There is an old saying that when an old person dies it’s like a library burning down. That was certainly the case when Troutman’s Jimmy Alley passed away on April 3, 2021 at the age of 91.
I always thought of Jimmy as “Mr. Troutman.” Whenever I needed to help someone with research on a family or place in Troutman, Jimmy was the first one I called. James C. Allen was born to Floyd and Sudie Ostwalt Alley on Oct. 5, 1929. He grew up in Troutman and was a graduate of Troutman High School. If you go to our online Iredell County yearbook collection at www.flickr.com/photos/icplphotos/collections you can see Jimmy’s senior picture in the 1946 Troutman High School Hi-Way yearbook.
The Barium Springs Orphanage was just a jump from Troutman and I remember Jimmy telling that when he was growing up kids used to thump rides into Statesville on the weekends. Jimmy said the Troutman kids had one place along Hwy 21 where they stood to catch rides and the Barium kids had another. “Any they didn’t get in our spot and we didn’t get in theirs cause if we did there was trouble.” Jimmy remembered the Orphanage children fondly saying, “They were a good bunch of kids.”
He must have a good time growing up in Troutman. He told me once about taking his parent’s car up to the Iredell Speedway after it opened in April of 1948. It was a dirt track about 8 miles north of the Turnersburg Hwy and they let locals take their cars out on it for fun. Jimmy took his parents car out and dug up dirt in the turns all over the cars running boards. When he got back home his father told him, “Boy, you’d tear hell up if they let you in there.” Jimmy said, “I got grounded.”
Jimmy served as a Medic in the Navy during the Korean War. In January of 1966 he purchased the Wagoner Hardware store started by Vance Wagner in 1923. Jimmy moved it into the old Troutman Grocery building and named it the Troutman Hardware. He spent the next 27 years selling hardware supplies to the locals and probably hearing every story, legend, or rumor that ever came out of Troutman.
Local history and Big Band music were two of Jimmy’s greatest loves outside of his family. He spent years reading the library’s microfilm of the Carolina Watchman and Western Carolinian newspapers out of Salisbury. Jimmy’s first book, “Skipping Thru Iredell and Statesville” published in 1997, was a collection of articles on Iredell County published in these early Salisbury newspapers.
Jimmy became such a local Troutman authority that the Centennial Committee of the Town of Troutman asked him to write a book on the town’s history. “Troutman: A Short History” was published in 2005. He also published a second book on Troutman titled, “Troutman and Environs 1851 – 1940.”
I first met him in 2002 in the James Iredell Room when the library was located on Water Street. Jimmy brought in several old photographs in hopes of identifying who was in the pictures. Later, he told me he had thousands of photographs and negatives in the basement of his house that he had purchased from Elizabeth Stimson, widow of photographer Ben Stimson, in February of 1995.
Jimmy had been visiting his friend Lester Chambers at his bookstore at 118 West Broad Street in Statesville when he saw some wonderful oversize black and white photos on display. Lester explained that the photos came from the Stimson Photography Studio occupying the floor above the bookstore. The Stimson Studio was started in 1890 by William Jasper Stimson and was in later years operated on W. Broad by W.J.’s son Benjamin A. Stimson up until his death in 1969.
Ben’s wife Elizabeth had left the studio pretty much as it was after Ben passed away. A leak in the roof had damaged some of the photos which the family put outside for disposal until Lester saw and rescued them. Realizing the historical value of the photographs Jimmy purchased all the contents of the studio and took the collection to his house.
In May of 2008, Jimmy sold the Stimson Collection to the Iredell County Public Library for exactly what he paid for it. The Local History Dept. at the library has digitized over 50,000 of the photographs and now has them online for viewing at https://www.iredell.lib.nc.us/171/Iredell-County-Historic-Photographs.
Preserving Iredell County’s history was very important to Jimmy Alley. Years ago, he acquired the bound volumes of the Statesville newspapers including the Record and Landmark from Mitchell College. Shortly before his death he agreed to donate them to the Iredell County Public Library.
Jimmy was sharp as a tack. I remember our weekend security guard Danny once telling me that Jimmy came up beside him as he was looking out the window. In a few seconds Jimmy started pointing out one of the roofs they could see in the distance. Danny said, “I looked out the window and didn’t really see anything but a bunch of buildings, but Jimmy saw all these details.”
One of Jimmy’s delights was pointing out where someone else had made a mistake when it came to history. He took a special delight in going over a certain Record and Landmarks Sunday columnist in hopes of finding something the writer got wrong. I loved to hear him describe people. “Well he’s a good old boy, but…” or on Troutman native Beth Cloaninger who was 89 at the time, “Now she’s tough buddy.”
The J. Hoyt Hayes Memorial Troutman Branch Library currently has a display up featuring Jimmy Alley’s books. Also, on display are items about Troutman’s history including photos borrowed from Steve Hill’s Statesville Historical Collection. The Jacob Troutman 1856 deed on permanent display at the Troutman Library was donated by Jimmy Alley.
Steve Hill’s Statesville museum is now back open at 212 N. Center St. in Statesville Wednesday through Friday from 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. or by special appointment at 704-397-6959. The Troutman, Statesville, and Harmony libraries are all now open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Jimmy came every Wednesday morning to the library for years until Covid-19 stopped him from going out. I miss him already. I think Troutman is going to miss him as well. In the preface to his book, “Troutman A Short History” Jimmy wrote, “For me, growing up in Troutman was a real enjoyment. Great town, Great folks.”