The Story of Coats, NC
For several years after the War Between the States, people in all walks of life had trouble adjusting to their new conditions. It was hard, even then, for young people to decide what to do for a living—where to make their homes. One James T. Coats of Johnston County, lately of the confederate Army, decided to move west. He bought something over 700 acres of land for farming purposes in Grove Township in Harnett County and in 1875 moved to this tract. He was a settled young man of twenty-six at that time, and the land was good. He was a forceful, energetic person, one who could think ahead and translate his dreams into reality.
James T. Coats soon set up a general store on his property and other farmers moved nearer for convenience. There was talk of a railroad coming through the county, and in the summer of 1901 surveyors for the new line dropped by Coats’ Store to pass the time of day. Construction workers along the railroad in 1902 and 1903 came by the farm for purchases and to talk. James Coats gave the railroad right-of-way through his property and donated land for a depot. He rejoiced with others in the fall of 1903 when celebrations were held all along the line of the new railroad. It was the first time a train had completed the trip on the new tracks all along the lines of the Durham & Southern and entered Dunn.
A stagecoach stop in Harnett County was Troyville, and J. A. Stewart had been in charge of the mail being left there. With the completion of the railroad, however, the train brought mail. Andrew Coats, son of James T Coats, was appointed to be depot agent and postmaster, and the Troyville stop was discontinued with the stagecoach. The new location seemed the logical place for a town-site. Mr. Coats secured the services of Ron Lambert of Johnston County to survey and establish streets—broad, pleasantly located streets designed for both business and residential sections. Very little was left to chance in planning for the new town. He set aside two acres of land on a high tract of ground on the southwest side of town for a cemetery—plots were carefully mapped to remain a peaceful resting-place for the citizens of the community.
The town of Coats has never been a boomtown, but through the years it has enjoyed a steady growth. After the railroad was completed, more merchants saw the opportunities the location afforded. Ed Williams and John Talton were among the first to establish stores in the new town. Lonnie Stewart was another, and J. T. Pollard served the village for years as blacksmith and iron smith. Wyatt Wiggins, an early and very public-spirited citizen, had established a sawmill and lumber plant at Coats. Along with P. F. Pope, he was among the first to found concerns other than mercantile firms. Shortly thereafter other enterprises were begun.
In 1918, John McKay Byrd, a former sheriff of Harnett County, moved his family from Lillington to Coats and contributed greatly to the industrial life of the community. He established the firm of J. M. Byrd & Co., and served as its president for many years, with N. A. Patterson as a partner. He established a flour mill and a hosiery plant, as well as a planing mill and the first cotton gin in the vicinity.
J. K. Stewart was elected the first mayor and served in that capacity for many years. It was he who installed the first electric lights in town.
About 1906 the Bank of Coats was organized. P. S. Cooper of Dunn was the first president of this institution. This bank served the community well until its closing in December 1920. The community was without a bank for many years until a branch bank of First Citizens Bank & Trust was begun in June of 1947.
The religious life of this striving town had not been neglected. Gift Church of the Primitive Baptist faith was organized in May 1904. The Missionary Baptist church was organized about July 1910. For a time service were held in the Methodist and Presbyterian faith and later Pentecostal Holiness Church was established. Since 1950 the Methodist Church has been revitalized and has a growing congregation.
Mr. B. F. McLeod, Attorney, who maintained an office here for many years, handled any legal matter.
No community rises higher than its educated citizenry and Coats shares this feeling for it has come far in its years of existence as a town in educational advances. The first school was a one-room structure; this has increased to six buildings, a large faculty, and a family of about 40 well-prepared men and women to teach the youth of the community.
In 1959 the Town issued bonds and installed a modern system to serve residential and business needs. A new and very modern Fire Truck was purchased in 1962. The twenty-man volunteer Fire Department is well trained and the town has one of the lowest fire insurance rates in the state.
Much has been accomplished in the years since James T. Coats envisioned a town built on his farm property, but the foundations have been solidly laid. The citizens of the future will keep faith with the builders of the past and Coats will continue to be “a good place to live and make a living.”