A town is also its people. In 1880, Amos Graves Cox brought his barefoot bride to a log cabin near what is now the road to Renston. He began clearing land and eventually built their home and a store there. Like most of his neighbors, Mr. A.G. was a cotton farmer. Earlier, his father, John C. Cox, had invented a cotton planter, which Mr. A.G. improved and began to manufacture in a shop next to his store. The planters were soon in great demand and several hundreds were shipped by steamboat into the deep South each year.
In 1887, Mr. A.G. bought seventy-five acres from two black men, Godfrey Mills and Arden Dawson, who were moving to Arkansas. Three years later when Atlantic Coastline Railroad laid track near the property, Mr. A.G. contracted to supply fuel for the wood-burning engines. He kept the wood rack filled with wood and was permitted to load freight while the train stopped for fueling. Eventually, the Wood rack become a station with an agent and a depot.
When Mr. A.G. moved his factory closer to the railroad in 1894, his company was making carts, wagons, fertilizer distributors, school desks, tobacco trucks, washboards and, of course, coffins.
By this time, the community had a post office and a name selected from a list of Mr. A.G.’s business contacts, and, in 1897, the Town of Winterville was incorporated.
The town was unique in several ways. It was the “highest point in the county,” which perhaps means it is a little closer to heaven, and was also known for its excellent mineral water, “good for one’s indigestion, dyspepsia, and kidney trouble.”
When our first physician, Dr. Thaddeus Cox, moved into town in 1899, he and Mr. A.G. became close friends and worked together to make Winterville a good place to live. Once when Mr. A.G. was sick in bed, Dr. Cox came on a house call. Entering his patient’s room, he said, “Why, Amos, you don’t look sick,” to which Mr. A.G. replied, “Well, Thaddeus, it’s not my face that hurts.”
The town founders seem to have had a special interest in protecting the health of Winterville’s residents because the charter forbade the manufacture or sale of liquor. Mr. A.G. even had a clause in deeds for his land prohibiting the sales of spirits on the property for ninety-nine years. I suppose this is the official announcement that the time is up!
In 1906, the Bank of Winterville was organized with only five thousand dollars capital stock. In its early days, the bank’s daily business amounted to about $1,000, but, during the Depression, it was one of the few banks in North Carolina with enough customer confidence to remain open.
In 1920, the Cox Manufacturing Company brought a dynamo for business use but sold current to Winterville households. Electricity was available in the evenings when women rushed to do their ironing and children did their homework as quickly as possible. Charges were based on the number of light bulbs in use, so some families carried their one bulb from room to room. The size was limited to twenty-five watts.
The availability of current gave Winterville the distinction of being the first town in Pitt County to have electric lights which naturally spurred the growth of industry. Among the first companies were the Winterville Cotton Oil Company, a cigar factory, an automobile dealership selling the Reo, a buggy company and Mrs. Braxton’s Millinery Shop. Dr. Cox added to his office a drug store which became a popular gathering place. Later came other businesses, including Beddard’s Store, Weatherington’s Market, The Dixie Queen, A.W. Ange and Company, and Queenie’s Beauty Shop.
The original Winterville High School, a boarding school built on land provided by Mr. A.G. and Dr. Cox. It was the first high school in the area and provided education for eastern North Carolina students in an effort “to avoid as far as possible the vices and temptations of the larger cities.” The town already had a two-teacher elementary school called Winterville Academy built by Miss. Nannie Cox and located where the post office building stands today.
Robinson Union School dates from 1900 when one teacher taught all the grades. By 1912, Henry Jackson, along with other prominent members of the black community, had raised enough money to open a three-room school. By 1963, under the dedicated leadership of J.W. Maye, the school had grown to five buildings and a graduating class of one hundred. With integration, the school became the W.H. Robinson Elementary School serving all the children of our community.
The town’s largest employer is The Robert’s Company. Our population is 6,000 and growing. In the April 1996 issue of MONEY MAGAZINE, Winterville was ranked 23rd among 50 of the nation’s most attractive suburbs, an area where people can earn a living without most of the problems of city life.