Editor’s note: This article features news and photos from past editions of the Watauga Democrat.
Dec. 19, 1940
Boone shops were seeing the most pre-Christmas shopping in more than a decade, according to the article titled “Holiday buying in full swing, says retailers” in a Dec. 19, 1940 issue of the Watauga Democrat.
“Holiday shopping is now hitting its stride in this community and retailers report an unusually brisk business over the weekend, with prospects that the Christmas gift buying will reach its greatest height by the end of the week,” the article states. “Predictions are that the sum total of Boone retail business this year may be higher than at any holiday period since the boom days of 1929.”
It was reported that nearly a million pounds of burley, 970,000 pounds, was sold that year, according to the article “Burley market is to end sales for Christmas Friday.”
“Farmers interviewed are highly pleased with the amounts of their checks and the fair and courteous treatment accorded them by the warehousemen,” the article stated.
The average per-pound price for the week was at around 20 cents, the article explained.
Dec. 24, 1959
A Watauga County man who was one of 20 convicts that escaped from the Ivy Bluff Prison in Caswell County gave himself up to Watauga County and FBI officers in late December 1959, the Watauga Democrat reported.
Law enforcement officers had been searching for the man and two other convicts who were still at liberty since Dec. 8. The prison break resulted in the dismissal of several prison officials, including the superintendent, the newspaper reported.
The Watauga County man was reported to have gone to West Virginia after the break, where he hid out in barns, before stealing a station wagon in Virginia and heading back to North Carolina. Sheriff’s Deputy Emmett Oliver and FBI Agent Bob Moore found the man in a station wagon on a rural road, and when Oliver tapped on the car’s window with his gun and ordered the man to come out, the man reportedly put the car in reverse in an attempt to run over Moore and escape. Moore shot through the rear window and the escaped convict surrendered without reaching for the loaded .38 pistol in his right jacket pocket, the newspaper reported.
“The pistol was identified as one stolen from the prison during the mass break,” the article stated.
Ivy Bluff, according to a 2017 feature in the Raleigh News & Observer, was once called “Little Alcatraz” and, with steel walls, steel doors and concrete walls, was thought to be “escape proof.” But that was before Charles “Yank” Stewart, who had already escaped confinement six times, led the group of 20 felons through the gates at Ivy Bluff — “a breakout still unequaled in state history,” the News & Observer article stated.
“In December of 1959, he sawed through three bars with a smuggled hacksaw, passing the blade to a fellow prisoner. As the blade made its way down the row of cells, Stewart called a guard for some toilet paper. When the guard passed, he squeezed through the hole he had cut and grabbed the guard by the feet, forcing him into a cell as the other freed inmates joined in,” the newspaper recounted.
“With the guard’s keys, the prisoners passed through three more doors, then jumped two more guards to pass through two more. Using three captured guards as a bargaining chip, the escapees forced a sergeant to call the officers manning the towers down for a cup of coffee. And once Stewart found himself in charge of the entire prison, he invited every inmate to leave. A truck carted 20 prisoners away,” the story continued.
Stewart was found a few days later, and would spend another 12 years behind bars, “including a stint in the real Alcatraz, where he painted landscapes and the Last Supper. He finished life as an elderly gardener for the city of Wilmington, tending roses until he died in 1985.”
Dec. 17, 1970
Construction was slated to start on a new $2 million continuing education and conference center on the mountaintop of Appalachian State’s central campus, according to a Dec. 17, 1970 article in the Watauga Democrat.
The building, which later became the Broyhill Center, was scheduled for completion in 1972.
“It will provide learning-oriented meeting rooms, a library, hotel accommodations and food services for conventions, extension services, industrial and governmental training programs,” the article stated.
Out of the $2 million cost, $1.5 million would be financed through self-liquidating bonds and the rest through gifts and grants.
The Broyhill Center was demolished in May 2017 after the hotel and conference space closed in 2012.
In other news, ASU head football coach Carl Messere resigned after six seasons and a 34-26-1 record. According to the Watauga Democrat, Messer resigned to devote his full-time efforts to teaching.