Attractive Statesville

Local History Notes

Notes about the history of Iredell County by Joel Reese, Local History Librarian.

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Dec 23

African American Community in Statesville

Posted on December 23, 2019 at 1:58 PM by Jenny Levins

In the past the location of springs and creeks dictated where people built their homes. A fresh supply of drinking water was the first thing early settlers thought of and most of the older communities in Iredell County came to be where they are due to the presence of a spring or creek. Statesville was first called Fourth Creek Settlement and people began building here due to the presence of local springs. One of the springs can still be seen through a drainage grate in the parking lot of the CVS store below the Fourth Creek Church cemetery. 

The Poplar Branch community outside Statesville was named after a local branch and its location undoubtedly led people to locate their houses in that area. Roads in the community include Bristol Rd., Church St., Huggins Rd., and Logan Rd. Communities like the Poplar Branch area are a little different than the communities we have springing up now. The Poplar Branch area is made up of families that have lived there for generations. Many of the residents are older people who are living in homes their grandparents lived in. 
 
Phyllis Bailey is an Iredell County native and a long-time member of the Iredell County Genealogical Society. She recently retired from Mitchell Community College where she taught Developmental Mathematics for many years. Ms. Bailey received her B.S. from Livingston College and her M.P.A. from the State University of New York at Albany.  This Saturday, at 2:30 pm in the Iredell County Public Library, Ms. Bailey will be presenting a special program on the history of the Poplar Branch community in Statesville. The program will feature historical background on the area along with a slideshow presentation of photos of the people and community. Guest speakers from the Poplar Branch area will also be on hand to provide their personal recollections. 

The Poplar Branch community has been pre-dominantly occupied by black families going back into the late 1800s. The 1907-08 Statesville and Iredell County Directory says that “Popular Branch” is “a colored settlement southwest of Bloomfield.” It lists “Bloomfield” as a cotton mill settlement at the west end of Front Street. The 1967-17 volume places Popular Branch as SE of “Wallacetown” located in South Statesville between Center and Daniel Streets. The 1944-45 city directory lists Poplar Branch as a “colored settlement South of W. Front St. extending beyond the city limits,” with a population of 207. 

A school in the Poplar Branch area was in existence going back to the early 1900’s. Mary Charlton Holliday was the Superintendent over the black schools in Iredell County starting in 1915. In her report published in the “Report of Iredell County Public Schools 1917” she says that there were two teachers involved in the Poplar Branch School. Teachers in those days not only taught students book learning, but also practical skills so that they could work and provide for themselves after school. Teacher S.L. Saunders from 1915-17 organized a “Patron’s Improvement League” among the school’s supporters. Saunders had led the boys in painting the outside of the school building and white washing the out buildings and the trees in the area. Curtains and other articles had been purchased for the school room and had been put up by the boys. In addition to reading, writing and arithmetic students were taught cooking, sewing, shuck, and wood work. 

Teacher Katie E. Golden taught at Poplar Branch from 1916-17 and led the school boys in hedging the yard around the school. The floor of the school had been oiled several times and the interior of the school had been painted through their efforts. Money had been raised by the school through public entertainment to purchase the paint. Golden had also organized a “Hustlers Savings Club” and a “Literary Club.” The boys in the school had taken the old blackboards and made the teacher a table to work on. They had also built a closet for maps and a shelf for the water pail. The girls in the school had made curtains for the closet and had also helped white washed outbuildings and local trees. In addition to their regular school subjects the girls had been taught cooking, sewing, paper folding, and rug making.  The Poplar Branch School had been very successful at fund raising and had taken first prize at the county commencement for having raised the highest amount. 

The school building itself was destroyed by fire in April 1952. The school building was abandoned at the time and consisted of six rooms and two stoves. The city of Statesville began taking bids for the installation of a water system for the Poplar Branch section in Feb. 1948. Sewer service was started in 1952 when Gilbert Engineering Company was given the contract to lay sewer lines in Oct. 1952. Many of the residences were still unhooked in March of 1953. Paving efforts in the Poplar Branch area began in 1954. 
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library

This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark in June 2009