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Watauga County Historical Society Announces Alfred Thomas Adams as Next Inductee to the WCHS Hall of Fame

Left to right are Dr. William Howard Plemmons, Glenn Andrews, Alfred Adams, Dempsey Wilcox, Jerry Coe, Stanley Harris, Watt Gragg, and Herman Wilcox. The men were standing on a hill just south of present-day Rivers Street with downtown Boone and Howard’s Knob visible behind them, circa 1960. Image courtesy of the Alfred and Daisy Adams Collection, Digital Watauga Project.

As part of ongoing activities associated with the Boone 150 celebrations in 2022, marking the 150th anniversary of Boone’s official incorporation as a town on January 23, 1872, the Watauga County Historical Society (WCHS) has established the Watauga County Historical Society Hall of Fame. Throughout 2022, WCHS will name twelve individuals or groups—one each month—as members of the inaugural class of the WCHS Hall of Fame. For the month of October 2022, the WCHS is delighted to announce that Alfred Thomas Adams (1911-2002) has been named as the next inductee of this inaugural class of the WCHS Hall of Fame. 

Yearbook image of Alfred T. Adams, 1937 Mars Hill College Laurel. Image courtesy of DigitalNC.org.

A Watauga County native, Alfred Thomas Adams was born to Tarlton Pulaski “Dock” Adams (1846-1922) and Mollie Isoline Tugman Adams (1877-1965) on December 3, 1911, in the Silverstone community. Alfred’s career-long interest in banking came naturally; his father was an early stockholder and director in the Watauga County Bank at Boone.

For all of those advantages, farm life appears to have played a significant role in Alfred’s education. The 1930 US Census, for example, indicated that he was a farm laborer rather than a student at age 18. A 1935 graduate of Cove Creek High School, Adams was 23 years old when he finally completed his secondary education. Nevertheless, Adams made the most of his high school experience and quickly secured a strong reputation as a leader. On April 13, 1932, Adams attended the annual Father-Son Picnic of the Cove Creek chapter of the Future Farmers of America, where he claimed first prize in a public speaking contest. His speech extolled the numerous, lifelong advantages of farm life over city life and was a huge hit with the people of Watauga County, particularly amidst the crushing weight of the Great Depression. By late 1932, Adams was vice-president of the Future Farmers organization and a frequent public speaker throughout the county. Following completion of his high school education, he attended Mars Hill College, graduating in 1937 with a degree in business.

In 1939, Adams found employment in Shouns, Tennessee, as a bookkeeper at the Maymead Stock Farm, Inc. In 1941, he returned to Boone and married Daisy Virginia Austin (1916-2014), who went on to be a popular teacher for 32 years in the Boone community. Together, the couple raised three boys, all born in the 1940s. Adams, meanwhile, secured employment as a teller at the Northwestern Bank about 1943, and by 1946, he was assistant cashier for the bank. In 1950, he was promoted to cashier, and by 1963, he was assistant vice president. For much of the 1950s through the 1970s (when Adams retired from full-time work at the bank), nearly every residential and commercial development in Boone secured financing through the Northwestern Bank, and Adams was often at the center of those deals, guiding and advising on the best ways for those deals to succeed as he protected the bank’s invested assets. He spent the last thirty years of his career as the chief executive of the bank’s Boone and Blowing Rock offices, and he also served as a member of the North Carolina State Banking Commission. Near the end of his career, Adams was inducted as a member of the 50 Year Club in the North Carolina Banking Association. He was still serving as chairman of the bank (by then First Union Bank) in 1993.

By 1945, he was also Acting Secretary of the Boone Chamber of Commerce as well as chairman of the local War Savings Staff responsible for selling Victory Bonds to the local community. In 1946, Adams secured election as treasurer of the Boone Chamber of Commerce, a position he held for many years; he remained active with the Chamber well into the twilight of his professional career, serving as chairman of the Chamber’s board in 1989. He was also active in the Board of Directors of the Boone Merchants Association during the post-war years, serving as chairman of its finance committee. As Boone came to grips with the post-war tourist trade and sought to capitalize on those economic development opportunities, Adams again played a key role, functioning as the treasurer for the Boone Tourist Association beginning in 1950. Throughout this period and the decades that followed, Adams occupied a highly visible and strategically important position in bringing together the political and economic leaders from Appalachian State Teachers College (later University), Watauga County, and Boone to guide the economic development of Boone and Watauga County from the 1950s into the 1990s. He was at the heart of countless development projects, including serving as a founding director of Horn in the West in the early 1950s, as a founding director of the Boone Golf Club in the late 1950s, and as chairman of the board of the Watauga Medical Center, overseeing the construction of the Watauga County Hospital on Deerfield Road in the 1960s. In recognition of his powerful influence over the local business community, he was a frequent speaker in banking classes at Appalachian State University, saw the naming of the university’s Alfred Adams Chair of Banking in 1995, and was named as an Honorary Alumnus in 2001. Over the years, the Chamber of Commerce created at least three awards in Adams’s honor, including the Alfred Adams Business Leadership Award in 2000.   

For all of his beneficial contributions to the community, however, Adams also sometimes found himself on the wrong side of political issues. From the 1940s well into the 1980s, for example, Adams was a fierce advocate for keeping Watauga County “dry” by keeping liquor sales out of the community. As co-chair of the Citizens for Boone’s Best Interest, an anti-alcohol group opposing Boone’s 1986 alcohol referendum, Adams helped orchestrate more than 1,400 voter registration challenges to try to keep ASU students from voting to allow beer, wine, and liquor sales in Boone. It was the first major student voter challenge in Boone, and although the challenge failed, it ultimately initiated a cascade of similar legal challenges in the decades to follow. That strategy also likely backfired, as students turned out in droves the next month—voter participation was 58 percent for the local referendum in March 1986—resulting in a landslide victory to allow Boone to go “wet” that year.

Adams was active in dozens of community activities throughout his lifetime, far too numerous to describe in detail here. As a mere sampling, he served in the leadership of the local Boy Scout troops from the early 1940s, and was a frequent leader in community Red Cross drives and served as their treasurer as early as 1945. He also served as the treasurer of the Watauga Hospital Equipment Fund and as general treasurer of the United Nations “Crusade for Children” campaign during the late 1940s. He was active in the First Baptist Church of Boone as well, serving as superintendent of the Sunday School program there; he later served as deacon and chairperson of the church’s Finance Committee. Adams was also an active and highly regarded collector and restorer of antique cars for much of his life. He was also an amateur historian of Boone, often entertaining friends and local luminaries with stories about the early twentieth-century history of his adopted community of Boone.

The WCHS is delighted to honor Alfred Thomas Adams for his critically important contributions to Boone and Watauga County’s history.

The WCHS Hall of Fame honors individuals, either living or dead, who have made significant and lasting contributions to Watauga County’s history and/or literature, including those whose efforts have been essential to the preservation of Watauga County’s history and/or literature. Honorees need not have been residents of Watauga County. The WCHS is particularly interested in honoring individuals who meet the above criteria but who may have been overlooked in traditional accounts of Watauga County’s history and literature, including women and people of color. Selections for this inaugural class were made from nominations submitted by members of the Digital Watauga Project Committee (DWPC) of the WCHS. Beginning in 2023, the WCHS will also consider nominations from members of the public, which in turn will be evaluated by the DWPC.

Courtesy of the Watauga County Historical Society.

This image shows a new car being awarded to Mrs. Lou Hopkins by the Boone Merchants Association on January 16, 1953, in front of the Mountain Burley Tobacco Warehouse No. 1 (present site of the Watauga County Library). Left to right are W. H. Gragg, Mr. Caudill, Mrs. Hopkins, Joe E. Coleman, and Alfred T. Adams. Image by Palmer Blair and courtesy of the Alfred and Daisy Adams Collection, Digital Watauga Project.
Left to right are Alfred Adams, Carolyn Austin (behind door), Bernard Dougherty, and James Marsh standing in front of the teller door at the Northwestern Bank (now Farmer’s Hardware) at the southwest corner of Depot and West King Streets in January 1956. Image courtesy of the Palmer Blair Collection, Digital Watauga Project.