27. Christian Oliver Peterson Rhodes

Christian Oliver Peterson Rhodes was born 16 November 1857 to parents Melchi and Caroline Killian Rhodes. He was reportedly born on the old Rhodes family home-place, on the South Fork River in Gaston County. This property was the same property acquired by Christian Rhodes (I), our original Rhodes pioneer, through a colonial land grant in 1772. There has been a continual use of the name Christian in this branch of the Rhodes clan with every generation since the original “Christian” (and possibly before) containing a Christian Rhodes, including this Christian Oliver Peterson Rhodes, and eventually on to his own first born son, Christian “Christy” Alfred Rhodes. It was more common to find that this ancestor simply used the name Oliver, or even O. P., throughout his life, but one can find his full name on some documents, such as his marriage license.

Since the Rhodes family home place was mentioned, I think it fitting that I provide more information on this original 400 acre property, because it was not only important to our Rhodes family ancestors, but it would become an important location in the history of Lincoln-Gaston County. Back in the 1700’s, and through the 1800’s, the main pathway (road) from what would eventually be central Gaston County (Dallas area) to central Lincoln County (Lincolnton) was what is known currently as “Philadelphia Church Road”; named appropriately since it passes by the church that is purportedly the oldest established Lutheran congregation west of the Catawba River in NC. Over the many years of it’s use, the road has probably made some slight deviations from it’s current path, but one thing that remained fairly constant was the location where the road crossed the South Fork River; that point of crossing was known as “Vestal Ford” or “Vestal’s Ford” for almost two hundred years, and it was the land on the north side of the river at “the ford” that became the Rhodes’ property. Before we had bridges over every stream and river, we had “fords”; where the water is usually shallow; allowing for the crossing by horseback, wagon, or carriage. Vestal Ford was such a place, and there was a natural stone shelf that provided a solid footing and a widening of the river that was normally much shallower. For anyone who wanted to travel from the Dallas area to Lincolnton, almost everyone would cross there at Vestal Ford; crossing onto the “old” Rhodes home-place property. If one crosses the current bridge on Philadelphia Church Road, heading north toward Lincolnton; you can look to the left and still see the pylons where once stood a railroad trestle; that is basically where “Vestal Ford” was located. There are many mentions of “Vestal Ford” in the area’s history, which will come up in future posts, but even as late as the 1930’s when our father purchased the old “Willis Schoolhouse” property, the deed noted that the property was located about a mile, north of “Vestal Ford”.

Oliver was only two years old when the 1860 census was taken, and on the page where his family was enumerated shows that they were part of the “Vestels” Ford community. The census showed father Melchi, mother Caroline, older sister Cecilah (age 4), and Oliver, who was listed as Christian. So this census confirms that Christian Oliver was born on the old Rhodes home-place property.

By the time the 1870 census rolled around, the family had moved to the “Union” community in Lincoln County; I believe to be property that Caroline had inherited from her father, Jacob Killian. Oliver was once again listed as “Christian”, now 12 years old. There was an addition to the family; the census taker had listed this individual as, it looks like, Hettie R, a four year old female, but I know this to be in error. It was actually their four year old son, Edward Richardson Rhodes; so the the census taker probably heard Hettie, assuming a girl, but either Melchi or Caroline probably had told them the child’s name was “Eddie”.

The 1880 census finds Christian Oliver, now listed just as Oliver, living in Dallas; listed as a single white male, 22 years old, and his occupation as a “dry goods merchant”. Oliver is living on the west end of town with his 1st cousin, John M. Rhodes, and his family. Oliver is not listed as a boarder or a renter, so I don’t know exactly what the arrangement was. This cousin, John, was the son of Melchi’s brother Caleb, and he was listed in the census as the “register of deeds”. John was the “John Melancthon Rhodes” who became a prominent businessman, and was the partner in the establishment of the “Rhodiss Mills” and the “Rhodes-Rhyne Textile Mill” in Laboratory, Lincoln County.

A little over a year later, dated 16 November 1881, we find a marriage license for Christian O. P. Rhodes and Alice Hoffman, who was the 18 year old daughter of Jonas and M. J. (Mary Jane Suggs) Hoffman. The marriage took place at the Hoffman Hotel, which, at that time, was the residence of Jonas and his family, including Sarah Alice. The ceremony was performed by Lutheran minister J. R. (Jesse Rueben) Peterson, who was most likely the source of the “Peterson” name that Christian Oliver carried. J. R. Peterson, known as “Father Peterson” served almost all of the Gaston County Lutheran Churches from 1840 until his death in 1897, including Lutheran Chapel, Philadelphia Lutheran and Holy Communion Lutheran Churches. The marriage license was signed by John M. Rhodes as the “register of deeds”. Even though I don’t have the deed itself, I found a reference to a deed for property in Dallas purchased by C. O. P. Rhodes from Robert Holland, Sr. sometime in 1881; I assume this deed was for a house where Oliver and Alice took up residence.

I do have a deed dated 22 December 1896 that shows O. P. purchased a 129 acre parcel of land (farm) from his father and mother (Melchi and Caroline) for $1375.00. This land appears to be the last remaining portion of land that Melchi owned from the original 400 acre Christian Rhodes land grant. I believe this land to be just up river from “Vestal Ford” and encompassed the area where Melchi had operated a Rhodes family grist mill in the years prior to the Civil War; this would have been near where the Hardin Cotton Mill stood.

I had mentioned in the previous Melchi H. Rhodes post that 19 years after their marriage that the completed family of O. P. and Alice showed up in the 1900 census. The census showed that the family was living on farmland that they owned in the Dallas Township, but it also indicated that the farm was located in the Hardin Mill community, (the property on the 1896 deed mentioned above). O. P. was listed as a farmer, and the three oldest boys, Christy, Melchi, and Clarence, were listed as farmhands; Callie was listed as “at school”, and the rest of the children, who were all less than 8 years old, were simply “at home”. Everyone except for the small children were shown to be able to read and write.

While it doesn’t give any more information on our Rhodes family ancestors than I have already given, I found the 1900 census gave us some very interesting insight into the history and make-up of the community. The census page that contained the O. P. Rhodes’ family listed 50 total individuals, 24 of them white, under a total of 4 heads-of-households, and 26 were black, in 5 separate households. Of the 5 black households, 3 owned their own farm, and 2 rented; and no one on the page was employed in the mill. Most were involved in farming, with two significant exceptions found in the black residents; Charlie Friday, listed as an “engineer”; and John Lotta listed as a “teamster”. The historical reality of those 5 black heads-of-household listed is that all were of an age that indicated they had most likely been born into slavery. The surnames that they used on the census represents some of the long established white resident families, and probably were the families who owned them at the time the Civil War ended, and when they had gained their freedom; on the page were “black” Hoyles, Clemmers, Fridays, and Hoffmans. There were no “Rhodes” black families on this page, but I am aware of black individuals that took (or were given) the surname after the War. One of the black heads-of-household, who was listed as living next door to the Rhodes’ farm, was James Clemmer. He had been born in 1840 and would have been 25 at the time he gained his freedom; the census shows that he married his wife, Katie, in 1865, at his first legal opportunity to do so. The census shows that in 35 years of marriage, they had 15 children, with only 10 still living in 1900; and they now owned their own farm.

Less than one year after the 1900 census count, and less than 5 years after acquiring and moving to the Hardin community farm; O. P. purchased another farm of about 72 acres on the edge of Dallas, and moved his family there. I don’t really know the reason the family made the move, but I can make the assumption that Sarah Alice wasn’t happy being away from her Dallas family and felt isolated away from them. Plus, the schooling of the children would have been easier to accomplish in the town, rather than out in the “country”. The deed shows that the property was purchased from John Puett and his wife on 11 February 1901 for $1150, and is described as being originally part of the Jacob Long lands, and adjoining the properties of Alonzo Rhyne and G. R. Rawlings. This property would become the home-place of this Rhodes family, and would remain in their ownership for over 100 years. The house itself sat on the property and site of what is currently the “Ingle’s” grocery store in Dallas. The 72 acres, which included this home site property, extended westward up the Dallas-Cherryville Road, and was also bisected by the road that was then called the “High Shoals Road”; this would eventually become part of US Highway 321. The land on the west side of this road extended to “Long Creek”, and a substantial portion would eventually become the site of “Gaston College”. The names of O. P. and Sarah Alice Rhodes show up on at least a dozen deeds for property that they either bought or sold, as well as, an assortment of mortgages that they held on properties of other individuals to whom they loaned money.

The 1910 census shows the family living on their Dallas farm; everyone was included except for the eldest son, “Christy”, who had married Bertha Yount in 1905 and started his own family. O. P. was still listed as a farmer, Melchi was “working as a salesman in a department store”, and while they were listed as living with the family, both Clarence and Caroline were probably at Lenior-Rhyne College, since they both graduated from there in 1910.

By the time that the 1920 census was taken, the family that was still shown to be living on the Dallas farm had shrunk to only five; O. P. was still listed as a farmer, Alice was still the homemaker, John was also listed as a farmer, Dora was now a teacher at the local high school in Dallas, and Caleb was listed as a farm laborer on the family farm. Finding Caleb at home in the census was a little surprising since he had recently graduated from N.C. State College with a degree in electrical engineering. I know he would eventually go on to receive a graduate degree from Pittsburgh University, and would be employed by Westinghouse for over thirty years. Our grandfather, Melchi, along with Clarence and Caroline (Callie) had all moved on to start their own families. Clarence had married Mae Margaret Rhyne and had become a Lutheran minister, and Callie had married Carl Deal, who was also in the Lutheran ministry, and they had begun what would be an almost twenty year residency as missionaries in Korea.

Although O. P. was listed as a “farmer”, he was also a businessman. In addition to his buying, selling, and financing properties; I found an incorporation document from 1920 that showed that he, along with four other local residents, had formed the “Dallas Farmers Supply Company”. The business was envisioned to be a “one-stop” source for anything a general farm operation would ever need; everything from live-stock to tractors, and everything in between. The original investors were S. A. Wilkins, W. S. Thornburg, and Morris G. Wilson, who each purchased 20 shares of the stock at $10.00 per share; along with Evon Lee Houser and O. P. Rhodes, who each purchased 10 shares of stock at the same price. I currently don’t know what became of the original business, but I doubt it survived the “Great Depression” of the 1930’s. It is possible that the controlling interest in the business was acquired by “Lonnie” Summey and became, “Summey Hardware”. I hope to find out more with some future research.

The 1930 census was almost identical to the previous one in 1920; O. P. was still a farmer, although at the age of 72, he had probably turned most of the operation over to his son, John, who was still listed as living there on the farm. Alice was still there, and Dora was still teaching school locally.

The decade of the 1930’s was made up of the “Depression” years, and I have little information about how the family fared during this time. The 1940 census still showed that the same four individuals inhabited the “old” farmhouse in Dallas. The one major change was that Dora was now listed as Dora Carpenter, reflecting her marriage to Worth C. Carpenter back in 1930. I don’t know how long, if ever, Dora and Worth had maintained their married life together, but it was obvious by the census listing, that they were no longer together. While growing up in the family, I always got the impression that the marriage was a “taboo” subject. Dora was still teaching, and the census showed that she had an annual income of $900 from that occupation.

O. P.’s wife, Sarah Alice, died in September 1946, and he followed her just two months later on the 28th of November. The Gastonia Gazette, the local newspaper, ran a glowing obituary, which contained phrases like “one of Gaston county’s leading citizens”, “a prominent merchant and farmer”, and “a man of sound judgment and moral character”. He was among the group of the original organizers of “Holy Communion Lutheran Church” in Dallas, and both he and wife, Alice, were buried there in the church cemetery.