CLAYTON — North Carolina’s fastest-growing community is no longer a small town off a two-lane highway.
Over the past 50 years, much has changed in Clayton – from the desegregation schools to an influx of newcomers to the passing of traditions like a woman-less beauty pageant.
Pam Baumgartner is the town’s historian. Her ability to call up town facts, either from file or from memory, rivals Google’s efficiency. She has lived in Clayton all of her 62 years.
Gray Satterfield has lived in Clayton for all his 59 years.
The two spoke recently to the Clayton News-Star.
The biggest change
To Gray, the greatest change in Clayton is the huge influx of people, and that change is most evident to him when he goes to Jones Lunch, the historic restaurant on Main Street.
“Thirty years ago, I would’ve known everyone in there, but I went in there this week and only recognized a couple people,” Satterfield said recently.
Jones Lunch, which opened in 1958, remains famous for its red hot dogs.
Satterfield said he never would have expected some of the other restaurants that have come to Clayton, including an Italian eatery, Mulberry on Main, and a Peruvian restaurant, The Lucky Chicken. Both cuisines were foreign to him growing up.
What people might not know is that Jones Lunch has not always been at 415 E. Main St. The eatery had to move when it was hit by a wrecking ball intended for another building. The good news for diners: The space at 415 E. Main St. is much larger than the former fourth-booth restaurant.
“That’s the best thing that ever happened to Jones,” Satterfield said.
Satterfield and Baumgartner said the landmark they miss most is Horne Mansion, which was razed to create Horne Square. The land that once held a stately mansion is now home to a parking lot and brick area that hosts the Clayton farmers’ market and other community events.
Baumgartner and Satterfield are nostalgic too for the playground that stood where the grassy Town Square is now.
Clayton’s Christmas tree lighting takes place annually on Town Square. But what transplants to Clayton might not know is that they’re standing on what used to be a playground for schoolchildren. That was when The Clayton Center was a school.
Satterfield attended school there until the middle of his seventh grade year. “One day they had us pick up our books, walk down the street, and we started school in a new classroom,” he recalled.
That new classroom was Clayton High School.
At the time, one of the high school’s neighbors was Norwich Mills, and Satterfield said he had many friends whose parents worked at the mill.
But Clayton was not immune to the migration of textile jobs to overseas plants, and eventually, Norwich Mills was torn down. Today, high school students play tennis where the mill stood.
As Clayton has grown, so has it schools. When Satterfield graduated from Clayton High, the senior class numbered about 120 students. When his daughter graduated in 2012, she was among about 600 seniors, Satterfield said.
Near the present-day high school is the lot that became home to Clayton’s first fast-food restaurant. Hardee’s came to town in 1977. A Walgreens is there today.
Nowadays, Clayton is home to many transplants. To Satterfield and Baumgartner, that just means more people see Clayton’s charm.
“And it’s still as friendly as it was,” Baumgartner said.