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Cornelius News

In Smithville, getting city water was a ‘do-it-ourselves’ project

May 7. By Tonya Rivens. President Biden has created a $2 trillion American Jobs Plan as an investment to rebuild the country’s infrastructure. One component of the plan “delivers clean, drinking water by eliminating all lead pipes and service lines in drinking water systems. (Source: whitehouse.gov) States and local governments will receive funding as well.

It was much different 70 years ago.

Some history

The Smithville community didn’t have access to federal, state nor town funding in the 1950s when its water system was developed.

Residents were still using outdoor plumbing which meant outhouses and carrying water to use for cooking, bathing and basic needs.

The neighborhood men organized and created the Smithville Men’s Association that included Ozon Brice, James Caldwell, Grady Forney, James Forney, Wilson Potts, Bill Torrence and James Reid. Of course, the women of the community also played a role. Their plan was for Smithville residents to purchase water from the Town of Cornelius.

The water meter was placed at what is currently Pelican’s SnoBalls.

The septic pond was located on Smith Circle, where Smith Florist was located. Every home in the community was required to contribute financially to cover the bill.

Managing without an HOA

And as Meryll Frost said, “behind every great man, there’s a woman.’

Bobbie Potts, wife of one of Smithville’s Founding Fathers, Wilson Potts, was the bookkeeper.

Her son, Gerald “Mickey” Potts (husband of the late Mayor Nannie Potts) says that his mom would write everyone a receipt upon receiving their payment. “It was a nominal fee for everyone and the money was just enough to cover the bill,” he said. There was never a profit.

“The older homeowners here know how our relatives—men and women—paved the way to make it work.  We remember the digging of the water lines and we remember carrying water,”

Gerald “Mickey” Potts

Elaine Withers says her mom, Ruth Withers, served as the Secretary and also kept a log of the families who paid their monthly water bill.  Withers says she lost the original book with the original notes in 2018, when she relocated to her new home.

As for the maintenance of the water lines, association member Bill Torrence became the neighborhood plumber and handyman. “Neighbors really united as a community.  Bill Torrence did a heap of plumbing for all of the families. And he did a great job”, Potts said.

James Reid would also assist when needed.  Mothers of the neighborhood labored as domestic workers for white families and then would have to care for their own families and households.  Smithville women worked tirelessly to keep the outside toilets free of germs, odor and spider webs, cleaning mostly with Clorox.

Taking ownership

Sewage sometimes seeped from the ground, contributing to some people calling the neighborhood “Germ Town.”

In the 1960s, David Waymer, an agent of the Mecklenburg County Agriculture Extension Office, walked the neighborhood and poked holes in the ground to check the level of sewer seepage.  Residents say Waymer and then County Commissioner Jim Martin, who later became governor, assisted the community in getting connected to Mecklenburg County’s water and sewer.

Smithville has come a long way over the years. “The older homeowners here know how our relatives—men and women—paved the way to make it work.  We remember the digging of the water lines and we remember carrying water,” Potts said.

The female elders say their moms were ideal role models of strong, smart and spiritual women in the community.

The development of infrastructure is essential to any community.  In Smithville, the Men’s Association worked along with the dedicated and hard working women of the neighborhood.

Together they took ownership, organizing, developing and executing plans that created a foundation for their community’s success and survival.

Tonya Rivens is a multi-skilled journalist in radio and television and is currently heard on Streetz 103.3/100.5 FM, blogs at tonyarivens.com.