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1905 Lumberton Town Ordinances reveal something old, new

The Robeson County History Museum has many interesting historical publications, and there is

much to be learned from them. We invite the public to look them over, and to donate a book of

local interest.

Deep in the Museum’s basement archives, volunteer staff stumbled on a booklet, titled,

“Ordinances of the Town of Lumberton.” It may sound dry, but the 1905 date begged a closer

look.

What was Lumberton like at the turn of the century? This little gem gives some clues.

Maud Thomas offers some background in her book, “Away Down Home; A History of Robeson

County.” Lumberton’s population was about 1,200 in 1896, a bit larger than Maxton, which

boasted 1,000 residents, she reports.

The sap had dried up for the Turpentine economy by the late 19th century, and downtown

Lumberton was a ramshackle of wooden buildings and dirt streets with no utilities. Fires

routinely ravaged the town.

Town Attorney Woodberry Lennon famously called it a town of “drunkenness and rowdyism.” A

string of taverns blessed Fourth Street.

Times were changing for Lumberton as railroads, prohibition and brick buildings signaled

greater order and prosperity. Leadership was also on the rise as a visiting New York Herald

correspondent noted “no particular crudeness or inferiority” among the town’s lawyers and

merchants.

Woodberry Lennon, a beacon of the new and improved Lumberton, was a Wake Forest College

graduate, a poet, photographer and renaissance man. As town attorney, Lennon probably

wrote the 70-page “Ordinances.”

The town board, consisting of W.P. McAllister, J.B. Meares, E.M. Johnson and T.A. McNeill and

Mayor J.D. Proctor, would legislate a more civil community. For example: “It shall be unlawful

for any person to expectorate upon any sidewalk, paved walk, public porch or steps .. anyone

violating this ordinance shall be fined $1 for each offense.”

A sewer line was installed along Elm Street and sanitation is promoted in wide-ranging and

exquisite detail with fines for violators. Outhouses or “privies” were banished from within 350

feet of the sewer line. Violators faced a $50 fine if the infraction was not fixed within 10 days.


Moral sanitation is also encouraged with the help of fines. Violations included vandalism,

loitering, drunkenness, skating and biking on sidewalks, vagrancy, throwing stones, habitual

wandering, etc.

Certain types of businesses were discouraged: “No person, firm or corporation shall keep or

maintain a house of ill fame, generally known as a bawdy house.” The fine for this was $50 a

day.

“Riotous or disorderly conduct” warranted a $25 fine. Also forbidden were “loud and

boisterous noises nor yelling or screaming unnecessarily.”

Youths were banished from the public after 9 p.m. from May through September and after 8

p.m. for the winter months. Violators were escorted home, and parents were fined $10 for

second and third offenses of their children’s curfew infractions.

If these fines seem small, $10 in 1905 amounts to almost $350 today. Town leaders wanted to

build a peaceful and orderly community.

It is nearly impossible to determine if these ordinances were enforceable or enforced. The

authors of the ordinances were determined to pull Lumberton into modernity, and it appears

they were successful, mostly.

It is worth noting that the ordinance booklet was printed locally by Freeman Printing Company,

another sign of a community moving in a positive direction.

There may be something in these ordinances that is relevant to Lumberton today. For instance,

automobiles were required to keep their mufflers “closed” in the town or face a $5 fine.

Outlawing “habitual wandering” in 1905 poses an interesting challenge today for Lumberton

with its homeless population..

If city officials or anyone else would like to view the Ordinances, please come by the History

Museum. Hours are 10 a.m. to noon, Tuesday and Thursday and 2-4 p.m. on Sunday.

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