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 northern 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 calls “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.