“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.”
― Hans Christian Andersen
It was a sunny day, one day post-Hurricane Dorian which hit our state both as a Category 2 and Category 3 storm. Most of the damage was on the coast, with more than 20 tornadoes touching down both on the shore and inland as far as Pender County. The worst of the tornadoes hit Emerald Isle. The Piedmont was only mildly affected, with some wind and a little rain. So, it was a beautiful day here to set out.
My first stop was an accidental discovery in the Monroeton area. I was passing by the cemetery at Fairgrove United Methodist Church. I’ve never been in this area, so it was a complete surprise to stumble upon this lovely old cemetery surrounded by a stone wall and with 1830 iron gates marking both entrances. That means this cemetery is still standing after 189 years!
Upon getting home, I did a little research and found a few interesting details. Fairgrove was originally two words (Fair Grove), and it was originally a log church. Conference members from miles around would often camp on the church property in wagons and tents. In 1966, the brick church building that exists today was built. It is not known when the church’s name became one word.
Tombstones date back to 1833, including a few Civil War veterans. And graves for slaves were marked by individual stones. It is believed that the rock wall was built by slaves before the Civil War using stones from the Cunningham Plantation. It’s amazing to think of the people, amazing craftsmanship, and hard labor that went into building this beautiful wall–which has survived nearly 200 years! And here’s another little gem: head to the field across the street and you’ll find a marker noting the remaining mounting stone where women in the 1800s would dismount and mount their horses when attending church.
I’ll close this stop with a story that’s been passed down through generations. Legend has it that Eliza Chilcutt, the church’s last surviving member (who is also buried at the cemetery), had read through his entire bible 122 times. One cloudless day, the church caught fire and he was praying over the burning church when a large rain cloud appeared and put out the fire–and the church was saved.
In Monroeton, you’ll also find a historical marker for Troublesome Creek Ironworks (at US 158 and SR 2422), originally called Speedwell Furnace, an iron furnace archaeological site. After the Battle of Guilford Courthouse on March 15, 1781, General Nathanael Greene (for whom Greensboro was named) and his troops camped at the ironworks to plan their second attack on Cornwallis. George Washington also visited the ironworks in 1791.
Reidsville is the established county seat and the largest city in Rockingham County. Incorporated in 1873, the city was named for the Reid family, who settled there. Here you’ll find a variety of downtown shops and historic homes, including the Penn House (now used as a wedding and event venue), the Jennings-Baker House, and Governor Reid House.
This Victorian structure (located on the corner of Market Street and Lawsonville Ave.) dates to 1881 and was the home of Governor David Settle Reid, son of Reuben Reid and Elizabeth Williams Settle, the family for which the city was named. In addition to serving North Carolina as governor, David was also Reidsville’s first postmaster and a U.S. Senator. This home was the first structure in Reidsville to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Call in advance to schedule a tour, available Monday–Friday.
While in Reidsville, you can also visit The Reidsville Visitors Center (140 South Scales St.) open Monday–Friday) and the Museum Archives of Rockingham County (MARC) is open Monday–Saturday, 10am-4pm. So, feel free to stop in; it’s just $5.00 (1086 NC Highway 65). This museum is housed in the county’s old courthouse and contains exhibits displaying a snapshot of the county’s history.
Chinqua Penn Planation used to be a big draw and tourist attraction for the area; however, financial woes for the former owners put the plantation in dire straits. Artifacts inside the home were auctioned off to buyers around the world in order to pay more than $3 million owed to creditors. It is now a private residence and was closed to the public in 2012.
Not far from the Virginia border, my visit to the Eden began with a stop at the Eden Historical Museum (656 Washington St.), just $1 for a walk-through and a walk by the quaint, historical Bullard-Ray-Harrington House next door, a two-story Greek Revival home. It has been enlarged and remodeled in the Colonial Revival Style with a lovely wrap-around porch and Doric order columns. You’ll probably find an odd vehicle parked in front (perhaps an old, rusted station wagon with a bike mounted on top). It’s my understanding that the owner of the Bullard-Ray-Harrington House is a lady set to turn 93 in October of 2019!
The Boone Road Historic District contains a variety of delightful historic homes. In town, you will also find the Dempsey-Reynolds-Taylor House (now a law office) and Dr. Franklin King House (Ildewilde), which is set up on a hill. Perhaps the town’s largest employer, Karastan Rugs, offers factory tours mostly on Wednesdays.
Before leaving Eden, I have two more stops: Governor Morehead Park and Matrimony Creek Greenway–both have waterfalls. Governor Morehead Park (422 Church St.) is the site of the original Old Stone Mill built by Governor John Motley Morehead (Morehead Planetarium in Chapel Hill) in 1839 and destroyed by fire in 1893. It was rebuilt and used for several decades, but eventually torn down. The original foundation wall of the Leaksville Cotton Mill still stands, and you can take a very brief hike to see the hidden waterfall, which you can hear from any spot on the site.
My final stop in Eden is the Matrimony Creek Greenway (1335 Washington St. next to Hampton Heights Baptist Church), a 1-mile, paved nature trail leading to a delightful waterfall, including 1/2-mile and 3/4-mile markers along the way. Once at the falls, you can take your shoes off and step in or sit on side-by-side benches in perfect view of the falls.
One little bit about Eden’s history: Eden was originally a 70,000-acre estate owned by William Byrd II. He originally called his estate “The Land of Eden”. When he died, he left his estate to his son William Byrd III, who had no dreams as his father did to develop an industrious community. He only wanted to live well, so he sold off 26,000 acres to Simon and Francis Farley, two merchant brothers from the island of Antigua. Long story short, William Byrd III’s daughter Elizabeth Hill Byrd married James Parke Farley, son of Francis Farley, who took over the land and called it Sauratown. Elizabeth’s father committed suicide and James died in the American Revolution, leaving her a widow with four daughters. Elizabeth later married Reverend John Dunbar, who attempted to manage Sauratown but failed. Two of their daughters, Maria Farley and Rebecca Parke Farley, later sold their land shares to Patrick Henry of Virginia. On his deathbed, Henry gave the land to two of his sons, Alexander Spottswood Henry and Nathaniel West Henry.
Named for brothers Thomas and Pinkney Stone, Stoneville was incorporated in 1877 and is home of the Deep Springs Plantation, the former land now comprising a country club and golf course and surrounding residential neighborhood. The original plantation house, built by James Madison Scales and his wife, Elizabeth Leseur, still stands as a private residence. Scales’ brother, Alfred Moore Scales, owned nearby Mulberry Island Plantation, built in 1850 and no longer exists.
Deep Springs Plantation was named after a deep spring on the property, which supplied water to the house. In 1846, a 25-pound meteorite landed near the house. It is now on display at the NC Museum of History in Raleigh.
The statue above is in honor of one of the victims of the March 20, 1998 tornado, which caused tremendous destruction in the downtown area. This little memorial park with the mural, clock, statue, and water feature is located where a 100-year-old building housing a ceramic shop, once stood before the tornado. The town had little warning, and 3 people died. A clock on the outside of one of the buildings stopped when the tornado struck at approximately 3:35 pm, and it was never repaired–left frozen in time.
You’ll also find a little antique store downtown.
Travelers will soon discover that Rockingham County is a land of rolling hills and bucolic farmscapes dotted with aged tobacco barns, rivers, forests, and small villages.
Named for both the Mayo and Dan Rivers, Mayodan’s downtown consists of just a few blocks of brick buildings, including Mayodan Arts Center (207 West Main St.) that’s open during the week. But before you get to thinking, there’s not much to this town, be sure to catch two gems: Autumn Creek Vineyards and Fall Creek Fall in Mayo River State Park.
Autumn Creek Vineyards (364 Means Creek Rd.) is a vineyard, but not a winery. Many of their wines are bottled by Childress Vineyards. Gather on the front porch, then enjoy a tasting at the large, rustic wood bar. Sit out on the covered patio or out on the large back deck, overlooking the expansive rolling hills of the vineyard. They are open 11am-6pm on Saturdays, and sometimes host events and live music. This vineyard has its regulars, and while I was there I was told about another hidden gem in the county–which just happened to be my next stop. So, it was great to get a nod in advance.
The Mayo River State Park is a nature preserve with a series of interior trails, some that lead nearly to the Virginia border. This park makes for a great day of hiking. Possibly the greatest treasure in this tranquil park is the Fall Creek Fall, a dome rock waterfall about 9-12 feet high. Head to Deshazo Mill Road (which turns to gravel) and follow to the gravel lot at the trailhead. From there, it’s just a short 1/4-mile at most hike to the falls. You’ll start hearing the falls soon. Take your shoes off and dip your feet in the refreshing water.
My last stop of the day, in my opinion, was the best treasure of my trip. I found Madison to be a quaint town at the meeting of the Mayo and Dan Rivers. Madison just celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2018. You’ll find tall bridges passing over the rivers in this former tobacco mecca that had as many as 44 tobacco factories at one time.
You can’t miss the Town Clock (corner of Dalton and Murphy Streets), which towers over all other structures. After World War II, local citizens contributed money toward purchasing the clock in honor of the men who served and died for the U.S. The clock was purchased from Boston for about $600, believed to have been shipped by boat to Wilmington, then by rail to Madison. Engraved on the clock are the words “All Those Who Served” as well as on the clock bell, cast in Baltimore by McNeely and Son. The attached building has had many owners over the years, including the Gem-Dandy Company (originally Gem-Dandy Garter Company) whose owner officially transferred the rights to the clock to the Town of Madison. In 1968, a gear broke and silenced the chimes, but the clock still kept time. In 1997, the clock’s timing mechanism failed, and the clock was finally fully repaired later that year. In December 1997, the clock’s chimes rang again for the first time in almost 30 years.
Be sure to check out the Academy Street Historic District, with mid-19th and mid-20th century homes of various architectural styles. Many of the original homes from the 1800s still stand, including those of Federal, Victorian, Greek Revival, Colonial Revival, and Bungalow styles. You’ll also find the Jordan Cabin (211 Decatur St.) just passed a snug little underpass. The former log cabin is covered in clapboards and dates to at least 1799, according to an engraving on a brick in the cabin’s chimney. And the Alfred Moore Scales Law Office (Academy St.) is just a few streets away beside an aged Presbyterian cemetery. Alfred Moore was governor of North Carolina from 1885-1889 and served as a Brigadier General in the Army of the Confederacy among many other positions.
Before you leave Madison, be sure to check out the Madison Dry Goods Store (104 West Murphy St.) a former hotel and mortuary at the same time! This shop is a community staple and the cutest old country store with modern apparel and a general store with soaps, natural foods, mixes, jams, sauces, honey, treats, and much more. Check out the small museum upstairs before 5:00 p.m. The shopkeeper has a wealth of knowledge about the building and will surely point out its interesting facets, including one of three rope elevators still remaining in the town. Across the street, you’ll find the Eclectic Calico shop (109 West Murphy St.), full of good-vibe home and local artisan goods. Don’t leave without petting Bella, the docile store kitty who has her own Instagram following: @bellastorekitty.
A few other notes about Rockingham County. It has a few interesting communities (not townships): Happy Home, Matrimony, and Intelligence. And you can also explore the Rockingham County Quilt Trail with 31 displays of Americana barn art throughout the county’s rolling hills.