By Samuel H. Johnson
Delway is a rural crossroads on with a few houses and farms, 16 miles south of Clinton on U.S. 421, 50 miles north of Wilmington, and about halfway between Rose Hill to the east and Garland to the west. Most of the land is good for farming with a few areas of bog, which produce huckleberries.
Dell School was established around 1900 as a boarding high school. Many of the doctors, lawyers, and educators of that era graduated from Dell School. It had about 250 students from throughout the eastern part of the state who studied Latin and history as well as the other curriculums. In addition, the school sponsored debating and literary societies, produced musicals, welcomed many guest speakers, and provided a lot of cultural information. My grandmother lived near the school, and had boarders who had the privilege of using her kitchen, or letting her prepare their food on a wood burning cast iron stove. Some students rode in on horseback or buggy daily, and others lived in a few dorms that were available. The school closed around 1920 due to the advent of free public education.
The large main building became the Delway Trading Center around 1930 and lasted for about 40 years. The building was made of brick from clay that was mined about 2 miles to the north. The bricks were made on site and transported to Delway for the school construction. I worked at the Center on Saturdays while in high school and I was encouraged to remain and become the manager in the future. When the Trading Center ceased operation, the building and land was sold to an out-of-state owner who planned to renovate and revise, but he ran into financial problems and for several years, the structure remained in a very untidy condition. Recently, the property was acquired by another owner and has been restored to its natural area. I have encouraged some restoration at Delway, similar to what has been done at Harrells.
I was born in 1927 in a farmhouse near Delway, and lived on that farm until 1944. While in high school, I worked at the Trading Center on Saturdays, and due to my scholarship, I was encouraged to remain and become the manager in the future. But in 1944, I chose to leave the area then and go to Pfeiffer Junior College. That led to a career path in the U.S. Navy, and then on to Carolina for undergraduate and law degrees.
In Delway we had the Evergreen Baptist Church at the intersection of the roads, and three miles north, the Trinity United Methodist Church. One mile north of Trinity was the African Church. We were a community of friends. My father had African friends that ate with him at our kitchen dining table, and the Baptist Church and the African Church exchanged choirs in the fall revival season. The public schools were segregated but the people in the Delway community were not.
My parents are buried at the Trinity United Methodist Church Cemetery, which is a beautiful natural area with flowers, grass, and trees. About 15 years ago, I made arrangements with the Trinity United Methodist Church and relocated the remains and tombstones for my grandparents and some other relatives who were buried on the farm where I lived as a boy. If a cemetery is described as beautiful, this would qualify, and the church is well maintained with attractive features.
My home place, a small farm where my grandmother lived, is just north of Delway. Recently I visited it and, although the house is adequately maintained and is occupied, I was very sad to see that the barns have been abandoned and the roofs have caved in. It made me so sad that I will probably never visit again.
I am now 88 years of age and recently retired after 62 years of law practice in the Raleigh area. I spend considerable time at Atlantic Beach, where I enjoy my ocean front villa and outdoor grilling. I have one friend left in Delway, with whom I played as a child. He is an African-American named Thomas Murphy. He went to the New York area and worked with one of the big corporations and then returned for retirement to Delway. I have another friend named Fonrose Rice, who is a cousin, who lived next door to me. She now lives in Bayboro and is very active in the Franklin High School Alumni Association.
Cuwhiffle Creek – A place that I remember. Named for an Indian tribe, this creek flows south to north, two miles east of Highway 421, and is located in a big forest behind our home near Delway. As a boy, my friends and I made a dam in the creek, producing a swimming hole, and then we built a cabin using bark that could be peeled from trees for roof and walls. We used small trees for framing. We enjoyed many afternoons on the weekend swimming, fishing, and cooking on the banks of the Cuwhiffle Creek.
Frank Rogers – We became friends. We lived three miles apart. He was blinded as a child by his brother, from a scissors accident. He went to the blind school in Raleigh and I met him for the first time at Carolina. We lived next to each other in a trailer park adjoin Franklin Street that accommodated returning veterans and other housing needs. We attended law school together and I read him assignments and he successfully passed the bar and opened his office in Delway. He had a great mind. Several times I helped him draft a civil complaint but he needed no help in a criminal case. He was great at cross examination. Unfortunately, Frank died at an early age.
As a student at Carolina, he would walk across the campus and snap his fingers to pick echoes from trees and structures and was able to navigate with no serious trouble. Quite a person.
The Delway Story – I have always enjoyed agriculture, and when I completed my Navy service at the end of WW II, I would have returned to attend N.C. State and then become a farmer. But we had only 20 acres cleared and no capital, so I knew farming was not feasible. I selected a career as a lawyer because I could begin work in my office with minimum capital. Delway has potential but it needs leadership. Harrells has done a good job in restructuring the downtown and creating neighborhood involvement. I hope the day will come that Delway will do the same.
Hard Work – Many of you affiliated with Sampson County Historical Society lived on a farm, or worked on a farm, and will understand this message. My mother was a school teacher and she married a farmer and learned to help in the kitchen, in the garden, and in the fields. Since our farm was very small, we had only one mule and one cow. We had a large garden. During the depression years, we had no money, but we were not poor. We believed in self-preservation and did not seek entitlements. My bedroom had no ceiling and I could see the sunlight bend around the shingles. When the wind blew, the windows rattled. There was no heat in my room. We had a big fireplace next to the kitchen, and when my mother cooked the noon meal, “dinner,” there was enough left over to warm at night in the fireplace, on trivets. My parents were very hardworking, and loving and kind to me. I constructed a water tank on top of the stables and in summertime I came from the fields very dirty and took warm showers from that source. My clothes were placed in a wash pot in the back yard and the next day, they were placed on the clothesline to absorb the cleansing sun rays. I had three sets of these work clothes. I had a wonderful life and it taught me the discipline of work and self-survival. For my last year in law school, my WW II GI bill benefits had expired and I was married, so I worked 61 hours per week. I took a full load, passed my exams, and passed the North Carolina Bar exam. I then opened my law office doing my own typing. I learned this on the farm in Sampson County. There are many others who know the same story, based on their life experiences.
Those who want to know more about Delway, check out my autobiography, Samuel Johnson – A History of My Journey. It is in several libraries in Sampson County and I gave copies to the Historical Society.