ROCKINGHAM — Recognition of Richmond County history in the form of roadside plaques has taken place recently, according to Dr. John Stevenson, president of the Richmond County Historical Society.
The first plaque recognizes Hinson Lake and the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps there during the 1930s.
It is located at the turnaround on Hinson Lake Road, Rockingham. It is a one-sided plaque.
The second plaque is located on Main Street, Ellerbe, in a small park located in the middle of the commercial district. It honors Judge Henry Frye.
They are both raised on free-standing metal posts. While they look similar to the official highway plaques of North Carolina Department of Archives and History, they are not authorized by the state.
These are brown background plaques with silver letters and don’t have the state emblem marking at the top.
“We are indebted to the Pee Dee Electric Cooperative through its Care to Share Program, Foundation for Richmond County, the Claude Smith Foundation, and the Cole Foundation for making these plaques possible,” Stevenson said.
The plaque reads:
“Civilian Conservation Corps Soil Conservation Service Camp No. 22, with 200 all African American men during 1935-1937, created 40-acre public lake by constructing dam to form Hinson Lake. Main duty was local farm conservation work. Encampment here at entrance road turnaround where foundations are visible.”
“In Rockingham, we recognize the work of some 200 African-American men of the Civilian Conservation Corps Soil Conservation Service Camp No. 22 with this historic plaque,” Stevenson said.
It stands at the turnaround on Hinson Lake Road.
Today Hinson Lake is part of the Nona Lee “Pitt” Hinson Cohen Wildlife Conservation Area in Rockingham.
When the Civilian Conservation Corps Camp was proposed for Rockingham for African Americans, some citizens objected because of their race.
Fortunately, Stevenson said, the Hinson family offered land for the camp off East Washington Street. In return the men provided conservation efforts on Hinson properties. Also, because of the generosity of the Hinson family, a public lake was created through their efforts.
While the CCC men worked throughout Richmond County helping farmers to conserve their land, they also had time to construct the present dam which holds back the waters of Hinson Lake.
The men, many of whom were military veterans, endured social restrictions prevalent in America at that time. However, they conducted themselves in such a way they became welcome in the community.
When the camp closed, farmers and others protested to keep the men in the camp as long as possible.
“This plaque will acknowledge the work of these men and pay tribute to them for creating Hinson Lake for public use,” said Stevenson.
Justice Henry Ell Frye
Frye was recently honored by the North Carolina Department of Transportation with the naming of the Green Lake Road Bridge over I-73/74 in Ellerbe. (While naming for people is usually reserved for the deceased, the RCHS makes an exception for Frye while he is still very much alive.)
Stevenson said the concern of the Historical Society is that Frye might not be that well known, even locally, because he has resided in Greensboro most of his life.
This plaque will enhance the naming of the bridge and be a permanent reminder for future generations, according to Stevenson.
“Henry Ell Frye born 1932, Ellerbe. First as an African American in North Carolina include: Asst. U.S. District Attorney, 1963; first State Representative since 1899, (serving 1969-1999); State Senate 1981-1982; Assoc. Justice, N.C. Supreme Court, 1983-1999; Chief Justice, N.C. Supreme Court, 1999-2001. Green Lake Road Bridge over I-73/74 named in his honor.”
In 2013, Howard E. Covington Jr. published a book, “Henry Frye. North Carolina’s first African American Chief Justice.” It recognizes that Frye was a steady voice involved in the transitional race changes taking place in the state in the 20th Century.
“This plaque will express local pride for a native son who went on to serve the people of North Carolina based on the early values his family and community bestowed upon him in Ellerbe,“ Dr. Stevenson said.
“We are indebted to the Pee Dee Electric Cooperative through its Care to Share Program, Foundation for Richmond County, the Claude Smith Foundation, and the Cole Foundation for making this plaque possible.”