From the dining room of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, an 1883 Queen Anne-style Victorian in downtown Asheville, Kayla Seay welcomes a group of tourists who’ve come to this Historic Site
From the dining room of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, an 1883 Queen Anne-style Victorian in downtown Asheville, Kayla Seay welcomes a group of tourists who’ve come to this Historic Site to see where the great American novelist Thomas Wolfe grew up.
Seay explains that Julia, Tom’s mother, was known for her shrewd real-estate acumen. When Julia bought what was then a local boardinghouse, she and her husband, W.O., lived two blocks away with their children. But the business of running a boardinghouse required her to live on-site, so she and 6-year-old Thomas moved in. “Thomas was her eighth and youngest child,” Seay says. “She was really attached to him.”
The house and its characters inspired Wolfe’s first novel, Look Homeward, Angel. “He used family, friends, neighbors, and people inside the boarding house as characters,” Seay explains to tourists. “He aired out lots of dirty laundry; it wreaked havoc in Asheville when it came out!”
After exploring the house, visitors are invited to take a walking tour around the neighborhood. “Asheville is always changing, but so many of our buildings are rooted in the past,” Seay says. “We are fortunate that we can point to buildings that Thomas would have seen as an early adult in the 1920s. You really can put yourself in his shoes.”
The Thomas Wolfe Memorial is just one of 27 unique North Carolina State Historic Sites that remain true to their roots and give visitors a glimpse of what it was like to live in a different time. In honor of the Year of the Trail, discover five State Historic Sites in North Carolina, each of which is sure to spark your curiosity and grant a new perspective on how we live today.
2023 is the Year of the Trail, celebrating North Carolina’s thousands of miles of stunning trails, greenways, and blueways. Hike, bike, paddle, and ride to grand mountain vistas, along quiet rivers, on vibrant urban greenways, and through lush piedmont forests.
Along Hillsborough Road near Durham, two men ride toward each other on horseback under the protection of a white flag. Tender, bright green leaves and the first white dogwood blossoms dot the trees, signaling spring in the South. It’s 1865, and weary Confederate General Joseph Johnston greets Union General Wiliam T. Sherman with the suggestion that they sit at the nearby farmhouse to discuss the terms of surrender. On April 26, the farmhouse, known as Bennett Place, would be the site of the largest troop surrender of the Civil War.
Today, a visit to Bennett Place unveils the full story of the Bennett family and their 325-acre farm. The reproduced farmhouse and log kitchen are now reminders of what life was like during the Civil War. Visitors on the guided tour will get an in-depth account of the events leading up to the surrender and the discussion between the two generals that ended the war.
Civil War buffs may enjoy the on-site Everett-Thissen Research Library and its 1,000 printed works related to the Civil War. If you’re coming with family or a large group, pack a picnic and enjoy a stroll along the nature trails after touring the site.
The 113-acre Horn Creek Farm in Pinnacle feels miles away from development — and it is. “You drive six and a half miles down the road to get here, and we’re adjacent to the Yadkin River section of Pilot Mountain State Park,” says Mark Farnsworth, the farm’s assistant manager. “So, when you get to the 1875 farmhouse, you don’t hear any traffic, and you do feel like you’re transported to the 1900s.”
Visitors to Horne Creek Farm get the full experience of life on a small family farm in the days before many North Carolina farms shifted to tobacco production. While the Houser family farm grew a little tobacco — and you can poke around a tobacco curing barn — apple trees were the real showstopper. “Fruit was the major crop, and we really embrace the apple story of this region,” Farnsworth says.
Today, the site’s 850-tree Southern Heritage Apple Orchard grows more than 425 apple varieties. And twice a year, once in the spring and again in the fall, potted apple, peach, and pear trees are for sale. They’re all grafted by Jason Bowen, the site’s horticulturist.
It’s fun to walk around the house and explore trails on the property — not to mention check out the Gulf Coast native sheep, Spanish goats, Dominique Rhode Island red chickens, guinea hens, and a mule. The only animals missing from the Houser collection? Jersey cows and a few 600-pound hogs. “But we do have Charlie, a coon hound, and a few rodent patrol cats roaming around,” Farnsworth laughs.
“When you’re here early or late in the day and it’s quiet, you get that feeling of sublime,” Farnsworth says. “You can see the seasons changing, and you’re in tune with nature — it’s a place where you can really gather your thoughts.”
Near the banks of Little River in Montgomery County, a grassy mound topped with a hut looms above a small field. Archeologists unearthed the mound in 1937 after a cotton farmer donated the land containing it to the state. The mound was built by the Pee Dee Native Americans for spiritual and political gatherings.
Today, the State Historic Site encompasses more than 15 acres and is known as Town Creek Indian Mound. Visitors can tour the unearthed and rebuilt ceremonial site. The well-curated visitors center gives a full overview of the history and cultural traditions of the agriculture, trade, and social traditions of the Native Americans who lived here between 1200 and 1400.
The only historic site in the state dedicated solely to North Carolina’s Native American heritage, the Town Creek Indian Mound is well worth exploring. Budding archeologists and history buffs will especially enjoy learning about the pre-Colonial civilization that once flourished on this site.
The Roanoke River today provides recreation for paddlers and a scenic view for hikers along its shores, but in the 1800s, the river was a path to freedom for enslaved people. A visit to Historic Halifax State Historic Site guides visitors along part of their journey with markers that relay the story of the “runaways” in wanted ads that ran in North Carolina papers. Halifax was home to a community of free Blacks who would offer refuge to freedom seekers and help them on their journey.
This is one of many stories that visitors experience when they visit Historic Halifax. Learn about the Haliwa-Saponi Indian Tribe, who called Halifax home long before it was declared a colony or a town. Read the Halifax Resolves — the first action by a colony to declare intention for independence from England — and the citizens’ role in the American Revolution. Stroll along the one-mile walking tour past the town’s carefully restored historic buildings, and pop in the visitors center to take in this town where North Carolina first became a state.