By Jim Parker
There are not many men in the world who manage to have three different careers going for them at the same time, who managed to be partially responsible for the erection of one school building and having another school named in their honor.
But there was such a man in Clinton: Langdon Chevis Kerr. He was born December 21, 1888 in Clinton, the son of John Daniel Kerr and Sudie Hubbard Kerr. His early years were spent at the family plantation near Kerr Station at the southern edge of the county below Harrells.
The family moved to Clinton while he was still a young boy, residing in a large Greek-Revival-style house on Chestnut Street. That house was originally built in the 1840s by his grandfather and namesake, Langdon Chevis Hubbard. (In the early 1960s, the entire house was moved to the southwest corner of Kerr and Herring Streets, where it is still being used today as an apartment house.)
Chevis Kerr’s paternal grandparents came from Scotland and settled on the Black River in the middle 1700s. His maternal grandparents, the Hubbards, came from Connecticut along with five other families, cousins, who settled in Sampson County. They were all merchants and they initially settled first at Lisbon on the Black River but later moved to Clinton.
John Daniel Kerr, the father of Chevis Kerr, volunteered for the Confederate Army when he was 16 years old, and helped raise a company of men from areas in Sampson, Bladen, and Duplin Counties. He was named a captain of the company and fought in several battles, including the Battle of Bentonville in March of 1865.
When young Kerr went off to war, he had never shaved. He grew a beard during the conflict and came home, a bearded adult, never to shave his beard. John D. Kerr later became an attorney and was actively involved in Confederate veteran’s affairs for the rest of his life.
Young Chevis went to public school for one year, but things were still in turmoil in the South following the war. Because of Reconstruction, support for public schools was lacking. So he was enrolled in Emma Robinson’s classes, and he went to her private school until he was ready for the famous Mrs. Wright’s Private School near Ingold. Here he completed his high school education, including Latin on the college level. When he completed Mrs. Wright’s School, he was ready for his sophomore year of college, but decided to enter as a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Recalling the days in Mrs. Wright’s School, he told how she was a strict disciplinarian. Once, when he went swimming without permission in the nearby Great Coharie, she noticed his wet head and asked if he had been swimming. When he told her “no”, she made him memorize the third chapter of James as punishment.
“I didn’t think too much about having to learn that Bible chapter, but I learned it because she said I had to. Later, when I was at Carolina studying Latin we were studying the New Testament and for our final exam had to translate a section. As soon as I started to read it, I recognized it as the third chapter of James. I got that translation right to the word, and when the papers were passed back, the professor wanted to know how I did it. I told him and thought he would take off my grade, but he didn’t and I made an “A” in that course”, he said.
While at Carolina, Chevis Kerr played on the freshmen football and baseball teams and was on the varsity gymnastic team all four years. He majored in civil engineering, which was being taught at both Carolina and NC State.
He returned to Clinton after graduating in 1910 and got a job as a teacher and principal at the new high school that had just opened at Garland. He stayed there one year and then moved to Clinton, where he taught and was principal at Clinton High School for three years.
When he was working for the Clinton city schools, a bond issue for the erection of a new elementary on College Street was brought before the public, pushed mostly by Mr. Chevis and Theodore Paderick, who was editor of the Sampson Democrat newspaper. The bond issue was approved by the citizens, but not without the school board getting mad at Mr. Chevis for his “meddling” in an election. He was told to seek another job and he did, giving up school teaching for civil engineering.
Soon after he went into business as a civil engineer (a field in which he had been dabbling ever since his college graduation), he joined the US Post Office as a rural mail carrier, a job that he kept for 37 years before retiring from it in 1955.
As a mail carrier, he started out with a horse and buggy and there weren’t any paved roads in the county. Later, he got a Model T Ford and said it was the best make of car he ever owned. The first one did not have a windshield but he traded it as soon as possible for one that did.
On November 26, 1913, he was married to Rena Lee, the daughter of Dr. Algernon M. Lee of Clinton. They had three children: Langdon Chevis (Chubby) Kerr, Jr. of Clinton, Richard Lee Kerr of Clinton, and Dorothy Kerr Sheffield of Warsaw. The boys followed their father’s footsteps, both becoming engineers. Chevis Jr. went one step further and also became a rural mail carrier.
Mrs. Rena Kerr died in November 1944 and four years later Mr. Chevis married Mrs. Lena Barber White, a widow and long-time employee of the Clinton Post Office.
During the years that Chevis carried the mail, he continued to work at his civil engineering practice on Saturdays and during the afternoons. He worked for the city as its engineer for many years, helping to put in the city’s first water and sewer systems. For years he swapped his engineering work to the city for office space in city hall, being paid only for major jobs such as water and sewer line installation. His son, Chevis, Jr. succeeded him as city engineer and also served on a part time basis, just as his father did.
Chevis Kerr’s first love was engineering, but close behind it always was education. He served as a member of the Clinton City School Board from 1933 until 1954, being chairman of the board from 1945 to 1954. He was the first president of the Sampson County School Board Association in 1953.
In 1955, the City of Clinton and his fellow citizens honored him when a new elementary school was named in his honor. Dedicatory services for the new Langdon Chevis Kerr Elementary School were held on August 4, 1954. In a citation presented to him by the board of education at that time, he was given credit for devoting more than 40 years of his life to the interest of better schools.
“That was the finest day of my life. It is an honor any man would be proud of,” said Mr. Chevis.
For years the Kerr family lived in a big house on Lisbon Street that the first Mrs. Kerr had inherited from her family. The house was sold to the City of Clinton in the late 1950s and demolished, and the Clinton City Hall was built on that lot. Chevis and his second wife lived in her home on Stewart Avenue before they built a more modern one on Woodland Drive in a neighborhood he developed. The area was part of a farm that he purchased from his father many years before and was actively farmed by him until he divided it into lots. Part of it was sold to the Clinton City Schools for a new athletic field that still fronts on Sunset Avenue.
Mr. Chevis was a member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and served as Senior Warden there.
He was a charter member of the Clinton Rotary Club for over 40 years, and had one period of 18 years of perfect attendance. A Mason, he received a 50-year membership pin in 1969.
Mr. Langdon Chevis Kerr died January 10, 1973, aged 84, and was buried in the Clinton Cemetery.
From The Sampsonian, March 19, 1970.