Traditionally, obituaries told the history and reflected the personality of a place more than any other part of a community newspaper.

I was struck by the obituary a family member wrote for Edith Craven Earp-Mathis of North Wilkesboro, published last week. She died May 13 at 97.

One paragraph in Edith’s obituary is about as flattering a eulogy anyone could hope for: “Edith is remembered by her family and friends as a gentle and generous woman who loved to share the story of her Savior, who made wonderful pies and coconut cakes for big family gatherings and who used her talents in needlepoint, cross-stitch and other crafts to make beautiful gifts for children and family. She loved to walk, was an avid reader, and relied on her strong faith to keep her going in difficult times. Edith had a sweet smile and a kind word for everyone. She will be deeply missed.”

This longtime teacher’s aide at Boomer Elementary School was the last of the 19 children of Sam and Myrtle Sloop Craven, including 14 who lived to adulthood.

Sam Craven was known to a generation of North Wilkesboro residents as the operator of the “power house” on the Reddies River Dam in North Wilkesboro. In this position, Craven faithfully made sure North Wilkesboro had electricity and water for nearly 40 years.

A minister at Craven’s funeral in 1967 called him the “keeper of the springs,” referring to an old European practice of putting the most trusted and respected men in charge of public water supplies.

Craven was 3 when he and his family moved by covered wagon from Randolph County to Laurel Springs in Alleghany County in 1874. Craven’s father, Aaron Craven, helped his brother, Henry Craven, run a grist mill in Laurel Springs. Other families moved from Randolph to Wilkes in the second half of the 1800s.

Aaron Craven moved his family to what now is North Wilkesboro in 1875 when Dr. R.F. Hackett hired him to run his mill on the Reddies River, near where the town’s pump house was later built. Sam Craven helped his father and assumed more responsibility at the mill after his father died in 1880.

Craven later helped build the railroad tracks to North Wilkesboro and saw the first train arrive in 1891. He made bricks for the old county courthouse (now the Wilkes Heritage Museum) in 1902, the opera house in North Wilkesboro and many of the existing downtown buildings.

Craven went to work for the Town of North Wilkesboro as operator of the pump station near the Reddies River dam in early 1918, a few years after the town bought this property from the Hacketts to supply citizens with water and electricity. Craven and his son, Will Craven, provided the town with electric lights during daylight hours for the first time on his first day on the job. Previously, this was only done at night.

The Craven family lived in a home still standing near the brick power house and the smaller brick laboratory building, which replaced a wooden power house that burned in the late 1920s or early 1930s. North Wilkesboro owns the house and the abandoned brick power house and he town still gets its water from the Reddies River Dam impoundment.

The Craven siblings grew up and were active in their communities in Wilkes and elsewhere. Some had large families of their own. Many were mechanically-inclined.

One of the sons, Donald Craven, enlisted in the Marines during World War II and died in the Pacific. His name is among those on a list of Wilkes war dead that will be read with a list of Wilkes war dead at a Memorial Day observance at 11 a.m. Monday at the VFW Post home in North Wilkesboro.

Marion Craven Miller, one of the sisters, was 89 when she died in 2005. Miller was an active in Arbor Grove United Methodist Church in Millers Creek, was a charter member of the VFW Auxiliary and worked as a special education teacher’s assistant in the Wilkes schools.

Two more sisters were Florine Craven Foster and Agnes Craven Brock. Foster was 95 and Brock was 100 when they died in 2017. Foster was church secretary and clerk at Pilgrim Baptist Church in Millers Creek for over 30 years. At Walnut Grove Baptist Church in the Pores Knob community, Brock taught the adult ladies’ Sunday school class for almost 40 years, sang in the choir and cooked unleavened bread for decades of communion services.

Earp-Mathis, Brock and Miller were the last surviving children of Sam and Myrtle Craven.

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