Under the Floorboards

Early last week, friend of the RBMSCL and James B. Duke Professor of Economics Dr. Craufurd Goodwin came to us with an exciting discovery. He has kindly shared a few words about it, noting that “archives are where you find them.”

When my wife and I moved from Durham in 1977 to a property called Montrose on the edge of Hillsborough, a venerable green 1961 Chevrolet pickup truck was included. Legend had it that the truck had mainly gone once a week to a garbage dump on the edge of town and spent the rest of its life in its garage. It had 18,000 miles on the odometer.

Holland Holton, February 1922

After moving most of our possessions from Durham, the old truck reverted to its traditional role and has today only 33,000 miles. But last week, on the old truck’s fiftieth birthday, it seemed appropriate to let someone else play with this toy and I sold the truck. Soon after it left the driveway, I heard from the young man who bought it that he had discovered a photograph taken by a professional studio in Durham called “Miss Johnson, Durham, N.C.” of a person described on the back as “Holland Holton, 1922.”

Holton was one of the first professors at Duke University and an administrator in various capacities; his papers are now at the Duke University Archives. There was no dated photograph of Holton in the RBMSCL’s collections until this week, but now there is.

It is a complete mystery how this picture ended up on the floor of the old truck for at least 34 years, and perhaps 50.  My predecessor at Montrose and in the truck was A. H. Graham, a prominent figure in the state (Lieutenant Governor, Highway Commissioner, etc.) but Carolina all the way. How a picture of a pioneering Duke professor ended up in his farm truck we shall probably never know.

Post contributed by Dr. Craufurd Goodwin, James B. Duke Professor of Economics at Duke University.

7 thoughts on “Under the Floorboards”

  1. I have a mystery picture of a family member taken by Miss Johnson Studios. How can I find out when the studio was in operations. I’d guess 1880s for my picture, based upon the man’s dress, but I don’t think a studio would be in operation from 1880s through 1950s. I also have one that appears to have been taking about 1910, again, based on the man’s wardrobe.

    1. Hi Gwen,

      Thanks for your comment, and for reading! Miss Johnson–Kate or Katie L. Johnson–was Durham’s first female photographer. Jean Anderson’s monumental Durham County (now available in its second edition from Duke University Press) notes that Miss Johnson’s studio was active from the turn of the 20th century through the 1930s.

      You may also want to browse through the Durham directories, which UNC’s Digital NC project has digitized. The main site is located at http://digitalnc.org/. The wonderful North Carolina Collection at the Durham County Library may also be of assistance.

      Good luck with your research!

  2. I am doing a genealogy search of Chaffins in Davie County, North Carolina. On the death certificate of Thomas N. Chaffin, a attorney, born and resided in Mocksville, Dr. Holland Holton his nephew, address Duke University, Durham, NC is listed as the informant. Thomas died at Duke University Hospital February 14, 1934.
    Thomas had a brother Holland Holton Chaffin. Maybe the Chaffin was dropped.
    Just thought I would pass this along for a starting place for your photo.

    1. I was raised in Davie and Thomas N Chaffin was my grandfather. I would like any information you have on my family. Thanks

  3. Holland Holton was my grandfather. He and my grandmother were educated at Duke when it was Trinity college. Holland Holton knew many people through-out the state. I am curious how his photograph ended up it that truck. Perhaps the truck was used to transport some of his belongings and it slipped out.

    Regarding the question about the Chaffins – the Chaffins are part of our genealogy. Holland Holton was a relative, but did not drop part of his name.

  4. My grandfather was Thomas N Chaffin and my father was Holland Holton Chaffin from Davie county. I was raised in Davie County and now live in Coleridge in Randolph co. I would like to know any information you have on the Chaffin family. Thank you

    1. Hello Mr. Chaffin! Thanks for reading the blog. I’ve passed along your inquiry to our research services staff, and one of them will follow up with you shortly!

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