I checked first at the Court House. I had a hazy memory of a dusty, yellowed pull-down map hanging on a wall in the Register of Deeds office depicting Greene County townships in, perhaps, the 1950s. Most county roads were then unpaved, and the map bore witness to many now-abandoned crossroads and hamlets, including “Artis Town.” But the map was gone, cast aside in a reshuffling of office space that relegated Register of Deeds to the basement. The two ladies on duty — blue-permed and powder-fresh — interrupted their gossip (“He’s good as gold, but when he’s mad, he’ll … he’ll CATCH”) to help, gamely pulling two or three crumbling maps from storage, but none was what I sought. “Try EMS!,” one finally suggested, “They know all the roads.”
In the dim front office of a low brick building on the edge of Snow Hill, I explained myself: “I’m looking for a place in the road called Artis Town. There used to be a sign. Like, a green one with white letters. And it was somewhere off Speights Bridge Road, or maybe Lane Road, but I hunted up and down this morning and couldn’t find it.” The good old boys were puzzled. “Artis Town … Artis Town …” “Well, naw, I never heard of … Mike! You know where Artis Town is?” “Artis Town. Artis Town ….” An older man walked through the door and was put to the test. “Well, I think … hmmm. Hey. Call Donald. If he don’t know, don’t nobody.” … “Hey, Pam, is Donald — wait, you’re from out that way. Do you know where Artis Town is? … Okay … okay … okay. Donald? Yeah, Artis Town. … Okay … mm-hmm … that’s what Pam said. Okay, thankee.” And sure enough, it was in a bend of Lane Road, off Speights Bridge, and there had been a sign, and it was gone.
But I asked my mother about it, too, because she taught in Greene County for two years when she first came to North Carolina, and I thought maybe she’d heard of it. Her school had been in Walstonburg and probably drew students from Speights Bridge, and … “Let me look at my gazetteer.” She has the old version from the 1980s, which, of course, I pitched once I bought the shiny new one. And I’m regretting that surely, for Artis Town is marked quite clearly on her map, and I could have saved myself some gas and tire rubber had I consulted it. (Though I would have missed out on the helpful hospitality of the fine people of Snow Hill.)
I dug my old laptop out of storage today. It took a bit of searching, but finally: photos I took in December 2004 when I was wandering the roads of Greene County with no real purpose other than a penchant for what Least Heat-Moon’s so-called “blue highways.” Almost ten years would pass before I’d connect Artis Town with my own Artises. The ancestors, though, are patient.
Photographs by Lisa Y. Henderson, 23 December 2004.