The Spotlight

A Welcome, Past and Present

March 29, 2024 / Peg O’Connell

In 1933 and 1934, the Farmville Enterprise published supplements focused on the latest and greatest in Farmville, including some of the personalities that made the town great and served as a welcome to the annual tobacco market. The tobacco market, where farmers would bring their crop to be graded and sold, was a central part of the economy of the town and its success was integrally tied to the economic growth of the region.

Those supplements were called The Spotlight. This blog post which will hopefully provide some of those same insights and focus on the history of Farmville will also be called the Spotlight to remember and honor those original Spotlights. As a disclaimer, I am not an historian, nor am I a journalist. I am just a person who loves my adopted town of Farmville and wanted to bring some of its history to life.

This first post in this “new” Spotlight will provide some snippets from the original Spotlights published during the depths of the depression. Even during this time, Farmville’s optimism and commitment to community comes through in the stories contained in these early supplements.

The first Spotlight, published in September 1933, claims that now that summer has ended, “all interests in this community are bound together in one event and all eyes are focused on the tobacco market.” And issues a “hearty welcome” and invites growers to “Sell your tobacco on the Farmville Market and receive HIGH dollar and do your trading with Farmville Merchants. They’ll be glad to SERVE YOU.”

Although much of the country was reeling from the impact of the Depression, it is clear from the ’33 Spotlight that Farmville, North Carolina wanted the world to know that it was sound, stable and open for business.

The ‘33 Spotlight is also filled with information about the people and places that made the town strong and helped it to survive the early days of the Depression.

There is a lengthy article on R. L. Davis, entitled “Farmville’s Foremost Farmer, Merchant and Banker.” The first elegantly written sentence of that article gives a snapshot of how the people of the town felt about this benefactor, “Few visitors to Farmville, exclaiming over the size (most people expecting see only a small village, judging from the name), the paved streets, the municipal building, the splendid churches, school building, up to date business houses, handsome residences, and well-kept grounds, here but ask to see and meet R. L. Davis, who is identified in their minds with the town of Farmville, for no one can gainsay that he has wrought a good work here.”

Lest you think that this is hyperbole, in coming months, there will be a much longer modern Spotlight on the amazing Robert Lang Davis and his contributions to his community.

Other businesses and businessmen, including J. W. Holmes and John T. Thorne, are also featured in the 1933 edition, as well as short articles on the Tobacco Board of Trade, the bonded warehouse, the Standard-Esso station and even Romanus Shoe Shop.

There is also a profile on the young, New Deal mayor, John Lewis, “who was recently handed the reins of government by the citizenry, in view of the fact of his great sympathy for and understanding of the problems, which now confront the town, and his ability to solve these problems…” In full disclosure, Mayor John B. Lewis is the father of my husband, Judge John B. Lewis, Jr.

The spirit of Farmville in those difficult days comes through in a small article entitled, “Farmville Rides Bravely Through the Depression.” I love the way this story is written and the words used to describe what the people of the town and the surrounding county were managing, “In spite of the uncertainties, the harrowing and adverse conditions of the past four years, Farmville has managed to maintain a good state of morale, and its people, have for the most part been able to retain their holding of town property and farms.”

By the time of the publication of the 1934 Spotlight, Farmville had added two additional reasons that visitors should feel welcome in the town:
Farmville has a wide-a-wake Rotary Club as well as almost every known social and secret organization, and you are cordially invited to come and join in the activities of any of these.
Farmville now has a modern, up-to-date and thoroughly sanitary swimming pool, thanks to the C. W. A. (This was the predecessor of the Works Progress Administration.)

It is also interesting to note that, unlike the 1933 version, the ’34 edition contains a “Dedication” and the people and organizations to whom this dedication is made tell us a great deal about what was going on in the country and the concerns of the people in Farmville and western Pitt County.

Recalling that the Spotlights were supplements to the Farmville Enterprise aimed at welcoming sellers and buyers to the town’s tobacco market, the Dedication seems very appropriate:
TO PRESIDENT FRANKLIN DELONO ROOSEVELT, the new dealer, who kept is his promise of last October, “We are going to raise commodity prices,” and again and again declares, “Together we cannot fail.”
TO THE NEW DEAL, in which the farmer, invited to sit for a hand, catches an ace.
TO CONGRESSMAN LINDSEY WARREN, who has championed the cause of the farmer throughout.
TO GOVERNOR J. C. B. EHRINGHAUS, who is heroically and successfully leading the North Carolina farmers in their battle to restore AGRICULTURE to its rightful position, both as a business and as an industry.

The dedications continue to a variety of other officials and organizations involved in what can loosely be described as the tobacco recovery program. The change in the mood and spirit of the community is palpable and is clearly evident in the stories and comments contained in this 1934 edition.

In his letter to Farmville, Congressman Lindsey Warren congratulates farmers on their cooperation with the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, and it is clear that Farmville and tobacco growers have turned a corner. Warren states, “The change that has been wrought in Eastern Carolina in the short space of a year is almost unbelievable. The intolerable agriculture situation had literally broken the backs of our people and its crushing effect had been felt by everyone.”

Published at a difficult time in our state and nation’s history, these early Spotlights demonstrate the open arms of our small and unique town in western Pitt County. The welcome, that is the hallmark of Farmville, then and now, in good times and in bad, is clearly stated in the words of then Farmville Mayor, John B. Lewis, “Never let it be said that a citizen of Farmville or the citizenry of Farmville uttered an unkind word, had an unkind thought, nor committed an unkind act to one visiting us, be he friend, foe, foreigner and whether his visit is for a day, a month or a year.”

Please come to Farmville, you will be very welcome!

Peg O'Connell