Hampton Barnes

Hampton Barnes had an animal menagerie he used to lure in customers at his store on N.C. 107.

Last week an old photo on Facebook prompted a lot of local comments. Taken around 1950, it’s a picture of the late Hampton Barnes pumping gas at the store he operated on N.C. 107 between Tuckasegee and Glenville. In addition to gas, he sold groceries and bait before closing his store around 1965. Barnes then operated a television repair shop in the building, which is still standing, until about 1990.

Several people commented on the photo, and I was surprised to learn that what most people remembered about the store and Barnes were the animals he kept there.

I interviewed Barnes around 35 years ago about some Civil War letters that had been passed down through his family, and in 2009 I spoke with his late wife, Christine Franklin Barnes, about her experiences growing up near present-day Fairview Elementary School. I know the Barnes’ oldest daughter, Patricia Powell of Tuckasegee, as well as her three daughters – Alana Fisher, Zara Ashe and Nola Brown – but somehow I never heard about the old store’s roadside menagerie. Intrigued by comments about rattlesnakes and alligators, I called Patricia the other day to find out more. Turns out her father kept a variety of animals during the 1950s.

“I remember a bunch of rabbits and a groundhog,” Patricia said. “There were raccoons and squirrels, exotic chickens, pheasants and peacocks. Every evening when we’d get home from school, the first thing we had to do was pull weeds and grass for feed. My sisters, my mom and I took care of the animals.”

The longer we talked, the more animals Patricia remembered. There was the bobcat whose cage was next to the girls’ bedroom.

“Sometimes I’d hear it squall at night, but I wasn’t scared because I knew what it was,” she said.

And there were the snakes. Rattlesnakes and copperheads, sometimes in the same cage. Often there were black snakes too, and for awhile the mini zoo had a king snake that was brought to the store by one of Hampton’s cousins who was a science teacher in Thomasville.

People would bring hawks that were injured, and Hampton would keep them and take care of them.

“Back then the wildlife regulations weren’t so strict as they are now,” Patricia said.

To feed the meat-eaters, Barnes would go to the old Bradley’s packing house near Webster and get meat by-products, she said.

The cast of animals varied, depending on what people brought by. At one point there was a skunk that Professor Cathey at Western Carolina had defanged.

“It got aggressive, and he didn’t want it anymore,”she said. “One day it bit my mom, and that was the end of the skunk.”

For a couple of summers Barnes had an alligator at the store. It belonged to Miss Moss, a teacher who lived on Pine Creek or Yellow Mountain, Patricia said.

The animals were at the store for two reasons. One, because Barnes liked animals a lot, and, two, because they caused more people to visit the store.

“He was a chicken-lover, he raised cattle and horses, and we always had dogs and cats,” Patricia said. “He also thought having the animals would make people stop. He had a sign that said ‘feed the wild animals,’ and the cage of snakes was at the entrance to the store.

“It was very hard at that time to make a living, so he sold gas and bait and invited people to stop and see the animals. He had a lot of people stopping by, and a lot of tourists would come up 107 from South Carolina.”

Funny how new-fangled technology can occasionally bring news about the past.

Lynn Hotaling was editor of The Sylva Herald for 18 years, retiring in January 2016. She is the author of two books on local history.