Charity event brings back memories of a bygone era
Downtown Lincolnton was swarming with traffic Saturday night as residents participated in the fourth annual Cruisin’ for A Cause.
A fundraiser, the event raises money for four local non-profit organizations: the Hesed House of Hope, the Lincoln County Coalition Against Child Abuse and Child Advocacy Center, Lincoln County Relay for Life and the Lincoln County Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Cruisers were required to purchase $5 vehicle magnets, with parking available for $10 in the cruising area.
While the event benefits several local charities, it also serves as a reminder of the days when the Lincolnton tradition of cruising was still permitted.
City Council member Larry Mac Hovis fondly recalled his memories of cruising Main Street and the Court Square.
“It started when I was growing up as a teenager in the 1950s,” he said. “I’m not sure exactly how it started, but the local kids in town — we only had one high school, and all the county’s kids were bused into town to the school. We had two places to meet…drive-ins. We had one out near Boger City called ‘The Plaza’ and then we had another one on the Gastonia Highway…called Scronce’s. And then down on Main Street, we had a (milk)shake shop, and the local kids in town, mainly the boys, would hang out there.”
Hovis explained that while it had not been given the term “cruising,” Lincolnton and West Lincoln teenagers on the weekends would often drive from one hang-out spot to the next to visit with friends and significant others.
“It was before North Generals Boulevard was constructed, so people had to travel through town,” he said.
According to Hovis, during the 1960s, The Plaza and Scronce’s closed, leaving teenagers without a place to hang out.
“So, they ended up coming up Main Street to stop and talk, and it just got to where people would congregate on Main Street,” he said. “Word got out that Lincolnton was the place to go to socialize. They’d come into town and park…they’d start cruising around dark and would drive around until 11 p.m. They’d circle the courthouse and holler at each other.”
Cruising soon brought teenagers from Charlotte, Maiden, Cherryville and Gastonia to Lincolnton each weekend, packing the city’s main roads with traffic.
“It got to be where it took you 15-30 minutes to go from the Court Square to the Police Department,” Hovis said. “But, it was a good place for kids to come out and socialize. They really didn’t have anything else to do.”
Mayor John Gilleland also shares fond memories of his cruising days. After acquiring his license in the late 1970s, he eagerly joined in on the high school custom.
“That’s where you saw all of your friends,” he said. “That’s where a lot of people met their spouses, as well as their boyfriends and girlfriends.”
Gilleland was among those who found his spouse while cruising.
“It was 1978, my senior year in high school,” Gilleland said. “(My wife) Beth and one of her friends were riding through town, and I was there on my own. They asked me to jump in and ride around. After one lap, her friend said she had to go. And that’s how we started dating again and ended up getting married. As my wife says, the rest is history.”
The older generation at the time, however, was not very approving of the tradition, often complaining of the traffic as an inconvenience and a nuisance.
“At one time, the police would give you a ticket depending on the number of times you went around the Court Square,” Hovis recalled.
“It was a point of contention between the young people and adults,” Gilleland said. “The congestion was bad on Main Street…and the side streets were often packed.”
Both Hovis and Gilleland were stumped as to how the city ended up banning cruising. A 1999 article about cruising bans by Deseret News, a newspaper based in Utah, referenced Lincolnton’s troubles with cruising.
In the article, Deseret News interviewed Police Chief T.J. Burgin, who said the destination was popular for teenagers in a three-state area, with people driving from Virginia and Tennessee to cruise Lincolnton’s Main Street.
The crowds brought excessive traffic and an assorted variety of crimes, ranging from drunken and disruptive behaviors, street fights and drug violations. After police worked for several months to deter cruisers, Burgin felt there was no other choice but to request City Council leaders ban cruising. The city imposed the ban in 1994.
While the “No Cruising” signs serve as a daily reminder to the ban made a decade ago, both Hovis and Gilleland felt if the interest were there, cruising downtown could make a comeback.
“Nowadays, they want Lincolnton to be vibrant at night, and 50 years ago, they had that, but they ended up getting rid of it,” Hovis said.
“I don’t know if I would see the harm in bringing it back,” Gilleland said. “I never really saw the downside of it, so I wouldn’t mind if the young kids wanted to start it again.”