Archive for the ‘Uwharrie River’ 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.

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.

Water Fences and Check Dams

February 14, 2009

Caraway Creek Dam

Caraway Creek Dam

Warren Dixon provided the photo above, which is of a dam on Caraway Creek he was called on to investigate by the property owner.

He was interested by the fact that it is virtually identical to another dam he’d recently seen on nearby Taylor’s Creek, and by the facts that, though both dams are intact, neither impounds a pond or lake due to the carefully-designed and engineered drain in the center of the stream bed, and that neither dam has an associated foundations of structures or a mill.

I told him they looked like what old timers used to describe to me as “water fences.”

A “Water Fence” as I understood the term is a stone structure that was built across a waterway to decrease the speed of stream flow and to allow sediments to drop from the water.

Caraway Creek Dam- view 2

I think the correct technical engineering term is a “check dam” or silt-retention dam.   Temporary ones are called “silt fences;” they are the ones built of logs or rocks or hay bales staked across ditches to trap soil particles in run-off water during construction.

I’ve always thought of them like sediment ponds that impound water so the silt drops out, but large permanent ones like this would also have a flood-control function to eliminate destructive floods that would scour out the stream channel. Everything but the center hole is exactly the same as a permanent dam.  The carefully engineered spillway doesn’t strike me as necessary for a check dam, but unless there is a head races coming off the dam somewhere, and a way to open and close the center hole, I don’t see how these dams could have functioned to power any kind of mill.

Unlike a regular dam, a check dam isn’t mean to impound water permanently.   I think the large hole in the center base of the dam is to insure that the stream channel remains open and doesn’t clog with silt behind the dam.    Even during floods, water would continue to come out the center hole, and even at times pour over the spillway on top.

At least, this is how it was explained it to me. But soil conservation and erosion prevention are legacies from the Great Depression, and I’m not sure how worried people were about it 100, 150, 200 years ago.

When it comes to the time, effort and expense of building a stone dam like these, did property owners really do all that just to fertilize the fields with the silt? The trapped silt would act like annual fertilizer, and the dam would allow it to spread across the bottom land instead of building up behind the dam.  Today we’d also recognize that it allows the water to stay long enough to recharge ground water. Maybe that would have made it worthwhile.

Caraway Creek Dam panorama

Caraway Creek Dam panorama

I know there are more dams like these around Randolph County. What did you all out there think?

Tryon’s Ferry II

February 13, 2009


William Tryon (1729-1788) was Royal Governor of North Carolina from 1765 to 1771, and served as the last Royal Governor of New York.  A professional soldier, he was appointed Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina in 1764, and upon Arthur Dobbs’s death the next year he became Governor.  In 1757 he married Margaret Wake, a London heiress.  He rigidly obeyed the instructions of his superiors and rigorously enforced the dictates of the British government.  He made New Bern the provincial capital, and built there one of the finest governmental seats in the colonies– later called derisively, Tryon’s Palace.

Tryon inherited a province where settlers in the west were becoming progressively dissatisfied with the local officials appointed by the royal government.  Politicians from the numerous yet sparsely-settled eastern counties dominated the few large western counties where the population was booming. Local sheriffs supported by judges appointed by the provincial government had complete control over the “backcountry” regions. Many of the administrative officers appeared motivated solely by their own personal profit, and the entire system was believed to be corrupt. The effort to eliminate this system of government became known as the War of The Regulation, and opposition to the Royal Governor’s administration became known as the Regulators.

Present-day Randolph County was then roughly the western half of Orange County (now eastern Randolph) and eastern Rowan County (now west of Asheboro).  The Sandy Creek community was the home of the most active Regulators, including James Hunter, Benjamin Merrill, Peter Craven, Rednap Howell and Herman Husband.   The Holly Spring community was home to others such as Herman Cox and William Moffitt.  The creation of Guilford County in 1771 (including the area set off as Randolph in 1779 and Rockingham in 1785) was a political strategy to separate “the main Body of the Insurgents” from the rest of Orange and Rowan counties.

In June, 1768 a committee of Regulators met at Thomas Cox’s Mill (on Millstone Creek, downstream about 200 feet from the present Raymond Cox Mill near Buffalo Ford) to demand redress from the government.. At their request James Hunter and Rednap Howell journeyed to Wilmington, met with Governor Tryon, and presented the grievances of the backcountry. Tryon and the Royal Council summarily rejected the various petitions of the Regulators, and demanded that the inhabitants obey the law and pay their taxes. That summer Tryon took a personal tour of the backcountry, listening to the grievances of unhappy settlers but more importantly testing the loyalty of the county militias. (He scheduled musters of the local troops in Orange, Rowan and Mecklenburg counties, where he summoned the men to take the Royal Standard in place of their county flags.) Tryon left Hillsborough on August 17th and arrived in Salisbury late on the 18th—an extremely fast trip on horseback. His return trip was more impressive: the Governor, at the head of the Mecklenburg and Rowan militias, marched as one brigade through the heart of Regulator country on his way to Hillsborough. Tryon spent the night of Friday September 16th at “Deep River Camp,” with no note of how he crossed the river. His show of force overawed the disgruntled backcountry settlers, and put off the shooting war for three more years.


The long-delayed battle finally happened on May 16, 1771, and took 2 hours.  The disorganized Regulators lost to the professional soldier, and Tryon took as many of the ring-leaders prisoner as he could catch. After the battle Tryon and his army moved west, taking a southern route toward the Wachovia Settlement.

They apparently followed the trading path southwest to arrive on May 21st at the plantation of James Hunter on the upper reaches of Sandy Creek, where they burned his house and barns. (Hunter was the husband of Mary Walker, daughter of Samuel Walker, owner of Walker’s Mill)

That same afternoon they arrived at the property of Hermon Husband, who lived on Sandy Creek west of what is now Liberty. Governor Tryon stayed at Husband’s for a week, before leaving and burning everything.

While at the Husband plantation Tryon issued numerous orders, such as one proclaiming that Husband, James Hunter, William Butler and Rednap Howell were to be considered ‘Outlaws,’ meaning they could be shot on sight (Regulator Papers, p. 473).  Part of the delay was due to bad weather, but a larger part were the large numbers of residents crowding into the Governor’s camp to take advantage of his offer of pardon.

On May 26, Tryon wrote to General Hugh Waddell, then camped near the Yadkin, saying “As most of the Inhabitants on the North side of Deep River and many on the South side, in the whole amounting to above thirteen hundred have come into Camp and Submitted themselves to Government… I am to require you to join me as soon as possible with the Forces under your Command at the upper Ford of Deep River, where the Trading Path crosses.” (Regulator Papers, p. 468).

At the same time he sent the Orange Corps down the Peedee/ Crawford Rd. to Harmon Cox’s, where they requisitioned supplies from the Deep River/ Richland Creek Quaker settlements (Regulator Papers, p. 467).  That Corps then marched northwest up the Cape Fear Road (the road which went from Cross Creek toward Salem- the later Plank Road) while Tryon sent an advance party southwest down the Trading Path.

Sunday May 26th found the advance party (“the Rangers”) stopped 2 miles from Deep River by flooded Pole Cat Creek; they made a miserable camp the next two days through heavy rain with nothing to shelter them but tree limbs and bark.

On Wednesday May 29th the army crossed Pole Cat by felling a large log and walking Indian file, taking 5 hours. They camped that night on the northwest bank of Deep River, which was also flooded.  Evidently their bivoack was at the “upper” or Trading Path ford referred to in Tryon’s order (I am assuming the “lower” ford would be Island Ford where the Crawford/ Pee Dee Road crossed).

On the morning of the 30th the army crossed Deep River and moved to camp at “Kaiway” (Caraway). The order book is silent as to how they crossed the Deep, noting only that “The Waggoners to Harness their Horses at break of Day and cross the River immediately after.”

The next day they crossed the Uwharrie “at the ford” and marched to Flat Swamp (now Davidson County) where Tryon’s forces met up with General Waddell’s troops before moving north to Salem.

A busy May in Randolph, 1771—but no definitive evidence on the origin of the name “Tryon’s Ferry.”

My inference, however, is that some kind of ferriage was required to cross Deep River that day in its flood stage, if not for the majority of the army, at least for its wagons of supplies and its artillery. And perhaps, for the Governor of the Province of North Carolina and the Commander in Chief of the King’s Royal Army in Those Parts.

On June 30, 1771, barely a month after he crossed Deep River one way or another, Governor William Tryon departed North Carolina for his new job as Governor of New York.

[NOTE ON SOURCES:  the 1971 NC Department of Archives and History publication "The Regulators in North Carolina: A Documentary History, 1759-1776" (compiled and edited by William S. Powell, James K. Hunta and Thomas J. Farnham) is the source for all of the quotes, dates and transcripts of Tryon and the Regulators given here.  Sadly, no portrait of Gov. Tryon is known; one that was traditionally thought to be him has been shown to be an officer of another regiment.]


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