Murfreesboro: Oasis on the Meherrin
Published 5:50 pm Tuesday, April 26, 2022
I didn’t grow up within the corporate limits of Murfreesboro, but my heart and mind hold many, many fond memories of the town.
As a child, and then as a teenager, I can remember places in Murfreesboro such as all the stately old homes lining Main Street. A few are still standing.
I remember Western Auto…especially one year where in the weeks leading up to Christmas I had my eye on a bike – a traditional Western Flyer. I must have been a good boy that year because that bike was parked by our family Christmas tree on the morning of Dec. 25.
I remember other businesses along Murfreesboro’s Main Street: Chet’s Market, Nell’s Florist, Wise’s IGA, College Pharmacy, The Village Squire Steak House, Barnes Barber Shop, Gee’s Jewelers, Red and White Supermarket, Evans and Company, The Varsity Shop, Peebles Department Store, The Cozy Tavern, Brett’s Motel, College Inn, The Heritage Drive Inn, Ruffin Brothers Market and Furniture Store, Belk-Tylers, Rich’s Supermarket, Silcos, Williams Dime Store, The Red Apple (full service gas station, complete with a restaurant in a separate building), Murfree Foods, and H.L. Evans & Sons.
I don’t remember this, but I’ve been told that my mom went into labor pains with me while she and my dad were buying groceries at the Red and White Supermarket. Dad told me he had just purchased a chocolate fudgesicle when mom approached and told him it was time to go to the hospital. Dad jokingly said he was so nervous that he tore the paper covering off the fudgesicle, tossed the ice cream bar into the trash and stuck the paper in his mouth!
Another personal connection to Murfreesboro is that Dr. McLean, whose office was on South Wynn Street, delivered me.
You don’t have to be from or live near Murfreesboro to know it’s the home of Walter’s Grill. The now late Walter Liverman opened up his hamburger and hot dog joint back in the 1940’s. It’s still going strong today, complete with Walter’s famous hot dog chili.
But there’s another Main Street business that is the primary focus of this column. It may be long gone, but it’s memory still burns bright in my mind.
Those memories came flooding back just recently upon reading a post on the You Knew You Grew Up In Murfreesboro page on Facebook. That post shared the story of a man by the name of Harry Hill Sr. who moved his family in 1925 from Virginia to Murfreesboro. Two years later, Hill Chevrolet opened at 206 East Main Street. Today it’s an empty lot, but there remains some of the brick flooring of that building.
It was either in the late 50’s or early 60’s when my mom, Blanche Bryant, went to work as a bookkeeper at Hill Chevrolet. I practically grew up inside that building. I remember Mr. Harry (Jr.), Mr. Billy, and Mr. Tommy….the sons of Harry Hill Sr. I remember Mr. Sewell and Mr. Winborne, the car salesmen up in the showroom. I remember Fred (can’t recall his last name) in the Parts Department and Mr. Martin and “Buster” back in the repair shop.
Today I can still close my eyes and see those beautiful Chevrolets sitting in the showroom. The Pontiac showroom was in a separate building.
I remember sitting in the showroom, reading the literature about those cars. I fell in love with the Pontiac Bonneville. It was big, roomy and had a huge powerplant under the hood.
My dad purchased a new Bonneville in 1967, two years before I got my driver’s license. It was gray in color and as big as a tank. Under the hood was a 400 cubic inch engine. She would “flat fly” to say the least.
Dad traded it in before my 16th birthday, but I still got a chance to drive it. I sweet-talked my older sister, Cindy, to let me get behind the wheel one night when she had borrowed the car to go to a dance at the Woodland Armory. I wasn’t old enough to get in those dances, but my best friend at that time, Larry Lassiter who lived in Woodland, and I would hang around the parking lot and pick-up soft drink bottles (to trade in for a penny each) discarded by the older guys who had gone outside to mix an alcoholic beverage.
Anyway, after Cindy and I left the house, I got her to stop at a nearby peanut-buying station where we swapped seats. At 15-years-old and just tall enough to peer over the steering wheel, I drove that car to Woodland.
And speaking of Larry Lassiter, he eventually bought a Pontiac GTO. I can’t remember the year model, but it was black and had two, four-barrel carbs nestled under a breather that sat on top of the hood.
That car nearly killed the two of us. One night, Larry was challenged by another “muscle car” owner in Woodland, Gary Griffin, to a race on NC 35. I went along for the ride with Larry. Somewhere around 100-plus mph, Larry’s car just barely ran off the right-hand side of the road and the ensuing spin-out began. Fortunately, Larry was able to keep the car out of the woods as on each revolution of the spin, Larry kept downshifting until the car eventually stopped in the middle of the road.
We made our way back to his house and after cleaning out our pants, both of us vowed to never race again.
But getting back to the present day, it’s no wonder that former Murfreesboro Mayor John Hinton dubbed the town as the “Oasis on the Meherrin.” It still draws people in, no matter if they were born and raised there or not.
Cal Bryant is Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-332-7207.