WORTH STORE, CIRCA 1830-1920 (NC)
CRESTON (NORTH FORK)
For two centuries, settlers and their descendants have engaged in farming and mining activities beneath The Peak and Three Top Mountain and along the Big Laurel Creek and the North Fork of the New River. In return for their produce, the inhabitants exchanged goods at the community store. The record of these transactions, these aspirations, becomes a ledger of recorded history. Stephen Thomas established a store and tavern and was appointed the first postmaster of the North Pork community on January 18, 1830. David Worth, a tanner and merchant, became a prosperous citizen and followed Thomas as postmaster and storekeeper. Zachariah Baker farmed and traded livestock. The Graybeals and the Elders contributed to the success of the village. From this early 19th century beginning, the community of North Fork (present Creston) emerged in west central Ashe County, at an altitude of approximately 2,850 feet near the crest of the mountains along the Tennessee border. Highway 88 is its only link to the county seat of Jefferson.
Stephen Thomas owned a frame house ("Sunnyside") to the west of Three Top Creek and ran the only tavern between Jefferson and the Tennessee line. It was a one-story structure, two rooms deep, with a rear L-shaped extension and a large front porch with three entrance doors. "Sunnyside" was torn down in the 1920's, the planks being used to build a sidewalk along the lane from the Methodist Church to the Thomas farm.
David Worth of the Centre Friends Community (in present Randolph County) moved to North Fork about 1830. He may have bought roots and herbs for his relatives' drug firm in Greensboro (David Worth/Sidney Porter). David Worth and Stephen Thomas formed the first store at North Fork about 1835, "Thomas Worth & Thomas." David Worth married Stephen Thomas' daughter Elizabeth Thomas on January 18, 1839, and the Worths acquired a frame house with two brick chimneys. In later years another four rooms and two more chimneys were added, as well as a front porch. The kitchen was a separate L-shaped building at the rear of the house. A bathhouse and laundry room stood nearby, where running water flowed by gravity from springs to be heated by the bathhouse stove. The Worth home became known as "Silent Shade."
In the 1840's, goods for the store were hauled by wagon from Fayetteville, N.C., requiring several months of work. In the 1850's the Norfolk & Western Railroad link through Abingdon, Va., greatly shortened the transportation problems for the store. Folks who traded at the "Thomas Worth & Thomas" store before the Civil War included:
In 1807, the state issued to Thomas Calloway 3,000 acres of land known as the iron works bounty. This land was not fit for cultivation. The iron works were to be erected within three years and made to produce 5,000 weight of iron before the grant was finally issued. In 1854, David Worth, William Daniels, Moses L. Michael, and R. Muchison bought this Calloway bounty land. David Worth also acquired land on Three Top Mountain, Big Laurel Creek, Big Horse Creek and Little Horse Creek, often in exchange for bad debts at the store.
In addition to buying land for iron works, David Worth and his wife Elizabeth installed a carding machine run by water power from Three Top Creek. Elizabeth "trained slaves and others to fashion the cloth into clothing for men and boys, and sold the clothes in her husband's store." They also established a carriage and furniture factory housed in a large frame building on the bank of Three Top Creek.
Both the Thomas and the Worth families were slave holders during the 1850's. Stephen Thomas gave his daughter Elizabeth Worth one Negro child called Martha (18 months of age) in 1857. During the war years, Stephen Thomas' wife Mary Thomas died (1861); his daughter Mary C. Jane "Jennie" Lillard died (1862); his son-in-law Col. John Mason Lillard was killed at Chickamauga (1863); and Stephen died in 1864. Most of the slaves left Creston after 1865. Only the very old and very young Negroes remained by 1866: Ally and Andy lived in their house and Ally washed and milked for Elizabeth Worth. Rans and Becca lived in the tan yard house but they were facing eviction as David Worth had hired a new miller to live in that house. Lid and Dick lived in their same old house. Dan and his family were living in Taylorsville, Tennessee, but "sick of their freedom already." Aunt Mira had Maggie Parmer living with her. Maggie Parmer was described as "quite a smart girl." Louise stayed with Aunt Mira and slept in her kitchen; Joe and Lize lived in her dining room.
W. W. Farmer, who once lived in Ashe County before the Civil War, wrote from Mississippi that he thought most of the folks around North Fork "belonged to the Union or Tory Party" during the war period. David Worth, who remained neutral, soon regained his reputation in the community in the last 1860's: "I am not much for moving about, I still think we can live here and do well enough provided we manage well." "The people here appear quite friendly with me now and I think they will remain so if I do my duty." He repaired his carding machine and wrote in 1866 that there were "no marriages about here lately as nearly every body is married that can."
A church was organized in North Fork in the 1850's on land donated by David Worth and may have been known as Worth's Chapel. In his will of 1885, David Worth separated one acre of land containing the chapel from his other property. The present Creston Methodist Church was constructed after 1902. The Methodist denomination also held camp meetings in the fall of each year, meetings that lasted a week. In the fall of 1865, it was noted that "Alex exercised his gift a good deal, Charlie Miller is such a good little preacher, Tisha joined the church, and Sam Jones' daughter was married on Sunday of the meeting (went to her father's in law to be married)." In October of 1868, at the Helton camp meeting, the Worths "all tented together, had two very comfortable tents joiningused one for cooking and the ladies sleeping apartment, the other for bunks, boxes, and gentlemen10 sleeping apartment." "There was not as many persons there as last year, though there was as many as could be comfortable situated, we entertained as many or more than the other tent holders." "Mr. Baize the Grayson circuit preacher was the most eloquent speaker I ever heard, about twenty seven years old, very delicate-looking, has hemorrage of the lungs nearly every time he preaches, he described in one sermon how he imagined Heaven looked, said he could not give any location in particular."
If folks did not marry at the camp meetings, they could elope. "Calvin Younce went to Tennessee (in 1868) and brought Millie Jackson over, they were married at Mrs. Goss's this morning about day light, she threw her clothes out at the window, then glided out herself mounted a horse he had for her and away they come, about midnight when they left; after they were married by a low down radical magistrate they left for Jefferson, where I think they intend spending the winter."
North Fork had a post office, a store, a carding mill, circuit ministers, and a physician: Dr. J. O. Wilcox lived near the community and operated a "home medical school," where his students read medicine at his home office and regularly visited his patients.
On February 23, 1882, the post office at North Fork was renamed Creston at the request of Thomas James Lillard, nephew of Elizabeth Worth, and new store partner of David Worth. The firm of "Worth & Lillard occupied five acres on the North Fork River and included a store building work shops, and other out buildings. When the February snows fell in 1880, David Worth had not finished his new mill which be felt would be the best mill in the county. He was also jubilant over rumors that "a very wealthy Northern Company had purchased the Copper Mine near Arthur Cowles and was making extensive preparations for work." Another Northern Company had bought Mr. Balow's farm below Jefferson for making a superior quality of iron. David Worth, in his old age contemplated working his Elk Knob Copper Mine near the Tennessee line.
By 1884, the Creston store was reorganized as "Worth, Lillard, & Thomas" to include John Dixon Thomas, grandson of Stephen Thomas. The firm dealt in "general merchandise, flour, bacon, grains, and live stock and manufactured wagons, furniture, doors, sash, blinds, shingles, etc." It was during the early 1880's that David Worth's grandson, Jasper Worth Lillard, of Decatur, Tennessee, recorded his visit to Creston via Abingdon, Virginia, where he got off the train: "But when I had eaten my breakfast the next morning, I began to look around for some way of getting over to Creston. Directly I unexpectedly came across a young man from Creston, whom I knew. He was driving my grandfather's wagon and had come after goods for the store, which my grandfather owns. So I started out with him about ten o'clock, but as he had a heavy load we only drove about sixteen miles during the whole day. On that night we camped on the Laurel creek about twelve miles from Taylorsville. As the driver was a good cook, we soon had supper, and after feeding the horses, we got into the wagon and went to sleep! But about midnight it commenced of raining, so we would have got wet, if the wagon had not been covered with goodoil cloth. The next day we drove about twenty miles, and camped on the top of Stone Mountain. Then we only had six miles to go before reaching Creston, at which place we arrived about nine o'clock the next morning." "Creston is bounded on every side by mountains. . .the Peak justly celebrated for rattle-snakes and gin-seng."
Thomas James Lillard left Creston about 1887; David Worth died December 10, 1888, and left an estate of about $88,000 value; and Newton Jackson Lillard, son-in-law of David Worth, obtained the store through inheritance and purchase. He reorganized the operation as "N. J. Lillard (Successor to Worth & Lillard) dealer in general merchandise, produce and lumber, with a freight and express office in Abingdon, Va. N. J. Lillard returned to Tennessee in 1905 and Joe Worth took over the store as "Worth Brothers: Live Stock" where he traded hereford cattle. Portions of the wagon and furniture mill continued until the First World War. In 1916, the creek water had been high: "got up in the factory, destroyed a lot of what they had in the factory but did not injure the machinery much." Mud had to be removed from the factory before it could operate again. The flood of 1940 finished the factory for good and washed away most of the buildings.
In conclusion, it is important to mention the establishment of schools along the North Fork River. From David Wood's diary we have a brief record of a "log structure, bark-covered" which was used as a school during the summer months (1784).
A century later, the trustees of Creston Public School included Thomas James Lillard, Thomas Clarkson Worth, and Marian Goss, who bought from Marshal Baker a parcel of land for the construction of a school house. The school was to be open to children from outside the school district. Subscribers to the Creston school included: David Worth, T. J. Lillard, T. C. Worth, Marian Goss, Marshall Baker, Marian Prather, Thomas Pless, John Baker and Mrs. R. C. Worth. This 1885 effort may not have fared well. One parent wrote in the fall of 1886: "the school closed last FridayI don't know whether we will have any more school or notthey are talking of getting Miss Emma Baker to come, but she cant teach Latin nor dont know much about Algebra, I do wish we could get a good teacher, we have to give her twenty dollars a month . . . so I wish we could get a teacher that would stay two or three sessions, then I think we could get a good school here."
On April 19, 1894, the Creston Academy's closing exercises included Bessie Lillard, Emma Baker, Carrie Goss, Ida Graybeal Clora Goss, Albina Graybeal, Emme Goss, Trixie Johnson, and Ella Wagoner who competed for a silver medal in elocution. James A. Riddle, Thomas S. Goss, George Cheek, and Willie F. Perkins debated the querry"resolved that foreign immigration should not be prohibited in the United States" and David Wiley Lillard and Thomas L. McCoy served as assistant marshalls. Education certainly had a foothold in the community.
Creston, during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was a center of commerce and a seat of learning. When Charles Dudley Warner, world traveler and literary critic, made his American journey in the mid-1880's, he rode horseback from Tennessee into Ashe County, spent the night at the home of Squire David Worth in Creston, then continued up Three Top Creek on his way to Boone in Watauga County. Warner's description of this journey was later published in his On Horseback: A Tour in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee (1889), pages 24, 29-32. Several excerpts from that visit to Creston confirm the preceding anecdotes and social life of the village: "Our road was a sort of by-way up Gentry Creek and over the Cut Laurel Gap to Worth's, at Creston Post Office, in North Carolina,the next available halting place, said to be fifteen miles distant, and turning out to be twenty-two, and a rough road. . . .
"What a lovely country, but for the heat of noon and the long wearisomeness of the way! not that the distance was great, but miles and miles more than expected. How charming the open glades of the river, how refreshing the great forests of oak and chestnut, and what a panorama of beauty the banks of rhododendrons, now intermingled with the lighter pink and white of the laurel! In this region the rhododendron is called laurel, and the laurel (the sheep-laurel of New England) is called ivy."
"At Worth's, well on in the afternoon, we emerged into a wide, open farming interval, a pleasant place of meadows and streams and decent dwellings. Worth's is the trading center of the region, has a post office and a saw-mill and a big country store; and the dwelling of the proprietor is not unlike a roomy New England country house. Worth's has been immemorially a stopping-place in a region where places of accommodation are few. The proprietor (David Worth), now an elderly man, whose reminiscences are long ante bellum, has seen the world grow up about him, he the honored, just center of it, and a family come up into the modern notions of life, with a boarding-school education and glimpses of city life and foreign travel. . . ." "Our travelers (Warner and a companion) did not expect to find a house in this region with two pianos and a bevy of young ladies, whose clothes were certainly not made on Cut Laurel Gap, and to read in the books scattered about the house the evidences of the finishing schools with which our country is blessed, nor to find here pupils of the Stonewell Jackson Institute at Abingdon. . . . "
Warner then recorded the events of one drowsy summer afternoon in Creston: "as they sat on the long veranda, the voice of a maiden reading the latest novel to a sewing group behind the blinds in the drawing-room; and the antics of a mule and a boy in front of the store opposite; and the arrival of a spruce young man, who had just ridden over from somewhere, a matter of ten miles' gallop, to get a medicinal potion for his sick mother, and lingered chatting with the young ladies until we began to fear that his mother would recover before his return; the coming and going of lean women in shackly wagons to trade at the store; the coming home of the cows, splashing through the stream, hooking right and left, and lowing for the hand of the milker. . . . Such were the activities Warner and his companion observed.
"The traveler in this region must be content to feed on natural beauties. . . . We were riding along the west fork of the Laurel, distinguished locally as Three Top Creek,or, rather, we were riding in it, crossing it thirty-one times within six miles; a charming wood (and water) road, under the shade of fine trees, with the rhododendron illuminating the way, gleaming in the forest and reflected in the stream, all the ten miles to Elk Cross Roads, our next destination." After a family dinner with old man Tatem, Warner and his companion soon reached Boone, the county seat of Watauga County.
Arthur, John Preston. Western North Carolina: a History. Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton, 1914. Pages 159-165
Fletcher, Arthur L. Ashe County: a History. Jefferson, N.C., 1963.
Leafer, Ruth Worth Crowell. "A History of the Worth Family in Ashe County." 1976.
Miller, Frank. "The Peak at Creston and David Worth House" (Photo). The State: a Weekly Survey of North Carolina. Volume 18, Number 45 (April 7, 1951), front cover and page 2.
Warner, Charles Dudley. On Horseback: a Tour in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Boston: Houghton, 1889. Pages 24, 29-32.
Worth Family Papers, MSS.
Last Updated: 08-Jul-2009