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Community runs deep in Candler and Belmont
Wiley Lancaster walks in front of the Belmont house where he was born in 1930. - photo by Tom Reed

On a sloping hill across from the railroad tracks, Wiley Lancaster lives quietly with his wife of 60 years, Hazel.

“Roots are deep in this community for people who have lived here for years and years,” Lancaster said.

So deep, in fact, that Lancaster lives next door to the house in which he was born.

Candler and Belmont are next-door neighbor communities in southeastern Hall County where Lancaster lived and worked most of his life.

He would spend years working and living in nearby Jackson County.

He met his wife on an Easter Sunday afternoon in 1948 in Jefferson.

But ultimately he never left, he said, because “this was just home.”

In 1930, he was born in the house next door where his sister and brother-in-law now live.

Lancaster worked on a farm when he was young, walking across the railroad tracks to Candler for work.

Times were simple.

“I didn’t even have a plow then,” he said.

The railroads that transport chicken feed today transported coal.

“We used to throw coal at each other for fun,” he said.

He went to high school at Lyman Hall, before East Hall High School existed.

There is no Internet and no computer in the home that Lancaster built.

“We tried having Internet once, but we just found we had no use for it,” he said with a shrug.

Lancaster pondered how the area had changed.

“That store across the tracks used to be a general store, but it’s a dollar store now,” he said. “Things are different. There’s been some growth.”

Back then, he said, working people were cotton farmers and mill workers, and others ran the railroad.

“But a lot is still the same,” he added.

One staple of the community in Belmont that hasn’t changed is the church.

“All my life I went to the same church,” he said.

In fact, if you look out Lancaster’s window, you can see that church: Belmont Baptist.

“Momma and Daddy used to take a quilt and lay it out for us on the floor during the service,” he said. “There’s a nursery for that now,” he added with a laugh.

Lancaster and his wife have two children and four grandchildren. Hazel counted faces in the rows of pictures lining their shelf, double-checking that they had seven great-grandchildren.

The Lancasters used to travel more, Wiley said. Now, Hazel’s health keeps them at home.

But it’s evident Lancaster is content in the place he was born and raised.

As he walked around his yard, he pointed out the names of various mountain peaks in clear view in the northwest horizon.

“I walk out and see that,” he said. “Isn’t that something?”