Harrells, once known as Harrell’s Store is pitched quietly in southern Sampson County. It is such an old, old town that the actual stories of the origin have all but vanished. It is said that a man named Harrell once owned a store there which caused it to be christened Harrell’s Store.
Several years ago a man from Missouri came through Harrells seeking information about his great, great-grandfather William Harrell who owned the store. He visited old cemeteries seeking evidence that some of his descendants might have been buried there. He found none.
The general belief is that William Harrell was a single man who lived here long enough to give it a name and then moved on to an unknown place.
Tradition has established the fact that the store was built of logs and located on the lot now owned by the Sawyers (or was). It is reasonable to believe that he settled here because it was close to Black River, which was the chief means of transportation.
Harrell’s Store had two turpentine stills, one cotton gin and a population of 95. Some plantation owners had their own turpentine stills.
Timber was so cheap and plentiful that when land was cleared for farming the men had log rollings to burn huge piles of trees. During these times the chief social events were log rollings, corn shuckings, quilting bees, plenty to eat and square dances.
In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Know Taylor and Francis M. Johnson were partners in a saw mill, crate factory and commissary situated near the dead end road in front of the Sue Fennell home.
The 1860 census shows that Harrells was then known as Colver’s Creek. Ten years later in 1870 the village was listed as Harrell’s Store. Mr. Harrell for whom the place was named probably operated his store during the Civil War when business was not promising and he did not stay around long enough to marry and raise a family.
Around 1907 ,Peterson (Stephen?) had a saw mill and cotton gin in the heart of the community.
Some stores built after Mr. Harrell’s are no longer standing. One was located in the late 1800’s on the C.T. Lewis land about the same time. D.L. Gore, Wilmington, owned a store operated by Ed Allen. Stephen Peterson built a store about 1908 operated by Luther Johnson and later owned by him and Richard Pearson. Francis M. Johnson built a store about 1906 operated by his son T.L. Johnson. The last use was for a furniture store owned by Ray Smith in the 1940’s.
One of the oldest stores still standing is one built by two brothers Wingate and Milton Lee. In 1953 Herbert Cannady built a brick grocery store which he operated until 1965. The old Red Chimney Grill was operated by Charles Burke 1956-63.
Harrell’s was incorporated in 1954 when Amos Carter was appointed Mayor with Isabel J. Hall as clerk. Commissioners were Edwin Melvin, Herbert Cannady, Willie Johnson and Clayton Johnson.
Down through the years many changes have taken place. And Harrells has rolled with the punches. In 1924 the road was rerouted through Harrells and paved for the first time. Many buildings had to be moved back. Union Academy, which was in bad shape immediately had a face lift, and was made into a community center by Feb. 1951.
The “Old” Academy built around 1840 for a school and Masonic Lodge Hall is the oldest land mark used by the whole community. Union Academy closed in 1906 after a three teacher school named Franklin was built ¼ mile west of Harrells. This school consolidated with Clear Run on a trial basis in 1920. In 1922 when all schools in Franklin Township consolidated. The high school met in Union Academy and the grades met in the three teacher school until the new wood building was completed in spring of 1923. In 1923, Robert B. Walker became principal of Franklin school and served 31 years. In 1948 a brick building replaced the wood building. In 1961 Franklin High consolidated with Taylor’s Bridge, Ingold and Turkey to make Union High School.
The next year Franklin Elementary School consolidated with Taylor’s Bridge School which became Union Elementary.
In 1969 Schools of the area were reorganized with 1-8 at Bland Elementary School; 9th grade at Clear Run Jr. High. In 1970 the 8th grade was moved to Clear Run from Bland and Kindergarten was added. Bland school was organized in 1952 at Harrells. Cats Devane served as principal for 35 years.
Citizens have always worked together to bring progress to Harrells. The old Franklin Grange which was reorganized in late 1946 with Mrs. (Inez) W.E. Johnson as the Master had a notable part in spear-heading many improvements.
Franklin School Building was sold to a religious group for 2 or 3 years. Then a group of private citizens formed the well-known present Harrell’s Christian Academy which has served as a superior place of learning for all these years, drawing students in search of a #1 education from many places in N.C. Harrells stands as tall as she always has. Her shadow is still long and her halls are thick with memories
Today though Harrells no longer sings the loud bustling songs of the 1800s, her melody though softer still echos in the breeze. Her heart beats strongly. And Harrells is looking to the future and is determined to keep her wonderful heritage alive. Harrells holds the honor of being one of Sampson’s strongest links in the history of the county’s beginnings.
Micki Cottle was a long-time columnist for The Sampson Independent who occassionally regales readers with her wit and charm. She is also a member of the Sampson County Historical Society. Sources for the article include Jimmy Johnson, Isabel J. Hall, Claude Moore and historical records.