James G. Leyburn was a distinguished teacher, scholar, administrator, churchman, author, and mentor to generations of students at Washington and Lee University. A graduate of Trinity College (Duke), Princeton, and Yale Universities, Dr. Leyburn came to W&L from Yale in 1947 as Dean of the University. As Dean, he led the university to national prominence. In 1956 he turned to full-time teaching as head of the Department of Sociology. He taught with legendary energy and passion until his retirement in 1972. The painting above is the 2004 portrait of James G. Leyburn by New York City portrait artist Steven Polson. It can be viewed in the main lobby of the library at Washington and Lee, which is named after Dr. Leyburn.
In 1989, he published a memoir entitled "The Way We Lived: 1900-1920." The brief first chapter details more of the details of life and the local geography of Durham in this period than the remainder of the book. Leyburn is writing autobiographically about his own youth growing up in the rectory of First Presbyterian Church, where his father was minister.
From his favorite perch astride the wooden gate-post, legs around the ornamental wooden urn, the five-year-old surveyed his familiar world. Breakfast was not long over but already Mr. Brown had delivered the day's first mail and was now still in sight, criss- crossing the street with his big leather bag over his shoulder, going up the path to each door to ring its bell and leave the mail. Cicadas chined in the trees (we children called them June bugs or July flies) and English sparrows twittered as they hopped about, pecking at leavings of the horses: in the street. It promised to be another warm day, but the shade of the elms would keep this part of East Main Street pleasantly cool until noon.
The Presbyterian church and its manse next door were strategically located for the small boy's observations, since Durham's five-block business section began just beyond the church at Roxboro Street, while in the two blocks east of the manse lived six of Durham's Most Important Families and (more significant for the boy) thirty-two children. There was no telling what the morning might bring forth. Certain recurrent Sights he could surely count on to engage his attention: street-cars, horses and their vehicles, railway trains, and most importantly, a variety of people.
Every ten minutes or so a trolley car would rumble by. Summer cars were open, so that one could see everyone aboard. It was exciting to watch the conductor swing along the running board as he collected nickel fares and rang them up, and to hear the motor- man (always standing) clang his bell and begin to twist his large brake-handle as he slowed up for the corner. Occasionally he stopped the car at Roxboro Street, for a prospective passenger, standing by the tracks in the almost empty street, was waiting to board the car. (No passenger, even in the busine>s section, hesitated to wait in the street, for traffic was deliberate and the driver of a horse could be counted upon to avoid people on foot.) The conduc- tor twitched his bell-cord to signal the seating of the passenger, and now the motorman once more sounded his gong as he worked both his handles to propel the car slowly forward.
In the course of an hour perhaps only half a dozen vehicles might pass the manse this early in the day. One of these was sure to be the delivery wagon from the Perry-Wood grocery store, for housewives always telephoned in their orders immediately after breakfast. The driver might stop on either the right or left side of the street (there were no ordinances on the matter), and his docile horse would stand without hitching while he shouldered the small crate from his wagon and took it to the back of the house. Once a week the junk dealer drove slowly by, giving his eery call for old clothes, bottles, discarded furniture, and other impedimenta not destined for the trash pile. A farmer in his large wagon-on Saturdays with several children sitting in back among the produce he was bringing to town for sale-allowed his horse to amble; in fact, only Dr. Woodard and Dr. Cheatham in their buggies on their way to visit a patient ever drove their horses at a trot over the bumpy macadam street.
The scene suddenly came to life when the ice-man sounded his large hand-bell, for now children were sure to appear from several houses. The green wagon, with ICE painted in large white letters on its sides, halted wherever the driver saw a sign affixed to a front- yard tree, with its figures-25, 50, 100 - indicating the number of pounds required. The ice-man pulled to the rear of his van a huge block of ice and then, by expert use of saw and pick, hewed out the proper size, weighed it on hanging scales, and then seizing it by his great ton, carried it to the rear of the house for deposit in the ice- box. In his absence, and with his tacit consent, the children climbed the back step of the van to retrieve slivers of ice to crunch or suck, or to assemble a handful of "snow" made from the sawing 01 the block.
The greatest possible excitement of the morning would be the sound of the fire alarm bell, for that made certain the momentary dramatic appearance of the hook-and-Iadder wagon, drawn by two beautifully matched large galloping steeds, their driver imistently pealing its gong. The station housing this handsome red £ire-wagon was located just beyond the railroad tracks one block south of the manse, so that the hook-and-Iadder must come up Roxboro Street to reach any part of town except Hayti, the colored section in the southeast. On one unforgettable occasion, just as the fire-wagon was rounding the corner from Roxboro into Main, one of the horses dropped dead!
Durham streets required the daily ministrations of two work- men, the sprinkler and the sweeper. The streets, despite their foun- dation of crushed stone, were always thick with dust in the summer. Every morning, therefore, a horse-drawn vehicle with a huge wooden barrel of water traversed the principal streets near the center of town. Its driver, perched high atop the barrel, by operat- ing the proper pedals, propelled sprays of water from each side at the back of the barrel, and this aspersion laid the dust for perhaps an hour. More necessary was the street-sweeper, always a black man pushing a large tin barrel on wheels. With his heavy brush and shovel he collected the latest deposits made by the horses and occasional mules.
If the street scene lay immediately before one's eyes, the rail- road was visible only a block away, with constant activity because of the nearby Union Station. Every morning one could observe freight cars of different colors being shunted backwards and for- wards, hear the clank of their couplings and ringing of the bell, watch the puffing of the steam engine. More important, however, was the arrival at 9:07 of the Southern passenger train from Raleigh. Having left the state capital at 8:00, and stopping only at Cary, its trip of 25 miles still required more than an hour-and it would be almost noon before the 55 miles to Greensboro would be completed. A frequent aftennath of the 9:07 was the appearance of one of the open hacks from the cab-stand at the station, with a passenger bound for a residence or a rooming house-and follow- ing him, almost certainly one of Lindsay Fawcett's drays would soon be transporting the arrival's trunk and other heavy luggage. (Rates: 10¢ for delivering trunks by day, 25¢ by night, according to a notice in the Durham SUN, 9-24-02.)
As the morning advanced the number of peqestrians in- creased. all of them on their way "down town." Mr. Kronheimer, among the earliest of them, walked briskly on his way to open his department store; Mr. Gorman, smoking a cigar, headed toward the Pridgen & Jones shoe store. One by one the traveling salesmen, after their post-prandial cigarettes in the rocking chairs on the porch of the Sans Souci (pronounced San Soosy) boarding house, went to their first appointments. Occasionally Mrs. Drusilla Roder- ick, the plucky widow from Edgemont with four children to sup- port, appeared with a large basket on her arm, to make house-calls and try to peddle cakes of soap, spools of thread, shoe-laces, lo- tions, and small household goods.
The person whom the small boy was waiting for was General Carr. One of Durham's millionaires, Julian Shakespeare Carr was easily the best-dressed man in town. Shorter than average in height, dapper and jaunty in his sixties, gracefully swinging his gold-headed cane, he was a splendid figure: Panama hat surmount- ing snow-white hair, pincenez glasses attached to a large black rib- bon, luxurious white moustaches and smooth rubicund face, he always wore a red carnation in his button-hole; his flowered vest (even in summertime) with gold chain and watch-fob, striped pants, and sometimes gray spats above his black shoes, all attracted attention. Important as he was in Durham's affairs, he almost al- ways stopped for a moment's chat with the boy. General Carr was a favorite in the family, for he liked children and only recently had invited the two older children of the minister to come by train to spend the night at his farm, Occoneechee, in Orange County, in order to ride his ponies and see the other animals.
Observing the world from a fence-post has its advantages, but a tricycle offers more scope. Now at the age of five the boy had been granted permission to ride up and down the sidewalks so long as he remained on the home side of the street. Lugging his veloci- pede down the front steps of the house and through the gate, the rider now became the engineer of a locomotive and so accompa- nied his journey with appropriate sound effects. The best ride was around two sides of the church, for the pavement there was ce- ment. Around the corner lay Roxboro Street with a whole new vista. More than that, the pavement from the back of the church sloped downhill to Main Street, so that one could coast at break- neck speed and then expertly slow up to round the corner into Main.
Tricycle riding eastward from the manse was more rewarding, nevertheless, despite the roughness of the brick sidewalk, for in that direction lay houses and people one knew, as well as a more varied view of the world. Almost surely some of the neighborhood chil- dren would be out in their front yards, and a few of them might be doing something worth watching. At the third house up the street one of the boy's favorite friends, middle-aged and comfortable Sa- die, would be sweeping the long cement walk to Mr. Tom Fuller's house, and Sa<Jie was always ready to stop and chat about what interested the boy.
Mr. Fuller and his sister, Miss Nellie, like General Carr, seemed genuinely fond of children, despite the fact that neither of them was married. The morning's tricycle trip could be counted a triumph if it brought an encounter with either of these gracious people.
By mid-morning various shouts indicated that some of the older children of the neighborhood were gathering, so the boy has- tened home to see what might be afoot. Too young to be permitted full participation in the vigorous activities of his elders, he was still allowed to tag along. A favorite diversion was roller-skating, and the cement sidewalks around the church were ideal for the sport. (It was a curious fact that all the churches near the centre of town had cement sidewalks, whereas everywhere else the walks were brick; but the Presbyterian sidewalk, in the opinion of children, was far superior to the Methodist one because of its splendid slope, and the dull Baptist and Episcopalian sidewalks were only a few yards long.) The skaters lined up at the top of the slope on Roxboro Street and gathered speed as they careened down toward Main; then came the thrill of rounding the corner without slithering off into the street. Three protruding sets of steps leading into the church afforded opportunity for skilled manoeuvres by the skaters, as did the necessity for a sudden halt upon reaching the brick side- walk in front of the manse.
Skating over, the children moved on to other· summer pas- times. Now under the surveillance of his older sister and brother, the boy might cross the street to the capacious grounds of the Frank Fuller family, which covered an entire half-block. Here were end- less delights, for all four of the Fuller children had distinctive per- sonalities, and the older ones showed vivid imaginations in thinking up unusual games. The Fullers had one of the few tennis courts in town, but rarely used it, since the game required such tedious prep- arations as chalking the lines and putting up the net.
When games palled, or became too strenuous, there was al- ways the allure of the Fuller stable and the company of Mumford, the elegant black man who presided over it. Here, in hours of en- grossing observation and talk, the small boy learned endless details about horses and vehicles. The two horses were led out to be cur- ried, the carriages were washed, metal parts of harness and vehicles were polished-all to the accompaniment of Mumford's comments on various white people, their status and pretensions. During sum- mer months the closed carriage was swathed in a vast cloth to pro- tect it from dust; with Mumford's permission the boy might climb into the leather-upholstered coach, and there, hidden from prying eyes, become a magnifico riding in state. (On many summer after- noons, when Mother went for a drive with Mrs. Fuller, the boy was allowed to sit beside Mumford, now resplendent in a uniform with brass buttons.)
Farther afield and therefore more rarely visited, but obviously more adventurous for a child, were the two large homes in the next block east, where the five children of the Toms family and the six Wright children lived. Both families had large front and back yards, with ample room for such games as kick-the-can or hide- and-seek (the stables and other out-buildings offered remarkable hiding places) and even for modified forms of baseball-in which, incidentally, all the girls were active and, in a few instances, almost as adept as the boys. (The five-year-old had the "privilege" of re- trieving foul balls.)
Most children take for granted the external environment of their neighborhoods. Surely no one of the youngsters on East Main Street saw anything remarkable in the complete dissimilarity of domestic architecture around them. All the houses were of wood and all had front porches; but beyond that, nothing was uniform. Some houses were large, some small; no house was aligned with any other in its distance from the street; Corinthian columns, round posts and square ones, occasional awnings, remarkable ginger-bread ornamentation, rounded turrets, slate roofs and shin- gles of wood, balustrades, even a number of portes-cocheres-all this variety was testimony to the untrammeled freedom of individu- alism among Durham property owners. All but two of the houses in the neighborhood were set off from the sidewalk by a fence or by curbstones. The reason for fences must have been a desire for still further distinctive individuality, for fences with gates certainly kept no children in or intruders out, and in law-abiding Durham no one thought of trespassers. The variety of the fences was as great as that of the houses., To young boys the wooden picket style was most satisfactory, for its supporting two-by-fours provided a narrow plat- form on which one might follow a precariously adventurous path. The iron rods forming some fences were intricately curved and in- terlaced, while General Carr's estate was bordered by a fence whose base showed an incised pattern in its thin iron sheet, and whose vertical spikes resembled spears. By contrast the Frank Fuller acres had an extensive cement wall around two sides.
Each front yard was as distinctive as the house behind it. Carefully mown grass marked two or three lawn<>, but rarely those of hous'es with children, for games and short-cuts made neat turf impossible. The Fuller lot had a magnificent multiflora magnolia tree which scented the air for yards around; another yard was dis- tinguished by its impressively large and ornamental umbrella tree; what pleased the children was the presence of maple or walnut trees that could be climbed, Three lawns within the two blocks were especially distinguished by their cast-iron fountain basins, each surmounted by statuary that supported the pipe for the water- spray. In one fountain a seated boy was plucking a thorn from his foot; in a second a tiny boy was holding a dolphin larger than himself; in the third a nymph was dancing. These fountains were rarely in play and rarely contained water in their basins; but each was surrounded by showy red cannas or other ornamental flowers.
Activity on East Main Street gradually increased as the morn- ing progressed. To the small boy the most notable sight of a late morning was the appearance of an open carriage or two, for pleas- ant summer mornings were approved times for ladies with servants to pay visits to each other. From his gatepost the boy could observe the approach of the carriage (most likely a victoria). with the uni- formed driver sitting high in front of his passengers. On the back seat was the wife of one of the city's affluent men, accompanied perhaps by her teen-age daughter, a sister, or a friend; if a younger daughter was being introduced to her social duties, she would be sitting on the small jump seat with her back to the driver. The hats of the ladies were sights to behold: sometimes almost two feet in diameter, they were abundantly adorned with artificial fruit anc;l flowers, or with feathers and sometimes whole birds. Secured by long hat-pins, the head-piece might be still further fixed by a veil tightly drawn over the face, under the chin, with a knot behind. The veil was more ornamental than practical, for its gauzy texture or itI'open-work might be punctuated by dots of thread or even by an intricate embroidered pattern. (An advertisement in the SUN, February 5, 1900, exhibited "A new veil for driving. It has a trans- parent shield underneath, which is said to protect the eyes from dust." Even as late as 1913 an article on the Style page of the MORNING HERAW [May 30] decreed that "the veil must com- pletely swathe the face and chin this season.") Each lady had by her side a brightly colored parasol to be raised on those streets without shade trees, to protect her complexion from the sun.
Occasionally a lady making a visit only a short distance from home would pass by on the sidewalk. Her hat, like every other, was certain to be large and well decorated, nd the boy on his lofty seat could make a leisurely inventory of its assorted flora and fauna. If he had been interested in such matters, he might have noted what was now in style in contrast with recent dresses; but he was sure to be aware of the lady's always copious ornaments: a small round gold watch attached just below the shoulder, necklace or chains dangling in front, bracelets on her wrist; and who could overlook the color and texture of her gloves, the color and frills of her para- sol and the grace with which she carried it, and her general distinc- tion? Skirts came to within an inch or two of the ground. but one might still observe the color of her shoes as she walked; and it was impressive to watch the distinctive manner in which each lady practised the necessary art of sweeping up the voluminous folds of her skirt to avoid puddles and befoulment as she crossed the street.
An occasional and welcome climax to a summer morning was an invitation by Mother to accompany her on a shopping expedi- tion. She was almost certainly bound for one of the three dry-goods stores-Ellis & Stone, Q. E. Rawls, or Kronheimer-since all sum- mer dresses for ladies and their daughters, as well as shirts for small boys, were made by hand with sewing machines and careful stitch- ing in the home. whether by the housewife herself or by a seam- stress engaged for the purpose. (The day of ready-made ladies' clothes had not yet dawned.)
The trip to the store meant a walk through at least two downtown blocks, each of them replete with sights worth observing. In the first block beyond Roxboro Street one could look in through the window of his tiny shop at Mr. Loeffler, with his long white beard, black magnifying glass instrument wedged in his eye, concentrating on the mechanism of a watch. Across the street, beside the brown- stone court house, assorted loafers were sitting on benches under shade trees on the pleasant bricked courtyard in front of the jail. At both Mabry's drug store and the Main Street Pharmacy great bot- tles of colored water in the window drew the eye; so did the fresh fruit temptingly displayed on the sidewalk at the Greek ice cream parlor. Where Mangum Street joined Main the motorman de- scended from the street car with a long iron staff to shift the switch for his turn.
Having arrived at the store, the boy climbed up on a high round wooden stool in front of the counter and watched with absorption the complex procedures of "shopping." At times the details were dull and the language incomprehensible (what were voile and crepe de chine? what was a guimpe or a gusset?), but one's curios- ity quickly found new objects for consideration.
The clerk, always a middle-aged lady, was adorned with vari- ous accoutrements: a small black apron in whose pocket was a sales pad, scissors attached by a cord to her belt. a pencil driven like an ornament into the thick folds of her hair. As soon as Mother had made known her interests, the clerk began to pull from the open shelves one flat bolt of material after another, deftly flipping each one open for impeclion and handling. The choice was never quickly made. for it always involved a comparison of varieties of textures, colors, and imprinted design, as well as discussion of price per yard and total cost. A decision finally reached, the clerk by further flips piled up a veritable mound of material on the counter, since all dresses for ladies required yard upon yard of cloth. The material was now measured by a yardstick or, more likely, by being placed expertly over a number of brass-headed tacks set into the counter. Cutting off the required amount of cloth was a deft opera- tion, both because the rapidity with which the clerk moved her scissors and because she suddenly began ripping a great length of material with a sound that suggested a shriek of protest from the cloth.
Other purchases were sure to be made. The most necessary one was a Butterick pattern for the dress. Next might come a selec- tion of spools of thread from a rotating cabinet every one of whose shallow drawers presented a veritable rainbow of color. Buttons, trimming, ribboru;, materials for sashes and hair ribbons for one's sisters-this part of the expedition began to grow tedious with its minutiae.
Eventually came the climactic moment, the one which left an indelible impression. The clerk, haVing written each purchase and its price on a duplicate charge slip, put it with all the materials into a wire-mesh basket and, by pulling a cord, lifted the basket several feet upward to a trolley; then, as she pulled a second cord, the basket went sailing through the air on its wire to the elevated office at the rear of the store. There the package was wrapped and sent back in its basket on aerial flight to the counter. A final pull of the cord brought the basket down to the counter.
On emerging from the store, the small boy was given the privi- lege of carrying the parceL His mother, raising her parasol, led him across the sfreet in the middle of the block to make brief visits to other stores. Buggies and other vehicles stood near the curbs, their horses standing patiently at the hitching posts. One or two of them might be munching away at oats in the feed-bag covering the nose; all of them were sure to be switching their tails, for flies were a normal part of the street scene on a summer morning. The journey "down town" might be happily concluded by a visit to the ten-cent store, undertaken especially for the boy. Given a nickel to spend, he traversed the aisles trying to decide which of the glittering objects he should take home as a trophy.
On rare occasions the child was invited by his father to accom- pany him down town. These notable events occurred only on Mon- days, the one day of the week when a conscientious minister allowed himself relaxation from his duties. A Main Street expedi- tion with Father was quite different from one with Mother: Fa- ther's pace was brisk, Mother's deliberate; Father seemed unaware of displays in store windows, whereas Mother often stopped for a hit of window shopping; Father knew precisely what he wished to accomplish and thus attended directly to those affairs, but Mother might be diverted into unplanned forays. The principal difference between the two adventures, however, lay in the kind of people encountered. Mother's dealings were primarily with females, most of them clerks; Father's were with men, most of them leading citi- zens.
The goal of Father's journey usually lay in the block west of Mother's chief interests. First the Post Office, on Main just beyond Corcoran. (This building, set far back from the street, was the only one in the business section set at an angle to Main Street; and its marble and light bricks contrasted sharply with the prevailing browns and reds of other buildings.) At the stamp window Father purchased a whole sheet of two-cent stamps (the price for letters) and perhaps ten penny postcards. Just beyond the Post Office was Durham's impressive and only skyscraper, five stories high-the tallest office building in North Carolina when it was completed in 1905. Almost every feature of the edifice commanded a child's at- tention. Its broad recessed entrance led to a flight of steps beyond which lay the offices; on either side of these steps one descended to a telegraph office. From the open doors of both Western Union and Postal companies one could hear the click of telegraph machines. Uniformed messenger boys (always white) waited for a batch of messages to deliver on their bicycles, now propped against the wall. Ascending the airy staircase, Father might visit briefly the Home Savings Bank on one side or the Fidelity Bank on the other-each of them soundly in charge of stalwart Presbyterians.
Almost surely the main object of the trip was to consult with Mr. Watts, devoted churchman and senior elder in the Presbyterian Church-and perhaps not incidentally, a millionaire and generous philanthropist.
To reach the suite of offices occupied by Mr. Watts on the third floor one entered the only passenger elevator in town, an open metal structure operated by a polite black man who seemed to know by name everyone who entered. Ushering the passengers into his cubicle and drawing the door shut, he expertly manipulated a handle and the elevator began its deliberate ascent. One could see through the open lattice work on each side of the cage every detail of the upward passage until, by remarkable manipulation of his handle, the operator brought his machine to a halt at the precise level of the third floor. Miss Childs, one of the few private secre- taries in town, greeted the visitors on their entrance and then in- formed Mr. Watts of their arrival.
On the same floor with Mr. Watts's suite were the offices of Mr. John Spront Hill, son-in-law of Mr. Watts and one of Durham's most active financiers. As a good friend of Mr. Hill's, Father was likely to drop by for a brief chat, but not about church affairs. Mr. Hill, although a member of the church, was only peripherally in- terested in religious matters. The casual conversation was likely to range from inquiries about the Hill children, the oldest of whom was just the age of the boy, to talk about a possible outing for trap- shooting or a plan Mr. Hill was pondering for the introduction of golf to Durham.
What a small boy observed on a summer morning in Durham in 1907 outwardly resembled the scenes of perhaps many small North Carolina towns of the period. Life moved at a leisurely pace; horse-drawn vehicles proceeded slowly over uneven and bumpy streets, and farmers drove in from the country on dirt roads. People were friendly, and since almost everyone recognized most other people, passers-by were greeted as a matter of course, often stop- ping to chat. A casual observer, however, might not realize that in the executive offices of Durham's tobacco and cotton manufactur- ers important decisions were being made that involved millions of dollars and markets in five continents; or that a few astute leaders were laying daring plans for new enterprises in industry, education, and civic development that would soon propel Durham to the fore- front of Southern cities. The confidence and vision of these men were contagious. For young and old, "progress" was our key-word; personal success went hand in hand with Durham's growth and ascendancy.
We were patriotic North Carolinans and Southerners in 1907, of course; but in our optimism, our commitment to growth and preeminence, we more nearly resembled the characteristics of the rest of the country than the general inertia of much of the South at the time. Our enthusiasm for progress, reiterated constantly by our two daily newspapers, seemed perfectly exemplified by the Presi- dent of-the United States. Like Teddy Roosevelt, Durham's leaders were self-reliant and individualistic; like him, they were willing to take risks and to challenge the caution of tradition. If he dared to stretch international law in his operations in Panama and the Car- ibbean, so were they bold in testing federal law as they built their financial and organizational empires; if by sending the United States fleet around the world the president was proclaiming the ascendancy of America, so on a lesser scale Durham's pioneering salesmen in· Egypt, South Africa, and Japan were staking out an empire for Durham's tobacco products.
In still another way, the Durham of 1907 was a microcosm of the country at large: we combined our faith in progress with an- equally strong faith in wnat we believed to be eternal values. We joined our materialism with moralism, our economic pragmatism - even progressivism with social conservatism. Underlying our delighted embrace of new machines and worldly progress was a serene confidence in ethical principles inherited from our past, along with certainty about the rightness of our social distinctions and moral standards, and our assurance that Anglo- Saxons and Protestants had proved their superiority in the world.
Our self-confidence and sense of well-being rested on a complacency that later generations would regard as intolerable smug- ness. The world we knew in 1907 seemed to justify our assurance, nevertheless. Peace prevailed everywhere, and in this very year at The Hague an International Court of Justice was established, with all civilized nations participating. The four Great Powers of Europe seemed committed to calm reason in their determination to preserve the balance of power by diplomacy. In Africa, Asia, and Oceania, millions of primitive people, those "lesser breeds without the law," had been brought under the control of European nations and were now being given the benefits of civilization. America, coming belatedly to the scene, was assuming responsibility for our "little brothers in brown" in the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and the "banana republics." Our optimistic faith seemed to rest on sure foundations.