By David Rogers. March 26, 2017. BLOWING ROCK, NC – For 40-some years, Charles Rush Hamrick, Jr. was an integral part of his family’s wholesale drug business, primarily selling to national, state, and local government accounts. But before that, he had a role in Blowing Rock history.
In 1940, “Rush” was a journalism student at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Eight years earlier, then North Carolina State Senator C.V. Henkel had launched a newspaper in Blowing Rock, The Blowing Rocket, in June of 1932.
Sitting in a lower level sun room at The Foley Center at Chestnut Ridge while watching a flock of wild turkeys scamper across a hillside meadow in the distance, Hamrick explained to Blowing Rock News that in the early years the Blowing Rocket was a seasonal newspaper, published only during the summer months of June, July and August. Henkel, he explained, hired journalism students from UNC-Chapel Hill each summer to run “The Rocket.”
Back then, Coca-Cola was only a nickel.
“I learned to type very early in life,” he smiled. “Not very many men did in those days, but I was a journalism major. In 1940, Henkel hired me and Bill Snider to run the paper that year. He paid us $16 a week and it cost us $11 of that for our rooms at what is now The Inn at Ragged Gardens. It was owned by a couple of women whose names I do not recall.
“For that $11 we got our room and two meals each day, breakfast and dinner,” he added. “That left us with $5 a week to play on, spending money. It doesn’t sound like much, but back then Coca-Cola was only a nickel!”
That girl and I had to stay out there all night, then walk out the next day.
Hamrick shared that his first visit to Blowing Rock was in 1938, when he was still in high school in Shelby. “I came with my best friend, whose grandmother had the house right next to Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church. That house is now called Rumple House and is owned by the church. I think they paid a million dollars for it, but back in 1938 I spent several nights in that house. We just came up here with family.”
In 1940, there were two memorable events that summer, Hamrick noted. One was very obvious, a rain deluge that flooded large portions of Watauga County, including Blowing Rock.
“The flood of 1940 caught us,” remembered Hamrick. “It flooded all over…Blowing Rock, Deep Gap, everywhere, even down Shull’s Mill. It rained and rained and rained.
“This girl from Atlanta had just moved into the Ragged Inn,” Hamrick added. “After lunch that day she wanted to know where the Western Union was, so she could wire her mother and tell her she had arrived. So I said I would take her. After that, she needed to check on people’s houses, to see who had leaks, so I was taking her to those, too. EVERYBODY had leaks.
We announced the birth of Jerry Burns.
“We went out (U.S.) 221,” he continued, “over toward Linville. A road washed out in front of us and then washed out behind us, so we couldn’t get back to Blowing Rock. That girl and I had to stay out there all night, then the next day we walked out. I think she lives in Atlanta somewhere now.”
The second big event was not so obvious back then and probably nobody knew how important it would be to the history of Blowing Rock.
“In our newspaper,” Hamrick recalled, “we announced the birth of Jerry Burns.”
Burns, of course, grew up to become “Mr. Blowing Rock,” and served as the Editor of The Blowing Rocket for 44 years, beginning in the 1960s.
Asked what Blowing Rock was like back in those days, Hamrick’s description suggested that tourism as residents and business owners know it today did not exist.
“There didn’t seem to be a motel anywhere in town,” he reported. “There was a boarding house and some cottages down where Southmarke is now. There was also a hotel where Memorial Park is today, but it burned down. There was also Mayview Manor, and that is where we played around a lot, and the Green Park Inn, but not much of what you would call a motel.”
Before he came to Blowing Rock, Hamrick won a North Carolina state typing contest.
An abundance of change, of course has marked Hamrick’s nearly 80 decades of watching Blowing Rock grow and evolve.
“There was a Gulf service station where the Mellow Mushroom is today,” Hamrick said, smiling as he reached back into the memory banks tucked somewhere beneath his thinning gray air. “A lot of us kind of hung out there. We had a picture show in town, too. A movie theatre.
“The roads have changed some,” he noted. “They were paved, but of course everything was two lanes.
Before he ever came to Blowing Rock, Hamrick won a North Carolina state typing contest, which he described as a precursor to his getting into Chapel Hill’s journalism school, because he could type so well.
“I grew up in Shelby,” laughed Hamrick. “Somebody asked me the other day if I had spent all of my life in Shelby and I replied, ‘Not yet!’ I am working on 96 years old. That is what I’ll be on my next birthday.”
Hamrick had nothing but kudos for The Foley Center at Chestnut Ridge.
Hugh Morton was a personal friend, dating back to our time at Chapel Hill.
“This is a great place,” he said, “compared to where we were at the old Blowing Rock Hospital.”
Chuckling, he added, “The food hasn’t changed much, but everything else has. These are some beautiful rooms and we can sit out here and see turkeys and deer outside these windows. It is very peaceful.”
Reflecting back on some of the common denominators of his time at UNC-Chapel Hill and Blowing Rock, Hamrick pointed out, “Hugh Morton was a personal friend of mine, dating back to our time at Chapel Hill.”
A quick glance at biographical information on Morton explains why he and Hamrick might have become fast friends. One of North Carolina’s most famous photographers and developer of Grandfather Mountain, Morton enrolled at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1940 and became a photographer for The Daily Tar Heel, the school’s student newspaper. Journalism was Hamrick’s and Morton’s common interest.
In many cases with Morton taking the lead, Hamrick helped support several important historical causes.
Communications technology is probably the biggest change. We didn’t have cell phones in 1940.
“I helped raise money for the U.S.S. North Carolina battleship project,” Hamrick recalled, “and for moving the lighthouse at Cape Hatteras. We felt these were important pieces of North Carolina history that needed to be saved. I worked with Hugh on lots of projects like that.”
As a student at Chapel Hill, Hamrick had other brushes with North Carolina history.
“Jesse Helms was in my class at UNC,” he recounted. “He dated a girl that lived next door to Grace, who became my wife. I knew Jesse very well.”
Hamrick also counted Terry Sanford, the 65th Governor of the State of North Carolina as among his friends. “He was a great friend and we worked together with Hugh Morton to bring the battleship (U.S.S. North Carolina) to be moored today across from downtown Wilmington.”
I started a paper in Cleveland County.
Hamrick treasures his time in Blowing Rock while running The Blowing Rocket for Mr. Henkel.
“I still have a bound package of every Blowing Rocket we published during our time in 1940,” he said, proudly. The family also has a framed collage of headlines from 1940.
Although he was majoring in journalism, Hamrick did not stay long in the profession. “My friend and accomplice that summer in Blowing Rock, Bill Snider, he stayed in journalism and eventually became editor of the Greensboro paper.
“I started a newspaper in Cleveland County,” Hamrick remembered, “which of course is where Shelby is. It was called the Cleveland Times and I started it in 1941. It has since merged with another paper. During World War II, while I was in the Army, my wife ran that paper. I spent three years in the Army Air Force. I was in the office doing service records, because I could type.”
Looking beyond Blowing Rock at the bigger picture of changes that have occurred in the world during his lifetime, Hamrick gave a nod to communications technology as perhaps the biggest change impacting the way people today live.
“We didn’t have cell phones back then for calling or texting,” he said. “As for television, we got the first one in 1951.”
When Hamrick returned from his Army service, he joined his father’s wholesale drug company, as a sales executive, in 1946. “I handled big contracts, with state and national government agencies. We sold even to Appalachian State. We had a state contract to sell certain things.”
But while he didn’t stay in the newspaper business, journalism has touched Hamrick’s life in a lot of ways.
“My wife’s father was W.E. Rutledge, who ran The Yadkin Ripple, out of Yadkinville,” Hamrick offered as he prepared to talk about changes in journalism.
“The biggest changes have been in how journalism is done,” he said. “Stories used to be handwritten, then we learned to type. Then it was electric typewriters and now look where it is on computers. Things have changed, tremendously.
“I didn’t stay in journalism,” Hamrick concluded. “But my wife did and she wrote several books. She wrote several histories, like the History of First Baptist Church. She wrote a book on the First Ladies of North Carolina, up to Governor Holshouser. The book covers the spouses of North Carolina governors from 1776 to 1987, including brief biographies for each of the first ladies who have lived in the present Governor’s Mansion, from 1889 to 1987.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: In 1994, Kendall Drug Company of Shelby, NC was acquired by Indianapolis-based Bindley Western Industries, then a public-traded company with a ticker symbol of BIND. In the prior fiscal year, Kendall Drug reported sales of approximately $110 million. Bindley Western at the time had sales of almost $4 billion. This information is presented according to publicly-available reports from PR Newswire, as well as from the New York Times of October 11, 1994.