Orange County was formed in 1752 from parts of Bladen, Granville, and Johnston Counties, and was named for the infant William V of Orange, whose mother Anne, daughter of King George II of Great Britain, was then regent of the Dutch Republic. In 1771, the western portion of Orange County was combined with the eastern part of Rowan County to form Guilford County. Another part was combined with parts of Cumberland and Johnston Counties to form Wake County. The southern portion of what remained became Chatham County. In 1777, the northern half of what was left of Orange County became Caswell County. In 1849, the western county became Alamance County. Finally, in 1881, the eastern half of the county’s remaining territory was combined with part of Wake County to form Durham County. English Quakers were among some of Orange County’s first settlers along the Haw and Eno Rivers.
Eno River State Park
The Eno River State Park is part of the 237,000-acre North Carolina State Parks system, including 35 parks, four recreation areas, three staffed natural areas, four rivers, seven lakes, nine trails, and 600 miles of trails. While at NC state parks you can find activities such as hang gliding at Jockey’s Ridge, four-wheeling at Fort Fisher, and rock climbing at many of the parks.
Eno River State Park consists of 4,319 acres, 31 miles of trails, five accesses, and, of course, the Eno River, which stretches 33 miles through Orange and Durham Counties. You can canoe, camp, hike, picnic, fish, discover flora and fauna as well as historic structures and animal life, and more.
I entered the park at 6101 Cole Mill Road. Take the Buckquarter Creek Trail (1.5 mile loop) on the left side of the building. Once at the Eno River’s edge (just a short hike), you can head left to a calm swimming hole and trek down the river. Or you can head right, trekking down the other end of the river and experience the wooden staircase that overlooks the short rapids. This trail also connects to the Holden Mill Loop and Ridge Trail.
Originally inhabited by the Occaneechi Native American Indian tribe, the town of Hillsborough was established in 1754 as the seat of Orange County. In fact, the Great Indian Trading Path crossed the nearby Eno River more than 250 years ago. The area now know as Hillsborough was first owned, surveyed, and mapped by William Churton (a surveyor for Earl Granville). Originally to be named Orange, it was named Corbin Town (for Francis Corbin, a member of the governor’s council and one of Granville’s land agents), and renamed Childsburgh (in honor of Thomas Child, the attorney general for North Carolina from 1751 to 1760 and another one of Granville’s land agents) in 1759. In 1766, it was named Hillsborough, after Wills Hill, then the Earl of Hillsborough, the British secretary of state for the colonies, and a relative of royal Governor William Tryon.
Hillsborough served as a military base by British General Charles Cornwallis in late February 1781. The United States Constitution drafted in 1787 was controversial in North Carolina. Delegate meetings at Hillsboro in July 1788 initially voted to reject it for antifederalist reasons. They were persuaded to change their minds partly by the strenuous efforts of James Iredell and William Davie and partly by the prospect of a Bill of Rights. The Constitution was later ratified by North Carolina at a convention in Fayetteville.
William Hooper, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was buried in the Presbyterian Church cemetery in October 1790. However, his remains were later reinterred at Guilford Courthouse Military Battlefield. His original gravestone remains in the town cemetery.
Hillsborough was the scene of some pre-Revolutionary War tensions. In the late 1760s, tensions between Piedmont farmers and county officers welled up in the Regulator movement, or as it was also known, the War of the Regulation, which had its epicenter in Hillsborough. Majority, working-class North Carolinians, including farmers (95% of the population), were dissatisfied with the wealthy North Carolina officials (5% of the population), who regularly cheated them our of their hard-earned money by doubling taxes, intentionally removing tax collection records, seizing property, or even kept collected taxes for personal gain–and maintained nearly total governmental control.
Governor William Tryon’s conspicuous consumption in the construction of a new governor’s mansion at New Bern fueled more resentment. Frustrated farmers took arms and closed the court in Hillsborough, dragged those they saw as corrupt officials through the streets and cracked the church bell. Tryon sent troops from his militia to the region, and defeated the Regulators at the Battle of Alamance in May 1771. Several trials were held after the war, resulting in the hanging of six Regulators at Hillsborough on June 19, 1771.
Hillsborough also served briefly as the state capital when the then-capital of New Bern was held by the British.
Downtown Hillsborough of today has managed to maintain much of its 18th-century charm, with more than 100 historic structures, the clock tower, and the courthouse still standing. That being said, you’ll also find Hillsborough’s downtown filled with many quaint shops, art galleries, breweries, and restaurants — generally clustered along North and South Churton Streets, North and South Cameron Streets, East and West Tryon Streets, East and West King Streets, and East and West Margaret Lanes.
River Walk and Occoneechee Speedway Trail
On your way into Hillsborough, you may want to stop first at River Park and the River Walk, which features a replica Historic Occoneechee village. And at the end of that trail, cross Cameron Street to discover the Historic Occoneechee Speedway Trail, an old dirt track now converted into a wooded oval trail, featuring the old flag stand and a few antique race cars on the front stretch. And before you hit the old speedway trail, you’ll pass by the old ticket booth and grandstands as well.
Occoneechee Speedway was one of the first two NASCAR tracks to open, and is the only track remaining from that inaugural 1949 season. Bill France and the early founders of NASCAR bought land to build a one-mile oval track at Hillsborough, but opposition from local religious leaders prevented the track from being built in the town and NASCAR officials instead built the Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama.
Ayr Mount (376 St. Marys Rd.) is a Federal-era plantation house, located off of the Old Indian Trading Path, built in 1815 (post War of 1812) in Hillsborough, North Carolina by William Kirkland, born in Ayr, Scotland. Ayr Mount, the first major residence in the area built of brick, and its grand interior has been restored to its original splendor (though it was still closed due to the coronavirus pandemic). Visitors on guided tours will find 14-foot ceilings, which are unusual for the period, along with ornate woodwork and plasterwork, as well as the grounds and Poet’s Walk.
Burwell School Historic Site
The Burwell School Historic Site (319 N. Churton St.) preserves the setting for one of the state’s earliest schools for girls, The Burwell Academy for Young Ladies. Today, the site’s two-acre property encompasses the Burwell residence (ca. 1821, 1848), the original brick classroom building of Robert and Margaret Anna Burwell’s school (ca.1837–1857), a rare brick “necessary house” (ca. 1837), and formal gardens.
From 1835–1841 the Burwell household was also home to Elizabeth Hobbs, a Burwell family slave sent from Virginia with Robert and Anna Burwell to work for them in Hillsborough. Elizabeth was a talented seamstress, who later married, bought her freedom, and became a successful businesswoman and the confidante and seamstress of First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln.
Another interesting tidbit I discovered on tour… one of famed singer and musician James Taylor’s great-great or great-great-great aunts attended the school. More on JT in the Chapel Hill Blog coming soon.
Orange County Historical Museum
Located on the site of the 1788 Constitutional Convention, you can explore Orange County’s history at the Orange County Historical Museum (201 N. Churton St.). The museum features the only complete set of weights and measures in the U.S. Admission is free, and you can peruse through portraits of notable Hillsborough figures, and Colonial, Antebellum, Civil War, and Industrialization-era artifacts–over 2,000 altogether.
Carrboro, originally known as West End, was named after North Carolina industrialist Julian Shakespeare Carr (who actually never lived in Carrboro). Settlement in West End increased after 1898 when Thomas F. Lloyd of Chapel Hill built a steam-powered grist mill near the depot. This would become the Alberta Cotton Mill and, in 1900, the town briefly called itself Lloydville in his honor.
Durham businessman Julian Shakespeare Carr bought the mill and other nearby buildings in 1909, adding them to the chain of mills that became Durham Hosiery Mills. In 1911, West End was incorporated and named Venable in honor of chemistry professor and University of North Carolina president Francis Preston Venable. Two years later, the town was renamed Carrboro after Carr, who provided electric power for the community and expanded the mill.
A 1920s building boom in Carrboro sparked by a fire in the downtown business district ended as Durham Hosiery Mills business declined toward the end of the decade. The Great Depression took an economic toll. Train passenger service ended in 1936. And, in 1938, Durham Hosiery Mills ceased operations.
Robert ‘Bob’ Drakeford, the town’s first and only black mayor who was elected in 1977, recalled when Carrboro was a sundown town, where people of color knew not to be out after dark.
The town is known for its free, two-day Carrboro Music Festival in the fall. Carrboro is also home to the annual West End Poetry Festival, which draws in a great selection of local poets. In November, Carrboro hosts the annual, two-day Carrboro Film Festival to promote local area shorts films that are 20 minutes or less.
The town is located directly beside Chapel Hill. And, in fact, the two towns merely melt into one another. Carrboro was the first municipality in North Carolina to elect an openly gay mayor (Mike Nelson in 1995) and the first municipality in the state to grant domestic-partner benefits to same-sex couples.
Weaver Street Market
This bustling indoor and outdoor market area is the center of the town’s activities. Weaver Street Market was part of Durham Hosiery Mills. After World War II, Pacific Mills bought mills No. 4 and 7 and operated them as Carrboro Woolen Mills but closed for good in the mid-1960s. The mill remained abandoned for nearly a decade and changed hands several times. In 1975 the owner intended to have it demolished but a community petition and fund-raising effort provided for its restoration as Carr Mill Mall. It has since grown into a bustling hub of activity, hosting many businesses such as Weaver Street Market.
This beautiful fountain is located outside the Arts Center and across from the Weaver Street Market. I haven’t been able to find any information on this fountain, so if you have any insight, please let me know.
Honey Bee Mural
Matthew Willey painted the “Honey Bee Mural” in 2016 on the right-facing side of Fire Station #1 (301 West Main St.) in Carrboro, right beside the Farmer’s Market. It’s part of The Good of the Hive Initiative, his vow to paint 50,000 honey bees across America in order to bring attention to the struggles of the honey bee. In October 2014, Carrboro was declared a Bee City USA.
Elizabeth Cotten Mural
One of the most recent of Scott Nurkin’s murals located on the Carrboro-Chapel Hill line is part of a project that pays tribute to North Carolina Musicians and features large-scale murals in the hometowns of famous North Carolina musicians. Elizabeth Cotten, born in Carrboro, NC, is a legendary folk-blues musician best known for her song “Freight Train” and playing her guitar upside down to accommodate her left-handedness.
Right down the street from Won Buddhism Temple (see Chapel Hill blog), you’ll discover a Druid-looking arrangement of rocks and monolithic slabs stands in a grassy field (259 John’s Woods Rd.). You can park on the shoulder of the road to visit the site, which is officially named “Stone Knoll.” But locals call it Hartleyhenge for its builder, the late John Hartley, who also built the Buddhist temple. He trucked in the stones from a quarry in Tennessee and didn’t mind if people climbed on them. Hartley also built subdivisions for a living, and often set aside spaces for labyrinths and other consciousness-expanding rock arrangements. He placed the mysterious Hartleyhenge stones in a spiral, oriented the monoliths on the points of the compass, and bolted bronze plaques to the rocks featuring animal symbols and poems, some written by himself. Hartleyhenge was Hartley’s biggest foray into neolithic rock architecture. He died in 2011, never revealing what it truly meant.
Next edition: Chapel Hill, NC