FAIRMONT HISTORY

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By 1914 there were three warehouses operating in Fairmont -- Fairmont Tobacco Warehouse, Robeson County Warehouse and Peoples Warehouse. After the re-drying plant was built in 1919 the market slowly began to expand as this facility allowed more tobacco to be sold per day.

E. J. Davis and Sons expanded their operation by constructing the Davis Warehouse in 1923. The elder Davis had thirty-five years' experience in the tobacco business and was highly respected by buyers and farmers alike. Frank Davis, his son, was president of the National Tobacco Warehousemen's Association. The Davises stated many times that the area within a ten mile radius of Fairmont was the best tobacco growing land in the world. Buyers listened and gave Fairmont two full sets of buyers in the late teens.

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Harry Davis Warehouse, date unknown. Photo credit: The Robesonian via newspapers.com

Another reason for the market's growth was that each company that sent a buyer to the market was provided with a packing house by the market. Each pack house was conveniently located on a rail siding to facilitate loading and shipping.

Farmers Warehouse was opened by Lovill-Joyce Company in 1927, giving Fairmont four warehouses and more selling opportunity for the farmers. Pounds sold increased as did Fairmont's prominence in the industry.

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Farmers Warehouse, date unknown. Photo credit: The Robesonian via newspapers.com

M. C. Yarboro and A. E. Garret opened the Big Five Warehouse in 1929. It was the largest house on the market at that time and one of the largest in the seven-market belt.

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Big 5 Warehouse, date unknown. Photo credit: The Robesonian via newspapers.com

Big Brick Warehouse was built in 1929 and purchased by Lovill-Joyce Co. and A. R. Bullock in 1931. J. A. Pell joined this firm in 1933, moving here from the Clarkton market.

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Big Brick Warehouse, date unknown. Photo credit: The Robesonian via newspapers.com

In five short years, floor space and selling opportunities had doubled. From 1924 to 1929, pounds sold had increased from 5,000,000 to 18,500,000. This was the time frame in which Joseph Mitchell wrote his article "Tobacco Market" for the New York Herald Tribune which landed him in New York City.

For many people in my generation, when they think of the Fairmont tobacco market they automatically think of Charlie Stafford. For more than a generation he promoted the market at Sales Supervisor and as secretary of the Chamber of Commerce. He travelled North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia extolling the virtues of the Fairmont and the Fairmont tobacco market.

Charles Bailey Stafford was born in Clarksville, TN on May 20, 1890 to Mr/Mrs A. C. Stafford. His father was a tobacconist and owned a local tobacco company so it was natural that Charlie gravitated to the business. Upon graduation from Gordon's University School (preparatory) in 1912 he joined his father's firm, A. C. Stafford & Sons. In 1920 he went to the Greenville, NC market as a calculator and bookman, staying there until 1937 when he was hired by Fairmont as the Sales Supervisor.

Stafford was in Fairmont less than two years when his wife passed away in 1939. In 1943 he married Mary Belle Grantham, widow of attorney George L. Grantham, who had also  passed away in 1939.

He was a tireless promoter of the Fairmont market, always keeping it in the spotlight in eastern North and South Carolina. He had billboards, license plates and posters made with "Tobacco -- Fairmont Leads" scattered throughout the Fairmont marketing area. Under his leadership the market ran frequent full-page advertisements in The Robesonian and other regional newspapers, listing the warehouse firms, averages for our market vs. other area markets, and pointing out that Fairmont had four full sets of buyers working our market.

When radio became common to the area in the early 1950's, Charlie had a daily radio show on WFMO here as well as on TRN, the tobacco radio network. He invariably opened his show with something like the following:
Mr/Mrs Tobacco Grower, and all you little tobacco growers out there in tobaccoland, the news is good! Fairmont, the old reliable, had another banner sale on the Border Belt today!

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Then he would recite some of the best prices he had seen, stating who owned the farm and who was the tenant who grew it, how many pounds they sold and how much they averaged. He would conclude by saying, "Load it, roll it and bring it on down to ole Fairmont!" Everyone looked forward to hearing Mr. Charlie mention their name from the day's sale. To them that meant they were the best of the best.

Charlie strongly promoted Fairmont businesses as well as the tobacco market as secretary to the Fairmont Chamber of Commerce. He would always mention the merchants and businessmen on his show and encouraged everyone to shop Fairmont and tell 'em ole Charlie sent you.

On Sunday, Charlie and Gaston Sealey would team up with the Fairmont Tobacco Troubadours for some gospel music selections, and occasionally Mr. Marshall Hedgepeth would play his autoharp and harmonica. Charlie and Gaston would talk about the country life in Robeson County and the prospects for next year's crop. That never got old!

In 1962, Stafford decided that it was time for him to retire. After all, he had been in Fairmont for 25 years and had been in the tobacco business for 50 years. The warehousemen's association didn't want that to happen and on March 20, 1962, the Fairmont Rotary Club and Fairmont Civitan Club jointly hosted a testimonial dinner for him. Waccamaw Bank presented him a gold watch, the warehousemen's association gave him a silver service and industry bigwigs sang his praises. In the end he agreed to work "just one more year" and did that for the next fifteen years, retiring after 40 years of service to the Fairmont market and 65 years in the tobacco business.

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Mr. Charlie died on May 17, 1979, three day before turning 89 years old.

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In 1899, just after Union City was incorporated, A. L. Jones built a large warehouse at the intersection of Walnut and Center Streets. Actually Walnut Street was little more than a path not yet named and Center Street was named Tobacco Street just after the warehouse was built. Interestingly, though the town was named Union City, the business was called Ashpole Warehouse. Jones brought in a Mr. Wade to operate it in 1899 with moderate success. Opening on September 15, 1899, they sold 500,000 pounds of leaf that season. For 1900, Jones convinced J. D. Kyle of Tennessee to take over the operation.

In 1902, T. F. Reeves & Co. moved from the Farmers' Warehouse in Lumberton and became manager of a new warehouse, Planters' Warehouse. The exact location of this warehouse is unknown but it was in the general downtown area.

Robeson County Tobacco Warehouse was constructed in 1911 and operated by E. J. Davis & Sons. Mr. Davis had been in the tobacco business since 1885 and was well-respected among his fellow tobacconists.

Peoples Warehouse was built in 1913 and operated by O. A. Reeves & Company. This warehouse was advertised as the best arranged, best lighted and most up-to-date tobacco warehouse in the area.

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Tobacco (Center) Street sometime after 1911. Photo credit: Curtis McGirt private archive

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