One North Carolina family celebrates 100 years of reunions
RED SPRINGS, N.C. (AP) — One long row of tables was for food. Another was for memories.
In the old Allendale schoolhouse and on the acres of farmland where it sits, the descendants of John McGugan gathered on Thanksgiving to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the annual family reunion.
There were dishes filled with turkey, stuffing and pies, and there were sepia-toned photographs dating to the turn of the century. A large family tree held lists of names and dates, chronicling a lineage that runs through the cotton fields and river beds of Robeson and Hoke counties, all the way across the Atlantic to a finger of Scottish land pointing into the North Channel over the Irish Sea.
“The first McGugan, John McGugan, came over from Scotland in 1802 and settled over around Lumber Bridge,” Harry McGugan says.
Five generations removed from John McGugan, Harry McGugan now owns the home his grandfather, John G., built in the early 1890s.
The reunions began in 1918 after Harry’s uncles, Charles and Layton McGugan, returned from fighting in World War I.
“It happened to be around Thanksgiving, so the family met up and they’ve been meeting ever since,” Harry McGugan says.
About 140 people attended this year’s centennial celebration. Most of them didn’t have to drive far, but there were some who came from neighboring states and beyond.
“We had one that flew in from Montana,” Harry McGugan says.
“And we had Facetiming out of New Zealand,” Zelma McGugan, Harry’s wife, adds.
The ancestral pride runs deep in this clan. As many as three generations from various family branches regularly attend reunions.
Harry and Zelma McGugan have seen their cousins and kin grow into adulthood at yearly intervals.
In the field where his grandfather’s cotton gin used to sit, kids run among rows of the fluffy white stuff, shouting and playing where their elders used to work.
The farm life suited Harry McGugan. He bought out the other heirs to the family farm after his father died in 1990.
There wasn’t any fuss about it. Everyone knew Harry McGugan would keep their family traditions alive and well.
And they all know there’s a standing invitation for Thanksgiving at the home place.
“We’ve never, in my lifetime, sent out invitations,” he says. “Everybody just knows to come.”
His grandfather purchased the farm in 1890.
“The first tract he bought, I think it was 96 acres for $600,” Harry McGugan says.
He can rattle off historic details like that. He knows his ancestry the way some people know baseball statistics.
The house was built around the time of John G.’s marriage, in 1893. Harry McGugan found clues that lead him to believe the old schoolhouse was also built by McGugans.
“I feel right sure it is,” he says. “The wainscoting in the school building is the same that’s in the house.”
Land for the school was donated by Harry’s great-grandfather in 1891 in what was then Robeson County.
A kitchen, front porch and shutters were added in the early 1930s, and the building was used for community gatherings and group meetings after its time as a schoolhouse was done.
In 2007, the building was offered for sale back to the McGugans and, with family donations, Harry McGugan purchased it and had it moved next to his home.
The mantle is made of a hand-hewn pine stud salvaged from Harry’s great-grandfather’s home that was built in 1852.
The McGugan reunion has changed over the years, but the dedication to family and the bonds of the bloodline have only gotten stronger.
“We’re all real close,” Harry McGugan says. “A lot of memories and history here.”
He talks about his great-grandfather, John Arch, being captured in Petersburg near the end of the Civil War.
He shows a picture of his grandfather, standing tall in a fine suit: “And I have that walking cane,” he says, pointing to the cane in the photo.
He has an arrowhead collection and a British coin he found when he was putting up tobacco in the mid-’50s.
“It was found in the tobacco field up there, a penny from 1775,” he says.
In addition to his own assemblage of artifacts, family members have shared special items over the years.
“People realize that Harry is the keeper of all this and sometimes when somebody dies, they’ll send things,” his wife says.
“We try to preserve, write the stories down so we don’t lose them.”
The McGugans understand the value of family.
“We want this to keep going when we’re gone,” Zelma McGugan says.
With 100 years of reunions behind them, the family has a solid foundation to build on.
Information from: The Fayetteville Observer, http://www.fayobserver.com