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LAURA PHILLIPS: HARD WORK PAID OFF
By Marshall McClung
One of the most successful business persons in Graham County would have to be Laura Phillips. Our younger generations probably assume that this has always been the case with her. The older ones know that this is not so Laura started out pretty much like the rest of Graham County folks in that time.
Laura was born on a farm in the East Buffalo community in 1910. Like the rest of young children then, she learned what work was at an early age. There was always lot of work, plenty of chores to be done on a farm. But good work ethics was not all that her parents taught her. They taught her the value of good morals and character, and to have compassion for people.
In addition to working on the farm, Laura worked in a logging camp operated by her father on the head of Yellow Creek when she was nine years old. She cooked, cleaned and made up beds for fifteen loggers.
Although hard work and determination certainly played a part in Laura's success, she says she credits the Lord for helping her. Laura accepted the Lord when she was eleven during a revival at Lone Oak Baptist Church conducted by Oscar Crisp. Laura was baptized in 1921. Laura stayed active in church. In those days they had singing with a banner being awarded to the best singers. Laura recalls Clarence Adams who was a minister for many years getting her and her sister in his lap when they were little girls and teaching them to sing. Laura recalls them singing and winning the banner in 1930. The singing was held at Stecoah Baptist Church. They sang two songs one of which was "Beautiful Roses". She sang alto. Laura continued to sing for many years, first in the choir at Lone Oak Church and later at Robbinsville First Baptist Church. Laura also taught the~Intermediate Sunday School Class.
Laura did all the normal farm chores while a young girl including carding and spinning yarn, making wool socks and quilts. She also used a crosscut saw, logged with oxen, and helped her father in his blacksmith shop and made boards (wood shingles) using a tool called a froe.
Laura was married to Patton Phillips in 1925 at. age 14, not an unusual age for girls to marry in those days. She made her own wedding dress, having worked out the money to buy the material. She did not use a pattern, but cut the dress out herself, a practice she continued as long as she made clothing.
Laura had always had the dream of being a merchant. In 1936, she bought a store located on what is now Old U.S. Highway 129 near East Buffalo. She started out with $300 and as has been the case throughout her business career never borrowed any money
for any of her business ventures. When her father died, she sold the store and moved back home. In 1938 she built a 12x12 frame, mounted it on a truck, and began operating her first "rolling store" which operated for twenty-four years. Several different persons drove the "rolling store!! down through the years including Ronald Hyde, Leonard "Red" Philips, Jack Odom, and Sam Mcclung. In the early days of the "rolling store" many of the roads in Graham County were very primitive. Most of them were unpaved with gravel surfaces, and some were just dirt roads. It was not unusual to get stuck, and it was standard procedure to carry a shovel on board to "dig out". A common driving practice was to straddle deep ruts with the truck to avoid getting stuck. The "rolling store" was a success often doing almost half as much business as the store in town did. The "rolling store" traveled six days a week, going a different route in the county each day.
In 1942, Laura moved to Robbinsville and opened a general store on Main Street across the street from where the U.S. Post Office is now located. The store stocked ready to wear clothing, a complete line of groceries including a meat market. The hardware section contained a variety of tools, fertilizer, feed, seed, and cement. In 1975 the store moved to a new.location on the Robbinsville Bypass where it operated until just a few years ago. Counting both. locations, the store was in business for fifty-six years. A hardware store, Philips Supply was built next door, and is still operating.
In 1944 Laura and Patton bought their restaurant and the house beside it. The motel beside Phillips Restaurant was built~in 1950 with more rooms added in 1952.. Several houses were built over the years as the business. continued to grow. In some of the earlier houses built, Laura sanded the hardwood floors, and laid tile in the bathrooms and kitchens.
In spite of having gone only through the seventh grade in school, Laura "kept the books" on all their businesses until 1975, doing all of the record keeping except the final tax reports.
Laura attended a one room school on Yellow Creek. The school was heated by a single wood heater in the middle of the room. Most of the wood gathering and fire building was done by the children who took turns warming by the stove. She recalls that there was only one other student in the seventh grade besides herself. Some of the teachers she recalls having taught at the Yellow Creek School through the years include Leah Lance, Blame Denton, Mamie and Ada Moody, and John Patton.
Laura and Patton had three children, Leonard, Ted, and Reba Philips Jordan. But through the years she helped raise over two dozen other children who would stay in her home from a few months to as much as fifteen years. She would have prayer with them, and some of them were saved. She also built houses for some people and let some make small payments that they could afford so that they could have a place to live.
Laura has seen a lot of changes through the years. She recalls seeing the first car to come into town, the first meat market, the first canned goods, the first "light bread" and the first cake not homemade. She remembers when there were only two stores in Robbinsville one being the Wiggins and Ammons store. She recalls when there were only two doctors in Graham County, one in Robbinsville, and one at Tapoco. They walked or rode a horse or buggy to make house calls.
One thing that has not changed though is the effect that being raised in a Christian home had on her - the importance of a good moral character and a good name, to have compassion for people, and not hold grudges.
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These pages are from the people of Graham County, North Carolina.
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This page is maintained by Tom Livingston, Robbinsville, North Carolina