When an unexpected visitor dropped in on life-long Richmond County residents Robert and Mary Jo Hutchinson, they knew just where to take him to learn more about the rich history and culture in the county.
The Rockingham couple received “Flat Stanley” in the mail from their 7-year-old granddaughter, who lives in Greenville, N.C.
Flat Stanley is a paper character that schoolchildren can mail around the world in order to learn about different regions. People who receive Flat Stanley take him on a “tour” of their areas, and mail him back with photos and information about all the things he saw and learned.
When Flat Stanley returns to the child who sent him, he or she shares the information he “gathered” from other places with classmates.
“It was a lot of fun for us to show Stanley around the county,” said Mary Jo. “It’s really a neat way for kids to learn. My granddaughter, Mary Elizabeth Hutchinson, was learning about maps. Of course, one of the things we sent back with Stanley was a map of Richmond County.”
One of the places Flat Stanley visited was the Rankin Museum in Ellerbe.
“Stanley learned about Ellerbe history, and how it was built on agriculture,” said Gail Benson, museum curator. “Cash crops like tobacco, cotton and peaches were important to the area. The turpentine industry was also vital to this area. It was one of the first industries here in North Carolina. It was big here because of the pine trees, which were the resource for pine tar and turpentine. Pine tar was used to waterproof wooden boats, and was shipped out of Wilmington to places as far away as Europe. Turpentine was a thinner, and was also used as a medicine to pack wounds. The industry eventually collapsed when boats started being constructed out of metal.”
On his visit to the museum, Stanley also learned about diverse Richmond County geography.
“The Sandhills used to be covered by ocean, and are very sandy,” said Benson. “Then up toward the north end of the county, near Uwharrie, there are volcanic rock formations.”
The Rankin Museum sent Flat Stanley away with Native American spearheads and pottery shards found in the region.
Stanley also visited the Richmond County Chamber of Commerce and received information about the Rockingham Speedway and other places.
He made stops at local produce stands, like the Berry Patch, and he took a trip to the Hamlet Historic Depot and Museum.
“At the Depot Museum he learned that the Hamlet train station was built in 1900, and is the only train station in the state with Queen Anne Victorian-style architecture,” said Miranda Chavis, museum manager and downtown coordinator. “The Depot is on the National Register of Historic Places.”
Stanley also picked up a history lesson on Hamlet’s railroad history as the “hub of the seaboard.”
“I thought the visit from Flat Stanley was a wonderful way for students in another part of the state to learn about Richmond County,” said Chavis.
Stanley also picked up a train whistle at the museum to take back to the classroom in Greenville.
“We learned a lot ourselves while we were taking Stanley around the county,” said Mary Jo. “Our granddaughter was delighted when she got Stanley back, along with the information and photos from Richmond County. I would hope more schools would start doing this — it’s a lot of fun for everyone.”
— Staff Writer Kelli Easterling can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 18, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.