SILER CITY: Farmers' Alliance marks milestone with festivities
This Saturday, one of the longest-operating businesses in the area is inviting guests to celebrate its 125th anniversary with a day of music, food, vintage cars and tractors, and other old-timey fun.
The Farmers' Alliance Store was built not long after a group of Chatham County farmers gathered on Aug. 7, 1888 at a one-room school house in Siler City where the Love's Creek Baptist Church now stands. They organized a sort of Reconstruction-era co-op to organize as a unified political voice and to facilitate the buying and selling of goods.
"We've been here in Siler City as long as the town, almost," store manager Nancy Tysor said. "The town was organized in 1887, and some guys decided to pull some people together to open a store in 1888. And it's still on the same corner, though not the same building. And it's survived through bad economies, wars, everything."
The 82-year-old Tysor has worked at the store for nearly 50 years, first in high school during World War II and then from 1968 on. Her grandfather, Robert Johnson, was one of the Alliance founders who purchased a lot and built their store near the corner of what is now Birch Avenue and Beaver Street in Siler City — where today's store still stands, at 134 S. Chatham Avenue.
The early acts of the Farmers' Alliance show the farmers thought themselves to be in dire straits about two decades after the end of the Civil War. In a petition to the N.C. General Assembly in January of 1889 — a letter recorded in UNC-Chapel Hill archives at www.learnnc.org — the Chatham County farmers begged the legislators to cut spending and pass laws supporting agriculture.
"The failure of the crops in this county last year necessitates the buying of almost our entire supplies to make another crop, and there is very little money in the hands of the farmers," the group wrote. "Almost every farmer is depressed; many are disheartened; labor is unremunerative; the value of land is depreciating, and there is a growing disposition to abandon the farm and seek other employment. Unless something is done to bring relief, many will be compelled to give up their farms."
Generations later, and having survived everything from Reconstruction to droughts, two World Wars, the Great Depression and more recently the Great Recession, the Farmers' Alliance Store still stands — although hitching posts for horses have been replaced with a parking lot, and the store's barter system has long been abandoned in favor of monetary transactions.
Tysor said that even as businesses and people have come and gone, the store has stayed successful by sticking to its roots.
"We still try to cater what it was founded on, the country people — overalls, seeds, our garden supplies in the spring, candies, things like that."
Neha Shah, director of the Pittsboro-Siler City Convention and Visitors Bureau, said with its hoop cheese, old-fashioned sweets and array of farm supplies, the Farmers' Alliance is unique and part of a strong agritourism tradition.
"It's a great asset to point visitors to ... ," she said. "Personally, I enjoy going in there, and I hope visitors do as well."
On Saturday, the shop will be catering to anyone who wants to visit. The road in front of the store will be blocked off for people to pull up their vintage cars and tractors, store assistant Ed Murray said, and there will be a half-dozen local bands in addition to catered food and cake.
The event is free, open to all, and will last from 12-6 p.m.
What: 125th Anniversary Celebration
Where: Farmers' Alliance Store, 134 S. Chatham Ave., Siler City
When: 12-6 p.m. Saturday