The Flood And During The War
County Hunkers Down For the 1940's
The two definitive events of the decade brought pain and suffering
to Watauga County.
Halfway through the first year of the 1940's, the worst flood
- the worst disaster of any kind in the county - washed away
roads, homes, and sixteen lives.
glider that crashed near Highway 321,
Zion Hill area during WWII
Photo courtesy of The Heritage
of Watauga County North Carolina, Vol. 1 1984
Then the call-up for World War II took away far more than
that, as 2,200 draftees and volunteers left the mountains
to serve; ten times the number that had gone to Europe for
war twenty-five years earlier.
The first American was killed overseas in September of 1940,
around the same time that the draft was signing up the first
of thousands at an office in Boone.
On January 23, 1941, the first dozen volunteers
went down to Fort Bragg for basic training.
The first 88 Wataugans to be called into action were ready
six months later, on June 30, 1941.
By the end of the war, 63 had been lost, 57 officially declared
Of those, eighteen were killed in action, and another two
died of wounds or injuries.
The honor roll records many well-known local names, including
three Eggers and three Wards.
With a population of only 18,000 in the whole county, many
tasks fell on the women left behind, and their 'official'
call-up - to replace the men at work - came in 1941.
By the 1940 census that total represented not only the largest
number but largest jump in population ever recorded in Watauga
The war years brought lean times, but for many not much leaner
than they were used to.
The flood had carried away the only train lines, so badly
damaged that the railroad company decided not to rebuild.
first telegraph lines did go in that year, as did the first
burley tobacco warehouse in Boone in November of 1940.
Other modern conveniences also came up the mountain despite
war-time restrictions, including city mail service to Boone
On the other hand, some things did not change in the area;
Watauga County Sheriff's deputies found and destroyed two
large stills and illegal liquor operations in Blowing Rock
the same year.
Also in 1941, the Watauga Board of Education called their
Things were likewise busy at the Appalachian Teacher's College;
94 graduated in 1940 and by the end of the decade the college
could boast its first enrollment of more than 1,000 students.
The graduate school began in 1942.
The WPA, which had built many schools and other projects in
Watauga during the 1930's, came to its end in 1941, signaling
a complete end to school construction for the next decade.
Electricity had also come earlier, but the '40 flood destroyed
the largest power station at Shull's Mill.
But this advancement was not to be denied; the Forties saw
the advent of electric power county-wide, and by 1949 BREMCO
could count 10,000 customers.
In the last decade before industry (the first committee to
attract industry was formed in the county in 1949, but the
first success - IRC - wasn't attracted until 1952 - farming
continued to form the livelihood of many Wataugans.
By 1944, production of Irish potatoes reached the $500,000
mark for the first time.
Vegetables, especially cabbage, tobacco, sheep, dairy, and
beef cattle also represented important staples of the local
The Farmer's Home Administration granted credit for farm homes
and farms for the first time in 1946, and the Soil Conservation
Service established a local district in 1949.
By the end of the decade, industrialization was looking to
take hold, and farm production started to drop at that time.
Other signs of the times came in at the end of the 1940's
as well; Blowing Rock Road was finished in 1948, the same
year the first automatic laundry was started in Boone.
And in 1949, Watauga saw its first bookmobile and welcomed
Horn in the West.