Category Archives: Ed Oakley/Fannie Johnson Family

William Edgar Oakley (189–1956) m. Jessie Fannie Johnson (189–1977) 24 Dec. 1916 in Surry County, N. C.

The One & Only Town of Toast

There is only one town in the world named Toast, and it is in North Carolina. Toast was born in 1929, when the U. S. Post Office decided that two rural routes served by Mount Airy needed their own address and postmaster. The Mount Airy News of May 23, 1929, reported that the new postmaster was I. V. Hutchens, who had a grocery store in the area. He created a room in the store for the post office and installed lock boxes for those who wanted to rent their own P. O. box.

The Department of the Post Office asked Mr. Hutchens to submit a list of possible names for the new town. They rejected four separate lists he sent them, and finally, some unknown bureaucrat in Washington, apparently without explanation, named the post office Toast. The Mount Airy reporter suggested, humorously, that the bureaucrat was inspired by his breakfast. Judging by an internet search, there is no other geographic location with the name Toast, so perhaps he was right.

Cousins Opal and Hubert Oakley in front of Calvary Baptist Church, about 1936.

In 1924 my grandparents bought a house near the Franklin Road in the area that would become Toast. The same year, my mother was born in that house, near Calvary Baptist Church. The family moved to the Sandhills in 1936, leaving a close-knit community that included some of their relatives.

Copyright 2021, Glenda Alexander. All rights reserved.

Sources: “Post Offices by County,”, accessed 12 Sept. 2021.

“Who Named Our New Post Office Toast,” Mt. Airy News, North Carolina, 23 May 1929, p. 1.

“Stay in Mt. Airy and Work with Us.”

The fashionable young women posing here about 1930 are Reba Oakley (right,) her cousin, Ethel Mae Atkinson (left,) and another friend or relative in Surry County, N. C.

In 1929, when Reba was seventeen years old, she was employed at Argonne Hosiery Mill in Mount Airy. She was described as a button machine operator in the 1930 census. During the years of the Great Depression, many people started to work in the mills at ages as young as thirteen. They could expect to work until they were about sixty years old.

An ad from the Mt. Airy News in 1920 advertised for female workers, promising good wages, ideal working conditions, and the advantage of staying in your home town.

At the Spencer knitting mill of Mt. Airy, in 1930, female employees made 75 cents a day. They worked shifts of up to twelve hours, as many as 6 days a week. A full week at that rate would net $4.50. Men were paid a higher wage. However, half of all textile workers were female.

Statistics from the 1920 census show that North Carolina had become the second-most industrialized state in the South, with an output of a billion dollars per year in textiles, tobacco products, and furniture. By 1930, North Carolina was first in the nation in producing cotton textiles and first of the southern states in knitted textiles.

Copyright 2020 by Glenda Alexander. All rights reserved.


Ad, Mt. Airy News, Mt. Airy, N. C., Feb. 26, 1920.

North Carolina Museum of History, “History Highlights/Twentieth-Century North Carolina,” August 25, 2006,, accessed Aug. 29, 2006.

“The History of International Working Women’s Day: Ella Mae Wiggins,” no date,, accessed August 29, 2006.

Ernest H. Miller, Miller’s Mount Airy, N.C. City Directory, Vol. 1, 1928-1929 (Asheville NC: Southern Directory Co., 1929), p. 198.

Alice B. Hatcher, Spencers, (Dobson NC: published by the authors, 1988) p. 11.

1930 U.S. Census, North Carolina, Surry County, Franklin Township; sheet 2-B, line 65.

Oats, Peas, Beans, & Barley Grow

I love this kind of history, a slice of life from earlier days.  Hearing this song is like taking a time machine to a fun and happy moment.

I remember my mother singing “Oats, Peas, Beans, and Barley Grow” to us children when I was small, in the ancient days of the 1950’s.  When I recall songs and nursery rhymes and games I learned from Mama, I usually find that they are traditional in both the Appalachian mountains and the British Isles.  They were handed down for generations, probably from one child to another, over centuries.

My mother grew up in Toast, in Surry County, N. C.  Her parents and grandparents were from Surry and other counties on the North Carolina/Virginia line, and their ancestors seem to have been from the British Isles and to have come to America through tidewater Virginia, in colonial days.  Many finally settled in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“Oats, Peas, Beans, and Barley Grow” is a traditional British folk song, carried over to America.  The words are said to date back to 1898, but the tune, called “Baltimore,” was possibly written about 1650.   As an Appalachian play party song, it is accompanied by motions and dancing.  The words suggest motions like clapping and stomping and turning around, and skipping around in a circle does nicely for the chorus.  Young adults as well as children enjoyed this type of “play,” which was performed to music and carefully not called dancing in conservative religious communities that disapproved of dancing and often forbade it.

Here is my arrangement with chords for ukulele or guitar.  You can find versions of the tune on Youtube.

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