HILLSVILLE, VA — After waiting 50 years, what’s another 41 days?
That was the general feel of the community of Hillsville, just a few miles north of Mount Airy, with the decision to delay opening of a time capsule buried there decades ago.
Originally scheduled to be opened April 1 – 50 years after it was buried in 1968 to celebrate the re-opening of Carroll Drug – Hillsville’s Time Capsule came out of the ground May 12. And even then it took a few extra minutes, further prolonging the anticipation.
After Bill Gallimore removed the cover that has stood guard over the time capsule for half of a century, it took a little longer to retrieve the 9-inch by 18-inch canister that housed its contents as it was further encapsulated by a water meter. Former Hillsville Public Works Director Terry Cole just happened to be at the ceremony to provide timely hammering assistance to help finish the job. But as Mayor Greg Crowder explained, the plan was to excavate the time capsule Saturday and then unveil its contents to the public on June 9 at 5:30 p.m. at Hillsville’s Historic Carter Home.
“We are just digging it up today. We didn’t want to take a chance of opening it up and destroying something if there is some moisture,” Crowder told the crowd at Saturday’s event. “We want to take our time to get down in it and take things out one at a time so we save everything in case there is any damage.”
In hindsight, it turned out to be a solid plan as Crowder said there was a lot of moisture inside the time capsule, but most of the items were salvageable. The whole evening was a huge success with a record number of cars for the monthly cruise-in and a well-received new band – Gary Lowder and Smokin’ Hot. But it was clear that the Time Capsule Excavation was the most-anticipated event.
Crowder told everyone in attendance to be thinking about what to put in the time capsule on Sept. 8, the day a new one will be loaded to be opened in 2068. He also wanted to make sure Dr. Joseph H. Early Jr. and Dr. Ronnie Jones were properly credited posthumously as owners as the Carroll Drug, along with its former pharmacist, Bill Copeland, who spoke Saturday.
Local attorney Tom Jackson owns the building where the former Carroll Drug was located – now A Shining Star Salon & Spa – and the time capsule that came with it. He explained the reason for opening the time capsule six weeks behind schedule.
“We are a little late on the opening but that was Easter Sunday and we weren’t sure we needed to be opening that on Easter Sunday, which is why it was put off until today,” Jackson said. “This building was purchased by Carroll Drug Inc., in 1963 and the owners of that business were Dr. Ronnie Jones, who was a dentist, and Dr. Joe Early, who was a family physician here. He kept the town and the county residents healthy and he was a legend in his time, and Bill Copeland, the pharmacist here, who is still with us.”
A fire broke out at the old Carroll Drug on April 1, 1967. At that time, the firehouse was directly across the street. Four of the firefighters who fought that fire are still living – Gene Musser, Erroll Rhea Jett, Don Yonce and W.C. Lyons. Jett and Yonce were both in attendance for Saturday’s ceremony.
“We remember those gentlemen for their good work,” Jackson said, before the crowd in turn gave applause. “This building opened a year to the day after the fire and that opening was commemorated by the burying of a time capsule.”
Jackson then gave some interesting facts from 1968, noting the top song was The Beatles’ classic ‘Hey Jude,’ and the price of a postage stamp was 6 cents. That year, the first Big Mac went on sale for 49 cents, the Boeing 747 made its maiden flight, and the 9-1-1 emergency telephone service was established. The average cost of a new house was $14,950, the average income per year for an individual was $7,850, a gallon of gas cost 34 cents, the average price of a new car was $2,822, and the federal minimum wage was $1.60. The first manned Apollo mission was in 1968, the first nationally-televised NCAA basketball game was played between UCLA and Houston, and the favorite TV show was Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.
“And then some things that Greg mentioned that are not so good to remember. Three days after this capsule was buried, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, and two months later on June 6, Robert Kennedy was assassinated,” Jackson said. “The Vietnam War was raging. The Tet Offensive had just been initiated and our country was not only in a struggle about the Vietnam War, but also about Civil Rights. Young people, there were no cell phones. The first mobile call would be five years later and the first laptop would be 13 years later in 1981. It was a different time. But here is the thing I did want to remember about then. This was a community that cared about each other, that took time when somebody had a problem to help them.”
Fifty years later, Jackson said he would like to say that hasn’t changed much. He said he thinks the people of Hillsville still take time to help each other and still care about their neighbors. To expound on the point, Jackson talked about the time he brought a lady here from Northern Virginia who was a student exchange student while he was working in the state’s legislature.
“She was a delegate from Fairfax and we were riding through some communities and she saw a bunch of cars around a house. She said, ‘What is going on there?’ And I said, ‘Well, that family just lost a family member and all the neighbors have brought in food and they are there to help comfort the family,’” Jackson said. “And she said, ‘My goodness, in my neighborhood I couldn’t t
ell you one of my neighbors. We never see each other, we don’t know each other.’ And I hope we never lose the connectiveness that has made us really, really strong in this community. So 50 years from now, one of the questions will be do we still have that? And I hope and pray that we do.”
Copeland, the surviving member of the Carroll Drug’s 1968 ownership, agreed that the community connectiveness is still in Hillsville. He joked that people still come to benefit dinners to help folks “even if you don’t like what they are serving.” In a moment of irony, the town’s emergency sirens began to blare just as Copeland started to tell the story of the fire that destroyed the Carroll Drug.
Copeland said he was fortunate to come to Carroll County with his family in 1965 to shake hands with Early and Jones to become partners in Carroll Drug. Just prior to that, he said the Carroll Drug was another property of the Early family – known as E.W. Early & Son General Store – or simply, the Mercantile. The day the Carroll Drug burned down was very similar to Saturday, Copeland said, with lots of heat and sunshine.
“This was on Saturday, April 1, and Gene Pack called the house and said the drugstore is on fire. And I said, ‘Gene, is this an April Fools’ joke?’ and he said, ‘Look out the window,’” Copeland said. “Well, I looked out the window and I saw the smoke. But we were able to get back in business on Monday. We lost two days of work. Glenn Jackson had some property down here and some of his people put our drugstore down there and took care of our needs for that and I really appreciate that. We got to talking about what to do and we realized in a short period of time this building could not be repaired.”
Copeland said at that time Main Street in Hillsville was a very busy place. There were no empty storefronts, all the factories were working, and everybody that wanted a job had one. Someone from the crowd mentioned the building used to be a Mick-Or-Mack in the 1950s.
“We had a fellow that kept coming in wanting cheese and bologna for a long time,” Copeland responded. “But the community took us in and let us feel okay.”
Jackson asked Copeland if he could remember what was in the time capsule.
“Well, there was a necktie in there from Raleigh Cooley, and there is coins and knives,” Copeland said. “I had people say they wanted to put uncirculated coins in there for the grandchildren and I hope and pray that they are dry.”
The public will be able to find those answers out beginning at 5:30 p.m. on June 9 at the Carter Home during the town’s next car show.
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on [email protected]