenue in 1954. I’m unsure when Sarah and John’s house was torn down.
Sarah instantly became a part of the community. Her involvement with the First Baptist Church of Statesville meant she was again in the choir, and it seems with her free time she set about joining various civic groups, eventually becoming a member of The Iredell War Mothers, United Daughters of The Confederacy, The Statesville Woman’s Club, and state organizations such as The North Carolina Bird Club, The North Carolina Poetry Society, The National League of American Pen Women, The State Literary and Historical Association, and the North Carolina Poetry Society.
Her children also found a place in Statesville, with her daughters taking after their mother and showing an interest in the arts.
In Amy, this manifested as a gift for music, and it was said that her technique in playing classical pieces from composers such as Chopin was brilliant and her touch delicate. Amy would eventually become the organist at First Baptist and would teach students the piano.
Her sister Myrtle seems to have had some talent on the piano as well, and there are various mentions of her in the local papers playing at weddings and other occasions.
Henry would do various things as a boy, even selling homemade fly traps of his own design through the Lazenby Montgomery Hardware store. To some degree he took up his father’s profession and may have helped with mill construction before he was drafted into the Army during WWI. Luckily for Henry, because of his age he wasn’t called up until October of 1918. The war was over by the next month and Henry was sent back home in December. He would enroll in Universal Chiropractic College in Pittsburgh, PA shortly thereafter, graduating in June 1922 as class president. Returning home, he would open up an office in Statesville later that year at the People’s Loan and Savings Bank building, but would move away to Asheville in June, 1923 with his wife.
Ernest worked as a rural mail carrier in his younger years. Despite being eligible for the draft, he was never called to service during WWI. He would receive education at the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts and would take work at the same mill where his father worked. He would remain an employee there his whole life.
Sarah’s husband John also made himself a fixture of the new town they would call home. As an employee of the mill, he took his job seriously, even making biscuits from various batches of flour to ensure quality of the product he was signing his name to. Besides his diligent work supervising the flour mill, he was again active in the church and would be both a deacon and custodian for First Baptist in addition to helping wherever help was needed, serving during various functions and with various committees. He was remembered after his death as generous, kind, and utterly dependable.
By the mid 1920’s, Sarah’s interest in writing is flowering, and she helps to organize The North Carolina chapter of the League of American Pen Women. She would take a particular interest in the group, making trips to Washington D.C. for national meetings and even becoming the state vice president of the group in North Carolina, the highest office in the state. Part of her duty as vice president was supervising the various branches of the club within the state.
That same year Sarah would also start self-publishing a “leaflet” called “The Pioneer” which would showcase literary work from North Carolina women and even some of her own poetry. The leaflet was sold by subscription for 50 cents per year, and Sarah published it for 2 years before giving up on the venture for unknown reasons.
She also was in the habit of hosting poetry competitions in the community and statewide, usually through the various organizations she was a member of. Winners were sometimes rewarded with cash and sometimes with other prizes. It was a practice she would continue into old age.
In 1933, Sarah submits a poem to a statewide contest hosted by the Literature Department of the North Carolina Federation of Women’s Clubs. Her entry titled “Willow Whistles” submitted under the pen name “Sanderson Chance” would win the Poetry Cup for 1933-1934.
Oh, it’s time for making whistles!
Let us go-let us go,
To the wild secluded places
Where lilting streamlets flow;
Where graceful pussy-willows
In a shining silver throng,
Are dancing by the waters
To the music of their song.
It is time for making whistles
That will blow-that will blow;
For the green is on the upland,
The woods and hedges glow;
The South Wind wafts a greeting-
The birds a welcome sing;
Oh, it is time for willow whistles
To pipe in praise of Spring!
The next year, at 72 years old, with her award winning poem, several she had already published in The Pioneer, and a number of others that had never seen the light of day, Sarah Heinzerling published her first book. A 46 page chapbook of sorts named Songs of Iredell, it was printed and bound by Brady Printing in Statesville and was instantly lauded in the local papers. It came as no surprise to anyone who knew Sarah, and no doubt her friends and family had been privy to at least some of the poems contained within the little red book of verse.
Before the end of her life, she would publish two more small volumes of her verse. “Pines of Rockingham,” and “The Call.”
On Saturday March 31st of 1941, Sarah’s husband John suffered a stroke shortly after arriving at work. He was taken to Davis Hospital where it was thought he might recover, but he was never himself again. John Heinzerling, the love of Sarah’s life and her faithful companion of 50 years suffered a slow decline. He would die at the hospital in August of 1941 at the age of 77. A couple months later the local newspaper would devote almost an entire page to a proper obituary, noting that every kindness and virtue of character a man could have were to be found in John Ernest Heinzerling.
It Is Not Death To Die
One morning very early,
Death paused on our street;
And when he left, an old man’s
Life cycle was complete;
A frail and gentle old man
Who smiled as he passed by;
Content to go on living,
But not afraid to die.
In that new life he entered,
Youth will return to him;
Strength to his weary body,
And sight to eyes grown dim.
Why weep then, at his going?
Instead rejoice that he
Was ready for the journey
It’s hard to say just what John’s death meant to Sarah. After his passing, her name appears less and less in the local papers. Her time is probably less frequently spent doing the work of the local clubs she was a member of. I don’t know if it was grief, her age finally catching up with her, or a little of both.
Despite these things, Sarah herself would carry on for another 13 years after John, living the whole time with her daughter Amy and son Ernest in the house she and her husband had called home for 40 years. She died on March 11th, 1954 at 91 years old and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery, in the family plot with her husband, and where Ernest, Henry, and Amy would be buried later.
Legacy is a hard word to define when talking about a single person. Sarah Heinzerling was no doubt someone who left a legacy. Her work in the community and in the various civic groups impacted people locally, all over the state, and in various parts of the country. Her writings, while modest and nearly forgotten today have been a part of the lives of all who knew her and associated with her. Even after her death, her poems were being read on special occasions at churches and other places in Statesville.
But time has a way of washing away people and their deeds, of obscuring things that were once important, and today we don’t hear her poems anymore. But for a small marker in a cemetery one might pass by, we don’t even think of her name.
But I hope in hearing her story you take from her life and poetry what you can. Whether it’s in her clear and defined love of nature and her home state, or in her introspective lyrics about faith, aging, and death, her poems have something timeless to tell us.
It’s my sincere hope by drawing back the curtain of the years that people today may once again see her as she was and as she should be seen. As Statesville’s most important and beloved poetess.
Seven decades bring
Life so near its close,
It seems wise to take
Time for calm repose;
So, I lay aside
Many dear desires-
Lock the door of dreams,
Bank ambition’s fires.
Broken bones will mend.
Wounded flesh will heal;
Stricken hearts retain
Power to throb and feel;
But a spirit tried
As my soul has been,
loses strength to fight,
And the will to win.
I am reconciled-
Proud of every scar;
Discontent shall not
Future pleasure mar;
Youth was blessed with hopes
That have ceased to be;
Grant to age instead,
If you’d like to read Mrs. Heinzerling’s book for yourself, I’ve taken the effort of removing what little remained of the glue binding and the rusted staples used to hold it together in order to scan this small volume I have. It will be available here and on Archive.org as a searchable PDF.
The Iredell County Library has one other book Heinzerling published, but it is not in public circulation. If you have any copies of her other two works, or anything else pertaining to her life, such as information about her leaflet The Pioneer, please see the contact page to get in touch with me.