A Personal History of Clinton & Sampson County – Police & City Officials
Right after the turn of the century when I was a small boy, Mr. C. W. Petty had this electric generating plant down of John St. Even though the town had electricity the street lamps in town were not yet electric. I remember four of those lights that sat on each corner of the courthouse, not on the courthouse property, but one on the corner of Main and Wall St., one on the corner of main and Lisbon, and so forth.
There was a large, elderly gentleman, Fred Purvis, who worked for the town and it was his job to look after the street lights. Late in the afternoon, you’d see him walking around town, he had a small step ladder and a can of oil and a pair of scissors and some cloths, and he would go around and open up this glass cage and take the chimney off the oil lamp that was sitting on the post, clean it, trim the wick, fill the container with oil and light this lantern. About somewhere around ten o’clock at night he’d go around and blow them out. Mr. Purvis lived up on Devane St. and I was sorry that it happened, but one day I just so happened to be in Mr. Jim Darden’s barbershop, and incidentally that barbershop sat behind the First Citizen’s Bank, and Mr. Purvis was in there and he evidently had a heart attack and passed away in my presence.
Mr. Purvis also worked for the town as a policeman. Another was Mitt Matthis who lived up on Beaman St. Also Mr. Whit Tart, the grandfather of Charles Tart of this city, and later one of his sons, Clarence, became sheriff of the county. Another was Lonnie Honeycutt who lived out on the Fayetteville highway. Others were Mr. Ed Hines, who lived on Beaman St., and Mr. John Rob Price, who also lived on Beaman St. Another, Mr. Tom Patterson, was a full-blooded Irishman who came to this country as a bicycle racer when he was a young man. He stayed, married, and died here. One thing I remember about Mr. Patterson, he wore an English bobby uniform.
Another law enforcement officer we had was Mr. Carlyle Jackson. He first came here as a policeman, later deputy sheriff, then sheriff and then mayor of this town. He served with distinction for many years. Another was Mr. Claude Southerland. He lived over on the west side of Sampson St. in the first block leading from the fish market. Mr. Claude was quite a character. He was quick tempered and it didn’t take much to set him off. He had several nephews and one of those was Herbert Southerland, who managed the Gem Theatre and also ran a taxi service.
One day Mr. Claude caught Herbert doing something that he shouldn’t be doing and he proceeded to arrest him. Herbert tried to talk him out of carrying him up before the court, telling him, “I don’t mind so much you taking me up there and I’d have to pay a fine, but this person you caught me with, it would be most embarrassing to that party and I just want you to forget it. You’ll only get two dollars out of it and I’ll give you more than that and you just forget it.” Mr. Claude replied, said “No sir, says I’d have you up if you were my own boy.” Herbert tried at great length to dissuade him, and finally Herbert’s patience ran out. Herbert told him, says “Alright Uncle Claude. I’ve done my best now to talk you out of this and I’m not getting anywhere, says, now you go ahead and take me to court, and when you do, I’m going to beat the damned hell out of you.” Well, his Uncle Claude knew that Herbert was right much of a man of his word and he replied to Herbert, said “Now Herbert, if it’s going to cause any hard feelings we’ll just forget it.”
Back about 1926, Mr. John Rob Price was serving on the police force here. The police were looking for a man that had been declared an outlaw. Mr. John Rob spotted the car that he was supposed to be driving. He hung around and finally saw the man, whose last name was Norton. He told Mr. John Rob, “Before you lock me up, I want to change clothes, and I’ve got some clothes hid around here in the alley.” So they went around into the alley behind Vance St. and this fellow begins changing his clothes, and Mr. John Rob turns his head a little to give him some privacy. Before he knew it, Mr. John Rob turned back around and this fellow Norton had a great big gun stuck in his face, and he told him, “Now turn around and hold your hands up, and if you drop them, I’m going to kill you.” So while he was standing there with his arms in the air, he couldn’t see Norton and Norton disappeared. Afterwards, folks jokingly said that some folks went around into the alley and found Mr. John Rob with his hands in the air and it took several men to pull his hands down.
Another incident happened to Mr. John Rob when he arrested and locked up Charlie Pope. Charlie was a brick mason and he helped to build the old jail, not the present one but the one before that. Mr. John Rob put Charlie in jail and even turned the key and then he returned up town. He hadn’t been there long when he saw Charlie was out and back up town. He saw him and said, “Charlie, I thought I locked you up.” He said “You did, but I built that jail and I would have been a damn fool if I hadn’t left a place for me to get out with.”
Right after World War I we had another colorful character that returned to Clinton, Colonel George L. Peterson. Colonel Peterson was quite a man. He got to be elected mayor several times and was a justice of the peace for a number of years. Around the courthouse square in Clinton we had a number of large oak trees all around it, between the streets and the buildings. A lot of people wanted them cut down, and of course, there were others who resented their being cut down. So they told the story on Colonel George, I guess it was true, that he got a crew of men assembled and had them go to work about midnight or thereabouts, and the next morning when people came to work, I myself was one of them, all of those big trees were laying out in the streets except one. There was one of those large oak trees right in front of the Clinton Hardware building that stood and still stands at the intersection of Fayetteville and McKoy Streets. That hardware store was run by the Hubbard boys, Mr. Bob, Jamie, and possibly Mr. Joe, but for some reason that tree wasn’t cut down. The general talk was that the mayor was a little bit reluctant to cut that one down for fear that the Hubbard boys would take him down a notch.
Another time we had a lot of beer joints over on the north side of Vance St. We, of course, were having hard times along there, too, and we were trying to get our water system dug in and around the town, and we didn’t have any money to do it with. So, Colonel Peterson made it a habit of going around town every morning, practically every morning anyway, with his chief of police, Ernest Cherry, who was also a good close personal friend of mine. They’d go around to these beer joints and everybody they’d catch drinking beer, they’d arrest them right on the spot and the Colonel would sentence them to work in the ditch that day. They gather those men up and take them down to the ditch. They’d give them a shovel and a pick, stand guard over them, let them work all that day and at night they’d turn them loose to go home. That put all the people, the beer drinkers, to stop drinking in the morning. They’d wait until later in the day to get started.