The early morning wind whistles softly as a sigh through the cedars and oaks at Ingram. The breath of summer is crisp as the sun yawns over waves of corn and tobacco that a sentinel of trees kept silent vigil over during the night.
The rude jangle of alarm clocks almost can be discerned from the awakening farmhouses, and only a few trucks bound for another place periodically rumble through the quiet of a bouncing Mountain Road, never stopping.
The road itself has an interesting aversion for water, never crossing but one stream from Halifax to Danville, so the residents claim. On one side of the road, all the streams empty eventually into the Dan River; on the other side, all empty into the Banister River.
Cut through the middle like a garden snake through grass is Ingram, a village that might have been and almost was. If it hadn’t been for that fire in 1896…
“Things would probably have been different around here,” one man claimed, “if the old Ingram Institute schoolhouse had not burned down.”
It was in those early days of Halifax County, when all had to fight their way through the dust or mud, no mean task in itself, before any constructive errand or work could be accomplished. Children attended school when they could, which meant at intermittent intervals and usually only for a few years.
So, in 1892, a time before the Halifax County School Board established countywide public education, the flash of a new idea burned in the minds of several Ingram residents – why not build our own school?
And they did. A board of trustees was established, and Albert Pierce undertook the task of planning the construction of what would be known as the Ingram Institute, a place close to home to which people could send their young children to learn the arts of penmanship, rhetoric, math and Latin.
A dormitory was erected for the boys, and homes in the area were opened for girls, while they studied at the school.
Next to the boys’ dormitory, they constructed the ill-fated schoolhouse, which would mysteriously burn to the ground within four years. It was never rebuilt.
But during its short life, the school infused the community with the liveliness only schoolboy pranks could give. One story relates how the boys tied a dog in the top of a tree outside the window of Professor Amick’s room as the tired instructor attempted to sleep through the night.
Professor Amick, a reputed practical joker himself, was not to get much sleep that night, however, as the terrified canine sang his harsh song until the next morning.
On another occasion, the boys were struck by the notion that W. J. Pierce, who ran the country store across the road, would share their delight at finding his cow perched high as his roof on a platform of logs constructed during the dark of one Halloween night.
Pierce’s reaction to this Babel-like tower is not recorded, nor is the method by which his four-legged dependent was returned to earth.
The school, constructed on land sold for $213.33 in 1892, normally served about 100 students at a time. Students were sent from throughout the county and North Carolina and paid $3 for tuition each month, $10 for board and $3 for music.
Although the standard subjects like reading, writing and arithmetic were taught, music occupied a special place in the 19th century school’s curriculum. Graduates were remembered for the felicity with which they sang, strummed the banjo or played the piano.
But the other subjects also were stressed. One former student once said, while discussing her battle with Latin at the age of 8, that the teachers would lock her in the clothes closet for talking out of turn or arriving late for the day’s lessons. With a tiny transom admitting light from above the top of the closet, however, “…it wasn’t so bad. But it didn’t cure me either.”
Across from the school was W. J. Pierce’s store, the shopping center of the Ingram community for years. Pierce had the foresight and good fortune to marry a seamstress from Baltimore, Maryland, who would assemble hats and other fineries for the fashionable ladies of the day.
Pierce himself is reported to have fitted neighbors for suits on the second floor. And if he did not have it in stock at the time a customer wanted it, there would usually be a drummer from out of town who was hanging around the building to satisfy that need.
Men played checkers at the store for years, “…just for fun.”
The occasional need to quench a thirst not suited for water could be taken care of in the barroom to the rear of the store.
Next to the store, where Charlie Davis ran a garage, was the small shop in which Jordan Ingram (from whose family the hamlet derived its name) made caskets and furniture.
Henry Osborne ran a blacksmith shop and grinding mill nearby.
The area’s country doctor, Dr. S. T. A. Kent, had to fight the same mud or dust that his patients did as he made his calls, night or day, in a horse-drawn buggy.
The physician, who sported a Walt Whitman beard that flowed to his chest, was reported as having only two types of pills – one pink, the other brown – for alleviating the suffering of his neighbors.
“And as he was so stern looking with that beard,” remembered one resident, “that I was scared to death of him as a little girl.”
Dr. Kent, a member of the state legislature for several years, stayed and built his practice in the tiny, rural community into the 1930s.
When the telephone came to the area, the central office was located in the Ingram home. Residents still remember the ubiquitous repairmen, Percy Clayton and Chuck Hardy, as resourceful gentlemen who could fix almost anything.
And it was in the same Ingram home that the first postmaster operated. Before Ingram had its own post office with two routes, the mail was delivered daily by a carrier who made the nine-mile trek from the Paces Post Office.
In the early 1900s, Mrs. Auld was given the job as first postmaster at Ingram. Later, Sallie Ingram, sister of Jordan Ingram, served in the post.
In the early 1970s, Charlotte Davis, who held the job for more than a quarter of a century, held the position that served about 200 customers out of a converted filling station building that resembled one of the stamps sold across its counters when compared with those in cities.
A lot has changed in their community, the Ingram residents admit. Where once men congregated in front of Pierce’s store, only weeds gather under a hot August sun today. Several men kept the store running until about the 1960s when it closed its doors for the last time.
The blacksmith shop is just a memory, and Ingram’s furniture shop is the site of a garage where the men once occasionally stopped to swap tales. The once rousing barroom no longer rings with songs or merrymaking.
John Chandler’s garage was erected in 1937 by his father, George, and the Ingram Christian Church was organized in 1889.
In the 1970s, the church served as the center of activity in the Ingram community.
Little is known, however, of the history of this church, except that the Rev. Peter Clapp was its first minister.
The farmers of the area are typical of other middle-sized agronomists in Halifax County in that they often till their land on the days they are off from jobs held in the cities.
The only discernable adhesive force in Ingram is the land itself. Although few newcomers have moved into the community in later years, the roots run deep for those who grew up and worked there.
It’s as if the land the men worked to possess grew to possess the men. And it holds them together today.