On the west side of Hyco Lake, you’ll find Caswell County, an area dotted with tobacco farms and small towns that boast the joys of rural living in North Carolina at its best. Caswell County was formed from a northern portion of Orange County in 1777 and was named for Richard Caswell, who was a governor of North Carolina from 1776 to 1780. The original county seat sat in Leasburg, but was later moved to more centrally located Yanceyville after a portion of the original eastern side of the county became Person County. (See next month’s blog.) The region’s original wealth stemmed from the tobacco industry.
Shangri-La Stone Village
My first stop was a place I’ve been excited to see since I first heard about it–the Shangri-La Stone Village in Prospect Hill, NC. This little gnome-sized village was built by retired tobacco farmer Henry Warren in the last years off his life, from 1968-1977. In all, he built 27 unique stone structures in his side yard, and it has been a visitor attraction since. They’ll often get several visitors per day!
Peruse through a lovely display of village building made with brick and cement plus rock, quartz, and stone and he blasted from his own property: a bank, library, gas station, church, gym, theater, hotel, jail, silo, windmill, town hall, a dog house, and more. He’d work from dawn to dusk incorporating more than 11,000 arrowheads into walkways. Ironically, Henry Warren died while working on the Shangri-La’s hospital. Look close and you’ll see animal figurines, doorknobs, and more unusual pieces worked into the display.
It’s wonderful to see this creation living on after Mr. Warren and the joy it brings to others. You’ll find Shangri-La right on Highway 86 going through Prospect Hill beside the fire station. Be sure to sign the guest book while you’re there!
P.S. Not far down the road, you’ll find Hillside Sales. You can’t miss it with all of the colorful metal sculpture outside. Be sure to stop in for a look, shop among the antiques, and chat with the owner (15080 NC Highway 86 South, Prospect Hill), open Tuesday-Saturday, 9am-6pm.
Take a drive through Hightowers, Frogsboro, and Leasburg in your way to Yanceyville, the county seat for Caswell County. The name Yanceyville perhaps came from one of the Yancey brothers, James or Bartlett, or the entire Yancey family.
Step back in time in Yanceyville’s town center. There is much to appreciate here like the gorgeous antebellum courthouse, old-timey drug store, Richmond-Miles History Museum (not open on weekends), and the historic town square. Walk among the old buildings, then head out behind the courthouse for a peak at the Poteat Schoolhouse, the old Caswell County Jail, and Arboretum. Stop by in May for the Heritage Festival, based on 1800s living: weaving, quilting, gunsmiths, blacksmiths, hoop rolling, horseshoes, hay bale tossing, and even tobacco spitting.
Not much further, in the northwestern corner of Caswell County, is the town of Semora–known worldwide for Jibtopia Wake Park (15748 NC 119) for exceptional wakeboard riding and water skiing lessons. Semora is also home to one of the oldest churches in North Carolina: the Red House Presbyterian Church, listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NC 119 N). The current building was constructed in 1913, but the original church dates back to 1755!
Another highlight of the day was a walk through historic Milton, right at the Virginia border. The missed railroad line has kept this town a rural treasure, as it was named for its beginnings as a mill town. You can park beside Aunt Millie’s Pizza or at the Milton Tire and Grill, grab some lunch and spend a few hours imagining yourself in an earlier time period as you peruse through the quaint shops and historic buildings and homes in the Broad Street area: Milton General Store, Union Tavern, and more. In its heyday, Milton was supported by four large tobacco houses, four newspapers, cabinet makers, silversmiths, blacksmiths, saddlers, coachmakers, tinsmiths, a militia, cotton mills, waterwheels, steam engines, grist mills, a hotel, taverns, and more–all in the midst of tree-lined streets and dozens of wagons traveling through each day.
Thomas Day, a “free person of color” at the time (1801-1861), was well-respected in the area and made a name for himself as a furniture artisan and cabinet maker. The NC Museum of History owns the largest collection of Thomas Day furniture. Thomas Day built the walnut pews in the Milton Presbyterian Church, which are still used today.
You’ll notice the steps leading up to the local shops–the old stagecoach stepping stones–are a bit higher than you may be used to. Stop by the Museum of Milton, housed in the 1860 Old Milton State Bank and residence, And don’t miss the Milton mural, which recalls the town’s rich history, its 19th century commercial district, and prominence as a river community bordered on two sides by the Dan River. Be sure to take a peak into the old bank vault for a surprise. And arrange a tour in advance to include the old Thomas Day House across the street.
Then take a drive through the rest of the county for more discovery. Providence, NC (also known as Hell’s Half Acre) hosts a Spring Fling each year in late April or early May. Pass through Purley, then Casville (perhaps best know for he Paschal family’s Christmas light show each year with 1,040,000 lights–look for the Christmas lights sign). The couple appreciates donations to help pay for their $10,000 electric bill in December. You can also pass through Locust Hill, Stamp’s Quarter, and Rose Hill (Bedford Brown House, a historic plantation).
Next month—Person County, NC!