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The town’s primary claim to fame is its Hillsville Flea Market (more properly known as the VFW Flea Market & Gun Show), which has been called the largest American flea market to the east of the Mississippi River. It is held twice a year; in 2004, the Labor Day show attracted 650,000 visitors, and the Memorial Day show attracted 250,000 visitors. Vendors and customers have arrived from as far away as Germany, Africa, and South Korea.
The Hillsville Flea Market consumes the entire town of Hillsville. Antique dealers, gun dealers and traders of all kinds make this one of the largest shows in the southeast.
Vendors set up their tent shops down the streets, inside the massive VFW parking area, and throughout the surrounding fields affectionately named “Bowman” and “Hunley”. Surrounding the flea-market area are hundreds of yard sales. The Hillsville Flea Market and Gun Show is a great place to find deals on antiques, furniture, vinyl records, books, baseball cards, coins, guns, comics, old pictures, army surplus, signs, clothes, gadgets, toys, knifes, collectables, tools, socks, and so much more. This event is sponsored by VFW Grover King Post 1115.
The Flea Market begins on Friday and continues through Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Vendors can start selling at 8 am and most close up around 6 pm every day (monday the market closes at 4 pm). To find a good parking spot and to avoid traffic it is best to get an early start.
On March 14, 1912, a gunfight broke out in the Carroll County Courthouse after the conviction of Floyd Allen, wealthy landowner and patriarch of the then-powerful Allen clan. The story made national headlines until it was eclipsed by the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912.
Floyd Allen was on trial for illegal rescue of prisoners, assault and battery, and interfering with deputies. The charges stemmed from an altercation during which he freed his nephews–who had been arrested for brawling and disrupting a religious service, fled to North Carolina, but were recaptured and being taken to the Carroll county jail–and pistol-whipped a deputy sheriff with his own malfunctioning gun, leaving the officer unconscious.
Hot-tempered, Floyd had vowed he would never spend a day in jail. He had previously avoided jail time for killing a black man in North Carolina, nearly killing the successful purchaser of a farm he wanted, and attempting to kill his brother Jack Allen, among other incidents. The prosecutor (who had won his elective office by defeating another Allen clan member) received death threats, but proceeded to trial beginning on March 12. However, the jury could not reach a verdict and was kept overnight in a local hotel. The next morning, when they pronounced Floyd guilty and Judge Thornton Massie refused to set aside the verdict (as had happened in an earlier case), but instead sentenced Floyd Allen to a year in jail and a $1000 fine, Allen stood up and openly refused to go.
A gun battle erupted between lawmen and Floyd and several Allen family members present at the trial who came to his “aid”. Researchers continue to disagree as to who fired the first shot. An estimated fifty shots were exchanged. Before more than 100 witnesses, Judge Massie, prosecutor William Foster, Sheriff Lewis Webb, and the jury foreman were shot dead; a witness died at home of her wounds the following day. Floyd, his brother Sidna, the court clerk, a deputy, another juror and two spectators were wounded.
Floyd Allen and his family initially escaped. Because Virginia law at the time said deputies’ law enforcement powers depended on their sheriff being alive, the assistant court clerk S. Floyd Landreth telegraphed Governor William Hodges Mann, who sent deputies employed by the Baldwin–Felts Detective Agency by train from Roanoke.
The wounded Floyd Allen and his son Victor had stayed in a Hillsville hotel overnight and were arrested the next morning. Various others in the Allen clan were also soon arrested. However, Sidna Allen and his cousin Wesley Edwards escaped, and were captured months later in Des Moines, Iowa.
For their parts in the fatal melee, Floyd and Claude Allen eventually received the death penalty, and were electrocuted in late March 1913. Victor Allen was later acquitted: Governor Elbert Lee Trinkle pardoned two Allen cousins in 1922, and Governor Harry F. Byrd pardoned Sidna Allen and Wesley Edwards in 1926.
1820s Before & After -A Town’s Beginnings
The roots of Hillsville are obvious from the rolling fields of cattle, cabbage, and other produce. Also the Farmer’s Market is a good sign of things from the past. Hillsville began as a trading post along a stagecoach road and exported agricultural products including rye, wheat, and corn.
1820s – A Town By Any Other Name
The area that is now known as Hillsville at one time was called Cranberry Plains. In the late 1820s or early 1830s the town was renamed Hillsville in honor of the Hill Family. After the town was designated as the county seat in 1842 it was briefly called Carrollton in honor of John Carroll, the state legislator who pushed for the creation of Carroll County. However, the name Hillsville was stuck with the residents and Carrollton soon became Hillsville once more.
1845 – Construction of the Hale-Wilkinson-Carter Home
In 1845 Fielden Hale constructed a Federal-style brick home. The two-story home and 16 acres belong to Hale until 1880, when he decided to sell the home and land to James Wilkinson. It is believed that Wilkinson, an entrepreneur, operated a store out of the right side of the basement and a post office out of the left side. In the store a young man, George Carter, worked at his first job. Carter grew up and became a railroad and coal magnate. He also became the husband of Wilkinson’s daughter. Carter and his wife spent over $250,000 in 1906 adding a 3rd floor to the home, a two-story wraparound porch, and stucco. For many years the Hale-Wilkinson-Carter home was known only by the last name of the most recent owner, and many people still call it the Carter House to this day.
March 14, 1912 – Hillsville Massacre
Hillsville’s history has a bit of a dark spot within it; the dark spot is known as the 1912 Courthouse Tragedy which was rivaled in the news only by the devastation known as the Titanic. On March 14, 1912 a gunfight broke out in the courthouse during the trial of Floyd Allen, he was being charged with interfering with deputies and assault and battery following an altercation he had with the law while trying to free his nephews who were being arrested for disrupting a religious service and fighting. The gunfight that took place in the courthouse that day left five people dead and seven wounded. Floyd and many of his family members who had come to his “aide” managed to escape. A massive manhunt led by the Baldwin Felts Detective Agency soon followed the tragedy. After his capture, Floyd Allen was sentenced to death via electrocution.
1920s – Carter Hydraulic Ram
George Carter did more than live in and add onto the Hale-Wilkinson-Carter House, he also constructed Hillsville’s hydraulic ram in order to supply water to his home and other nearby residences and establishments within the town of Hillsville. His system was so innovative that five other Virginia communities adopted the design. Hillsville’s water supply system. Today you can find the Carter Hydraulic Ram in the Carter Pines near Beaverdam Creek.
January 28, 1931 – Hillsville Fire
Just before the Hillsville Fire of 1931, the brand new Hillsville High School was destroyed in a series of fires in 1930. Then the fire that nearly devastated the town took place on January 28, 1931. A large portion of the Downtown Business District was destroyed in this fire including The Thorton Hotel (aka Texas House), a building owned by Dr. Tipton, The Childress Hotel, Guynn Building, Hillsville Hotel, Masonic Lodge Building, 2 barber shops, Walter G. Howlett furniture store, Busy Bee Restaurant, Nuckoll’s Drug Company, Hillsville Hardware, and Dr. Glen Cox’s office. The 1872 Courthouse, along with some other business suffered some damage, but were able to be saved. At the time Hillsville did not have a fire department of its own and crews from Galax, VA and Mt. Airy, NC responded to try to fight the fire that nearly took Hillsville with it. In August of the year that tragedy struck Hillsville in the form of a fiery blaze, the town established the Hillsville Volunteer Fire Department.
March 1946 – Dinwiddie Presbyterian Church
There are many people who have heard the story of Robert Childress, or at least read the book about his work, The Man Who Moved A Mountain by Richard C. Davids. Childress came across the people of Cook Community who had their church in a pine grove on benches under the trees. Childress helped to complete a total of 8 stone churches, Dinwiddie being one of those. This beautiful building was completed in 1953 and is still used as a church to this day. For more on the rich history of the stone churches that Robert Childress put into motion, read Richard C. Davids’ book.
1946 – Streetcar Diner comes to Hillsville
The Hillsville Diner was brought to Hillsville in 1946 from Mount Airy, NC. The classic streetcar-style diner is said to be the oldest diner in Virginia. The diner is a 1920s Jerry O’Mahony model diner. Legend states that while the diner was residing in Mount Airy, NC that Andy Griffith frequently went there.
1967 – Origin of the Labor Day Flea Market & Gun Show
The original Gun Show of Hillsville, VA began out of necessity. The Grover King Post 1115, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post home had collapsed due to a heavy load of snow and ice from the winter before, funds were already short and the VFW needed a way to bring in some extra funds to cover monthly expenses and the construction of a new building. The idea for the Gun Show originated with Pierce Webb, a Laurel Fork native. Webb had been living in Florida and had seen the popularity of these types of shows/markets throughout the south. It was a new concept to this area that Glenn Jackson, Gene Park, and Dennis Quesenberry thought would be a good way to generate interest among people to come out and help the VFW raise funds for their needs.
Jackson enlisted the help from the news media in generating ads and articles about the upcoming Labor Day Gun Show. Amazingly enough, the first year attracted around 100 exhibitors from as far away as Florida, New York, Ohio, and Texas. The crowd that was expected was around 2,000, however, the turnout happened to be nearly double that and a scramble had to be made to get enough food and drink to satisfy this large crowd.
Today, the VFW Labor Day Show is the biggest event that is held in Carroll County. It sees nearly 500,000 people each year and the town of Hillsville practically comes to a halt due to the traffic, vendors, and tourists. Locals enjoy meeting the interesting people from all over the world who come to this event to find collectibles, knick knacks, clothing, and more.