(First published in 2007 as “Walnut Cove past leads through shady territory” in The Stokes News under the name of “Leslie Bray Evans”)
One of the “old paths” in the Cove leads through some pretty shady territory. I never promised you all sunshiny paths, did I?! Did you know there was a Communist training school in Walnut Cove in the 1940’s and ’50’s?
In the late ’30’s, William and Eleanore Hoagland Binkley purchased around 50 acres of land off Pine Hall Road. Mr. Binkley, affectionately known as “Bink” to his wife, was a lawyer from Lewisville who occasionally substituted at Pine Hall School. Mrs. Binkley, a very proper lady educated at Strasbourg University in Russia,* hailed from the Chicago area. It was speculated that this childless couple came to Walnut Cove because its rural location was an excellent hiding place for their agenda–to promote Russian-style Communism in the U.S., in hopes of a complete takeover.
The Binkleys lived for approximately four years in first a tent and later a slab building while improving their property. When J.D. Bray (my grandfather) moved his family next door in ’44, the Binkleys were well-established, living in a cozy log cabin and later in a comfortable modern home. Mrs. Binkley worked at Pellcare Nursing Home in Walkertown and would honk the horn of her vehicle–in later years, a yellow ’57 Chevy–as she neared her property each afternoon. Neighbors whispered that this was a signal to let her husband know it was she and not a stranger.
According to a decades-old article from a Greensboro newspaper, which detailed an FBI investigation of the alleged Communist complex, the Binkleys were conducting Communist training seminars at their farm, with perhaps 10-20 people in attendance at each session. My uncle Sam Bray vows to this day that Mrs. Binkley once introduced him to a young man who later became a much admired leader in the national spotlight. “The Little Red Schoolhouse,” as the training school was called, included singing, as heard by the Bray family as they worked in the fields nearby.
According to Mrs. Binkley’s father, who occasionally visited, the training agenda even included how to kill someone with a simple lead pencil. After he leaked information to neighbors about the the Binkleys’ Communist ties, Mr. Hoagland was never again seen, thus leading to unfounded gossip that he was “conveniently disposed of.” Bink himself was often gone to Tennessee for months at a time; locals speculated that he was a Union organizer, working for the AFL-CIO.
People of different races visited the Binkleys, and supposedly Bink held meetings at a Walnut Cove church in a failed attempt to organize area minorities. It was a common Communist practice in the mid-1900’s to reach out to oppressed minorities in an effort to recruit new members.
My daddy, Tom Bray, remembers a book that stood on the Binkley bookshelf–Why Russia Won’t Attack This Year. A picture of the Russian Revolution emblem–the hammer and the sickle–hung nearby. Once Bink was helping dig a grave in the Forest Chapel United Methodist Church graveyard when an area funeral home director drove up and loudly asked, “Where’s that ole Communist who lives around here?” Neighborhood men pointed down into the grave where Bink stood, shoveling dirt.
Grandpa Bray was eventually enlisted by the FBI as an informant, logging license plate numbers of visitors to the Binkley farm. It was usually after dark when FBI agents would quietly arrive at the Bray farm, parking at a nearby tobacco barn. Grandpa Bray would walk up to meet them and sit inside their car to give them information he had collected. A family friend who worked as a secretary for the FBI’s Washington, DC office, confided that she once stumbled across the file of an FBI operative with the name “J.D. Bray” on it!
The Binkleys were ahead of their time in many ways. They advertised their shrub farm in The Progressive Farmer magazine. The exact name has been forgotten, but it was reminiscent of “Tulip Poplar Farm.” The Binkleys recycled, reusing everything they could–long before “going green” was hip. Mrs. Binkley warned people that white bread was a carcinogen–long before health enthusiasts popularized that claim.
The Binkleys were always kind to the Brays. Mrs. Binkley once cared for my daddy when he had a backset of the measles. When Bink saw Daddy shooting down at the creek one day, he called him “a regular Nimrod.” My cousin Tana and I would play dress-up and walk down to visit Mrs. Binkley, who would welcome us as if we were the grandest of ladies and suggest we all have a tea party!
Whichever family got the mail first from the top of the long driveway would put the other’s mail in a notch in a huge oak tree still standing in the Bray yard. How the Bray beagles would growl when Bink walked up to check for mail! Even after years of seeing him daily, those dogs never befriended Bink, so he carried a stick to fend them off.
The Binkleys were, however, very fond of animals. They had trick goats, rabbits, red hogs, tame squirrels, geese, etc. Their dozens of cats ate out of the owners’ plates and were free to come and go into the house via cat holes that would slam loudly as the Bray dogs chased them! The Binkleys did not allow hunting on their property but did occasionally kill a goat to eat. The graves of two particular pet goats, Billy and Nancy, are still visible on their property. Neighbors called Bink “The Rabbit Man.” It was rumored that he put secret messages into the ears of his rabbits then shipped them all over the country.
When Duke Power began buying land in the ’60’s, they bought out the Binkleys. Before they moved out of the county, the Binkleys told Daddy to feel free to take whatever they left behind, including papers that detailed their beliefs. Duke Power used the Binkley home to house workers while building their steam station, but in the early ’80’s, the Binkley complex was bulldozed to the ground–destroying all evidence of a Communist training school that once existed down a shadowy old path in the Cove….**
*Strasbourg University is located in France, so perhaps the family’s memories of Mrs. Binkley’s education are faulty. I assume she attended the University in France and perhaps did some traveling in Russia during that time.
**Editor’s Note: Today the Binkley property still adjoins the Bray farm, which is now owned by my parents. It still belongs to Duke Energy but is leased by my daddy for recreational purposes. The property is especially beautiful in springtime when Mrs. Binkley’s daffodils still bloom–the old-timey ones that give off such a fragrant perfume. Some even have double blooms. The periwinkle she planted perhaps more than 70 years ago has spread to cover the woodland ground with its delicate bluish-purple flowers. My family takes walks down there to see the beauty of the blooms each spring.
My children especially love the bamboo forest. Yes, it’s true–a small forest of bamboo, towering high into the sky, grows there where the Binkleys planted it long, long ago. Magnolia trees still flourish, along with the pampas grass the couple planted in the mid-1900s. The old animal graveyard is invisible to my eyes, but my daddy can still locate it. The beautiful cabins and outbuildings are gone, but both Daddy and Mama can take you to where the steps to them were located.
I am haunted to this day by the tragic loss of the painstakingly-built structures on the Binkley property. Duke Power made the heartless decision to raze it all to ground level for no reason that I can see, except to clear themselves from any liability. When they first bulldozed it, I assumed they were going to use the land for something. Yet 40 years later, it lies unused by that company–just as uninhabited as it was when the Binkleys took their last look at their little haven deep in the woods–a waste of what was once beautiful.
I long to find someone who can tell me more about this mysterious couple who were tried in a court of law for their Communist sympathies and activity. Google will take you to the documents from the court proceedings. (Type in “Junius Scales,” “Communist” and “Binkley,” and the records should show up.) But not much else exists to verify that William and Eleanore Binkley ever existed. My family and I, however, can assure you that they did.
***Here is an article detailing Mrs. Binkley’s death in Florida in 1991. This makes her sound like a hero. I figure that I would’ve liked her ideals a lot—aside from the Communist stuff.
***Here is a short article about the Communist training camp held on the Binkley farm. It is in the bottom lefthand corner and is about a Mr. Scales.