Bill Crawford

What do you get someone who already has everything he wants?

Members of the Jackson County Genealogical Society, deciding that the answer is helping area high school seniors continue their education, have created the William Loranzo Crawford Scholarship to honor one of the Society’s founding members.

“If you could get all the people Bill Crawford has helped learn about their families together, the line would stretch from here (Jackson County Library) to Tuckasegee,” JCGS President Kenny Nicholson said when he announced the scholarship.

For Bill, who lives in Little Savannah in a house his great-grandfather built, the past is always present.

The great-grandfather who built Bill’s house was Joseph Warrenton Cowan, a carpenter and cabinet maker who lived in Webster. Cowan also had a brick factory near his home and made the brick for the old Webster Courthouse as well as the brick he used to construct the five original chimneys at the house that now belongs to Bill. Cowan built the house for his first cousin, William Osbourne Buchanan, around the time of the Civil War.

Bill didn’t know the house’s history when he bought it in the early 1960s. He and his family were living on Old Dillsboro Road, and Bill said he wanted a place to raise his four children that was out in the country and away from traffic. After they moved to Little Savannah, Bill’s Aunt Roxy Cowan, who had married Lawrence Cowan, stopped by for a visit.

“Son, did you know your great-grandpa built this house?” she asked.

One of Joseph Cowan’s daughters, Mary Mabel Cowan, married Webster attorney William Robert Sherrill. Their daughter Edith married Frank Moody Crawford, and the Crawfords had two boys – Bill, and his older brother Frank Jr. Several years ago Bill and Frank, along with three first cousins – Ann Davis Melton, Mary Katherine Sherrill Lowder and Nancy Sherrill Wilson – wrote a genealogy book that traced the lineage of their Sherrill grandparents. “The William Robert Sherrill and Mary Mabel Cowan Sherrill Family,” won the N.C. Society of History’s top prize out of more than 120 entries in the “family history, genealogy” category in 2008.

Bill credits that grandmother with getting him interested in family lore.

“When I was a little boy, before I started to school, I stayed with Granny Sherrill,” he said. “She talked to me like I was a grownup and told me all the old stories.”

One tale she told Bill was about her own grandfather, William Allman of Webster, who disappeared around the time of the California gold rush and was never heard from again. About 100 years later, a man was putting up hay on the property, which then belonged to Dave Hall Sr. The man was digging with a post-hole digger to put in a stack pole and hit what he initially thought was a rock but turned out to be a human skull. Found with the skull were some bone buttons that were like the ones William Allman had been wearing. If those remains were in fact those of his great-great-grandfather, “he never got out of sight of home,” Bill said. “It’s still a mystery.”

Born May 10, 1935, Bill is named after his two grandfathers: William R. Sherrill and Loranzo Washington Crawford. His Grandpa Crawford was known as “Ranzy”; Ranzy Crawford Road in Willets is named for him. Bill’s father grew up in Willets, and his mother grew up in Webster and Sylva, because her father, William Sherrill, moved from Webster to Sylva after Sylva became the county seat in 1913.

“He was a lawyer; he moved to where the courthouse was,” Bill said.

William Sherrill bought property on Old Dillsboro Road, and Bill has a tale about that place, too. His grandfather bought 25 acres, which stretched from Scotts Creek 

to the top of the ridge. He had his son, Bill’s Uncle Robert, build chestnut pens for the cattle, and then had him dig up kudzu to plant for the cattle to eat. The kudzu soon took over, and Bill said his grandpa then had to try and get rid of it.

“He just paid Uncle Robert a little bit to dig it,” Bill said. “He must have spent $10,000 trying to kill it.”

Bill’s father, a school teacher, principal and superintendent of schools, died when Bill was 13.

After high school, Bill went to what was then Western Carolina Teachers College for two years, because his mother wanted him to be a teacher. College at that time cost only about $75 for day students, Bill said, but that money was still hard to come by and he had to work summers. He’d been working for Ed Erwin, helping to drill wells down in Georgia, making 75 cents an hour, when his uncle Abraham Lincoln Ensley helped him get a job at Dayton Rubber Co. (later Dayco) in Haywood County.

“They paid me $1.33 an hour,” Bill said. “I thought I was rich.”

When a full-time job came open in the shipping department, Bill took it.

“I never finished school,” he said. “I wish I had.”

Instead he stayed at Dayco until he retired 36 years later, in 1991.

While Bill didn’t finish his own college education, he possesses a wealth of knowledge when it comes to local families and their history. That legacy is what the JCGS is honoring with the new scholarship.

Any of Bill’s family and friends who would like to contribute to his scholarship fund may do so by sending a check to the JCGS, P.O. Box 480, Sylva, NC 28779, and writing “WLC Scholarship” in the memo line.

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.