WADESBORO- “You know, I got into in it the early 70s. Sort of part-time and then full-time. It was something thought it would be fun and exciting until I figured out what I really wanted to do. I guess I never did figure that out and ended up staying in it,” commented Anson County Sheriff Tommy Allen, Jr. on how he began his career in law enforcement.
Allen was first elected Sheriff in 1978 and served until 1994 for a total of 16 years. He ran again in 2002 and was sheriff for another 12 years. He did not run again in 2014. “I thought 28 years was enough,” said Allen. He’s been retired since he left office on Dec. 1, 2014. “I’ve not looked back. No regrets. I’ve enjoyed every day of retirement and have been just as busy,” said Allen.
A native of Peachland, Allen has spent most of his life in Anson County. “It’s a little small town, pretty much like growing up in Mayberry,” said Allen. “Everybody knew everybody. I don’t remember ever locking doors and such until I was a teenager.”
Allen would graduate from the county schools and Wingate College. It was a junior college back then, now it is Wingate University. Allen would transfer to UNC Chapel Hill and then return back to Anson County after graduating.
“It’s a great deal of satisfaction when you can help people, help victims. I saw a lot of progress in law enforcement through 80s, 90s, and 2000s,” said Allen.
That progress included changes in people who were hired as well as improved equipment, resources, and communication. Communication between local, state, and federal agencies really came together in the 80s and 90s. “There’s never been an agency I couldn’t work with,” said Allen.
“There were a lot of events that took place that I was part of just because of the nature of the position,” said Allen. One such incident was the C-130 military transport plane that crashed into Blewett Falls Lake in 1992. The crash killed all nine people aboard the aircraft and spilled hundreds of gallons of fuel into the lake. “We were down there working for several days. Down there working with the military,” said Allen.
“In general, the satisfaction of being able to solve unsolved crimes, bring some closure to the victims, to see the perpetrator receive appropriate punishment is what stands out to me the most,” said Allen.
“It’s a terrible job when you have to knock on someone’s door at 2 a.m. and tell them their son isn’t going to come home ever again, for whatever reason. But it’s great when you see the small child that got lost in the woods recovered and returned to their parents,” added Allen.
Allen has seen a lot of changes happen in Anson County over the course of his five decades in law enforcement. According to Allen, the population base has changed in the sense that a lot of people have died or moved on and new faces have replaced them.
“When I first started, we were doing community policing back then. We didn’t call it community policing, but we knew people in the area. We knew the officers that lived in different parts of the county knew their neighbors and they were focused on those areas. If strangers came into the county, we knew about it. In the last 20 or so years, that’s not the case. There are a lot of new faces in the county,” said Allen.
Criminal acts committed by those outside the county is another change that has happened over the years. “We also saw that our burglars and bad guys were not local. It went from being a local, guy from down the street breaking into the house to guys from two or three counties away coming over into the county to commit crimes. People were more mobile,” said Allen.
In addition to law enforcement, history has always been a passion of Allen’s and he became president of the Anson County Historical Society in 2016. “I’ve always been a history buff. In college, I took some extra history courses because I found them interesting. I guess I always kept that interest,” said Allen. Allen has been a member of the Historical Society for over ten years.
“Some people find it extremely boring, but I find it extremely interesting to see how people lived 50 years ago, 100 years ago, or more,” said Allen. “Anson County is an old county. Established in 1750. They had a 200 year anniversary in 1950 and shortly after that, and I believe it’s because of all the work that went into that 200 year celebration, they continued that history research. The Historical Society was kind of loosely formed in the 1950s and it was really incorporated as an organization in the early 60s and has been around ever since,” said Allen
“Every part of the county is full of history, history, history. You can go into any corner of the county, Burnsville, Morven, Peachland, Lillesville, Wadesboro, each one of those has it’s own unique history,” said Allen.
The Anson County Historical Society has also collected ancient Native American artifacts, some of which date back several thousand years. “We have thousands of collections, arrow head points, pottery, pieces of tools. All of it came from Anson County,” said Allen. “These were not artifacts of the Indians who encountered early settlers, these are the ancestors of those Indians. These relics go back 6, 8, 10, 12 thousand years,” added Allen.
“We’ve discovered some treasures recently that we didn’t know we had.” One such treasure is a one of a kind map from 1904. “It was rolled up in our map box. We didn’t know what it was until somebody visiting here one day looked at it,” said Allen. It’s a map of who lived where in Anson County from around the time of the Civil War until 1904.
‘The map has proved invaluable to genealogists, surveyors, and lawyers trying to find old deeds and who owns what. “We had it restored and sent it to the Chapel Heritage Center where they photographed, digitized it, and put it on their website where it’ll be available for ever,” said Allen.
A stereoscope donated by Thomas D. Burns is another valued artifact. A stereoscope was a device by which two photographs of the same object were taken together to create an impression of depth. Burns used this stereoscope as a child and purchased it years ago from the lady who owned it.
The Historical Society has different projects each year. This year, in addition to compiling 25 years worth of newsletter in order to give a “snapshot” of Anson County, they are also using a grant to get 5th graders interested in history and genealogy.
“We want to get more involved in the school system. We have a little grant to purchase computers, printers and such as well as memberships into research sites, such as ancestry.com, in order to encourage them to come here and research their family history,” said Allen
“Our motto is to preserve and educate,” said Allen. As president of the Historical Society, Allen signs off on all experiences, encourages membership, raise special funds, and oversees the day to day office business. The Historical Society currently boasts over 500 members.
When asked about what makes Wadesboro special, Allen said, “I like the small town community, where you can walk up the streets of Wadesboro and speak to the store owners and actually know who they are. I don’t know what it’ll look like in 20 years, I just hope it doesn’t look too different.”
This is a one of a kind map made in 1904 that shows who lived where from around the time of the Civil War until 1904.
Tommy Allen sits in front of book case filled to the brim with historical documents and books.