You’ll find Harnett County filled with Civil War history. And there’s more for you here–even if you’re not a Civil War buff.
Harnett County was formed in 1855 from land given by Cumberland County. It was named for American Revolutionary war soldier Cornelius Harnett, who also served as a delegate to the Continental Congress. The first settlers came to this region in the mid-1720s, and were followed by Highland Scots immigrants. The Scots settled in the foothills, where land was more affordable, rather than in the rich coastal plain.
During the American Revolutionary War, many of the Scots were Loyalists. In their defeat in Scotland, it is surmised that they had been forced to take ironclad vows that prohibited taking up arms against the British. Thus, some Rebels considered them traitors to the cause of Independence. Public executions of suspected spies occurred. One site near Lillington may have been the scene of a mass execution of “Scots Traitors.”
Though Harnett County was not a site of warfare during the Civil War, one of the last battles took place near Averasborough, which was once the third most populated town in North Carolina but is now no longer in existence. During the Carolinas Campaign, the Left Wing of General William Sherman’s army under the command of Maj. General Henry W. Slocum defeated the army of General William Hardee in the Battle of Averasborough and proceeded eastward. A centennial celebration of the event was held in 1965 at the site of the battlefield.
The town of Lillington is named for John Alexander Lillington (c. 1725–1786), aka Alexander John Lillington, who was a Patriot officer from North Carolina in the American Revolutionary War, notably fighting in the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge in 1776 and serving as brigadier general in the state militia. The Summer Villa and the McKay-Salmon House and Summerville Presbyterian Church and Cemetery are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
East Coast Classic Cars
The day started here with this fantastic collection of 100+ classic, antique, and muscle cars cars in a 35,000-square-foot showroom. It may seem like a museum, but most of these vehicles are actually for sale. This collection is really a must-see! (325 E. Cornelius Harnett Blvd, Hwy 421)
Harnett County Veterans Memorial
Not far from East Coast Classic Cars, you’ll find this memorial in Courthouse Square, located to the right of the Harnett County Courthouse. The memorial consists of three granite panels. Two smaller horizontal panels on either side have bronze plaques with the names of veterans who sacrificed their lives in the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War.
Raven Rock State Park
Nine miles west of Lillington, discover the natural beauty of Raven Rock State Park (3009 Raven Rock Rd.). The Raven Rock Loop Trail is the showcase of the park, featuring a 150-foot crystalline structure that stretches for more than a mile along the Cape Fear River. The Raven Rock Loop Trail is a 2.6 mile easy loop trail (the longest of the walking trails) that drops you off at the Raven Rock as well as an incredible panoramic overlook high above the Cape Fear River–definitely worth the hike! The park also has bridle trails (on the other side of the Cape Fear River), mountain bike trails, and other walking trails too as well as campgrounds and picnic shelters.
An All-American City and the largest city in Harnett County, originally called “Lucknow,” was renamed “Dunn” in 1873. The city of Dunn was incorporated on February 12, 1887, when it was mostly a logging town and a turpentine distilling center. The city’s name honors Bennett Dunn, who supervised the construction of the railway line between Wilson and Fayetteville. The Dunn Commercial Historic District, among several other historic homes and buildings, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and comprises a number of quaint and eclectic downtown shops. The city also hosts an annual Cotton Festival.
Averasboro Battlefield and Museum
When in Dunn, make a quick visit to The Averasboro Battlefield and Museum (3300 NC-82), dedicated to the Battle of Averasborough, a Civil War battle fought on March 15-16, 1865. The Confederate soldiers delayed the advance of General William T. Sherman’s Union Army for two days. More than 1,200 were wounded and at least 350 soldiers were killed. 56 Confederate soldiers are buried in the cemetery, though only two names are known.
The museum, founded in 1994 by the Averasboro Battlefield Commission, Inc., is located on the battlefield and is part of the NC Civil War Trails. The Battlefield attained National Register Historic District status in May 2001. Also on the battlefield and considered to be part of the museum is the restored Chicora Civil Cemetery. Here you’ll find a small museum displaying an array of artifacts, souvenirs, and monuments along with a Civil War-era cabin and gift shop. Admission to the museum, grounds, and cemetery is free.
General William C. Lee Airborne Museum
The museum today is an early 20th century neoclassical three-story revival house built in 1903. The museum was once the home of Dunn native Maj. General William C. Lee, known as the “Father of the Airborne.” Maj. Lee brought to life the idea of an allied airborne invasion of Europe. The museum (209 West Divine St.) tells of General Lee’s life history, the early years of the US Army Airborne and the use of glider planes during WWII. Admission is free.
Dunn Area History Museum
Peruse through this museum for a variety of local historical influences in this part of North Carolina, including clowns, quilts, toys, telephones, scouts, baseball, music, and more.
Angier annually hosts the “Crepe Myrtle Festival” in September, which attracts approximately 20,000 visitors. The town calls itself “The Town of Crepe Myrtles,” and there are definitely plenty of these beautiful summer-blooming trees here. Each summer, Angier draws a crowd of motorcyclists and bike enthusiasts from across the region to downtown Angier to enjoy the sights, sounds, and tastes of its annual Bike Fest event. The family-friendly event features live music, a bike show, a poker-run fund-raiser, exhibits, and fun for people of all ages. Angier lies along the “Art Road and Farm Trail” through Bladen, Cumberland, Harnett, Johnston, and Robeson counties.
Angier Town Museum
Located beside the town’s historic depot, stop here (by appointment) to learn about the rich history of the “Town of Crepe Myrtles.” Be sure to stop at the train depot next door (19 W Depot St.), the newly dedicated mural (on August 17, 2021) across the street beside the intersection, and several eclectic downtown shops.
You’ll find the Gourd Museum (28 North Raleigh St) located in the Angier Municipal Building/Angier Library, though you’ll have to check this out during the week as the library isn’t open on weekends. The Gourd Museum was established in 1964 by Marvin and Mary Johnson on their homestead just off of NC Highway 55 between Fuquay-Varina and Angier in the Kennebec Community just opposite of the Fuquay-Angier Airport. Marvin, long-time president of the North Carolina Gourd Society, founded the museum. Nephew Mark Johnson, who lived next door, owned and operated the museum for many years inside the small white building. You discover hundreds of gourd crafts here from all over the world.
The town of Coats, North Carolina, was chartered in 1905. The Coats Museum (109 South McKinley St.) is located in the beautiful Coats Heritage Square and invites visitors to learn more about the town and surrounding area. Their website extends an invitation for you to enjoy a walk through their community’s history as well as a Seed-to-Product Cotton Exhibit.
Animal Ed.ventures Sanctuary at Noah’s Landing
While in the area, take a stroll through 12 acres of Animal Edventures (1489 Live Oak Rd), a collection of rescued exotic and domestic animals, including camels and Clydesdale horses. They offer onsite and off-site programs.
Other Harnett County Sites
Hawk Manor Falconry – Enjoy an amazing experience with birds of prey here. You’ll even have the opportunity to have one perched on your arm. Be sure to make reservations in advance! (587 Joe Collins Rd)