A Slice of History
A Slice of History by Joe Wooten, Board Member since 1975
On a cold day in January, right after the NC legislature created the North Carolina Arts Council in 1975 and was pushing for counties to join the movement, a group of us met in the Benbow Room of the library to promote the arts in Yadkin County.
As the meeting was getting started, a heavy-set balding man with a full beard and slight limp entered through a side door and took a seat. By the time the program was ending he was running the show. His name was William “Bill” Evan Casstevens. Bill had returned from New York a week before to take care of his aged and ailing mother, Edna. He’d been a theater major at UNC Chapel Hill in the same class as Andy Griffith. They interned together at “The Lost Colony” at Manteo. Bill went on to Broadway and played Earthquake McGoon in “Li’l Abner.” He became the 1st president of The Yadkin Arts Council the same year YAC received non-profit 501C3 status, 1975.
A Slatted Sunbonnet
We were hunting for a name for the festival we were planning the second week of August 1975. At a regular meeting of the board Francis Legans brought to Nancy Davis an old-fashioned slatted sunbonnet. Someone suggested we name it The Sunbonnet Festival in honor of Nancy’s new hat. Everyone agreed and the festival was born, with a sunbonnet hat logo drawn by Nancy. Today that festival has been slightly reformatted and is called the Yadkin Valley Harvest Festival, held every September.
We’d been using the high school auditorium for the Yadkin Players and Yadkin Youth Theatre production. It was built in the 1930s and never rewired. We borrowed lighting from Mt. Airy - household dimmers in a plywood box with flood lights in metal cans. During a performance by The Players of “The Rainmaker” when Starbuck says “On a hot night like this, the whole world goes a little crazy,” the fuses blew, leaving everyone in inky darkness. You should have heard them scream. We blew three boxes of fuses the first night. We needed a new place.
The Freezer Locker
The freezer locker processed meat and rendered it into lard and they also rented space to keep customers’ meat frozen. When home deep freezers became popular, their service was no longer needed and they left town. It sat empty for many years before we rented it in September, 1979. The large freezer locker with its three foot thick concrete walls was used as a gallery, classrooms, meeting space and storage. The retail space and counter became a 99 seat theater. With the door shut in the main freezer locker there was always an unearthly dead silence in there.
The relationship between the Council and the landlords was never a smooth one. After a heated argument over insurance and a drainage problem, they changed locks in the middle of the night and refused us access even though we had a signed lease. It took a court order and the county sheriff to get our stuff out of the building.