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Lincolnton: a city of history, myth, and legend. Just 40 miles northwest of Charlotte, it’s the home of a famous Revolutionary War skirmish, a recently renovated and historically important school,

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Lincolnton: a city of history, myth, and legend. Just 40 miles northwest of Charlotte, it’s the home of a famous Revolutionary War skirmish, a recently renovated and historically important school,

A History Buff’s Guide to Lincolnton

Lincolnton: a city of history, myth, and legend. Just 40 miles northwest of Charlotte, it’s the home of a famous Revolutionary War skirmish, a recently renovated and historically important school, and a mill turned brewery — places that allow visitors to experience the city’s historical character with a modern-day flare.

Jason Harpe, the city’s resident historian, directed the Lincoln County Historical Association for nearly two decades. He’s proud of the way Lincolnton has preserved its historical architecture and built on its history.



Not only that, but “it has retained a lot of its culture,” adds Beth Yarbrough, director of the Lincoln Landmarks organization, which focuses on saving and celebrating historic properties.

Harpe and Yarbrough have worked hard to preserve and promote Lincolnton’s past, and they love it when visitors ask them about the best ways to experience that history today. Read on for their advice on how to explore Lincolnton — and what to look for when you do.

 

Battleground Park was once the site of a battle between the loyalists and patriots.  Photography courtesy of VISIT LINCOLNTON NC

Battleground Park

One of Lincolnton’s most historic locations looks like a peaceful park behind an elementary school. But in June of 1780, Battleground Park — more specifically, a grist mill run by the Ramsour family — was the site of a gruesome battle between British loyalists and American patriots.

Yarbrough, a Ramsour descendant herself, sets the scene: a ridge covered with British loyalists who’d camped in the area and were charged with recruiting local farmers. The fighting broke out when the campers “were met with a band of hornets — and defeated,” she says.

Reenactors and historians regularly hold events at the park to demonstrate just what it was like not only to fight there, but also to live in those days.

“They provide context for what the skirmish even means. It’s an immersive experience,” says Harpe, who currently works for Richard Grubb and Associates, a leading national cultural resource management firm. “The reenactors engage with the general public to give them more of a feel of what it would have smelled like and what it would have seemed like during the battle.”

 

Many of those who died in the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill were buried in a mass grave near the battleground. Photography courtesy of VISIT LINCOLNTON NC

Mass Grave

Experts estimate that up to 70 people died in the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill, the casualties even on each side. Since many were not wearing uniforms, the dead who did not return home were placed in one grave. You can visit the gravesite near the battleground identified by a historical marker of the event.

Every June, upwards of 250 people come to Lincolnton for a wreath-laying ceremony organized by the local chapters of the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution (SAR/DAR) to commemorate the people who died in battle. “A lot of the attendees are descendants of the men who fought, traveling from states like Georgia and even Ohio,” Harpe says, but many people not related to the deceased come just to watch the ceremony and interact with Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution reenactors in full colonial costume.

 

Ramsour’s Mill Battle Weekend

The 2023 Battle Weekend activities start on the evening of Friday, June 16, with a gala event featuring costumed reenactors, a keynote address from renowned North Carolina historian and author Daniel Barefoot, and the debut of the short new film about Ramsour’s Mill, Let It End Here, produced by Thunder Over Carolina. The gala is hosted by the Jacob Forney chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution and the Catawba Valley Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution.

On Saturday, June 17, at 10 a.m., visitors can participate in the moving DAR/SAR wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate those buried at the mass grave.

Each year, the Thunder Over Carolina organization hosts interactive Ghost Tours of the Ramsour’s Mill battle site on Friday and Saturday (tickets can be purchased onsite). Ramsour’s Mill Storytellers lead small groups on walks to various battle locations throughout the site to see live performance vignettes that tell the story of the patriots, loyalists, and families involved in the battle. And throughout the weekend, Battleground Park is the place to see the Mecklenburg Militia encamped at the battle site as a living history camp with demonstrations hosted by the Lincoln County Historical Association.

 

The red-brick Pleasant Retreat Academy’s schoolhouse was built more than 200 years ago. photograph by Beth Yarbrough

Pleasant Retreat Academy

The oldest brick structure in Lincolnton, Pleasant Retreat Academy’s schoolhouse was first built in 1820. The all-boys school held a shining reputation throughout its 60-year run, even educating three students who went on to be state governors: William A. Graham, governor of North Carolina from 1845 to 1849, James Pickney Henderson, the first governor of Texas in 1836, and Hoke Smith, governor of Georgia from 1907 to 1909 and again in 1911.

Later, the schoolhouse served as a public library and meeting hall until 2021, when the local nonprofit Lincoln Landmarks bought the building and placed it under a North Carolina protective covenant.

Yarbrough runs that nonprofit. “We’re now in the middle of a five-year plan to restore the building and its surrounding formal gardens for events,” she says.

 

Check out the mural on the Marcia H. Cloninger Rail Trail. Photography courtesy of VISIT LINCOLNTON NC

Historic Walking Tour

Take a stroll through downtown Lincolnton, anchored by the Lincoln County Courthouse in the center of a quintessential court square design, on a self-guided walking tour to 17 locations in the central business district (walking tour brochures are available at Lincoln Cultural Center). Stop in at the Lincolnton Cultural Center, a former church listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “There are five historic churches right in downtown and within walking distance,” Harpe says. “Mixed in with residential buildings, you’ve got historic cemeteries and civic and classic institutions.”

Don’t miss the mural at the Marcia H. Cloninger Rail Trail, which exemplifies the historical significance of the railroad, traditional Catawba Valley pottery, and textile manufacturing in Lincoln County.

 

Jean Laffite: Myth or Not?

In St. Luke’s Episcopal Church cemetery, a tombstone identifies the man buried there as Lorenzo Ferrer. A century-old rumor, however, posited that the man was actually Jean Laffite, a French pirate and smuggler famous for his involvement in the Battle of New Orleans in 1812. To solve the mystery, Yarbrough and her daughter, Dr. Ashley Oliphant, began looking into the truth behind the myth.

“He sailed off into the fog of history and a lot of historians came up with different theories of what happened to the man,” says Yarbrough. After two years of research, they published their findings in a book titled, Jean Laffite Revealed: Unraveling One of America’s Longest Running Mysteries, a story that details how he came to live in Lincolnton in 1839, where he remained until he died in 1875.

To get to the bottom of it for yourself, look for the display at Pleasant Retreat Academy, which directs visitors to the tombstone just two blocks away.

 

Sip a local brew on a backyard deck at Local Roots & Provisions. photograph by VISIT LINCOLNTON NC

History with a Twist

Local Roots & Provisions, a newly established restaurant that features Southern classics made from local ingredients, is housed in a renovated early 20th-century auto dealership and is complete with an elevated backyard deck.

“It makes no sense to me to build new stuff when you’ve got buildings around your downtown that you can use for those purposes,” Harpe says.

Lincolnton’s history is also one of textile mills and industry. What was once Eureka Cotton Mill is now BrickTree Brewing, a renovated structure that houses a production brewery and taproom. Grab a seat at one of the picnic tables in the outdoor beer garden and sip a pint of Lincolnton lager. Surrounded by so much culture in the heart of downtown, it’s easy to get lost in the historic lure of Lincolnton.

This story was published on May 31, 2023

Susan Cosier

Susan Cosier is an independent writer and editor who loves exploring NC towns.