Many local residents of Wilkes County probably do not realize the important connection of Thanksgiving and our historic building. So today it is time to talk some serious turkey history! Our local newspaper, the Wilkes Journal Patriot, published a newspaper article several years ago about the famous turkey drives in Wilkes County. I am basing some of my facts and information on that old news article and information from local oral history, that we love to tell to our customers and newcomers to our store. I hope you enjoy the “Turkey Tale” today.
EE Eller Produce Co. was one of the largest turkey and chicken wholesalers, and a major processing center for local farmers to bring turkeys/chickens into North Wilkesboro. Ironically, it was the first poultry processing plants in our town, well before the days of Holly Farms, & of course later on Tyson. Mr. Eller placed his business, as you may have guessed, yep, in our current building on the corner of 10th Street and D Street in North Wilkesboro.
Farmers would literally herd their turkeys from down the mountains in Ashe, Watauga, & Alleghany Counties in order to process/sell their flock. Could you imagine the sight that it must have been??? All of the sudden the flock of turkeys appeared on the roads in Wilkes!!!! Men guiding them with corn along the way, flock of turkeys gobbling, wings flying everywhere!!!! I would imagine that the sight of this was pretty common in the early 1900’s in rural Wilkes County. I bet the turkeys never suspected any “fowl play” on their journey. The old newspaper article did say that one of the largest turkey drives that ever was processed by Mr. Eller was 1, 500 turkeys in one drive!!!
Once a flock of turkeys arrived at EE Eller Produce, they were processed/ dressed for shipped via train. Our local train station was just down the street from our store location. The train destinations were mostly in Northern states after leaving the North Wilkesboro station. According to local oral history, it is estimated that Mr. Eller processed at his height of business, 1 million chickens and turkeys!!!! Guess that was all “gravy” for him after that!!!!
So Thanksgiving has a new meaning for us as store owners. We are caretakers of not only our business, but caretakers of local Thanksgiving history. Our town is rich in local history and our building that we reside in today as a hardware store is a great part of that legacy. We are grateful, thankful and blessed. Thank you to all who continue to support our local business, you are giving life to our local history as well.
In closing, Wayne, one of our employees will tell you that every once in while he will see a lone feather coming flying out of the ceiling. We all joke that it is the chicken ghost or the “poultrygiest”. I have never witnessed this, but he has many more years inside this building. Ok, enough of the “turkey talk” and time to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!!!!
FYI: IF you have not read the post, “The Chicken Ghost” , check it out