History and images have been compiled from various sources including, among others, the 1987 National Register of Historic Places, Stack & Beasley's 1902 Sketches of Monroe and Union County, Union County Public Library (Patricia Poland, Genealogy & Local History Librarian), the Heritage Room Photo Collection, North Carolina Map Collection, Rootsweb - An Ancestry.com Community and Ancestry.com family histories.

Growing Up in Monroe

J. Ray Shute - first row, 2nd from right 
circa 1918 - Heritage Room Photo Collection
J. Ray Shute (1904-1988)
1982 Interview by Wayne Durrill

What was it like growing up in Monroe?

"It was very pleasant. It was a good town to grow up in. Life was slow and easy, friendly. There were no social problems that were of any significance, and there was no bustle and hurry of the larger city. Everybody knew everybody, and life was good. People trusted each other, and the little spats that the womenfolk quite often would have, and some men, as a rule didn't amount to too much. They were not too serious.

"We played a lot of games. Baseball was quite popular. We hadn't graduated into tennis yet—that came later—but horseshoes, buckety-buck, all sorts of games and things. Later, outdoor basketball in the schools. We had courts outdoors; they didn't have any gymnasia back in those days. Some track, but that was usually an annual event in the spring of the year, and all the county schools would participate in track meets. They were well attended, too. 

"But as a young boy, we shot marbles and had tops and things like that. We didn't have any mechanical toys to speak of like trains and things. We had trains, but they were cast iron; the wheels didn't turn. It was just something to look at, you might say. Had that sort of toys. But the tricycle was an important vehicle that the more affluent families could afford to buy for their children. Nearly all the boys in our neighborhood had tricycles that we'd ride, and the girls could ride them, too. Then later on, as you got older, the bicycle itself came along, so you were getting along when you got a bicycle that you could ride to school. Everybody wanted to ride it. Life was easy, gentle, and friendly. No evidence of discrimination and segregation, as we envision them today. 

"My home was on the corner of Church and Talleyrand—it was called Bryant Street then—but I spent nearly as much time in the home of our cook, who had boys my age. We'd slip off and go swimming together. Never thought anything of it until after we got into school, and the teachers told us it was wrong. I often wonder what would have happened if they hadn't paid any more attention to it than we did. I don't think we ever would have had any racial problems. And the same way with trains. This Jim Crow business was a latecomer, too. You didn't use to have that. You didn't have areas segregated black and white and this, that, and the other in the early days. The idea of segregation, I think, was more of a northern phenomenon than it was southern. Eventually, it came here, too. 

"But coming back to the other part of it, everybody went to church, men, women, and children. We also went to Sunday school. We also went to prayer meeting on Wednesday night, and they usually had pretty good attendance. You see, there was so little to do in the way of entertainment. 

Opera House - Heritage Room Photo Collection
"In 1898 J. Shute and Sons built the Opera House, and that afforded outside entertainers maybe an average of once a month during the year. When you had things like that, just like when John Robinson's Circus came to town every year, everybody went. There was no trouble about getting attendance; everybody went. We never were large enough to have Al G. Fields' Minstrels. They came to Charlotte, but they didn't come to Monroe. But we did have Weber and Fields, who afterwards became national comedians. They were here in Monroe. And Thomas Dixon's "Klansman" was shown here with a horse on the stage. That fascinated all of us. He came out and talked during intermission. He was a young writer back then. But it was pleasant. I enjoyed it. 

1912 Parade - Heritage Room Photo Collection
"The Fourth of July was the big day of the year. We didn't shoot firecrackers much at the Fourth of July; we did that at Christmas. But we had firecrackers. T. P. Dillon always was chairman of the committee to run the Fourth of July. He'd have fireworks that night. But that's when we had the big local parade, and they were fantastic, too. It had every category you could think of: bicycle competition, floats, bands, and just every sort of thing. The parades would be long, and everybody in the county would come to Monroe to see the Fourth of July parade. You just wouldn't dare miss that. We'd look forward to that for months. But it was pleasant. We didn't have much, but we didn't require too much, and it was all right.
"Monroe Graded School was set up in 1900. We had a boarding academy here before that. They had a fire, and I think three of the students were burned to death. I went through graded school and two years of high school. Then I went to Georgia Military Academy, and I graduated down there.
Graded School circa 1902 - Stack & Beasley photo
"We'd do a lot of the things that they do today, I presume. It would depend on the period where you were, whether you were at the age when you went out in the woods and gathered colored leaves and made displays out of those, and then there was a period where the colored crayon came into prominence, and you'd draw things and have collections of drawings, and then you'd have clippings out of magazines and papers and things. The teacher was usually fairly well trained, not like they are today; some teachers probably had never been to college themselves. There was no central heating. There was a pot-bellied stove in every room, and a couple of boys would be appointed each week or month to keep it going. Sometimes they'd slip firecrackers into the stove and things like that. There was no inside water-going sewerage. You had your outhouses back a good distance behind the school, and every Halloween the boys would dynamite those. They would go around and take people's front gates down and put them in front of the steps and ring the doorbell. It's a wonder somebody hasn't broken a leg, but they never did. They got to where they'd look for it. One year they took the principal's buggy and took the wheels off and got it up on top of the school building and put the wheels back on it. I never could figure out how they did it. I wasn't in on it. Just pranks, mostly. 

Graded School - View from Rear - circa 1914
Heritage Room Photo Collection
"At recess, we'd play baseball, catch, and basketball, pretty well, I reckon, like they do today. We had a little recess and a big recess. The classes usually ran about forty-five minutes, and we changed classes. I don't know why the teachers didn't change, but they didn't; the students changed. You had enough time to run down to the toilet, and they'd have a hand-pulled bell that would signal the end of the class or the beginning of the class or recess. There was some manual punishment for extraordinary things that had been done. Usually, though, it was a question of standing in the corner or being deprived of a short recess—maybe you'd stay in the classroom, things like that—but occasionally they'd send a boy down to the principal's office to get a paddling. That went on, I reckon, as long as I was in school. Sometimes you'd have a little hassle about things like that, but not as a rule. The families usually backed the school teachers and the principal up.

"We had regular curricula, you see. Under the academy, I think, it was more or less left to the headmaster to work these things out. But with the graded schools, as the name implies, they were actually graded and the curricula set up for each grade on a progressive basis. We thought it was much better. We thought that was quite a step forward.

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