During the winter of 1989, one of the hospitals most notable post-mortem identities was taking shape, and it became the set for a small horror movie. While at least one other location in Statesville would be used, the bulk of the movie would be filmed inside the empty hospital.
The story starts with James Thomas Cummins, who graduated from the California Institute of Arts in 1979 after receiving a scholarship from the Walt Disney Company. Cummins almost immediately was able to get into “the business”, working as an illustrator, special effects artist, and sculptor for various tv shows and movies such as 1982’s “The Thing“, the 1985 reboot of TV’s the “Twilight Zone” and the 1986 Elvira movie. During those years he also did some sculpting for Hasbro toys, but I have been unable to find exactly which toy line he worked on.
Despite these initial successes, Cummins would later in life say he was frustrated by the way his work was being presented on film. In one interview with Suspense magazine, he would say he “grew tired of asking the powers that be for permission to play and create“, and this is what would eventually lead to his venturing out into the world of filmmaking on his own, culminating with “The Boneyard“.
Armed with a small budget, one of his own drawings of a prehistoric poodle as inspiration, a former hospital, and special effects help from Bill Corso, Cummins got to work. The cast would include such veteran actors as Norman Fell, Phyllis Diller, and Ed Nelson. The casting of Diller, in particular seems to have been an adventure.
As anyone could guess, putting together a movie for the first time was likely a challenge. One that wasn’t helped by the freezing temperatures inside the unheated hospital, problems between actors, and an accidental fire in a portion of the building.
Despite these problems, Cummins managed to get the movie on film, and it was eventually released direct to video in 1991. Reactions to the movie from critics were not positive. One called it “claustrophobic” and the makeup effects “crude and unconvincing”. But, as can be the case with low-budget horror movies, over the years it has developed a cult following among fans for it’s mix of comedy and horror, and of course for that giant poodle. Once out of print, today there are several re-releases available, including a Blu-Ray edition with a director’s commentary.
Cummins would never take on creating another movie during his life, but would have several small roles in other films, including in the directors chair. He would unfortunately contract rheumatic fever shortly after working on a movie called Dark:30, which would lead to several open heart surgeries. This would cause him to slip out of the Hollywood life and he would begin self-publishing books and taking on other creative pursuits. Cummins died in December, 2000.
The Boneyard leaves behind a mixed legacy for those who worked on it and for the hospital. For most of the actors it was a paycheck at the end of notable careers. For Cummins, it was an attempt to find artistic freedom. For the hospital, maybe just a footnote. But one thing it does provide us with is something exceedingly rare; footage from the inside of Davis shortly after it ceased to be a hospital.
In 2003, on a trip inside the hospital with several other explorers, we came across a left behind script for the movie in the old Women’s Division building near the pediatric entrance. At the time we probably didn’t think very much of it, but one of the other explorers took it to preserve. Through the years, we lost contact and I had given up on ever seeing or being able to share the script. Until this year when I was able to get in contact with two of the explorers who had been on that trip. As a result, I can now offer up the script in PDF form for anyone interested in this piece of eccentric ephemera. This script will also be available for download from the Internet Archive, and the physical copy will be placed under the care of the Statesville Historical Society.
Although out of print now, the book “We Well Remember“, which was published in 1997 by Sarah Brawley Cheek is available online in several places and is a gold mine of stories relating to the local communities. Tucked away in a section about health care are several useful passages about Dr. Trivette, including a story or two about house calls he made. One of these accounts is from Willie Mae Tulbert, his niece. She was apparently employed as what we today think of as a CNA in the clinic for four years while a teenager. I have included a clipping of her account on the sources page and updated the main article with her name listed among the employees. The book also revealed a new portrait of Dr. Trivette, which I have also included in the original article.
First, I have recently found a little bit of information about the Whites-Davis and All Healing Springs of Alexander county that I hadn’t previously come across. These scans are from a publication called “Mining Industry in North Carolina in 1908”, which has a special focus on mineral springs in the state. Included in the list are entries for both of Alexander County’s springs, which I will include here and add to the original posting as well.
I would also like to mention an upcoming event the Iredell County Historical Society will be putting on for another local healing springs location- Eupeptic Springs on the north end of Iredell County. That spring was also the focus of a resort that existed on the land there from the mid to late 1800’s until just before WWI. The Historical Society will have a presentation about the springs and even some artifacts from it’s glory days, including something very interesting I’m not going to reveal. They also ask that anyone who might have artifacts, pictures, or information about Eupeptic Springs please bring what you have. That will be on August 1st, 2021 at 3PM. There will be no charge. More info about that and some contact info is available from Mr. Stonestreet’s article in the Statesville Record & Landmark.
Thanks to Jerry Lankford, the editor of the Wilkes Record, several newspaper articles about Angie’s case are now available online. These articles are not available in print or at the Wilkes Record site anymore and I wanted to preserve them, as they include details I haven’t seen anywhere else about the case, and also paint a portrait of who Angie was. Those articles can be found at the bottom of the original post about Hamby’s disappearance.
As I’ve continued searching for information related to the Trivette Clinic, I remembered a source I have on my own bookshelf- the now out of print Iredell County Heritage Books published in the year 2000. Volume II of this set has articles for both Dr. Trivette and Dr. Robertson, and I wanted to include a portion of them both, starting with the article about Dr. Robertson.
DR. JAMES MEBANE ROBERTSON, M.D.
Dr. James Mebane Robertson served the greater Harmony area as a distinguished country physician and community leader for sixty years. Retired and working on a book about his life and medical practice, he died November 26, 1998, only a few days following the death of his beloved wife Ann. He was born August 4, 1906 in Olin Township at Charles where his parents W.L. and Augusta Weisner Robertson operated a country store, cotton gin and farm. His grandparents, J.J. and Sarah White Robertson had raised a large family and made a living the same way two miles north on Olin Creek. He was the second of four children: Bristol, Mebane, Juanita and Barbara. Dr. Robertson acquired his early education at nearby Hopewell Grade School and then Harmony High School. From 1925 to 1930 he studied at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, taking an AB degree and two years of medicine. By 1932 he had received his M.D. at Temple University (Philadelphia) and the following year completed his intern- ship at Hamot Hospital in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Returning home in 1933 he found that an office had been built for him in Charles (still stands today) where he would operate a family practice until he married in 1934 and moved over to Harmony. Marriage came about through a fortuitous incident, which occurred while he was working with Dr. William A. Trivette at the Trivette Hospital in Eagle Mills. A young Wilkes County schoolteacher, Ann Jones, had driven a patient down to the hospital. While Dr. Trivette treated the patient from Wilkes Co. and his young protégé finished up a tonsillectomy, Miss Jones discovered she had a flat tire. As soon as Dr. Robertson heard of her misfortune he graciously volunteered to help her resolve the matter and from that moment on a lifetime relationship was in the making Doctor and Mrs. Robertson enjoyed sixty four years of marriage. Their only child, James M. Robertson, Jr lives in Charlotte with his wife Jeanie and is a pilot with US Air. Their children are James Robertson, III, Michelle Robertson Rogers, Tommy and Kenneth Butts.
Dr. Robertson was a country doctor and that is the way he had planned it. It was his ambition to gain an education, earn a medical degree and return to his community and serve it to the best of his ability. His practice extended over most of Iredell and much of Wilkes, Yadkin and Davie counties. When word reached him of someone in need of medical attention he would soon be on his way regardless of weather, distance or time of day. Stories abound about the arduous travel, interminable hours and gratis efforts extended to his patients. Most of the families served were life long residents of the area. A Wilkes county man tells of his long acquaintance: “Four generations of my family were served by Dr. Robertson…he visited my grandmother daily for a year or more“. A Rocky Creek daughter remembers when her mother suffered a stroke: “He came everyday with a nurse and a cardiograph machine“. From the New Hope community: “…he told my father he would keep my mother going to a hundred… my brothers thought there was nobody like Dr. Robertson“. A diabetes patient near Union Grove: “I believed him and I’ve always followed my diet, taken my medication and managed very well“.
From the Harmony area, a man in his fifties proudly declares that Dr. Robertson delivered not only him but his brother and sisters as well. As a child he would contract rheumatic fever but was treated successfully. However, in 1985 he came to the doctor’s home late at night with chest pains. It was soon determined that he had a serious heart condition probably resulting from his childhood bouts with rheumatic fever. Baptist Hospital was called as the patient admitted immediately, “Dr. Robertson saved my life“.
A prominent Statesville druggist reminisced about his long professional association with Dr. Robertson: “I prepared medicine for him in bulk so that he could ‘dispense from the bag’ to his patients. One afternoon late he called from over in Davie County, ‘Fred, I’m almost out of medicine, I’ll be by in a little while’. Closing time came and went but I remained in the store and waited, knowing he needed the medicine for his patients. Around ten o’clock he arrived and apologized but hurriedly added ‘there’s a mother in labor up in Wilkes County and I must get there tonight. As he climbed into his muddy sedan and drove away I could see a calf in the backseat. The animal had been tendered in payment for services somewhere along the way. Mebane often said that he never billed his patients“.
Dr. Robertson by his own account in 1984 had delivered 3,500 babies with most of the births occurring in the homes. It is said that on one spectacular day he delivered five babies in 31 hours. For many years he managed this incredible pace with the aid of a driver (cousin Ethel’s husband Flake White) who drove the car to the next patient’s place while the doctor grabbed a quick nap and brief respite. Margaret White Howard (cousin Ethel’s daughter) remembers her high school days when during the summers she became a driver for the doctor. She tells of long nights out on rural roads and in humble homes without running water or electricity assisting the doctor. “Someone had to boil the water, hold the light” as he peered down infected throats and ears or delivered a child. The doctor drew no lines when it came to providing medical attention for those who needed it; “he wanted to help everyone”, recalls Will Summers of Harmony. “When I think of him it’s like Psalm 1:3 ‘Like a tree he grew strong and tall to bear much fruit‘”.
Dr. Robertson was a Charter Fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians. He was a Member of the American Medical Association and the NC Medical Association from the beginning of his practice. In the 1950’s Dr. Robertson served as the Medical Director of the Norfolk and Western Railroad. In 1983 he received the Recognition Award for 50 Years service from the Iredell County Medical Society. It was his nature to remain informed of the most recent medical advancement and traveled regularly throughout the nation to medical conferences and conventions. Dr. Robertson’s service to community extended beyond his medical practice. He and Dr. Earnest Ward were co-chairmen in establishing the Iredell County Health Center in Harmony. He served as Mayor of Harmony from 1973-75, a member and an elder of the Presbyterian Church. A Mason and Shriner, he was Past Master of the Harmony Masonic Lodge. He was recognized a number of times for his civic efforts including a reception in 1979 by the North Iredell Jaycettes, an honors dinner at the Harmony Masonic Lodge recognizing 50 years membership and the Harmony Ministerial Association in 1991 at the time of his retirement.
Harmony, NC is and always has been a small town. At a little over 500 people today, for most, it’s a stop sign and some buildings where highways NC-21 and NC-901 meet and a pause on the way somewhere else. Like a lot of small, rural towns, there have been hints of what might come, what might be possible, and future possibilities that flickered for a while, but ultimately burned out.
Today’s story concerns a seeming impossibility. How in the world a tiny rural town became the site of a modern movie theater.
Harmony sits in the northeastern part of Iredell county on the inside of a triangle formed by Union Grove to the northwest, Statesville to the south and Mocksville to the southeast. It’s history is one of Christian camp meetings, and it was these meetings that gave the town it’s name. It’s a history that carried on even into the recent past, as there were still occasional “Christian Harmony” singings, in which shape note music was used. The town was eventually incorporated in 1927.
Just after WWII, when the town population was barely above 300 souls, a man named William Lewis Hager had an idea. Williams, along with Zeb Vance Williams had previously opened a furniture business called the Iredell Furniture Store in Harmony in September of 1940. Whether a money making scheme, or because his family had a genuine interest in the business, in 1947, Hager set out to build a movie theater in the sleepy little farming community.
Work would begin towards the end of ’47, and by August of 1948, the theater was open for business. The building was a modern brick structure with metal roof beams, air conditioning and heating, a balcony area for “negro” patrons, pine panel on all the walls, and a very bright, very beautiful neon marquee that must have lit up the entire crossroads at night. When completed, the theater could apparently hold over 400 people. A number greater than the entire town’s population. The two projectors for the theater were new Sunlite models and those and the equipment necessary for their operation was purchased from Devry Theater Equipment Company of Charlotte.
It seems much of the operation of the theater was handled by Hager’s wife Claudia Hager, who was the actual owner of the theater and co-owner of the building property. In truth, the theater could have been Claudia’s passion project, but I have no way to be sure. The theater seems to be something the family had a penchant for, and looking for information in newspaper archives about them, we even find that Hager’s son was something of a Thespian himself while in college.
The first movie to play at the Center Theater was “Are You With It?” a movie adapted from a Broadway musical starring Donald O’Connor. It was likely a sold out showing, as people from all the other rural communities such as Turnersburg, Williamsburg, Jennings, Olin, Eagle Mills, Union Grove, and Houstonville travelled the highways to Harmony to forget about the labors of farm work and be entertained for an evening. From the start, Center was playing two shows a night with a weekend matinee and late show as well.
The theater was always an outlier. Even though it played the latest movies, including first runs that screens in Statesville didn’t get. It was independent of those other theaters and theater systems in the area. Most notably, it had no ties to A. F. Sam’s Statesville Theater Corporation, which had at least three theaters of it’s own in Statesville at the time and several others in such far flung locations as Sparta, NC.
The Center seemed to do well for a time, with various ads for the biggest movies appearing in the Statesville newspapers. The theater was certainly a welcome source of entertainment for the whole area, not just the town of Harmony.
Then, on the afternoon of July 6th, 1954 less than six years after opening, it all came to a tragic end. That morning, Mrs. Hager had started the job of laying some new tile at front of the building. Sometime during her labors later that day she had smelled smoke and rushed into the theater only to find a wall of smoke so massive she couldn’t even determine the source of the flames. The Harmony VFD was right across the street, where the alarm was sounded at 4:40PM, so it wasn’t very long before they were on scene. Other fire departments in the area also received the call, and even Statesville, about 16 miles south, sent trucks to the scene. Trucks from Turnersburg and Troutman also showed up and assisted later on that day. Mooresville also sent a truck all the way from the south end of the county, but it arrived too late to help. Unfortunately, Harmony had no town water system at the time, and after the Harmony engine depleted it’s reserves of water it had to make trips to ponds, the high school, and even the Henkel Mill in Turnersburg to get water. Harmony Fire Chief Charlie Jenkins believed this was the ultimately the reason the theater was not able to be saved. Jenkins claimed the fire was nearly under control before his truck ran out of water and had to leave to get more.
The fire had started in the main theater space when a hot floodlamp had made contact with heavy velvet curtains. The massive fire must have quickly spread to the flammable pine wall panels and then the rest of the building. It gutted the theater, leaving nothing but the outer brickwork and some steel beams of the roof. The building was partially insured, and the Hagers received some payment for the loss, but it was either not enough to rebuild or the couple simply didn’t have the heart to try it again.
And that’s the end of Center Theater. But it’s not the end of the building. At some point after the fire and before the 1970’s, the building was repaired, and a brick addition was made to the front. I do not know who was responsible for this or when it took place. However, ads begin appearing in the early 1970’s for A&H Factory Outlet, a carpet seller who took over the building. It’s unknown how long that business lasted, but it likely wasn’t very long. Ads continue into the mid 1970’s, but not afterwards. The property was finally sold by them to a private owner according to the deed.
After that, nothing of consequence happens with the property. There may have been a couple small business ventures that tried to make use of the property and failed. Eventually, it just became storage space.
Which brings us to today. July 10th, 2021. 67 years ago this week, the theater burned. But the building still stands.
Who can say what might have been if the theater lived on. The economy and the changes in how we purchase and view media haven’t been kind to independent small town theaters, but it might have carried on for a number of years. What it leaves instead is only the faintest memory of a brief and different time, when neon lights and Hollywood pictures lit up a little town in Iredell county. We’ll never know what it might have been like, but we can watch the same movie they did opening day, and pretend.
It can be very hard finding information for articles I am researching, and even with the best information available, there’s always a bit of speculation involved. This was simply not the case with the story of the Trivette Clinic. So many local people had connections to it that the spiderweb kept growing as I kept searching. I ended up with so many clippings and various bits and pieces of history that I was unable to cram them all into the article proper, so I am going to catalog and include them here.
Category: Dr. James Mebane Robertson Dr. Robertson’s story is quite interesting in its own regard. In addition to all the crazy accidents he managed to be involved with, he lost his entire office to fire, nearly lost his house to a fire, and was kidnapped and burglarized at 70 years old. The 4 men who perpetrated that were caught and imprisoned. One of them was the son of Dr. Robertson’s maid. Both he and his wife were very involved in politics. Dr. Robertson’s house was an impressive two story wood structure in the middle of Harmony that was unfortunately demolished a couple years ago.
The story of the Trivette Clinic, like the story of Davis Hospital, is the story of the man who founded it, William Amos Trivette. The building must have looked out of place in the Hamptonville area, northern Iredell County when it was built in 1932. In a very rural community populated by family farms and wooden farmhouses, the clinic was a two story, modern brick building with the rarest of features in the area- a finished basement. Even today, the building seem incongruous to it’s location, and looking at it from the road, it seems it must have been transported to the area from some distant city.
William Amos Trivette was born in 1888 in the same community his clinic would later be built. His parents Amos Wilson Trivette and Adeline Ann (Crater) Trivette were not very different from their neighbors- modest farmers who worked the land. There are no detailed accounts of William’s childhood, but one would assume it was in rhythm with that of his contemporaries, being ruled by planting time and harvesting time, the seasons and the sun. Whatever his motivations for pursuing medicine, they are lost to the ages. As for how, according to one of the current owners of the clinic building, the help of Dr. L. P. Somers, a prominent local physician may have played a part. Not hard to believe considering Dr. Somers, upon his death was said to have been a benefactor to 31 people in the area who he put through college. We do know William received an excellent education, whoever paid for it. His earliest enrolment seems to be in Elon University between Greensboro and Durham. Shortly after that in 1912 at age 24, he may have spent some time at Baltimore Medical College or at least toyed with the idea, as it was announced in a local paper he would be traveling there to continue his education. If he did, the school would have changed dramatically after William arrived, as it was taken over by the University of Maryland Medical College the very next year. This may have something to do with his departure from that institution (if he ever actually went there), as the next time we hear of him in 1916 he graduated from the Medical School of Virginia in Richmond, VA at 28 years old. This would be the college today known as VCU. Since that institution is a four year college, I’m inclined to believe that William never actually made it to Baltimore, and something must have made him change his plans. A year earlier in 1915, a newspaper article proclaimed that he would be moving to the Lovelace community in Wilkes county to “practice his profession”. It’s likely an area he knew as he had spent some time as a teacher in Wilkes county before beginning college.
He wouldn’t have been there long when the United States entered World War I. Like many young men at the time, he was drafted and served his country in Europe, being able to join in 1917 as an officer due to his education. On his draft card, he would claim exemption as a physician “needed in his profession”, but this would likely have made him only more desirable to the US Army.
His draft card, though also listing his home as “Jennings”, is from the draft board of Wilkes county, so he was still living likely living there in Lovelace when the war started. As a young lieutenant he was at least lucky enough to be stationed at “Base Hospital No. 37” away from the front in Dartford, England. He would remain there until 1919 when his enlistment ended.
With the war over, it’s likely Dr Trivette had more money than he had ever had before. If he was frugal with his army wages he would have returned to North Carolina with enough to live comfortably for a time. It may be that this played a factor in being able to open his clinic later in life. It’s unclear exactly where the doctor was and what he was doing between the end of the war and the opening of his clinic. He may have spent some time in Pennsylvania but eventually came home to the Hamptonville area, and may have also spent some time in Salisbury, as that’s where his future wife was from, and where he would be married to her in 1924.
His obituary would later state that during these years he was in practice, so wherever he was, he was still working as a doctor. In 1932, the brick structure was completed just off the main road between Harmony and Union Grove at 290, Eagle Mills Road. While it was being built, Dr. Trivette was seeing patients in his own home. The hospital was modern in all regards, with electricity, steam heat, a basement, and the latest is medical equipment. And, unlike other local physicians such as Dr Myers, Dr Trivette’s clinic was open not just for common ailments and births, but for surgeries such as appendicitis, x-rays, and even radium treatment, according to local newspapers. It would have been a very modern, very welcome addition to the local community.
Despite this new project, Dr Trivette would continue on with his education. A newspaper blurb documents him traveling to New York with his wife for six weeks in 1929 for post-graduate work. I have been unable to find exactly where this work took place.
The hospital was also notable for it’s size. Unlike Dr. Myers, who had only his wife for assistance, Dr. Trivette’s clinic would employ several other doctors and a handful of nurses, with living quarters for the nurses. There are no publications from the clinic available, but I have been able to find the names of some of the employees from local newspapers. One of these would have been Dr. L.C. Ogburn, a surgeon who I believe was hired in 1934. Willie Mae Tulbert, who was Dr. Trivette’s niece, began working at the clinic in 1932 at 15 years old as a nurse’s aid of sorts. She worked at the clinic “night and day” for four years until she got married.
Dr. Trivette’s brother, Dr. Parks Trivette (full name Leandrew Parks Trivette), a dentist, was also employed, and did dental work in the basement. Another newspaper announcement identifies operating RN Gertrude Dudley. She was definitely working at the clinic in 1935, but by the December of that year had taken a position a St. Peters Hospital in Charlotte and moved away.
One of the current owners of the clinic building believes that the first four nurses may have been named Helen, Polly, Letha, and Cindy. These names are written in the concrete that was poured for the basement floor with the date “1932”. Dr. James Mebane Robertson was also one of the early employees, with the local paper announcing his arrival in July of 1933. Dr. Robertson was educated at Temple University and worked at Hamot Hospital in Erie, PA for a time after graduating before moving back home to NC. He would remain in the area after the clinic closed and go on to practice medicine in Harmony for many years where he was eventually elected mayor. According to one of the current owners of the clinic, Dr. Robertson planted the white pines along the road in front of the clinic. Another small notice in the social section of the Statesville paper dated January, 1938 proclaims that “Miss Ila Hepler has returned to her old job at the Trivette Clinic“. It’s unknown what her old job would have been. Dr. Trivette’s will and probate papers would also name employees due wages when he died. These papers list two nurses, a Mrs. Emery and a Miss Mulder. A Dr. Dolton is also listed, being owed $175 in salary. A Connie Pendergrass was owed a salary of $12 for an unknown position, and a Eugene Proctor was owed $4.34 in unpaid wages.
These would be the best years for the clinic. Despite being so rural, the work no doubt kept the staff busy, and a number of people alive today can trace their family back to births which took place at the clinic during this time. It was a scant few years.
Tragically, Dr. Trivette would become infected with influenza during the winter of 1938 and be admitted to Long’s Sanitorium in Statesville for the illness. He would never recover, dying there just before Christmas at age 50 of lobar pneumonia. His funeral would be at Union Grove Baptist church, with his own nephew, O.T. Binkley assisting in the service. Afterwards, his body would be buried at Union Grove Methodist Church, now Union Grove UMC.
The clinic was unable to carry on without Dr. Trivette after his death, and would close in 1939. I’m unsure if anything was done with the property directly after that, but a man named Leo Rivers and his wife Mary seem to have bought the property in 1945. Rivers seems something of a character. He was originally from Ware, Massachusetts, but somehow found his way to North Carolina around 1940, and before buying the property, married his wife Lavinia (who was from Newton) and ran an establishment on NC-70 about 11 miles west of Statesville called the “Clinker Brick Villa”, or “Clinker Brick Cafe”. As best I cant tell, this was a restaurant but also seemed to possibly be a night club of sorts, hosting dances and parties.
By at least 1950, Rivers has the clinic reopened as a rest home. During this time he would also work as a cook at several places, including Gray’s Cafe in Statesville, owned and apparently managed Fairview Cafe (also in Statesville-and which he would eventually put up for sale), and opened a “gift shop” called the Hobby Shop on NC-21. It doesn’t seem any of these ventures were especially successful, but the rest home continued on, with RIvers using the building for various things. During this time, newspaper accounts show his wife visiting such diverse places as Miami and England with her friends. One can’t help but wonder if Mr. Rivers had to work so hard to keep his wife up. Leo Armand Rivers died in 1953, and according to his obituary, he and his wife only ran the rest home for eight years total. By the end of 1953, the clinic seems to have news owners. Sort of.
It’s at this point that V.C. Tooley takes over the property with his wife, and continues to run it as the Vendora (or possibly “Verndora” depending on which newspaper clipping is correct) Rest Home, but only until 1954, when they seemed to close it as well. What happens after that is a bit hard to flesh out. By 1959, Leo River’s wife is still or else is somehow again in possession of the building, calling it the “Rivers Rest Home” or the “River’s Rest Resort”. It’s hard to tell exactly what was going on during these years. It could be both the Tooleys and Rivers were renting the property from a third party. I am unsure of what sort of arrangement was made. The property does pass into private ownership in 1961 and is used as a home. It must have deteriorated during those years, because when it was finally purchased by new owners in the late 1980’s, some remodel work had to be undertaken. In 2010, the current owners bought the property and began slowly giving it a proper renovation. They have transformed much of the property, renaming it “Harmony Gardens Nursery“. Today, in addition to buying trees, shrubs, and other plants, there are and have been “ghost tours” of the old clinic. As far as I know, the owners are still conducting these. Probably not what Dr. Trivette could ever have imagined the result of his labors, but as we have seen from past posts, buildings have a way of losing their purpose and finding new ones if they survive long enough.
Unlike all it’s local contemporaries, and despite being a clinic/hospital for a much shorter time than either Dr. Myer’s small clinic in Harmony or the much more prestigious Davis Hospital in Statesville, fate has been kind to the Trivette Clinic. It is a piece of history that the local populations children and grandchildren will hopefully be able to enjoy, whatever it is now and whatever it might be next.
It’s about 7PM on a warm spring evening in the quiet near-mountain town of Valdese, NC. Jean Garrou (12), Regina Robinson (12) and her brother Donald Robinson Jr. (14), Michael Powell (10), Gloria Hammond (12), and Gloria Picou (10) are playing in a bomb shelter at Jean’s home. Jean’s adoptive father, James Edward Garrou, an executive at the Alba Waldensian Inc. textile firm had built the shelter in the 1960’s when the threat of Russian missiles seemed very real even for rural residents of the state. He had installed the reinforced concrete structure on a hillside below his home and had stocked it with necessities, including a 500 gallon gasoline tank to power an electric generator.
Jean was not allowed inside the shelter, and Garrou kept it locked, with the key hidden. But the Saturday before, Jean or one of her friends had managed to find the hiding place, and they had opened the shelter to play in. On this night, Jean and her friends had been able to get into the shelter once again, and had played briefly inside before deciding to leave. Perhaps their nerves got the best of them, since they knew they weren’t supposed to be there. In their rush to leave, a light was left on. Because of this, they all decided to return to make sure the light was shut off and any evidence of their presence was cleaned up.
It was at that moment all across Valdese that an explosion shook the ground. Even in the neighboring towns of Drexel and Rutherford College, and further away in Connelly Springs people felt the rumble and wondered what it meant.
Rescue personnel were on scene at the Garrou home fairly quickly and discovered that where the shelter had once been, there was now only a large crater and the smell of gasoline. Gloria Picou was found to have been thrown clear of the blast crater with only minor injuries. She would be taken to Valdese Hospital and would ultimately survive. None of the other children would be so lucky.
The first of the bodies was found across a street from the explosion scene, some 300 feet distant. Recovery of the other bodies would require heavy equipment to move the rubble. Most of the children had apparently either been above the shelter or on the steps when it exploded.
Investigators were at the site the next day. Eventually ATF agents and men from the State Bureau of Investigation and Treasury Department would examine the aftermath and would decide that leaking gasoline must have built up as vapor inside the shelter which then exploded after a spark from the light switch ignited it. It was thought that the children must have damaged the line the Saturday before as they had been playing inside, causing a leak.
The explosion and the deaths of 5 children in the close-knit town cast a long shadow over the summer of 1972. People who lived through it remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the explosion. Seemingly everyone either knew the families involved or were separated by only a couple degrees. Today though, only the older generations have any real knowledge of the events of that May evening.
A year after the explosion, a local park was dedicated to the 5 children Valdese lost. “Children’s Memorial Park” sits just off Main Street, a stone’s throw from the downtown. And in the park you’ll find a monument dedicated to the memories of Jean Anita Garrou, Gloria Lee Hammond, Michael Richard Powell, Donald Lee Robinson, and Regina Gail Robinson.
Although probably not even the worst or most lurid murder to ever take place in Wilkes county, it sure is the most well known.
On this day, 155 years back, the body of Laura Foster was found in a shallow grave, having been stabbed to death. Eventually a man named Tom Dula would be hanged for the crime, and as the story unraveled, it would shock the entire country.