9.5.23 2

The First Automobiles in Western North Carolina

I ran across the above photo while digging through some digital archives the other day. The picture shows two men trying to push an early vehicle out of the mud on a mountain road. The scene reminded me of a story from Roy Clifton Parris about the first automobiles in Western North Carolina.

“Since automobiles could not run on the bad roads we had in the mountains before paved roads came and since the automobile was a pretty new thing anywhere in the country, there were very few of them in the mountains; and when the wealthy people who owned these tried to run them and blew the horn anywhere near the horses the noise made the horses nervous and sometimes they ran away and tore up the wagons and broke harnesses.

Those first automobiles were a mess when judged by today’s cars. They weren’t even closed in to keep out rain or cold at the sides. They had no heaters, radios, or air conditioning and had to be started by cranking the engines by hand; sometimes the engine would kick back jerking the crank from the hand and the crank often came around and broke the arm of the person trying to get the engine started. 

The automobile has come a long way in its development since I was a boy. Maybe people put up with those old cars because that was the only cars that could be bought back at that time.”

-Roy Clifton Parris, 1979

Mr. Parris’s account of the first automobiles in Western North Carolina makes me think of Papaw Cochran’s stories about life before cars.

Papaw Cochran said early cars were useless on mountain roads, where they often got stuck. Horses and mules were more productive – they could even bring you home if you fell asleep in the buggy. I don’t know when he got his first car, but it was after Mamaw started school in 1935.

Some of Mamaw’s favorite stories were about riding to school on horseback with Papaw Cochran. I would’ve given anything to ride to school that way. I never was much of a fan of the school bus. Of course, I was just a little thing back then. I wasn’t thinking of frosty mornings or sweltering afternoons.

Luckily, I’ve never experienced life without a car. Brandon and I shared a vehicle for the longest time; that was bad enough. When I finally got my own car, I was beyond grateful.

I can’t imagine what Mr. Parris or Papaw Cochran would think of a vehicle with WiFi, GPS, heated seats, and auto-pilot. They’d probably think we’re all spoilt – and we are.

Did y’all grow up hearing your grandparents talk about life before cars, too? Drop me a comment below. I’d love to hear about it!

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  1. Melody G Greene wrote:

    Roy Clifton Parris was my uncle. He and I descend from Alfred Parris who lived on Deep Creek, Bryson City, NC and ran a grist mill, donated land for a school and a church. His grand daughter Lucretia Parris Davis’s log cabin home is at the Oconoluftee Visitor center as an example of pioneer farm life. I visited the homesite of Alfred Parris on Deep Creek a few years ago and saw the frame and gear shift of a very old automobile. Looks like Alfred had a car to ride from the creek to town in the early days of it’s invention. I am pictured with this frame.

    Published 9.8.23
    • Cassie wrote:

      I’ve done a little research on the Parris family since I received Roy’s memoir. The Parrises and Cochrans lived in the same communities, Deep Creek and Oconaluftee. They married into the same families, too. Seay, Wines, and Brendle are surnames common to both of our lines.

      I visit Swain County every year. The Mountain Farm Museum and Deep Creek are two of my favorite spots! I’ll have to see if I can find Alfred’s home place on my next trip. 🙂

      Published 9.9.23