The Henderson County Farmers Mutual Curb Market
One of my favorite local shopping spots and a genuine link to the past, The Henderson County Farmers Mutual Curb Market, is the best place in Henderson County to buy local produce and hand-made products. The brainchild of Frank L. FitzSimons, Sr., local farmer, banker, author and radio personality, and Noah M. Hollowell, a local newspaper publisher, journalist, banker and civic leader, the Curb Market was born out of the necessity for a central location for farmers to sell their goods in the early 1920s.
In an effort to do away with door-to-door peddling, FitzSimons wrote a letter to the local newspaper outlining his proposal for a central market along the street, called a curb market — a concept he had seen in Europe during the First World War. Hollowell published the letter and the two men became the visionaries who made the market a reality. After nearly two years of planning and much opposition, The Henderson County Farmers Mutual Curb Market opened on May 30, 1924 on a city-owned lot on Main Street. Seven farmers and their wives were the first vendors.
To be a seller at the market, one was required to be a resident of Henderson County and to make or grow all items sold. This still holds true today. In Pat Walker and Terry Robinson’s book Members of the Henderson County Curb Market, 75 Years of Memories, Laberta Brown Lamb describes her parents’ early days of the market: “My mother and father, Mr. and Mrs. W.W. Brown, were one of the seven couples who attended the opening day of the Curb Market in 1924. They had dressed chickens, rabbits, corn, beans, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, beets, radishes and sometimes a hog. My grandmother, Mrs. Lulu Dill, made what she called drawn work, which consisted of pillowcases, scarves, tablecloths and napkins. We sold flowers such as asters, dahlias, peonies, wild flowers and shrubs.”
Within two years, The Curb Market had outgrown Main Street and in 1926 they purchased a lot on King Street, where they built their first enclosed space. By the late 1930s the Market had exceeded this site and moved to its present location on Church Street. What started on rugged tables and wagons under umbrellas with seven couples eventually grew to 101 tables and 120 sellers. Successful from the beginning, The Curb Market operated as an association with a board of control until 1933, when it incorporated and became a non-profit farmers’ cooperative organization with a five-member board.
In the beginning, vendors paid a 5 percent sales-day commission which changed with incorporation to a fixed annual fee and the purchase of Curb Market stock at $1.00 per share. Stockholders were allowed to rent up to two tables and often shared tables with other family members. Throughout the years, many of these booths have passed on to children and relatives of the members with four and five generations tracing their Curb Market lineage back to the beginning. There are also several vendors without this connection and new member eligibility is determined by the board and based on Henderson County residency and locally grown and hand-made products.
As a child, I grew up spending summers at Lake Summit and going to camp in Flat Rock. It was always a treat to accompany my mother to the Curb Market. She frequently told us it was important to get there early especially if you wanted blackberries or cut flowers — they always went fast. The big mountain tomatoes were what we called one-slicers and the best ones for “sink” sandwiches — as in, necessary to eat over the sink. There were hand-woven rugs, potholders and placemats along with wooden toys, dolls, birdhouses, wreaths, bonnets, crocheted afghans and quilts; a huge variety of produce, jams, jellies, honey and pickles … and Mrs. Pace’s artichoke relish — what I’d give for some now! Mrs. Horne’s sinful caramel cake and the long-gone days of Lori Heatherly’s 20-egg pound cake fill my memories of Curb Market visits.
Ersie Griffin Ratliff Davis, a.k.a. the Storybook Dolls Lady, made three-in-one dolls with Little Red Riding Hood as her signature figure. Ersie had a booth at the Curb Market for 64 years and was manager of the Curb for 22 of those years. Her booth was the star attraction for me as a child and the place I often found my own daughters when they accompanied me to the Curb Market. Ersie’s Storybook Dolls represent several characters in one doll and the main character flips over to reveal the others — in this case granny and the wolf are on the other side of Red Riding Hood. They are totally captivating and a bit magical to a young child. My earliest remembrance of the Curb Market is this very doll and the incentive to find mine. After a three-day expedition through our house, I finally uncovered Red Riding Hood; a bit tattered and torn considering a 30-plus year nap. A good washing and mending rendered this storybook doll good-as-new and off she went to Colorado for my granddaughter’s fourth birthday.
Velton A. Searcy made wooden toys, slingshots and Gee Haw Whimmy Diddles, a simple Appalachian stick toy made of native rhododendron. Known as the “Toy Maker,” Velton specialized in making old timey wooden toys. One of my first purchases from Velton was a Noah’s Ark I bought for my son. When my nephew, Sam, was five years old and we were all at the lake, I rose early one morning to go to the Curb Market. Sam heard me and asked to come along. Shortly after arriving, Sam discovered Mr. Searcy’s booth full of handmade wooden toys and slingshots. I was in a hurry to gather produce and get back to the lake, but Sam was frozen at the slingshot stand.
When I told Sam to come along, he looked up at me and said, “Missy, I need that slingshot.” In my kind, but firm auntie voice, I told Sam that I thought his parents might not approve and we should ask them first. With that he replied, “I need that slingshot.” I could see this argument was going nowhere and proposed a compromise; I would discuss the slingshot with his parents and if they agreed, I would return to the Curb Market and buy one for him. To which he firmly replied, “MISSY, I need that slingshot.”
My husband and I operate a summer camp near Flat Rock. For our session closing banquets Marilyn Horne’s caramel cakes are served for dessert. Each spring I take Mrs. Horne a list of our closing banquet dates and the number of caramel cakes needed. They are a camp tradition now and a recipe often requested by camper families. Mrs. Horne makes a variety of cakes and sweet breads, including our family’s birthday favorite, a chocolate lovers’ cake. Rarely do I make a trip home to Charleston without an order for Mrs. Horne’s cakes. They are famous!
Handwoven rugs made by Albert Ledbetter, Ida Barnwell Freeman and Kenneth Justus fill our house and camp quarters. They are made from cotton clippings from hosiery mills that make men’s socks. The clippings, called “loopers,” are then hand dyed and set in the sun to dry before the material is woven into a rug. For years I bought from Albert’s late mother, Louise Ledbetter, who was one sharp saleslady. In the sixth grade she started making rugs for a lady for a quarter. The woman then took them to the Curb Market and sold the rugs for $1.25 each. It didn’t take long for Louise to start her own business. The table next to Louise belonged to her sister, Gladys Barnwell. Gladys and her husband, Odell, sold products from their family apple orchard. Odell’s sister, Ida Barnwell Freeman, had the table next to them. All of these booths have now passed on to the next generation who continue to run their family businesses there. And we thought Charleston genealogy was complicated!
Donald and Doris Dill Moore make rustic, wooden birdhouses and feeders, my go-to house warming present and one of the best buys at the market. They are scattered all over our summer camp, offering a safe haven to our fine feathered friends. Linda Justice’s jalapeno raspberry jelly is addictive and a fabulous appetizer with cream cheese and crackers. It makes a perfect holiday gift as do many of Linda’s other jams and jellies. The most expensive item I ever bought at the Curb Market is a beautiful Noah’s Ark made out of cherry by David Taylor. It was a grandchild moment — need I say more?
For years, Nancy Ball provided me with many cut and dried flowers. Her parents, Nancy Ann and Ben Justice, started with the Curb Market in 1924 and her son, Shannon, is the fourth generation in their family to maintain their booth. When our daughter was married in 2010, I arranged with Mrs. Ball to buy buckets of her peonies for the bridal bouquets and table decorations. Sadly, Mrs. Ball passed away two weeks prior to the wedding and I did not know until two days before the wedding when I arrived to pick up the peonies — all waiting in the buckets for me and gathered by her family. Tears streaming from my face, I loaded the car with the beautiful flowers and mourned the loss of this dear Curb Market icon.
If you get to know the families of the Curb Market, you’ll soon realize they are part of a precious heritage of these mountains. Many have spent a lifetime there and feel like it is home. For generations, the market has offered them a means to make a living and provided a way for many women to contribute to their family’s income and educate their children. When people ask me what the Curb Market is, I tell them, “It’s the best church bazaar in the country!”
While you are there, take some time to talk with the vendors. Their stories of the Curb Market are fascinating. You might learn the story of the rabbit’s foot or the location of the old meat counter. Did you know that they use to have boxes of kittens and puppies? FREE!
Missy Craver Izard was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina. She resides in Flat Rock, North Carolina with her husband, Sandy Schenck, where their family runs a summer camp.