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Harpe Consulting Writes Report for Leatherman Barbershop’s Local Landmark Designation

05 Oct

Harpe Consulting recently completed local historic landmark reports for the John Moore House and Leatherman Barbershop in Lincolnton, North Carolina.

Among the records in repositories across the state of North Carolina are very few documents that provide any information on barbershops in Lincolnton and Lincoln County before the twentieth century.  The earliest documented barbershop in Lincolnton was operated by the African American Elias B. Revels in the southwest square in downtown Lincolnton during the 1830s.  In 1838, Hiram Rhodes Revels, Elias’s brother and Mississippi State Senator (1869), relocated to Lincolnton from Fayetteville, North Carolina to work as an apprentice in his brother’s shop.  Elias died in 1841, and his widow relinquished her husband’s assets to Hiram before she married her second husband.  Hiram Revels left Lincoln County in 1845 to attend Union County Quaker Seminary in Indiana.[1] 

Leatherman Barber Shop, built 1940. Photograph by Jason L. Harpe, 2009.

The only other documented barber that operated a shop in Lincolnton during the last quarter of the nineteenth century was John Connor.  The January 25, 1879 issue of the Lincoln Progress publicized that “John Connor has opened a barber shop in the office formerly occupied by Dr. M. L. Brown, deceased.”  Connor, an African American barber, operated his shop on the west side of the Butt, Brown, Pressley House at the corner of Government St. and West Main St. in downtown Lincolnton.  John Connor is listed on the 1870 and 1880 Lincoln County Census with his occupation as “barber.”  There is a tombstone in the Old Methodist cemetery on South Aspen Street in Lincolnton for “John Connor born July 19, 1849 died 1884″ that could possibly be this barber.  According to these sources, John Connor operated a barbershop in Lincolnton during the period from 1870 to 1880.[2]

It was not until 1908 that the shop of the next barber, M.A. Putnam, can be found in local newspapers and on Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for Lincolnton.  Putnam was born in Waco, Cleveland County, North Carolina and moved to Rutherford County, North Carolina in 1903 where he worked as a barber for five years.  In 1908 he moved to Lincolnton and opened his shop on Lot Number 1 in the Northeast Square in downtown Lincolnton where the current Chamber of Commerce is located.[3]  Putnam opened his barbershop with two barbers and eventually grew to six, which necessitated a move to a larger location further east on Main Street.  Putnam and his barbers stayed at this location until 1933 when they moved further east to the building at the intersection of East Main Street and North Academy Street.  He made his final move in August 1940 to the old Lawing building on the north side of East Main Street’s 100 block beside Lawing and Costner Drug Store.  The Lincoln County News publicized this move and Putnam’s new “tonsorial parlor” as being “modern throughout, brand new, [with] steaming hot shower baths and all kinds of barber work at a moment’s notice.”  Some of the barbers who worked with Mr. Putnam at his shops were Claude Sherrill, Bob Caldwell, and Lee Wyant.[4] 

Lemuel Moore Nolen (1884-1977) was another early cosmetologist in Lincoln County that worked in both Lincolnton and Crouse from the 1920s to the 1940s.  In 1900, at the age of fifteen, Lem worked at one of the local mills as a “slubber.”  On April 24, 1908, Lem married Emma Beatrice Crouse, and they lived in Crouse with Lem working as a salesman in one of the local retail stores.  Lem and Emma moved to Rockingham, North Carolina soon after their marriage, where their daughter Elizabeth was born in 1913.  By 1917, the couple had returned to Crouse and their son William was born.  Not only did the Nolens have to acclimate themselves to life with children, they also had to welcome Lem’s new profession as a barber.  He began working for M.A. Putnam during the 1920s as a forty year old man with a family to support, but his aspirations led him to focus on new hairstyles for women as a market that he could take advantage of.  He was aware that Lincolnton had no beauty shops, and the only shops of this type were located in Gastonia and Charlotte.  Nolen made the drive from Crouse to Gastonia to learn from stylists that provided the appropriate instruction in hairdressing.  His niece, Mabel Crouse, began accompanying him to Gastonia after he advanced from working with wigs to human subjects.[5] 

Nolen’s advancement in the profession led him to open his own salon as Lincoln County’s sole hairdresser.  He opened his first shop in one of the back rooms of M.A. Putnam’s barbershop in downtown Lincolnton.  They divided their two shops between the men and women’s sections with a white sheet, and the women had to walk past the barber shop to reach Nolen’s beauty parlor.[6]  The Lincoln County News printed an advertisement on September 20, 1926 for Putnam’s Beauty Salon that featured L.M. Nolen.  Many local women were apprehensive about visiting Putnam’s to have their hair done by a male hairdresser.  By March 13, 1933, Nolen advertised in the Lincoln County News that he had opened Nolen’s Beauty Parlor.  In an article from the same newspaper addition, a reporter outlined that “Mr. Lem Nolen, for a number of years at the head of the beauty parlor at Putnam’s Barber Shop, has purchased the beauty parlor equipment and is moving it into larger quarters, two rooms, located over Lincolnton Furniture Store, second floor.”  It was at this location that the women of Lincoln County had their hair styled for seven years, until Nolen opened his own beauty salon in Crouse in a building near his house.[7]  In a lengthy advertisement in the Lincoln County News on June 3, 1940, titled “Announcement Extraordinary,” Nolen explained that he relocated his beauty shop to Crouse “to get out where expenses are not so high.  I am not expecting all my trade to follow me to Crouse but any time you feel like you would like to save some money why not come to my place in Crouse.  This move is going to be a saving proposition to all my customers located anywhere in Lincoln or Gaston counties because work can be done here at about one-half the price.  I understand there is going to be another shop in my old stand in Lincolnton.  I want all my customers to know that I am not connected with it and you are not doing me any favor at all by patronizing the place I was located.  Another thing to the mill people and country people or anyone who gets out early, my place is going to be open any time.  You can get a permanent and back home for breakfast.  Open from 4 a.m. til 10 p.m.  Service with a price that cannot be duplicated is my motto.”[8]  Lem Nolen operated his hair salon in Crouse until the 1950s, and at this time other barbers received their degrees from various barber schools and began practicing in Lincolnton. 

Lawrence Franklin Leatherman (1895-1971) started his barber business in Lincolnton on East Sycamore Street one block from the Courtsquare on January 2, 1915.  His brother, Ernest Leatherman, worked alongside him in the small barbershop whose exterior was finished with weatherboards, and the interior had barber chairs that they purchased before they opened their shop.  In 1920 Lawrence and Ernest moved their shop from East Sycamore Street to the northeast side of East Main Street’s 100 block in the basement of McLean’s Furniture Store.  During the Great Depression, Leatherman charged ten cents for a haircut and the City of Lincolnton charged Leatherman ninety cents each month for power – the city did not have electric or water meter readers.  Ernest left Lincolnton and his brother’s barber business in 1929 for Fort Sumter, New Mexico.  Lawrence cut hair at his shop on East Main Street until he lost his lease in 1938.  He relocated to the basement of Efird’s Department Store on the south side of downtown Lincolnton’s 100 block, which was once a bus station ran by Heave Huffstetler.  Lawrence’s son James started shining shoes in the basement of the barbershop on East Main Street in 1936.  They remained in this location until an unanticipated opportunity arose that would cement the legacy of Leatherman Barbershop in downtown Lincolnton for over sixty years.[9] 

Leatherman Barbershop, Interior, 2009. Photography by Jason L. Harpe, 2009/

Lawrence purchased the .04 acre lot at 210 South Academy Street in downtown Lincolnton from R.F. “Frank” Beal and Blanche Beal on April 23, 1940 for $800.00.  This purchase included the vacant lot located to the south of the Lincoln Dry Cleaning Company building, and the “new line running through the middle of the north brick wall of the one-story brick building now occupied by Lincoln Dry Cleaning Company.”  R.F. and Blanche Beal conveyed to Leatherman “one-half undivided interest in a brick wall, located on the south side of the lot above described, said wall being 13 inches in width, 45 feet in length, and 14 ½ feet in height, it being the Northern Wall of the building now occupied by the Lincoln Dry Cleaning Company…the full, liberty, and privilege of joining to…for any building, which they, or either of them, may desire or have occasion to use same.”[10]

R.F. Beal wanted to sell the lot and house at 204 South Academy Street to Lawrence Leatherman for $2,500.00, but Leatherman denied the offer because he had a thirty-five acre farm located on the Maiden Highway that he had to maintain.  Lawrence’s son James helped his father build the barbershop at South Academy Street.  James finished his education at Lincolnton High School in 1944, signed up for the military on November 11, 1944, and served in the South Pacific.  He returned home in 1946 and worked at the Dixie Home Store in downtown Lincolnton in 1947.  Shortly thereafter, the store made James manager of the store in Cherryville, but he decided to forego this advancement and enroll in barber school in March 1948.  James married his wife Maxine on October 25, 1947, and she questioned his decision to leave a managerial position for barber school.  James’s response to his wife’s question was “they can fire me anytime they want.”  James and his wife lived in Iron Station, Lincoln County, North Carolina with his wife’s brother while he was at the Winston-Salem Barber School.  James paid for his education with the $125-per-month GI Bill check he received from the Federal government for service during World War II.[11]  James built a house for his wife in 1950 at 1867 North Aspen Street.  James helped his father build the barbershop on South Academy Street by shoveling sand out of Indian Creek at Cooter Back, picking up rocks out of pastures, and pouring forms for the walls.  They made the walls out of rock and cement.[12]

James began cutting hair in 1948 when haircuts were thirty-five cents and shaves were twenty five cents.  When he started cutting hair in the Leatherman shop, there were twenty other barbers in Lincoln County.  These barbers included Paul Harrill, John Harrill, Bud Harrill, Sid Caskey, Claude Sherrill, Clyde Kistler, Earl Kistler, Herman Kistler, Wheatie Harwell, M.A. Putnam, D.P. Putnam, O. Barnes, Reeves Blackwell, Archie Caudle, Belton Beal, Enoch Reinhardt, Johnny Carpenter, Walt Sutton, Elmer Burke, and Puitt Lawing.  None of these barbers are currently alive, and James Leatherman is the only barber from this group that is still cutting hair in Lincolnton.  James remembers each of these barbers and recalls a few of them working with him and his father before they opened their own shops.[13]

Lawrence and James Leatherman cut little girls’ and women’s hair until Lawrence passed away in 1971.  While working at their barbershop on South Academy Street, Lawrence and James had no fans, so they had to leave the front door open for ventilation.  Their front door screen and the screens over the windows kept away the flies from Corriher’s livery stables that were located to the west of the barbershop.  Lawrence and James purchased a fan in 1952 that helped, but they purchased a window air conditioning unit in 1955 for $75.00.  They stood on a cement floor in the barbershop until 1953 when they installed an asphalt tile floor to relieve the stress on their feet.  Lawrence Leatherman worked at the barbershop on South Academy Street until his death in 1971, and his son James has continued the business.  Men in Lincolnton have visited Leatherman’s barbershop for many years, and James continues to charge $10.00 for haircuts with chairs and sinks manufactured during the 1920s, and towel cases and back bar made in 1915.  James still maintains interior lamps that were installed in the shop in 1940.[14] 


[1] William L. Sherrill, Annals of Lincoln County, North Carolina (Baltimore: Regional Publishing Company, 1937), 284-285.  Elias Revels also operated a grocery store in Lincolnton.  Ann Dellinger, interview by author, 5 May 2010.

[2] Dellinger interview.

[3] “Putnam Has Barbered For 27 Years In Lincolnton,” The Lincoln County News, October 7, 1935.

[4] “Putnam’s Barber Shop Moves Today To New Location,” The Lincoln County News, August 12, 1940.

[5] Ann Dellinger, “Lemuel Moore Nolen – A Man of Many Talents,” in In Our Own Words: The Story of Lincoln County (Lincolnton, N.C.: Lincoln County Historical Association, 2006), 120-121.

[6] “Beauty Shops Have Come Long Way In 28 Years,” The Lincoln County News, October 13, 1955.  Annie Belle Ramsaur Matig explained to Ann Dellinger in an interview in 1987 that she began giving permanents about the time Lem Nolen began to do them.  Annie Belle opened her own shop very shortly after Lem.  She was the first female beautician in Lincolnton.  She was 85 when Dellinger interviewed her in 1987.  She had worked at the Square Store – did buying for the ready-to-wear department.  She worked there until the store burned, and then she bought a dress shop on East Main and gave perms in the back of the shop.

[7] Dellinger, “Lemuel Moore Nolen – A Man of Many Talents.”

[8] “Announcement Extraordinary: Nolen’s Beauty Shop, Crouse, N.C.,” The Lincoln County News, June 3, 1940.

[9] James Leatherman, interview by author, 15 March 2010.

[10] Lincoln County Deed Book 209, Page 300.  Lincoln County Courthouse, Lincolnton, North Carolina.

[11] Leatherman Interview; “Shop keeps him on his toes: Barber is not going way of 25-cent haircut,” Gaston Section, The Charlotte Observer, February 10, 2001.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

 
 

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