Archive for the ‘NC Geography’ Category

The History of Water

September 22, 2013
Lassiter Mill Dam on the Uwharrie, destroyed 9-4-2013 to open the river to the annual shad run.

Lassiter Mill Dam on the Uwharrie, destroyed 9-4-2013 to open the river to the annual shad run.

Before there were counties, before there were towns, before there were road names and 911 addresses, there was geography.  In the past as in the present, local landmarks of whatever description oriented residents as to time and place, (how often do we say something like, ‘Turn left where the Hardees used to be”?).   Before the advent to sophisticated surveying instruments, let alone aerial photography, satellite images and Google Maps, residents depended on their intimate and granular knowledge of local geography.  This big rock or that big oak tree was known to be the corner between one landowner and his neighbor in the medieval English common law system inherited in the eastern United States, known as “metes and bounds” surveying.  The Metes, or measurements, carefully established the unique directions, distances and calculated angles of the boundary lines; the Bounds, or terminal points, delineated the extent of the tract of land described.

The Bounds also oriented the description in larger segments of time and place, from the largest to the smallest extent, with the growing recognition of political boundaries.  A tract of land purchased by an immigrant could be located in North America (before 1492); the United States (1776); Carolana (1629); North Carolina (1691) ; Randolph County (1779); Asheborough (1792); Back Creek Township (1868).

The natives and earliest explorers and colonists, of course, had few or none of these reference points.  Dr. John Lederer (b.1644) a German immigrant and explorer, first travelled from Fort Charles, (now Richmond), Virginia into Carolana in May 1670.  Lederer’s party of 20 white men and 5 Indian guides had dwindled down to just 4 people by the he returned to Fort Henry (now Petersburg, VA) in July 1670.  But during that 90 day period Lederer had become the first recorded European visitor through Piedmont NC, all the way to the Catawba River near what is now Charlotte.  His expedition journals were translated into Latin and published, forming the first guidebook for subsequent travelers.

Moseley Map, 1733

Moseley Map, 1733

In 1701 Swiss explorer John Lawson visited the area and first gave us many of the landmark names we still use today.  He lived with the Keyauwee Indian tribe (now spelled Caraway) and crossed the Heighwaree River to get to them (now spelled Uwharrie).   Lawson evidently heard no local name for the other major local watercourse, which he only noted as “two pretty Rivers, something bigger than Heighwaree, but not quite so stony. We took these two Rivers to make one of the Northward Branches of Cape-Fair River, but afterwards found our Mistake.”  One of these “two pretty Rivers” was certainly Deep River, which is in fact a “Northward Branch” of the Cape Fear.  Early explorers, however, had the impression that the Deep was a tributary of the Uwharrie; Col. William Byrd, in his “History of the Dividing Line” (1728), says in tracing the route of the Trading Path that the Deep is “the north branch of the Pee Dee.”  The error was first inaccurately mapped on the 1733 Moseley map of North Carolina, where the Deep and “Uharee” merge and flow into the “Sapona or Yadkin River”. [Byrd’s book is the first recorded use of the name “Yadkin.”]

The lack of a received native American name for the Deep has also provided much confusion to historians and local residents; for more than one hundred years it has been accepted in Randolph and Guilford counties to claim “Sapona” as the Indian name for the Deep.  This is incorrect, as Lawson clearly refers to the “Sapona” native town as being on the Trading Ford of the Sapona River, some 20 miles west of the Keyauwee town.  However, Lawson himself had confused the issue by stating that the Sapona was “the west branch of the Clarendon, or Cape Fair River.”

In the present era of satellite photographic maps from space, it is too easy to dismiss these early errors as stupid mistakes.  It was a difficult matter in the 17th and18th centuries to track a watercourse from its source to the sea.  The amazing thing to a historian is that local residents had in fact such an intimate acquaintance with each body of water that they knew where it flowed.  Up until the Civil War, the most familiar landmarks of Randolph County were natural, physical, environmental distinctions of water, earth, wind and fire.  Everyone was familiar with them, and every body of water, no matter how large or small, shallow or deep, had a name.

The junction of Sandy Creek with Deep River at the Wildlife boat landing

The junction of Sandy Creek with Deep River at the Wildlife boat landing

Before there were county names, the name of the major local river was the primary landmark in any deed.  “Waters of Deep River” sent the reader to the east side of what became Randolph; “Waters of Uwharrie” directed them to the west side.  From 1752 to 1770, Deep River waters were in Orange County, St. Matthew’s Parish, and Uwharrie River waters were in Rowan County, St. Luke’s Parish.  In 1770 parts of Orange and Rowan were combined to create Guilford County, which was itself divided in 1779 to create Randolph.

Each tract could be and usually was further subdivided to pinpoint the location:  “Sandy Creek, waters of Deep River,” or “Caraway, waters of Uwharrie” indicated particular areas of each watercourse.  Muddy Creek, Polecat Creek, Solomon’s Creek, Bush Creek, Sandy Creek, Gabriel’s Creek, Mill Creek, Brush Creek, Richland Creek- all are major tributaries (or “Forks” or “Prongs”) of the Deep.  Little Uwharrie, Caraway, Back Creek, Bettie McGee’s Creek, Little River, are all major tributaries of the Uwharrie.   Each creek was further subdivided into numerous “Branches,” and each branch could be divided into “Runs” or “Brooks.”  A “wash” or “draw” was a dry creek bead, only intermittently or seasonally wet.

“Spring Branches” were the head sources of a watercourse, where natural springs bubbled up from the ground.  These were highly sought-after pieces of property, and often a spring retained the name of its first owner long after that person had departed.  “Adam’s Spring,” for example, is in New Salem, a tributary of Polecat Creek, and was the place where the doomed heroine of the ballad “Naomi Wise” met her alleged killer, Jonathan Lewis.  “Mineral Springs”  indicated that the water from a particular spring had dissolved substances that provided a particular taste, often thought to have healthful or healing qualities.  “Hot Springs” were naturally heated, and were developed into spas and resorts.

Shelter built over Adams' Spring, New Salem (now gone)

Shelter built over Adams’ Spring, New Salem (now gone)

The smallest and most personal branches were those that began or “headed” on a homeplace, where the residents carried water for their animals and washing.  Sidney Swaim Robins (1883- 1979) wrote of his boyhood at 177 South Main Street in Asheboro that the branch behind his house was named after them, then their neighbors. “Below our place the Robins Branch became first the McAlister Branch, then the Penn Wood Branch, on its way to make Haskett’s Creek, which we used to cross on a covered bridge about four miles out on the road to Randleman.  Of course we fished that creek all the way from Ed Walker’s line [now the site of Central Methodist Church, 300 S. Main at Academy St.] way down past “Eck’s” dam [unknown] to the place where Garland Pritchard grew up [647 E. Pritchard St., now an Acme-McCrary factory, but once Garland Lake Dairy].  We caught suckers, sun perch, catfish (after rains), now and then an eel, a few of them big enough to eat.  I knew the small pond on the McAlister place to freeze over thick enough for skating only about three times in my real Asheboro years.” (Sketches of My Asheboro, 1880-1910, p. 2)  The branch he describes now runs between Elm and Randolph streets, flowing roughly north toward Haskett’s Creek.

Penn Wood Branch to Haskett's Creek

Penn Wood Branch to Haskett’s Creek

In 1793 Jesse Henley conveyed two acres of land on Abram’s Creek to the Justices of Randolph County for use as a courthouse.  This land covered what is now the intersection of Salisbury and Main Streets, in Asheboro, and the nearest watercourse is the one to the northwest, which headed in what became Dr. J.M. Worth’s cow pasture, now the location of the 2002 Randolph County Courthouse.  Before the county demolished the houses that sat in the present parking lot, a stream ran diagonally through that lot and crossed Salisbury Street at the intersection with Cox.  Now buried in a culvert, the stream emerges east of Cox Street behind 236 North Cox Street and runs east, merging with Penn Wood Branch near 214 North Elm Street.  J.A. Blair wrote in 1890: “When Henley entered this land [1786] there was a small cabin on it, near the spring a little north of where the old Hoover House now stands, and an old man lived there by the name of Abram.  He had a small patch cleared around his house and lived chiefly by fishing and hunting and, it is said, could stand in his door and shoot deer and wild turkeys.” (p43)

Abram's Creek area

Abram’s Creek area

The point here is that the tributaries of Deep River were “heading” on the east side of Asheboro, and flowing downhill and northeast into the river.  Whether Robins’ or McAlister’s or Penn Wood’s Branch, the stream that now flows along Elm and Meadowbrook started at a spring behind 835 South Cox Street in Asheboro, meandered its way into Deep River, and eventually flowed into the Atlantic Ocean through the Cape Fear River at Southport, NC.

The 1851 Plank Road (now Fayetteville Street) followed the Ridge Line through Asheboro.

The 1851 Plank Road (now Fayetteville Street) followed the Ridge Line through Asheboro.

On the west side of Fayetteville Street, any rain drop that hits the ground goes in a different direction.  Back Creek is the tributary of the Uwharrie that drains the western half of Asheboro.  The first reference I have found to Back Creek itself is in the 1763 Survey Book of Henry Eustace McCulloh (see my 1895 Architectural History of Randolph County for a more detailed discussion of McCulloh).  Back Creek Friends Meeting is first referred to in 1775; Back Creek Mountain is first referred

to in 1786 (Deed Book 2, Page 223); and Back Creek Township was established in 1868.

Back Creek

Back Creek to its junction with Caraway Creek

“Cedar Fork” is described as a tributary of Back Creek in a 1786 deed of Thomas Winslow (DB2, Page 230).  Google Maps shows it as running between Bunting Road and Lexington, which would make it the major feeder stream from downtown Asheboro.  The primary prong of Cedar Fork heads in the parking lot of the State Employees Credit Union, 1036 S. Park St., and then meanders northeast almost to the railroad track to the intersection of Cooper Street, Armfield Avenue and Hammer Avenue, where it turns northwest.  From there it runs in a culvert under Memorial Park tennis courts, runs between Spencer Avenue and West Kivett Street; crosses Uwharrie Street at Occaneechee Street and then runs through a deep ravine to cross under the I-73/74 Bypass at Old Farmer Road, just south of East Street.  It continues through the ravine at the end of West Street, and intersects another tributary of Back Creek just west of the dead end of Northridge Drive.

The source of Cedar Fork of Back Creek

The name of this second stream, which runs north from an area behind Klaussner Furniture, crosses Old Farmer Road at Register Street, and crosses Bunting Road running north, is not clear from any records I have seen.  A third stream runs north parallel to the second from two ponds located north of Old NC Hwy 49 and south of US 64, west of Cranbrook Circle; this crosses US 64 just east of Westside Circle and flows north parallel to Jarrell Drive to the end of Bunting Road, where it enters Lake Bunch, one of the City of Asheboro’s original 1920s-era raw water reservoirs.  Another, Lake McCrary, was created by damming a fourth tributary of Back Creek which heads north of Westchapel Road and flows north parallel to Westminister Court.  Lake McCrary overflows into Lake Bunch, which meets the main prong of Cedar Fork near the dead end of Little Lakes Trail, just west of the intersection of a sixth stream, which runs south across Old Lexington Road from its source between Berkeley Lane and Viewmont Drive just south of Northmont Drive.

The many 'prongs' of Back Creek south of Dave's Mountain

The many ‘prongs’ of Back Creek southwest of Dave’s Mountain

The names of these six streams are currently not known with certainty, but could possibly be recovered from a detailed historical search of land titles.  For example, the 1929 deeds (DB 234, P99 and DB250, P514)into Sulon Stedman who built a house at 745 Lexington Road (now Robert C. Shaffner) state that the property is bounded in part by Malley’s or Mallie’s Branch and Bunting Road- a large area which encompasses the main fork of Cedar Fork but could describe yet another branch (#7) which flows from the Episcopalian Church on Mountain Road, across Old Lexington Road and around the City of Asheboro Water Treatment Plant at the end of Bossong Drive to intersect with Cedar Fork.  At the same time, however, there is still some confusion- one of the deeds (DV144, P258) into the City of Asheboro for the property which became Lakes McCrary and Bunch says that the land lies “where Cedar Fork and Mollie’s Creek unite, about 1 ½ miles west of the Town of Asheboro.”  So, Mollie’s Creek or Branch could be either of the two tributaries (#3 and #4 above) which formed the old city lakes.

For good measure, let me mention that yet another tributary of Back Creek was involved with the creation of a third Asheboro city lake, Lake Lucas.  Lake Lucas was created in the late 1940s by damming Back Creek itself, but one of the acquisition deeds (DB 384, P499 and Plat Book 4, Page 77) refers to 16.35 acres bisected by Moulder’s Branch, “North of Maple Grove Dairy.”  Most of the dairy pasture land is now under water, but the Maple Grove Dairy house itself still stands at 2882 Old Lexington Road.  Since the head of the main fork of Back Creek runs north almost all the way to US 311, it may be that “Moulder’s Branch” is the tributary which runs west out of Back Creek Lake, crossing Lake Country Drive, Northmont Drive and I-73/74 to head just west of North Asheboro School Road, just west of Balfour Elementary School and North Asheboro Middle School.

Every area of Randolph County could benefit from detailed analysis of historic deeds to determine the names of the neighborhood watercourses.  This commonplace information has been lost to the present generation, which since the 1930s has been more concerned with automobiles, roads and street names than with geography.  But Randolph County is rich with the forgotten history of water.  Just tell your friends you know a shortcut that allows you to walk from the Pee Dee River to the Cape Fear River in fifteen minutes or less.  Then take them on a walk from 1036 S. Park Street to 835 South Cox Street.

The walking route

The walking route: Green Pin Pee Dee; Red Pin Cape Fear.

Linbrook Hall

February 15, 2012

When I researched and wrote my Architectural History of Randolph County in 1978, the “historic” criteria I used purposefully excluded most of the 20th century.  I included a few “modern” houses, of 1950s Wrightian or 1970s passive solar designs, but most of the illustrated properties were at least 50 years of age, and the majority of those were more than 100 years old.

It seemed to me then that “modern” architecture, usually connected to the architectural office Randolph County native Hyatt Hammond, had a precarious foothold in a residential environment which was overwhelmingly the product of the 20th century Southerner’s infatuation with the “Williamsburg Style”.  The Williamsburg restoration began in the 1930s and almost immediately had an impact on local residences.  In the late 1920s the upscale homes of Frank and Charles McCrary on Worth Street in Asheboro were designed with textbook exactitude in the English Tudor and Classical Revival styles.  “Revivalist” architects such as W.C. Holleyman and Harry Barton had been trained in the old Ecole des Beaux Arts school, and were proud of their academic command of the rules and  vocabulary of each style.  Combining stylistic details just would not have been considered proper.

By the late 1930s floor plan was considered more important than the façade; functionality was the new goal of architecture instead of mere appearance.  In 1939 the Sulon Stedman House on Old Lexington Road won awards by mixing and matching the red-brick details of early Williamburg with the monumental portico of Mt. Vernon and the modern open floor plan popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright.   In the 1960s and 70s, almost every new “spec house” in Asheboro was grafting some kind of “neo-Colonial” detail to the “ranch house” plan that became the first choice of subdivision developers.   Few owners or builders went to the expense or trouble of actually duplicating the kind of archeological correctness that was the hallmark of the actual Williamsburg restoration—the major exception in Asheboro being the Tucker Yates/ William W. Ivey house on Old Lexington Road, which is a near-copy of the Carter’s Grove plantation house near Williamsburg.

A point I made in my book is that all this new construction harking back to the 18th century environment of Williamsburg, Virginia, was completely unknown to the actual built environment of 18th century Randolph County.  Randolph County was still the frontier for most of the 19th century, and while the expert local cabinetmakers made furniture which doesn’t look out-of-place in Williamsburg, they usually made it for use in one-story log or frame cabins.  The few high-style houses which survived aspired to the Federal style of coastal New York and New England rather than the Christopher Wren Baroque of Williamsburg.

Brick homes were not seen in Randolph until the 1830s, the Dempsey Brown House of Trinity (1836) or the Elisha Coffin House in Franklinville (c. 1835) being the first known examples.  A residence with 1200 square feet of heated area would have been considered a large house in the county from the 18th century through the 1950s.  When my architectural survey was published in 1985 I didn’t realize it would come to document the end of local traditions such as textile and apparel manufacturing and rural farm buildings.  At the very time I was researching the survey, American society was experiencing changes in communications, computerization and global connectivity that makes the Randolph County of 1980 seem quaint in comparison to the Randolph of 2011.  Nothing in the social and built environment of the county better exemplifies those changes than the county’s newest old house, Linbrook Hall in Tabernacle Township.

A house that is more than a home, Linbrook Hall was built between 2002 and 2004 by high-tech entrepreneur Jerry D. Neal and his wife Linda Stewart Neal.  Neal was one of the founders of RF Micro Devices, a 1991 Greensboro start-up company that became one of the world’s leading suppliers of the radio frequency semiconductor chips powering the cell phone revolution of the past 20 years.  In October, 1998 Neal purchased 160 acres adjoining his home on Snyder County Road south of Trinity (full disclosure: I was his closing attorney for the purchase) which had been the proposed site of a mobile home subdivision.  The deceased owners of the tract, Jack and Virginia Jackson, had built there a long low-slung rock Wrightian-style house they called “Stonehenge Farm” which the Neals restored.  But they went on to build on the highest point of the tract a house “dedicated to giving.”

Students of historic architecture, the Neals knew what they liked, and came armed to design their dream house with photographs and magazine articles of features and details that appealed to their particular tastes and sensibilities.  Fortunately, luck and the yellow pages directed them to Charleston architect Bill Huey [http://www.hueyarchitect.com/index2.html ] who took their many details and desires and combined them all in a strong traditional design, grounded in Jeffersonian Classicism and high-style Greek Revivalism.

Sited high on top of a hill in an east-west orientation and approached by a mile-long driveway, the house is impressive in its command of its site.  Its size quickly becomes apparent- eight columns 32-feet high anchor a pediment and cupola on the main block which rise almost 60 feet high.  The portions of the exterior echo the principles of symmetry espoused by Andrea Palladio, Italian author of the 1570 “Four Books of Architecture” which first codified the principles of classical Roman design.

Linbrook at first look can be identified as a Palladian “villa,” or country house.    One of Palladio’s innovations was the adaptation of the temple portico to the villa, and at Linbrook the monumental portico is the signature statement of the entire composition.  In architectural shoptalk, Linbrook Hall displays a “monumental tetrastyle prostyle Palladian portico.”  Translated into regular English, that means the house has four free-standing columns across the front which project forward from the façade and create a two-story porch.  The most familiar four-columned portico in the United States is that of the North Portico of the White House, which is itself a product of late 18th-century America’s fascination with classical architecture, as transmitted through British architectural sources such as Vitruvius Brittannicus (1725).  That was one of the architectural works in the library of Thomas Jefferson, a particular aficionado of Palladian design principles.  Jefferson used them in his own constructions and promoted them all across the South, where they took fertile root and blossomed into the kind of Greek Revival mansions that have come to exemplify the antebellum period.  At Lynbrook, the most visible Jeffersonian design element is the floor-to-ceiling windows of the ground floor, which can be raised to provide ventilation (in the days before air conditioning) as well as easy access to the veranda or gallery.

Another hallmark of Palladian design is its emphasis on symmetry, which is most evident in the design of the main block, three stories high on a raised basement or “piano nobile”.  The eastern guest house wing connected to the main house by a glass conservatory hints at the traditional Palladian tripartite villa plan which was popular all across the South.  In that plan a central block was flanked on each side by service wings of “dependencies”, themselves connected to the main block with “hyphens” or enclosed corridors.  The most influential early example of this plan was the Duke of Buckingham’s house, built in London in 1710, which is now known as Buckingham Palace.  At Linbrook the Palladian symmetry is oddly missing- the eastern wing has no matching western wing, and is correspondingly unbalanced.  (Instead of the expected western pavilion there is only a very modern approach road to an underground garage.)

Everything else on the exterior is right out of the Southern plantation design vocabulary.  The Neals particularly admired the antebellum plantation houses of the Mississippi delta, and elements of Chretien Point Plantation (1831), Oak Alley (1839) and Nottoway (1859) in Louisiana are visible, especially in the monumental portico columns of the rear or southern façade.  In keeping with the Palladian organizing force, the columns are of the Colossal Roman fluted type (i.e., they extend two full stories in height, and the fluted shafts have a smooth edge instead of the Greek knife-edge).  The columns are four feet in diameter on a five-foot-square base, and have the proper classical “entasis” or taper (they are 8 inches smaller at the top than at the bottom).

The Colossal Order was not a true classical Roman order, but an invention of the Italian Renaissance, sometimes called the “Baroque” style, which makes it all the more appropriate that the capitals used are not of the standard classical orders.  The Scamozzi capital was invented by one of Palladio’s apprentices, Vincenzo Scamozzi, who took the classic Ionic capital (two volutes, or scrolls, with an egg-and-dart molding) and angled the volutes at a 45-degree angle so that the capital appeared symmetrical instead of bilateral (that is, an Ionic capital looks the same from the front and back, but a Scamozzi capital looks the same from all four sides). 

Under the north portico, the entrance doors (solid oak, with each leaf weighing 400 pounds) are topped by a fanlight and framed by limestone engaged columns in the Tuscan order which support a balcony accessible from the second floor.  Another fanlight lights the gable of the portico, and square cupolas (properly called “lanterns”) provide light to the center halls of both the main block and guest house. 

The entrance hall is the most impressive interior space, and again it has a Jeffersonian aspect, being reminiscent of the rotunda at his University of Virginia, with the proportions of the center hall of his Poplar Forest summer house in Lynchburg.  A very un-Jeffersonian element, however, is the sweeping double-flight or “Imperial” staircase- an exuberantly extravagant and romantic design which Jefferson would have considered a waste of space!

The first floor of the main block is organized in a modern version of the Greek Revival “double-pile” plan.  A Sitting Room (to the west) and Dining Room (to the east) flank the center hall.  In the rear, a more informal living area opens into a kitchen and passage into the rear garden.  The formal Sitting and Dining Rooms open into the hall through tripartite frames which would be called Palladian if the central space were arched, but here the flat arches flanked by Tuscan columns and pilasters hark back even further to Palladio’s architectural predecessors Serlio and Bramante. 

All of the interior trimwork comes from the familiar Charleston Greek Revival design vocabulary which was established in the 1830s by use of northern pattern books by the local craftsmen.  Particularly influential were the works of Minard Lafever of New York and Asher Benjamin of Boston.  Lafever, author of The Modern Builder’s Guide (1833), was known for his high-style townhouse designs and archeologically correct classical detailing.  Benjamin, whose 1830 book The Architect, or, Practical House Carpenter, first popularized the Greek Revival style for mass American tastes and profoundly influenced vernacular home builders.  Several Randolph County homes built in the 1830s used elements from Benjamin’s 1830 pattern book in designing interior woodwork, making this a very appropriate source for Linbrook to reference.

At 40,000 square feet of heated area, Linbrook is now one of the largest residences not just in Randolph County, but in the Piedmont.  This raises the question of another late-20th century phenomenon, the construction of “trophy houses,” also known as “McMansions.”  Such houses are not just public victory laps by the rich and successful; indeed every historical period has seen homes built by the wealthy which become expressions of the high styles of the era.  Trophy houses in North Carolina have over the last twenty years been a subject of controversy in established neighborhoods in Raleigh, Charlotte, Winston-Salem and Greensboro, as solid 1920s and 30s-vintage homes on large urban lots are purchased, demolished and replaced by bloated pastiches of historic styles.  So often has this occurred across the country that Wikipedia even defines “McMansions” as houses that “…mix multiple architectural styles and elements…multiple roof lines, unnecessarily complicated massing…producing a displeasingly jumbled appearance. The builder may have attempted to achieve expensive effects with cheap materials, skimped on details, or hidden defects with cladding…”  [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McMansion]

I would argue that Linbrook Hall is not an example of a McMansion; not just because no established homes or neighborhoods were harmed in its construction.   A discussion of the introduction of classicism to English domestic architecture, The National Trust Book of the English House, (Penguin Books, 1985, p.78)states that  “It is often said that Classical architecture is a game, and the benefit of the rules is to make the players concentrate on excellence.  Originality does not greatly matter, it is the creative use of precedent which is the standard of judgement.”   Linbrook Hall is one of the few residences built in Randolph County within the past 75 years to aspire to play the game of Classical Architecture.  All its elements fit and work together, and the house commands its setting as if it grew there, belongs there.  The combination of house and landscape gives us the same sense of satisfaction and exhilaration we experience when viewing some natural wonder.   That Linbrook triggers our sense of beauty, of proportion, harmony and balance, is demonstration enough that it is playing by the rules.  Whether in the design, or in the quality of execution and materials, the Neals and Bill Huey have created excellence and have given a gift to the built environment of Randolph County.

Hoover’s Mill (aka Rush’s Mill, Arnold’s Mill, Skeen’s Mill)

October 31, 2011

Every historic site has both a public and a private history.   In the case of this mill site on Covered Bridge Road in Tabernacle Township, I have a thirty-year personal association that gives me an intimate knowledge of it.  In the summer of 1975 I participated in the archeological excavation of the Mt. Shepherd Pottery which is located about a mile southeast of this site.  At that time the Skeen’s Mill Covered Bridge still stood on Covered Bridge Road, and I convinced some friends to join me in an expedition up the Uwharrie to see if we could discover if there was actually a mill anywhere around the Skeen’s Mill Bridge.  Over the course of an afternoon we not only found a site of surprising natural beauty, but well-preserved evidence of an elaborate mill seat.  And a “For Sale” sign.

Not knowing anything more than that, I convinced my parents to return with me the next weekend, and eventually prevailed upon them to purchase the tract which included the entire junction of the Uwharrie and Little Uwharrie Rivers.  After graduating from college and returning home, I actually lived in a trailer perched high above the site of the dam for two years while researching and writing my architectural history of Randolph County.   The property is still owned by my family.  But for two hundred and thirteen years previously, it had been owned by a parade of other people, and it has taken me years to piece together not just the history of this one tract of land, but the story of the surrounding neighborhood, part of what has been called the “Uwharrie Dutch” community, where this mill and the Mt. Shepherd Pottery were commercial landmarks.

Map of the "Uwharrie Dutch" region from MESDA Journal

The historic layout of the property took some time to puzzle out.  State Road 1406 runs from Hoover Hill Road on the East to Tabernacle Church Road on the West; and the one-hundred-foot-long Skeen’s Mill Covered Bridge (Tabernacle Township Site 18 in my architectural history) spanned the Uwharrie River about twenty feet north of its modern replacement.  It was built before March 1900, when C.T. Hughes was paid $11 for “repairing the bridge at N.R. Skeen’s.”  The bridge was one of only three remaining in North Carolina when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1960s, but it was unappreciated and neglected by its nonresident owner and was destroyed by high water about the year 1984.

The mill was located to the South of both the covered bridge and modern bridge, about 150 feet from the road.  The foundations trace the footprint of a building thirty by fifty feet in plan, with its western side built into the side of a hill where the miller’s house  stood about fifty feet above and 200 feet southwest.  What was initially very confusing is that the mill race ran in the opposite direction that it should have if the dam was located anywhere near the covered bridge.  The tail race obviously flowed back into the Uwharrie River downstream from the bridge, but the head race was dug into the side of the hill, ending at least twenty feet above the mill perfectly situated for an overshot water wheel.  But the race ran south, curling around the hill at the foot of the miller’s house until it bent into a horseshoe shape and began running in a canal paralleling the Little Uwharrie River, where we finally found the evidence of head gates and a dam.

Only iron bolts drilled into the river bed indicate the location of the dam, which ran diagonally across the Little Uwharrie at a 50-degree angle to the flow.  Water was funneled into the head gates, and then ran in a horseshoe-shaped canal approximately 1,340 feet around the hill to the site of the mill, a very impressive engineering achievement for some unknown millwright.   Parts of two sets of mills stones were then in evidence, made of the individually-quarried blocks set in plaster that were characteristic of “French Buhr” stones.   The road which crossed the Uwharrie at the covered bridge stopped at the mill and then continued South, parallel to the river, in deeply-cut double tracks, one wide enough for a horse and wagon, the other just wide enough for a horse.  The tracks converged to cross the Little Uwharrie at a ford just northwest of the confluence, and then continued south west.

Research into previous ownership was the first order of research, beginning with the most recent and going backwards.  The recent history of the entire neighborhood was clear:  the surrounding lots had first been sold  in 1963 as part of the “Thayer Plantation” subdivision (See Plat Book 10, Page 116, Randolph County Registry).   Lee C. Thayer was the operator of a sawmill located on the railroad in Trinity, and owned hundreds of acres in Trinity and Tabernacle townships.  He lived in the Queen Anne style Victorian house at the northwest corner of Covered Bridge and Thayer Roads which was the center of a tract totaling more than 350 acres.  When the business hit bad times, the land was sold , roads were pushed out into the woods and hundreds of small lots were sold at auction.

The Thayers acquired the mill tract in 1943 (DB 386/PG 340); for the previous  thirty years it had been owned by the family of Julian Pearce, who bought it at auction in 1910 (DB134/PG276).  The auction had settled the estate of J.R. Skeen, son of Noah R. Skeen for whom the covered bridge was named.   The Skeen Mill tract consisted of 52 acres on both rivers, and included a tract “bought by N.R. Skeen from John Hill known as Boy Hill in the forks of the two prongs of Uwharrie River just below the Skeen Mill…”

Reaching back into the 19th century the information grew sketchier, but Skeen acquired the mill about 1890 from Penuel Arnold, who bought “Rush’s Mills” from the Estate of Nineveh Rush in 1881 (DB58,P352).  An article from The Courier of 1934 described Rush’s Mills: “the Little Uwharrie came down on the top of a hill just west of Big Uwharrie.  And 120 rods before it emptied into the bigger river it was forty feet higher on a level than the big river.  So Rush, with the help of his slaves, built a small dam on the hill, plowed and shoveled a canal or race around the hill and landed the water on a 20-foot wheel which operated a long saw placed so as to give it speed up and down.”  The grist mill was forty feet further down the race, where “two sets of stones were put in, one for wheat and one for corn.  When it rained enough they could run the saw and the grist mill at the same time.  When rains let up they could not run either one.”  (R.C. Welborn, “First Saw Mill in Tabernacle Dates Back to 1820”)

Rush bought the mill and 300 acres in February 1826 from the Estate of Jacob Hoover (DB16, P319).  Jacob Hoover (b. 1754) had acquired 35 acres, including “the mill seat where Jacob Hoover now lives… in the fork of the Uwharrie”  in October 1794 from the estate of his father Andrew Hoover (DB7, P263).  Andrew Hoover was the anglicized name of Andres Huber, who had purchased 275 acres on both forks of the Uwharrie from Henry Eustace McCulloh in February 1763, when the area was still part of Rowan County (see Rowan DB5, P343).

Andreas Huber was born January 23, 1723 in Ellerstadt, now part of the German Palatine.  As the ninth child of a vintner, Huber saw little opportunity at home, and at age 15 he arrived at Philadelphia.  He lived with a brother in Lancaster County until age 22, when he married Margaret Pfautz and moved to Carroll County, Maryland.  By 1763 he and his large family had settled on the Uwharrie.   After the Revolution he turned the mill at the forks over to son Jacob and moved further down the Uwharrie to the Jackson Creek area, where he died and is buried in the Hoover cemetery. (See Genealogy of the Herbert Hoover Family by Hulda Hoover McLean, published by the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, 1967).

Nothing much was heard of Andrew thereafter until 1928, when his 3rd great- grandson Herbert Clark Hoover was elected President of the United States.  Though Herbert Hoover had been born and bred in Iowa, his distant cousins and proud Republican brethren of Randolph County didn’t miss the opportunity to turn the President’s ancestor into a modern folk hero.  A 1928 story by T.M. Pridgen published in the Charlotte News (“Myths of Prowess of early Hoovers along Uwharrie”) declared that Andrew Hoover was a Quaker and neighbor of Daniel Boone, and Hoover’s mill was “an important granary of the Revolution.”  “The story goes that Andrew Hoover was not afraid of man, beast or devil; that he climbed to the top of Eagle Nest Rock when others were afraid to; that he swam the raging Uwharrie to save the lives of his horses; and he set out to face the headless horseman on the Uwharrie trails, and braved the other ghostly figures that moved like lost souls down the valley.”

It is doubtful whether any of those florid claims are real.   Far from being supporters of the Revolution, the Hoovers were part of the German Pacifist community that clustered around this area of the Uwharrie during the 18th century.  I have written about this before in my article on the Mt. Shepherd pottery [http://www.archive.org/stream/journalofearlyso0601muse#page/20/mode/2up/search/21 ]  Historian John Scott Davenport has extensively researched the area, and asserts that though President Hoover was a Quaker, “the Uwharrie Dutch were predominately Dunker and Mennonite.  The Uwharrie Dunkers [German Baptists] were the largest settlement of that sect in North Carolina, 1778-1782.  Their minister was Jacob Stutzman, who bought Ramsey’s Place from Henry Eustace McCulloh in 1764, and led the congregation until he moved to Clark County, Indiana Territory, in 1801…. Dunkers did not have meeting houses until the mid-19th century; hence Mast’s Old Meeting House [across the Uwharrie just east of Hoover’s Mill; see DB10, P5) was a Mennonite church.  Mennonites, called “Dutch Friends” by the Quakers, fellow-shipped with Quakers, appeared occasionally as witnesses to Quaker weddings.  The Dunkers would have nothing to do with Quakers.  Land problems, brought about by their rigid pacifism during the Revolution, and the influx of Quakers into the Uwharrie following the Revolution, were largely responsible for the removal of the Dunkers from Randolph County.”  (Letter dated November 12, 1976, in the Hoover files of the Randolph Room)

Jacob Hoover (1754-1821) married Elizabeth Stutzman, a daughter of the Dunker minister, and it is likely that his mother Margaret Pfautz was also a member of the congregation.  But Andrew’s family must not have been as strict as others, as their numerous deeds were all properly sworn to and recorded.  It is said that disastrous floods in 1795 and 1798 caused all of Andrew’s children but Jacob and Jonas to move west to Indiana.  Jacob ran and rebuilt the mill, which was alternately washed away by a flood and destroyed by fire, until he was crippled in an accident during a flood.   It seems likely that the unusual configuration of the present mill race stems from a desire to protect it from flood waters; a breach of the dam on the Little Uwharrie would never wash away the mill on the other side of the hill.

Finally, we can take one additional step further back into history:  the 1733 map of North Carolina by Surveyor General Edward Moseley (A New and Correct Map of the Province of North Carolina) depicts both Deep River and the Uwharrie, but the only landmark noted in the whole area of the county is in the forks of the Uwharrie: “Totero Fort.”  This is a reference to the Tutelo Indian tribe, which appears to be far south of where they had been visited in September 1661, when Thomas Batts and Abraham Wood led an expedition from Fort Henry (Petersburg, VA) to Totero Town (approximately where present-day Salem Va. is located).   In 1701 John Lawson visited the Keyauwee tribe living nearby on Caraway Creek at Ridge’s Mountain, but said nothing about any Tutelos.   It may be that attacks by the fierce Iroquois tribe forced the Tutelos to move South, but in 1714 the Occaneechi, Saponi, Eno, Totero and others relocated to Fort Christanna in Lawrenceville, Va.   More research is needed to confirm or deny this single tantalizing reference, but the location- the hill above the bottomland in the forks of the rivers- would be a natural defensive position for a palisaded village.

With a variety of documented stories spanning nearly 300 years, the Hoover Mill site is certainly a landmark of Randolph County history.

Reuben Wood’s Library II

March 22, 2010


When I turned toward researching Reuben Wood himself, I was surprised to discover that a genealogical sketch of his life had been written by none other than Senator Sam Ervin, Jr., of Morganton, a great-great-great-grandson of Reuben Wood.  An entry in the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, summarized a manuscript written by Senator Sam, which stated :

“My mother’s… great-great-grandfather, Reuben Wood [was] an old-time lawyer of Randolph County, North Carolina, who practiced as a trial lawyer in virtually every superior court and county court of pleas and quarter sessions which sat in the vast region lying between his home in Randolph County and Jonesboro, Tennessee.”

It appears that Reuben Wood was the first resident of Randolph County actually licensed to practice law in Randolph County. How had this man been so thoroughly forgotten in his own home county?

Reuben Wood’s father, John Wood (b. 23 May 1716- May 3, 1794), was a native of Middleborough, Massachusetts. He had four children by his first wife Sarah Clement, one of whom, Zebedee Wood (26 Feb 1745- 11 July 1824), became Reuben’s partner in Randolph County government.  Soon after the birth of Zebedee, John Wood moved his family to the town of Mendam in Morris County, New Jersey, where his next son was born and Sarah died, perhaps from complications in childbirth. With four children under ten, John Wood quickly remarried and father four more children by his second wife Sibbel [Sybil] Wilborne. Reuben Wood (circa 1755- July 1812) was born to John and Sybil in New Jersey, but his brother David, who arrived in 1759, was born in North Carolina, indicating that the family had moved once again.

Surely the boy Reuben came to North Carolina with his family; but the “History of Morris County, New Jersey” lists a Reuben Wood from Mendham as a member of Captain Cox’s Company of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment in 1776. Perhaps he returned to attend school—Princeton is close by—and lived with his mother’s relatives. Even if so, both Reuben and Zebedee were soon involved with the militia in Randolph County. Zebedee Wood was one of Randolph County’s first militia captains in 1779, at a time when the militia captain’s district was the fundamental governing unit of the county.  In 1779 Reuben served as lieutenant (second in command) of Captain Thomas Clark’s infantry company, which “rendezvoused at Salisbury & marched to Charlestown under Col. Archibald Lytle a Continental Col. & joined General Lincoln” in the defense of Charleston. Whether Reuben was still there when Charleston fell to the British in May, 1780, is unknown, since in November 1779 he had married Charity Hinds, probably a sister of his militia commander Captain John Hines, whose “Light Horse” Company Wood joined as lieutenant in 1780.  Hinds was one of the most active captains in the new county, and spent a great deal of time in 1781 and 1782 jousting with the Tory guerrillas led by Colonel David Fanning.

By 1782 Wood was no longer serving in Hinds’ company; he must have taken time in the early 1780s to further his education.  There is no mention of him in county court records before1782, and those minutes are missing between 1783 and 1787; but suddenly when Book 3 opens in September 1787 Reuben Wood is listed as “State’s Attorney,” the equivalent of the modern District Attorney.  The educational gap between 19 year-old militia lieutenant in 1779 to State’s Attorney by 1787 was not as deep then as now; no law schools and graduate degrees were available, so a prospective lawyer apprenticed to his trade by “reading” law with an established attorney. It could not have hurt his chances for employment that brother Zebedee was by then one of the Justices of the Peace who ran the county court.


[Rowan County Courthouse in Salisbury]

Where Reuben Wood received his legal education is an open question, but closely available was his immediate predecessor as Randolph County State’s Attorney. When the county was formed in March 1779, one of the very first orders of business was to hire as State’s Attorney Spruce Macay [McKay] (?-1808), who also served as the Rowan County State’s Attorney. Macay was the son of Rowan County Sheriff James Macay, and graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1775. He served as State’s Attorney in Rowan until 1785, when he may also have resigned his Randolph position. Macay left the practice of law in 1790 when he was elected a Superior Court Judge, but in the 1780s at least one soon-to-be-famous lawyer read law with him: Andrew Jackson (1767-1845). The 17-year-old Waxhaw native moved to Salisbury to live with McKay and study the law in 1784. After two years with Macay, Jackson moved on to study one more year with another Salisbury lawyer John Stokes (March 20, 1756 – October 12, 1790), a crotchety veteran who would emphasize his points in court by banging the silver knob that replaced a hand he lost in the Revolution. In September 1787 Jackson was licensed to practice law in Rowan County, and on December 11, 1787, “Andrew Jackson, Esquire, produced a license from the Honorable the Judges of the Superior Court of Law & Equity Authorizing him to practice as an Attorney in the Several County Courts.  Took the Oath prescribed and proceeded to practice in said Court.” One of the Justices of the Peace sitting at that session of court was Zebedee Wood, and Reuben had been practicing as States Attorney for the County since at least June of that year. So perhaps Reuben Wood and Andrew Jackson were classmates in the law office of Spruce Macay; that they were practicing members of the Randolph County Bar at the same time is a fact.


[Bust of Andrew Jackson, ca. 1812]

Reuben Wood temporarily resigned his office as States Attorney several times in the 1788 so that other attorneys could handle particular cases. One of his replacements in 1788 was John Louis Taylor (1769-1829), a Fayetteville resident and graduate of William and Mary. Taylor became a Superior Court Judge in 1797 and in 1810 was appointed the first Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. Part of the reason Wood couldn’t represent Randolph full time was that he had also been appointed State’s Attorney in Burke County for the years 1788 and 1789. Burke County then encompassed all of western North Carolina, including the huge undeveloped territory which would become Tennessee. Burke County’s quarter sessions began on the first Monday of the month, so Wood may have had trouble getting back home in time for the regular second Monday beginning of Randolph Court.


[Burke County Courthouse]

There are claims among some secondary sources that Reuben Wood and his brother Zebedee were both attorneys. I have seen nothing to indicate this, and the confusion apparently begins with a misreading of the suffix “Esq.” which court records attach to both their names. In modern American useage “Esq.” [an abbreviation for ‘Esquire’] indicates that the subject is a lawyer. In the 18th century America it was used to denote anyone who held an office of trust under state government, such as Justices of the Peace, Sheriff, Clerk of Court, Register of Deeds, etc., also including all attorneys. In English useage of the time, “Esquire — A rank next below that of Knight… this title is held by all attendants on the person of the Sovereign, and all persons holding the Sovereign’s commission being of military rank not below Captain; also, by general concession, by Barristers at Law”. Reuben Wood was entitled to the honorific as an attorney; Zebedee Wood as both a militia captain and as Justice of the Peace. According to NC law at the time, an attorney was not allowed to practice as an attorney if he accepted a commission as a Justice of the Peace, so obviously in the Wood family, brother Zebedee was the politician and brother Reuben the lawyer.

That didn’t mean that they didn’t serve together at times. Both were among the county’s delegates to the North Carolina Constitutional Conventions of 1788 and 1789.
The first, meeting in Hillsborough, considered the arguments of Federalist party managers and overwhelmingly rejected ratification of the proposed U.S. Constitution. The Anti-Federalists, who feared a strong central federal government, objected to the document without some guarantee of basic personal freedoms. Ratification was rejected by a vote of 184-84, with six members abstaining to vote. Interestingly, Reuben Wood was Randolph County’s sole abstention; the rest of the county delegation voted unanimously to reject.

The second convention, meeting in Fayetteville, ratified the Constitution upon the promise of the future Bill of Rights. An attempt to add amendments to the Constitution strictly limiting the Federal government’s control over the states was defeated 187-82. Then the Constitution was ratified by a vote of 194-77. On this occasion, Reuben Wood voted with the majority both times, and Zebedee Wood voted with the losing Anti-Federalists. Nathan Stedman, their Randolph County co-delegate who had voted against ratification in 1788, abstained from both votes- therefore not siding with either brother!


[Early Buncombe County Courthouse]

Their tours of service together didn’t end with the Constitutional Conventions- in 1791 both brothers were elected to represent Randolph County in the General Assembly: Reuben in the House of Commons and Zebedee in the State Senate. The next year Reuben continued his long-distance commutes to court, as he was hired by the Justices sitting at the organizational meeting of the Buncombe County Court to serve as that county’s first State’s Attorney. With Randolph court being held beginning on the second Monday of each quarter, and Buncombe court being held beginning on the third Monday of each quarter, Wood’s travel time on horseback must have made continual service in both next to impossible. But riding the circuit of the county courts became Wood’s professional life. As Sam Ervin writes in the DNCB:


[Jonesboro,”The Oldest Town in Tennessee”]

“With horse and saddlebags, Wood attended virtually all of the courts that sate in the vast territory between his home in Randolph County and North Carolina’s westernmost county town, Jonesboro, which now lies within the boundaries of Tennessee. He was among the lawyers considered by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1788 for appointment as attorney for the Washington District, embracing practically all of the territory that subsequently became the state of Tennessee.” The man Reuben Wood lost the Tennessee District Attorney job to: his brother at the bar, Andrew Jackson, who used it as his springboard into state politics and ultimately, the Presidency.


[President Andrew Jackson, 1844]

Reuben Wood resigned the Buncombe County position in April of 1795.  He was at least 40 years old at the time, and either the harsh demands of life in the saddle or his growing family must have dictated that he stay closer to home. The number his books which were authored or published in the 1790s also argue that he then had more time to read and expand his library. Starting in the 1780s Reuben and Charity Wood had a family of eight children, four sons and four daughters, half of whom were still living at home at the time of the Census of 1810. With more than 600 acres of land to tend in the Polecat Creek/ Sandy Creek area, with eight children, and with the head of the family often gone for weeks or months at a stretch, it’s understandable that Reuben Wood gradually became a substantial slave owner.


[Burke County looking towards Tennessee]

Senator Sam Ervin observed of his ancestor, “Unlike most of his contemporaries at the early NC bar, he devoted his chief efforts to the law rather than to politics. As a consequence, he became noted as a wise counselor and skillful advocate.” Wood’s politics in truth may not have been suitable for either federal or state politics: his vote in the 1788 constitutional convention did not benefit the Federalist positions of James Iredell/ Alfred Moore/ William R. Davie, who later received appointments from Washington and Adams; his vote in 1789 also would not have endeared him to the Jeffersonian party where his brother Zebedee had voted the straight line. One political plum that Reuben Wood did receive late in his career was an appointment by the legislature as a “Counselor of State” from 1800 through 1806, which apparently was a something of an “in-house counsel” position giving advice to the Governor.

It’s possible that one reason he accumulated such a large personal collection was so that he could accept young men as law students.  When Andrew Jackson switched over to study law with John Stokes, he was following Spruce Macay’s recommendation to study with the man whose law library “exceeded any other in the region.” Wood’s collection would certainly have given him that reputation; even in 1821 the library of the Dialectic Society at the University in Chapel Hill was just a little more than twice its size.  Looking at the men who married his daughters gives us some evidence that Wood set about training a new generation of lawyers.  Joseph Wilson (1782-1829), a Quaker native of Guilford County, was Reuben Wood’s only confirmed student; he was licensed to practice law in 1804 and settled in Stokes County, where he served in the legislature. From 1812 until his death he served as State’s Attorney in the western district of North Carolina, the same job Reuben Wood had started twenty years before. Wood became so identified with bringing law and order to Western North Carolina that he was subsequently known as “the Great Solicitor.” Wilson’s brother Jethro Starbuck Wilson also likely studied with Wood; he married Wood’s daughter Laura (b.ca.1786), became a lawyer and went into practice in Charlotte. Further along the distaff side of the family tree, Senator Sam Ervin’s mother Laura Theresa Powe was the great-grandaughter of Mary and Joseph Wood’s daughter Laura Theresa Wilson (1808-1848), a family line which included five additional lawyers.


It’s not clear that any of Reuben Wood’s own sons followed him into the practice of law.  In fact, their relationships do not appear to have been close.  Oldest son John L. Wood was excluded from the draft will his father wrote, and appears to have left Randolph County for the western territories at an early date. When his father died, he was contacted in Tennessee, and his descendants settled in Arkansas.  Son Albert L. Wood was left only a life estate in part of the family property by his father, and soon followed his brother West; his family settled in Missouri.  There is some indication Joseph Wood became a frontier doctor; his family settled in Texas.  Youngest son Edwin may have been his father’s favorite; could he have been working to follow his father into the law?  Unfortunately, Edwin only survived his father by two years, the only one of the children to die so young.

Some sudden illness apparently came upon Reuben Wood in the summer of 1812; as is the case with many lawyers, his own personal affairs were not in good order.  He owed a number of outstanding debts, and he was owed payment for work done for clients on credit.  He drafted a will, obviously on his sick bed, which was not properly signed or witnessed, and was never probated.  Reuben Wood died at home in late July, 1812. Though he had wanted young Edwin to settle the estate, his brother-in-law Joseph Wilson took over, appointing guardians for the three minor children, settling the widow’s petition for dower support, conducting the inventory and the sale of Wood’s personal property. It is unknown how long Charity Wood survived her husband. All of the children had left Randolph County and all of Reuben’s real property had been sold by 1825, and so far no reliable records mention Charity. The location of the burial plot of Reuben Wood, Edwin Wood and perhaps Charity Wood is also unknown. Brother Zebedee and his family, who lived not far away from Reuben, are buried at Shiloh Methodist Church, near Julian.


Trying to reconstruct a man’s private and professional life almost 200 years after his death is not an easy task even when sources are plentiful. With the early founders and leaders of Randolph County, the sources are scattered, many puzzle pieces are missing, and without personal letters, journals or diaries, intellectual opinions and internal motivations are hard to imagine from the bare legal records that remain. Reuben Wood’s library offers a rare window into his mind, his interests, and his education- the only insight available, since absolutely nothing remains of his home, his grave, his physical existence. Perhaps the list of his books in Will Book 4 really is Reuben Wood’s most appropriate memorial.

Thankfully, the internet has now made research into Reuben Wood’s library much easier than it was just a decade ago. A study of the books Wood read and chose to purchase adds color to the picture of him outlined by Senator Sam Ervin in 1972: not just a hard-working, circuit-riding trial lawyer, but a philosopher of the law, a deep thinker on topics of constitutions and government, economics, and ethics. Well-educated in the classical tradition, and committed to educating others, he established a tradition of professional and public service that has endured down to the present day. Even after uncovering, sifting, and organizing all this information about Reuben Wood, it still surprises me that he and his brother Zebedee have been so completely forgotten by the county they served. A contemporary of the Founding Fathers, Reuben Wood should have been remembered as our Randolph County Adams, Jefferson or Madison. This is an attempt to correct that oversight.

The Underground Railroad in Piedmont North Carolina

February 22, 2010


Before the American Civil War, opposition to the institution of human slavery took many forms. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, Quakers and other thoughtful people opposed treating human beings as property on religious, philosophical, moral and ethical grounds. Some formed groups or “manumission societies” to urge individuals to free slaves; other raised funds and organized groups of “freedmen” to return to Africa through “colonization societies”; others promoted the outright legal and governmental prohibition of slavery as “abolitionists.” Randolph and Guilford counties, the heart of North Carolina’s “Quaker Belt,” had examples of all of these organizations. But by 1835, that kind of individual action had gradually come to be prohibited by new state laws put forward by slaveowners to protect their increasingly-valuable investment in slave property. It became illegal to free slaves, or for freed slaves to move freely around North Carolina, and this promoted clandestine resistance to slave laws by brave local residents who cooperated to smuggle runaway slaves to free states in the North. When Fugitive Slave laws were passed by Congress seeking to force the return of escaped slaves from free states, the slave-smuggler’s network was extended all the way to Canada. This cooperative network supporting the escape of southern slaves to freedom became known as the “underground railroad,” despite the fact that the system began operating years before the time actual steam-powered trains were invented.

The “Underground Railroad” was, first and foremost, secret.  That was what it took to protect the people who helped the slaves escape, as what they did was against the law, punishable by prison and fines, and in fact, the punishments increased almost yearly from the early 19th century to the civil war.  The secrecy of it all makes it very difficult to document. There are very few direct sources of information on underground railroad activities in NC, and only one makes a tangential connection to Randolph County: that is the actual route taken by Elisha Coffin (1779-1872, who built my house in Franklinville), with his sister and his father in March 1822, and described in detail in the autobiography of his first cousin Levi Coffin (1798-1877).


From Levi Coffin’s book it is clear that escaped slaves knew to head generally for the Quaker heart of North Carolina.  Escaped slave advertisements collected by UNCG Loren Schweniger clearly show that eastern NC slave owners assumed that escapees were headed west.  Fugitives coming through Randolph County might have gone toward the Friends meeting houses, or toward individual Quakers, but sooner or later they ended up around New Garden, where the Quaker families descended from Nantucket emigrants of 1771 pretty much headed up the underground railroad in North Carolina.  The Nantucket Quakers (including Levi, Bethuel and Elisha Coffin) were the majority of the active participants in the North Carolina Manumission and Colonization Society which was organized in 1816 and pursued fitful activities until 1832. Some of the largest slaveholders in the area, such as General Alexander Gray, were supporters of the organization until the state’s constitution of 1835 made such activities illegal.

The Coffin family, like most other local Quaker families, was seeing most of its younger generation emigrate West. Some of this was due to the availability of cheap vacant land in the “Northwest Territories” (Indiana, Illinois, Ohio); some of it was the desire to get their children away from the dominant slave-holding ethic. No matter what local Quakers taught their children about the equality of human nature and the evil of slaveholding, the law of the land and the culture of their neighbors promoted and protected the ownership and exploitation of Negroes. It was a conflict that could only be resolved by leaving North Carolina. By 1818, so many residents of Randolph County, NC, had relocated to the Indiana that a Randolph County was created in memory of the “old country”. One of Bethuel Coffin’s daughters had already moved her family to Indiana, and Bethuel himself would soon follow.


It is a glaring omission that Levi Coffin’s autobiography (Reminiscences of Levi Coffin, the Reputed President of the Underground Railroad: Being a Brief History of the Labors of a Lifetime in Behalf of the Slave, with the Stories of Numerous Fugitives, Who Gained Their Freedom through His Instrumentality, and Many Other Incidents. Cincinnati: Robert Clark & Co., 1880.) has not been more used as a source for antebellum NC history. The entire book has been made available online by the UNC-Chapel Hill Library at http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/coffin/menu.html . The first chapter of Coffin’s book recounts a number of incidents of slave mistreatment which nurtured his abolitionist views, and at least three appear to have involved legal action, which could be confirmed from historical records.


Chapter 2, the story of Jack Barnes, is a fascinating account of one of Levi Coffin’s first efforts to smuggle an escaped slave to freedom, and the fact that he enlisted his uncle and first cousins as co-conspirators illustrates the close-knit family nature of the underground railroad activities. Jack Barnes had fled “the eastern part” of North Carolina after the heirs of his owner refused to follow his will’s instructions to grant him freedom “for faithfulness and meritorious conduct”. He reached the vicinity of New Garden Friends meeting in the fall of 1821, boarding and working for members of the Coffin family. In March 1822 he “received the news that the case in court had been decided against him. The property that had been willed to him was turned over to the relatives of his master, and he was consigned again to slavery. The judge decided that Barnes was not in his right mind at the time he made the will… [Jack] was not to be found, and [the heirs] advertised in the papers, offering one hundred dollars reward to any one who would secure him till they could get hold of him, or give information that would lead to his discovery. This advertisement appeared in the paper published at Greensboro.” [p.33]


Putting Jack into hiding, Vestal and Levi Coffin devised a plan to smuggle Barnes to Indiana in a travelling party of Coffin relatives.


“Bethuel Coffin, my uncle, who lived a few miles distant, was then preparing to go to Indiana, on a visit to his children and relatives who had settled there. He would be accompanied by his son Elisha, then living in Randolph County, and by his daughter Mary. They intended to make the journey in a two-horse wagon, taking with them provisions and cooking utensils, and camp out on the way…. The road they proposed to take was called the Kanawha road. It was the nearest route, but led through a mountainous wilderness, most of the way. Crossing Dan River, it led by way of Patrick Court-House, Virginia, to Maberry’s Gap, in the Blue Ridge mountains, thence across Clinch mountain, by way of Pack’s ferry on New River, thence across White Oak mountain to the falls of the Kanawha, and down that river to the Ohio, crossing at Gallipolis.

“This was thought to be a safe route for Jack to travel, as it was very thinly inhabited, and it was decided that my cousin Vestal and I should go see our uncle, and learn if he was willing to incur the risk and take Jack with him to Indiana. He said he was willing, and all the arrangements were made…” [pp.34-35]


This trip was less than two years since 43-year-old Elisha Coffin had purchased the mill and several hundred acres of land on Deep River that later became Franklinville. He either had just been or was about to be elected a Justice of the Peace of the Randolph County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions (the equivalent of a modern County Commissioner), so it was truly a legal and political risk for him to make this trip. But my purpose here is to focus on the route from North Carolina to Indiana rather than on Elisha Coffin or the rather thrilling adventure of Levi Coffin, who was forced to follow the Coffins on horseback to thwart the efforts of a slave-catcher who appeared on their trail. [But all my readers should check out that story in the original—chapter 2,
http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/coffin/menu.html .]


It is an interesting aspect of modern scholarship of the Underground Railroad, as promoted by the National Park Service and dozens of local historical societies in northern states, that all the maps of “routes” out of the slave-holding states completely ignore the route from central NC to Indiana and Ohio called by Levi Coffin as the “Kanawah” road. In fact, most “maps” of the underground railroad only clearly define the route after it reaches a free state and starts toward Canada.

There is an internet-published record (“The Kanawah Trace Waybill”) which documents an almost identical route from New Garden to Ohio (its first stop appears to go west toward Winston-Salem (Clemmons) instead of north to the Dan River); see http://homepages.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~maggieoh/Migrate/merle.htm .


The only Piedmont NC museum interpretation of the underground railroad of which I am aware is at Mendenhall Plantation, in Jamestown, Guilford County. See http://www.mendenhallplantation.org/. A false-bottomed wagon from the Centre Friends Meeting community some 15 miles southeast is the museum’s primary artifact of the underground railroad, and it too confirms the importance of the Kanawah route. The wagon was preserved by Centre historian Joshua Edgar Murrow (1892-1980), grandson of Andrew Murrow (1820-1908), who with his foster brother Isaac Stanley (1832-1927), used the wagon to transport runaway slaves to Ohio on the Kanawah Road [see http://www.mendenhallplantation.org/Wagon.htm ].

Given the numerous primary sources and confirmation of this route from the heart of Piedmont NC to Ohio and Indiana, and the confirmation of its regular use in underground railroad activities, why is it not listed on the National Park Service websites and maps? Neither is it common knowledge here in North Carolina, and I think both omissions stem from a common source—the fact that the antebellum history of Guilford and Randolph Counties, and its Quaker inhabitants, does not follow the popular “Gone with the Wind” narrative of the antebellum South. Our region was another story, not the romatic lost world of the plantation gentry, but a Shadow South, of abolition and manumission activities, of industry and internal improvements, and steady moral and political opposition to the status quo. Our history is much more nuanced and interesting than the standard black and white (or blue and gray) textbook version, and our culture is lessened by the fact that we forget and ignore the work and sacrifices of the men and women who fought against heavy odds to change the fundamental basis of the society they lived in.

Nixon’s Pond/ Husbands’ Mill

May 7, 2009

The more complicated the history of a tract of land, the more likely it is to be known by a multiplicity of names. This gets especially confusing with the sites of grist mills.

Where Old Liberty Road in Liberty Township crosses the main branch of Sandy Creek in the present-day community of Melancthon (named after the nearby German Lutheran Church) is a mill known to those few who actually remember the building pictured above as “Nixon’s Mill.” Demolished in the late 1940s, the mill was known in the 20th century more for its recreational picnic and swimming grounds. But history associates it with one of Randolph County’s best-known historical characters, the Regulator Herman Husband.

Cornelius Julian, the Franklinville correspondent of The Courier, opens a window for us on Nixon’s Pond in the 1920s when the annual picnic of the Franklinville “Betterment Society” was held there.

A Picnic at Nixon’s Pond [August 17, 1922]

“On Thursday, August 10, the Franklinville Betterment Society held its annual picnic at Nixon’s Pond on Sandy Creek which is an ideal place for a day’s outing. Bathing, rowing, and games were enjoyed by both children and grown people. A tempting dinner was spread on the ground, and all were invited to help themselves. Soon after dinner a watermelon feast was provided, the melons being raised in Randolph County, which raises the best.

“About 250 people enjoyed the picnic which not only afforded a good time, but also made everybody feel better for having spent a day in the great outdoors. The Betterment Society, by inviting the entire community to join in its picnic, increased our interest in the community and made us all feel that community fellowship is very beneficial.”

Community Picnic at Nixon’s Pond [August 30, 1923]

“The annual picnic of the community under the auspices of the Betterment Society, was held at Nixon’s Mill Pond on the state highway, a short distance east of Gray’s Chapel, Friday. The Randolph Mills closed down for the occasion and a large crowd attended. Fifty or more automobiles conveyed the crowd out to the picnic grounds. At 5:30 dinner was spread upon the grounds in real picnic fashion. During the evening quite a number of games and contests were participated in. At 6:00 about three-fourths of a ton of watermelons, which were furnished by John W. Clark, were cut, adding very much to the enjoyment of the evening. Some of us want an annual picnic every week.”

They went at least once more, cited in advance on July 31, 1924: “The Betterment Society will go on their annual picnic to Nixon’s Pond, Sandy Creek, Friday afternoon, August 15th. Everybody is invited to go and take a basket of rations. They expect to leave the Academy at three o’clock PM.”

It wasn’t just the Franklinville worker’s club who used mill grounds; on August 11, 1927, one of North Carolina’s best-known recording stars was to attend and perform: “A reunion of the Poole family will be held at Nixon’s Pond, Sandy Creek, on State highway 62, Thursday August 11.  A picnic dinner will be served.  All relatives and friends of the family are urged to attend.  Charlie Poole, of near Leaksville, promises to have his string band at the reunion.  Mr. Poole’s band has recently been playing for records for the Edison Phonograph Company, and have been in New York City for some time on this mission.”

The father of the present owner purchased the mill in September, 1943 (DB 370, P519) from the Thomas Nixon estate. Thomas Nixon obtained part of it in 1912 from A.T. Nixon (DB282, P40), and the mill itself from Quentin Nixon (see 234/556). The recreational nature of the site was acknowledged in a five-year lease in March 1924 (DB205, P197), when Nixon rented to Charles Melvin “all that body of water known as Nixon’s Mill Pond… together with such portions of Sandy Creek flowing into or out of said Nixon’s Mill Pond… together with the right… to the reasonable use of the banks of the said mill pond and the said Sandy Creek for the purposes of fishing in the said waters…”

Old Liberty Road, looking east at Sandy Creek.

The two-and-a-half-story mill illustrated above stood on the south side of the current one-lane concrete bridge, with the dam on the north side of the bridge impounding a 10-acre lake. The present owner says that during a hurricane in the 1950s (possibly hurricane Hazel), “the county broke the dam so high water didn’t wash away the bridge.”

Grist mills once came in many sizes. Alexander Spencer, born on Fork Creek near what is now Seagrove, wrote that his “Grandfather used to own a little tub mill two miles down Little River from where he lived.” [Seagrove Area, 1976, p.82]. A tub mill was the smallest and most primitive kind of mill, a one-story building no larger than 15 feet square. A horizontal wooden wheel under the mill was directly connected by a vertical wooden shaft to a single pair of grindstones, and stream water was funneled onto the wheel from above, similarly to a modern turbine water wheel. A step above this was a two-story grist mill with both corn and wheat stones, and simple wheat cleaning and flour processing machinery. The 1801 Moretz/ Coffin Mill in Franklinville was an example of such a mill. More elaborate where the 3- or 4-story merchant mills, with multiple grindstones and more elaborate processing machinery; the Dicks Mill, Bell-Walker Mill, and Dennis Cox Mill on Little River (all built circa 1830) were examples. After 1880 boxy, multistory Roller Mills began to replace all previous grist and merchant mills, and were built in urban areas closer to the demand for white biscuit flour.

The mill here was larger than the Moretz-Coffin Mill; it was smaller, and probably older than, the Dicks, Bell/Walker, and Dennis Cox mills. Like the Cox and Walker mills, Nixon’s Mill had vertically-sliding wooden shutters instead of glass windows. Like all of those mills it has a steep gable roof, providing useable attic space, but without any dormer windows. One unusual feature of Nixon’s mill is the “lucam” running the full height of the attic gable, a survival from medieval European mills.  A lucam is a projecting bottomless enclosure at the peak of the gable which shelters the wooden windlass used to hoist grain sacks out of wagons on the ground up to the top floor storage areas. Vestigal lucams all exist in the larger merchant mills, but have become more of a minor roof extension or cover than a fully-formed space.

Privy.

What now remains at the site is the antebellum miller’s house, a circa-1930-vintage service station, and one of the only (if not THE only) surviving two-seat privies in Randolph County. The privy stood just to the rear of the mill, and is visible in the documentary photo at the head of this page. The service station and attached pool hall have been remodeled into the 1950s-era home that currently fronts the road.

Miller’s House, 2009.

The miller’s house stands between and behind the other structures, about 75 feet south of the road. One local story says that the miller during the Civil War hid grain from local deserters and outliers, and from the Confederate soldiers who camped in the area at the end of the war, by filling all the framing spaces between the exterior weatherboards and interior wainscoating with grain. Coincidentally, this also would have insulated his house better than the average dwelling at the time!

Mill circa-1948.

Herman Husband (1724-1795) moved to the area from Maryland in 1751 (and settled on the east side of the Ramseur-Julian Road “where W.P. Fox, Esq., now lives” said J.A. Blair in 1890). This mill site would have been about a mile south of the site of Husbands’ dwelling. Although local tradition says that this is the site of “Husband’s Mill,” Herman Husband owned a number of mill sites, and more than one just in this area of Sandy Creek. A surveyor by training, Husband purchased thousands of acres of land in the Piedmont (more than 10,000 acres, say some sources). There are 18 separate grants from Earl Granville to Husband: 1 on Horsepen Creek and 1 on Alamance Creek, tributaries of Haw River; 8 of them on Sandy Creek; 2 on Sandy Creek and Rocky River; 2 on Love’s Creek (a tributary of Rocky River); 4 on Deep River (one at “the Cedar Falls” and 3 near Buffalo Ford, not far). from his miller brother-in-law Harman Cox. One tract on Sandy Creek “called the Mill Falls” was entered by Husband in July 1760, and sold in 1768 to Jacob Hinshaw, “weaver.” In August 1768, Husband mortgaged 8 tracts containing 3,688 acres to Jacob Gregg, “millwright” (Orange County Deed Book 3, Page 522). Gregg’s loan to Husbands of “1500 pounds Virginia money” for 20 years was very unusual by colonial standards- unusual that Gregg would have so much cash, and unusual that Husbands would borrow and use his property (Husband’s “Cabbin” tract and adjoining property) as security. This may have been part of a plan to protect Husband’s property and investments during the Regulation period, where Husband was more than once arrested and imprisoned.

Mill house in the 1950s.

In the aftermath of the Battle of the Alamance, Governor Tryon and the militia forces camped on Husband’s “plantation” for more than two weeks, and must have used Husband’s Mill to supply the needs of the troops for fresh flour and meal. It appears that all of Husband’s property was either confiscated or destroyed by Governor Tryon, and it isn’t clear whether Gregg’s mortgage was respected. Husband himself had left the state before the battle, and made his way to western Pennsylvania, where he was later involved in the Whiskey Rebellion (their version of the anti-tax Regulation revolt).

Within just a few years after his arrival Husband planned and built a grist mill, which was at that time considered a public utility and was regulated by the County Court.  He was given “leave to build a public Grist Mill on his own land on waters of Deep River” in September, 1759, by the Justices of the Orange County (Abstracts from ORANGE CO NC COURT MINUTES 1752-1761, by Weynette Parks Haun).   This section of modern Randolph was then part of Orange County, and Sandy Creek is a tributary of Deep River, so this could date this mill site to circa-1760.

If Tryon burned the colonial mill in 1771 it’s unclear when it was rebuilt. The mill pictured would have been built, in my estimate, circa-1820. It might have been earlier, but without seeing anything more than these two photos, that’s my best guess. Herman Husband’s son William (b. 1763) was evidently a miller; when he moved to Christian County, Kentucky in 1801 he purchased “a water grist mill on the Barren Fork of Little River” (Deed Book A, Page 133 of Christian County, KY, dated 9-21-1801). William Husband had inherited some of his father’s property, including “60 acres on South side of Deep River, known by the name of Cedar Falls” (sold to Joseph Hodgin for $15 on Sept. 20, 1797 in DB7-280); and 243.75 acres on Sandy Creek sold to John Brower, Jr., for 927 pounds, 10 shillings on October 13, 1800 (Deed Book 6, Page 252). The large sale price indicates substantial improvements, so may have included this mill, or could be the site presently known as “Kidd’s Mill,” which was once also known as Brower’s Mill.

A lot of work remains to be done to untangle Herman Husband’s history in Randolph County. In 1975 I received a $250 grant (large for those times) from the Sophia and William Casey Foundation of New York, to assemble materials about Herman Husband and to determine whether I could write my undergraduate thesis at Harvard on him. I used the money to travel to Somerset, PA, where Husband lived the last quarter century of his life, and to copy his material in the NC State Archives and the Secretary of State Land Grant Office. I ultimately decided that it was too big a project for a 100-page thesis; I’d like to take this first opportunity in print to thank the Casey Foundation, belatedly, for their support!

P.S.— I forgot to mention that the photographs came to me in a circuitous way.  They were taken by local historian Calvin Hinshaw, who took them in the late 1940s/ early 1950s.  Calvin gave them to local historian Warren Dixon, who gave copies to nearby business owner Ed Christenbury, of ChrisCo Machinery, who emailed them to me.Warren notes that Calvin told him “ ‘First building was built for Herman Husband and was burned in 1771. 2nd mill was known as Walker’s Mill during the Revolution.’ (Everyone takes for granted that Tryon burned the mill, although Tryon says nothing about it.  It stands to reason that he would, although historically mills were left alone because of their value to the community.) ‘In 1830 the Browers bought Sam Walker’s Mill.   A slave sent down to the mill one night used a burning pine knot for light and caught the mill on fire.  The 3rd mill, Nixon’s Mill, was built about 1850, and was known as York’s Mill during the Civil War. ‘”  Note that Calvin’s dates based on local tradition are 20-30 years more recent than my dates based on the photos.

Midway Filling Station/ ‘Mineral Springs’

May 1, 2009

This structure at 547 N.C. Highway 22 North (part of Franklinville but with a Ramseur mailing address) is currently dressed-up like a church, but started out life in the late 1920s as “Midway Filling Station,” an automobile service stop located halfway between Franklinville and Ramseur.   In addition to oil and gasoline, a grill provided hot dogs and hamburgers, and in the basement those in the know could purchase non-tax-paid liquid refreshment.  It was located directly across the street from the CCC Camp, which must have contributed mightily to its popularity with local young people.

A very interesting sidelight on Midway Station is provided by several notes from The Courier during the 1930s.

“A.C. McAlister has commenced work on a seven room bungalow on his farm on Highway 90 near the Midway Filling Station.  This will be a modern building, rock veneer with electric lights and water.  R.D. Garrison will have charge of building.” (7 November 1935) “A.C.” is evidently a misprint for “J.C.,” or Clayton McAlister, who completed the house at 595 N.C. Highway 22 North in 1936. Clayton’s wife Margaret McAlister was the chief secretary and administrative assistant to John W. Clark in the Randolph Mills office in Franklinville. R.D. Garrison (also known as “Pap”) was a well-known local contractor who served several terms as Mayor of Franklinville.

On April 28, 1936, the newspaper correspondent noted that “The Walter Clark Troop of Boy Scouts enjoyed an overnight camping trip at Mineral Springs, south of Midway Filling Station, Friday night.” The name Walter Clark had two meanings in this context; the local troop was named in honor of the father of John W. Clark, former Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court Walter Clark, who had also been a very young officer in the Civil War. John W. Clark’s young son, Walter Clark, was also a member of the troop.

The most interesting part of the note is the reference to “Mineral Springs.” It appears to have been a well-known local landmark, as there is one earlier reference on December 6, 1934: “J.R. Johnson, of Candor, has bought from W.C. Burrow what is generally known as the Craven fish pond tract on North Brook, south of Franklinville, where he expects to build a home and in the mean time will occupy the residence of L.M. Curtis near Mineral Spring.”

No one I’ve asked remembers any reference to Mineral Springs. There were about 40 acres in the J.C. McAlister property, reaching from NC22 all the way south across the railroad to Deep River. The railroad right-of-way and riverfront were purchased by the Town of Franklinville years ago for its greenway project, but no springs are evident on that tract. The spring may be located near a small pond in the middle of the pasture directly south of the McAlister house, but that’s just my best guess.

These weekly Courier notes were penned by Cornelius H. Julian, the long-time Franklinville postmaster, who had been born in “south” Franklinville and had lived in the area his entire life. He knew names for many more local geographical features than anyone presently now recalls, and reading through his Courier notes is a window onto street names and landscape landmarks that are on the verge of extinction.

Here’s a very interesting link to an article about 19th-century “mineral spring” water bottles, many of which purported to cure various ailments and diseases. [http://www.sha.org/bottle/soda.htm ] People back then were almost as concerned with their water as people today, but the packaging was glass, not plastic, and their concern was more about the source of the water than its processing. This bottle from Guilford, Vermont, evidently was good for almost everything that ailed ya.

In these days of mass-marketed bottled water, we forget that discovery and knowledge of the location of clean, safe water for drinking and cooking was a constant concern before the mid-20th century. Consumers once were less concerned with labels marked “Purified,” “Distilled,” “Cholorinated,” and “Fluoridated”, all of which denote treatment processes which subtract or add things to the water; the primary concerns then all regarded the source of the water itself.

Well water and spring water both are found in the natural aquifers located under the soil. Spring water bubbles up naturally at certain places, while a well must be dug or drilled to reach the water at its natural underground level. Creeks, streams and rivers are natural tributaries where the ground level dips below the level of the aquifer, while springs usually are forced up under pressure between crevices in the underlying rock.

Mineral water can come from either a well or spring, but by definition must contain a some amount of trace minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, which taste good and promote good health. (“Iron” water is mineral water but looks dirty and tastes metallic and is used only as a last resort.) “Sparkling” mineral waters just contain some concentration of carbon dioxide which makes them naturally carbonated.

To be called a “Mineral Spring,” the water source here must have been a naturally-occurring spring which contains a higher concentration of minerals than the area’s regular spring or well water. The local people long ago would have been very familiar with the difference, so it’s rather sad that this site, and the distinction of its water, has been lost. Maybe someone can do more research than I have, and restore “Mineral Springs” to the local consciousness.

Civilian Conservation Corps Camp

April 27, 2009

On the north side of NC 22 halfway between Ramseur and Franklinville are these two quartz columns that mark the one-time entrance to Randolph County’s only Civilian Conservation Corps camp.

The western column has a carved stone inserted in the quartz which appears to be something more like soapstone; the carved writing has deteriorated and been partially vandalized, but seems to read “Civ Co C/ 340 C/ NC.SCS 20G/Ramseur.N.C.”

If those hieroglyphs were all we had to go on, we might still be wondering if this was any more than a standard entrance to the modern subdivision that now stands down “Camp” Road.  There are no other structures still standing to tell a story.  Luckily, a couple of notes in the Franklinville section of The Courier (published in Asheboro), explain further.

Randolph County gets a C.C.C. Camp.  This camp will be located on 90 highway, on a 10 acre tract of land opposite Central Service Station, midway between Ramseur and Franklinville.  The camp will consist of 11 buildings, including an office, commissary, and barracks, and will accommodate 226 men.  The houses will be built by local carpenters and are expected to be ready for camp by July 15 at which time they want to begin work if the farm erosion extension is officially confirmed.  We are glad to have this camp in our community, which is centrally located in the new erosion extension.” (June 6, 1935)

The camp was apparently built on a 5-acre tract which the federal government must have leased from J.H. Burgess, who had inherited it after the dead of his father John H. Burgess in 1905. In 1962 Burgess sold the 4.89 acres to W.M. Cox, proprietor of Ramseur Building Supply, who subdivided it into twelve lots known as “Forest Hills” subdivision (Plat Book 10, Page 120). Camp Street runs along the western boundary of the property, and Forestview Street marks the eastern boundary.

A note from the May 12, 1936 Courier tells us that the camp had been built and was in operation doing soil conservation work :

M.F. Cheek has done much work on his farm two and a third miles south of Franklinville. This farm was formerly known as the George York place and joins the late A.J. Curtis home place. Since Mr. Cheek bought this property about eight months ago, more than 20 acres have been cleared. By private work and the aid of the CCC camp, the farm has been mapped, terraces run, pastures built, and land selected for the most suitable crops. The farm is on the headwaters of Curtis Creek and several acres will be run in pasture. Mr. Cheek expects to build a dwelling house and a large feed barn this summer.

M.F. Cheek bought the first of three tracts in this property from the heirs of George York in September, 1935 (DB 268, P425). When he sold out in June, 1943, there were three tracts totaling 124 acres (DB372/459). The 1978 deed in the chain describes the property as being “in Franklinville Township…approximately two miles west of the town of Ramseur, on the road known as Holly Springs Road…”

I’m sure that somewhere (probably in the National Archives) there is a lot more information about this camp, and maybe someone else will track down its entire history one day.

Trinity College Bell

April 26, 2009

The Bell on display under the Trinity College gazebo on the site of the original Trinity College and High School was made by the Henry McShane & Co. Bell Foundry of Baltimore, MD, in 1879.

The Bell and the Gothic style papyrus-leaf columns that the gazebo stands upon are the only surviving Trinity College artifacts in Trinity. Both appear to date to the post-Civil War renovation and expansion of the original 1855 brick Trinity College building.

The photo above, from the Duke University Archives, shows the building from the south in 1861, with President Braxton Craven and the all-male student body posing in their new role as commander and cadet corps of the “Trinity Guard.” The three-story brick building appears similar to any of the five cotton mills built on Deep River from 1838-1850, and in fact the college building was the focal point of Trinity in exactly the same manner as the factory was the raison-d’etre of any mill village. One major difference is that the windows of the college are much larger than the windows in any factory.

Organizing the home guard unit was Craven’s last-ditch effort to keep his student body from enlisting in the army en mass; during the war, however, he and the students were put on active duty guarding the Confederate prisoner of war camp at the former Salisbury Cotton Mill.

The 1855 college building was expanded between 1872-1874 with a large wing that fronted the road which is now NC62. The new wing set at a cross-angle to the 1855, so that the whole made a T-plan. The new wing contained classrooms and a chapel; the balcony of the chapel was supported by the papyrus columns which were re-used in the 1924 Trinity High School building.

The 1874 college building’s pointed windows and door openings gave it a vague Gothic Revival style which was popular for educational buildings and would be carried to its pinnacle in North Carolina in the 1924 West Campus at Duke University in Durham.

My favorite picture of Trinity College is the only one that shows the campus and grounds, a drawing on the cover of an 1883 commencement program. Whether this garden actually existed is unclear (the photo above only shows a field or wild flower meadow), the 1883 drawing shows a lively Victorian knot garden, with extensive flower beds and gravel walks.

When Trinity College was moved to Durham in 1892, the old college buildings were turned into a private college preparatory school, which became a public school in the early 20th century. In 1924 a special school tax district was established in Trinity and a new elementary school and high school building was built on the site of the college. That was in turn torn down in 1981, and the historic site is now a parking lot. The gazebo is squeezed between NC 62 and the fence around the lot.

Trinity Civil War Trail Marker II

April 25, 2009

The Trinity College marker on the North Carolina Civil War Trail was dedicated today.

The marker itself was erected in December, but today was the beautiful warm day to get a good crowd together.

The marker is located beside the gazebo made from the old Trinity College chapel columns which shelters the old Trinity College bell, returned to Trinity by Duke University about 15 years ago.

The story of the Gothic papyrus-capital columns, salvaged from the Trinity High School auditorium, is told in the entry on Trinity High School (TR:16) in my architecture book.

The original Trinity College building had some pointed church-like windows which perhaps suggested the Gothic style which became popular for residences around Trinity and Archdale.

One still stands on the west side of NC62 in Trinity (TR:11 in my book).