Locals preserve Rosman’s past while it’s still in reach

Written by on January 7, 2013 in Community, People, Preserving WNC Culture, Region, Special Reports, Top News, Transylvania Comments Off
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Dawn McCall (left) and Paulette Lankford run the Rosman Historical Association. Here they’re pictured next to the Flem Galloway House, built in 1878 by Lankford’s great-great grandfather. She plans to turn the structure into a local-history museum. Jon Elliston/Carolina Public Press

The Rosman Historical Association, founded two years ago, has covered a lot of ground but has a lot of catching up to do.

The town of Rosman was incorporated in Transylvania County, near the headwaters of the French Broad River, way back in 1901. Local history buffs note that it was originally named Toxaway, and went through several name changes before finally becoming Rosman in 1905.

Of course, local history dates back much further than the founding of this mountain town. The two Rosman residents who lead the association, for example, trace their ancestors in the region back to the late 1700s.

Dawn McCall, a self-taught genealogist, historian and publisher who’s lived in and around Rosman for most of her life, created the association in late 2010 with her husband, the late Kenneth McCall.

Her main current collaborator is Paulette Lankford, a semi-retired medical researcher who was raised in Rosman and returned two years ago after decades of living elsewhere.

The duo’s main mission, they said in a recent interview, is recording the parts of Rosman’s past that are on the verge of disappearing.

“We’ve got to preserve this history now, or it’s gone,” Lankford said. “We’re losing a little bit of it every day.”

A history that lives in the present

Through the years, Rosman’s fortunes have ebbed and flowed, but its population has rarely hovered above 500, and it’s always retained a small-town vibe.

“Rosman, to me, is unique in that it is one big family,” McCall wrote in her recent history of the town, a book commissioned by Transylvania County’s 150th Anniversary Committee in 2011. “It is a town with a deep history and heritage worth preserving.”

A selection of the Rosman Historical Association’s books. Click to view full-size image. Jon Elliston/Carolina Public Press

In the book, McCall provided detailed genealogies of the town’s founding families, stories of how the town’s schools, churches and industries developed, and accounts of area residents who fought in conflicts ranging from the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror.

The book is one of 13 published so far by the association that cover general local history and specifics like in-depth cemetery surveys. Along the way, the association has also focused on serving the town’s contemporary needs, staging a slew of community fundraisers, aid projects, oral history workshops and cultural events.

A portrait of part of the Galloway family, which helped build Rosman, is one among hundreds of local scenes saved and shared by the Rosman Historical Association. Click to view full-size image.

“We probably have a different view than most people who do what we do,” McCall said.

“The history and heritage of Rosman is not just old buildings and stories,” she explained. “Rosman was built by people helping each other. When you needed something, you had your neighbor there to help you. To us, that’s a part of the heritage, and that’s the way we try to live now.”

The past-meets-present approach shows up in places like the association’s Facebook page, its primary outlet for disseminating bits of history. So far, more than 5,000 local photos, videos and documents recording facets of family and civic life have been shared there.

Some date back to facsimiles of the town’s earliest records. Others document daily life in the here and now.

It’s exactly the kind of tribute to the town that McCall and her husband envisioned when they launched the association in late 2010. Kenneth McCall, who also had deep roots in the community, passed away in April 2012.

While Dawn McCall is still distraught from the loss of her husband, she’s drawn strength from preserving the local history that bound them together.

“I grew up listening to my grandmother tell family stories, taking notes and cleaning up the gravesites of our ancestors,” she said.

Somewhere along the way, she said, “I realized, ‘Wow, my husband is my fifth cousin.’” Such connections compelled McCall to discover more of Rosman’s backstory.

“I wanted to know more about my ancestors, and why I was compelled to do the things that I do,” she said. “And it just kind of bloomed from there.”

Remembering Rosman’s heyday

Rosman became something of a boomtown between the 1910s and 1950s. During those years, the town, driven by leather and lumber industries, was arguably Transylvania County’s commercial center.

“Rosman was bigger than Brevard,” Lankford said. “There were two drugstores. There was a movie theatre. There was a hotel and several boarding houses. There was a railroad through here.”

Most of those early institutions are gone now, but the association keeps memories of them alive in novel ways. For example, the Gloucester General Store — aka “The Company Store” — was built in 1910 and served as a community hub before it closed some 70 years later.

The Company Store was one of Rosman’s main gathering spots and the source of a renowned chili recipe. Click to view full-size image. Photo courtesy of the Rosman Historical Association.

There, residents gathered to buy staples and swap stories, often while enjoying a hot dog or burger topped with the store’s now-legendary chili. Today, the association shares a picture postcard of the Company Store; the back of the card provides the store’s original chili recipe.

The work of recording Rosman’s golden age has taken on new urgency, given that the generations who witnessed it are on the wane.

“We need to do something to preserve this time,” McCall said. “We have to get the stories from people who still remember the old times while they’re still with us.”

Saving local history on a shoestring

One theme that surfaces throughout McCall’s history of Rosman is how the townspeople have survived lean years with a strong tradition of self-sufficiency, by growing their own food, fashioning their own clothing and similar means.

That’s an ethic that guides the Rosman Historical Association, as well. While scores of volunteers contribute efforts to the association’s work, most of it is done by a cadre of enthusiasts led by Lankford and McCall.

At first, the association charged a $10 membership fee, but it quickly dropped that requirement. Now, membership is free to any who care to join, and the work and publications are funded from unconventional sources: bingo games, motorcycle runs, and even the occasional professional wrestling event staged in the Rosman High School gym.

It’s a strategically thrifty approach to serious local history-gathering, Lankford explained.

She and McCall do much of their work in a well-appointed doublewide trailer next to the Flem Galloway House, a historical landmark built by Lankford’s great-great grandfather in 1878.

Today, the house is empty of residents but full of promise. Lankford plans to turn the structure, which stands remarkably sturdy on property bought for 3 cents an acre more than 200 years ago, into a local history museum.

The town of Rosman, she insisted, needs a place for its ever-expanding history to be noted and honored.

“We’re documenting everything we can lay our hands on,” she said. “There are so many stories here, we run into them every time we turn around.”

The Rosman Historical Association’s books are available at Highland Books in Brevard.

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About the Author

Jon Elliston

Jon Elliston is the Investigations and Open Government Editor at Carolina Public Press. Contact him at jelliston@carolinapublicpress.org.

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