Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in October 2020. As the Haw River flows through the historic mill town of Saxapahaw it rolls over jagged rocks, frothing and flattening
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in October 2020.
As the Haw River flows through the historic mill town of Saxapahaw it rolls over jagged rocks, frothing and flattening in a way typical of North Carolina’s piedmont rivers. Too rough on a powerboat’s propellers, the waters instead oblige the type of craft that glides, carried forward by gentle currents and steady paddles. The waters fit this easy-going town, where in one square mile you can find all the makings of a lazy weekend getaway.
Joe Jacob, the owner of Haw River Canoe & Kayak Co., hosts out-of-towners who come to explore Saxapahaw and the Haw River. “It’s their way of getting out of the city while still having the amenities they enjoy,” he says. “Saxapahaw is a place where you can eat food that is not only good, but good for you. It’s a place where you can hear great music and spend time in nature.”
Ready to pack your bags? Read on for a roundup of gracious Saxapahaw hosts waiting to show you the charms of their village.
A 20-minute drive from Chapel Hill, Mebane, Hillsborough, and Burlington, Saxapahaw’s historic brick mill buildings are surrounded by nature for miles on all sides, which give newcomers a peaceful respite even on the drive in. “We’re kind of out there, so you have to be intentional when you come visit,” says Claire Haslam, owner of The Eddy Pub. “Driving through farmlands, you really feel like you’ve gotten away.”
Stop one: The Eddy Pub, your lunch or dinner destination, housed in an old cotton mill with a patio overlooking the river. Named after a river’s resting place, The Eddy — which happens to be the Upper Mill’s highest lookout point — gives diners a relaxing perch to share a bottle of wine or sip a draft beer while they watch the birds fly upriver.
Chef Isaiah Allen sources most of his food from Saxapahaw’s surrounding farms, like the chicken from T-5 Farm, a small family-run farm in Southern Alamance County, or the mixed greens from Community Greens. The pork comes from their neighbor Left Bank Butchery, who sources it from Cane Creek Farm, about five miles away. Claire and her partner, Doug Williams, take pride in the signage of partnering farmers adorning The Eddy’s walls. “We’re all about place and community and taking care of each other,” Claire says.
She recommends starting with the pimento cheese fries — “people would revolt if we took those off the menu” — followed by the vegan pad thai, made from seasonal veggies like eggplant, summer squash, and cabbage.
Inside the European-inspired pub, surrounded by the warmth of artifacts from the restored mill like natural wood floors and tabletops, diners have a cozy opportunity to live out The Eddy’s motto: “Find a seat, and make a friend.”
Just a third of a mile away, TerraStay Farm’s four agritourism cabins give visitors a chance to sink into Saxapahaw’s agrarian roots — via a cushy queen mattress and high-thread-count linens.
“We cater to how our guests want to spend their time,” says Sonya Weavil, whose family of four bought the eight-acre farm about two years ago. “Most people come out to relax and investigate Saxapahaw, and others just want peace and quiet. But if guests want to get their hands dirty with an agritourism experience, we can help them with that, too.”
More than a dozen fluffy sheep roam the farm, happy to share their affection. “As lambs, their mother was very sick, so we fed them by bottle. They stayed in the house with us until they were old enough to transition outside with their buddies,” Sonya says. She and her husband also grow microgreens, blackberries, and asparagus. Soon, they’ll plant a vineyard.
“We offer farm tours, and sometimes start-up farmers or people aspiring to homestead will come out to check out the projects we’re doing and learn a little more about it,” she says. If you’re looking for a true, round-the-clock farm experience, you don’t even have to leave TerraStay’s grounds. Sonya will stock your fridge with local goodies of your choice, ranging from Cream-line Milk from Ran-Lew Dairy to pasture meats and fresh produce.
But if you want to venture out and explore, TerraStay is the ideal home base, as a Haw River kayak launch is just a short walk down a small path that runs behind the farm. It’s one minute from Saxapahaw Island Park — complete with walking trails and a playground — and two minutes from the Saxapahaw General Store, your one-stop-shop for gourmet sandwiches and picnic supplies.
At the end of the day, relax around the farm’s six-foot-wide firepit surrounded by six porch swings, perfect for swapping stories of your Saxapahaw adventures.
Since Jacob moved here in 1982, he’s explored the state’s rivers, and he explains why the Haw offers a special experience: Whereas coastal rivers are relatively flat and mountain rivers offer a varying degree of rapids, the Haw gives you a little bit of everything. That’s partly thanks to the river’s three dams. “They back the water up for five and a half miles, which makes for a nice flat-water, lake-like experience,” Jacob says. “It also makes for interesting paddling, for people who like whitewater.”
The groups that Jacob guides down the Haw through his Haw River Canoe & Kayak Co. appreciate the river’s wild, remote feeling. “If you build too close to the Haw, you’ll get flooded,” he says. “So generally, as you paddle along, you have this nice wooded buffer.”
Whether you want to rent a kayak and take a self-guided flatwater loop trip above Saxapahaw’s large dam, or register for an hour and a half of private paddleboard, canoe, or kayak instruction, Jacob can outfit you with the equipment and help you need. He even offers nighttime excursions like full-moon paddles and stargazing floats.
Wedged between the General Store and Left Bank Butchery, Heather Seaman’s Freehand Market sources eco-friendly and ethically made products, mostly from North Carolina. “We’re a home, gift, and women’s boutique, and 85 percent of our makers are women-owned businesses,” says Seaman.
Browse a selection of unique gifts ranging from colorful, soft baby bibs to jewelry, handmade greeting cards, North Carolina-themed magnets, and herbal teas and bandanas.
“There are so many creative people in this area, and I wanted to have an outlet for them to display their huge range of products and art,” she says. “Even if you’re not shopping for anything in particular, you’ll have fun looking.”
Don your mask and come shop Wednesday through Sunday, or head to the website to make an appointment to browse with the store all to yourself.