When potter Fred Johnston sees ash settling on a bowl through the window of his wood-fired kiln, he knows those bits are just one more way that his pottery is
When potter Fred Johnston sees ash settling on a bowl through the window of his wood-fired kiln, he knows those bits are just one more way that his pottery is tied to the area around him. “All the minerals that the tree pulled out of the ground when it was growing,” he says, become a glaze on his pottery, which is often made from local clay — sometimes dug from his own property.
In the Seagrove area, in the northwest corner of Moore County and into Randolph County, potters like Johnston have been creating earthen wares for centuries. A combination of resources — natural deposits of clay and an abundance of timber needed to fire kilns — make this an excellent place to create pottery.
If you look around, you’ll find that Moore County, the home of Pinehurst, is more than a collection of outstanding golf courses. The towns of Robbins, Carthage, Vass, and Cameron each boast plenty of history and a culture of craftsmanship — and their small sizes add to the county’s richness. We’ve compiled some of our favorite spots in these towns to guide you on your next visit.
Today, more than 100 potters work in the Seagrove area. Many open their studios and galleries, giving visitors the unique opportunity to peek inside their creative process. Get a start on your pottery tour in Robbins.
On the town’s outskirts you’ll find From The Ground Up, Michael Mahan’s studio and showroom within the barn he and his wife renovated in 2004. The knotty wood walls and shelves of this rustic space surround pitchers, vases, and mugs etched with leaf patterns and trees or glazed with seafoam green and other colors.
At nearby Ben Owen Pottery, skylights cast natural light onto the elegant vases, speckled bowls, and jars that seem to drip with color. Owen, a sixth-generation potter and a friend of Johnston’s, descended from some of the first Europeans to settle here in the late 1700s. “He still sells to some of his grandfather’s customers,” Johnston says. “That’s what a long history does.” Venture into the adjoining Owen family museum while you’re there for a glimpse into this history.
Walk into the 116-year-old house that holds Johnston & Gentithes Studios and you might find Johnston at the potter’s wheel, pulling clay into the curves of a vase as you wander the showroom admiring his designs. In one corner, you might see a woodfired jar with a bird playfully peeking out; in another, animal sculptures by his wife, Carol Gentithes, like a serene, reclined sloth. This display area opens into the makers’ workspaces. “You get to see the intricacies, the ins and outs of the studio,” Johnston says.
When mealtime rolls around, pull up to Cagle’s Diner, a repurposed gas station with a carved wooden bear outside that lets you know you’re in the right place. Inside the unassuming building, make a beeline to the cash register; it’s easy to spot above the sign that beckons all to “Drink Cheerwine.” The menu includes hot dogs, sandwiches, and full plates, but the cheeseburgers are what everyone raves about. They’re fresh and juicy and pair well with a side of onion rings.
Top off your meal at Stellar Scoops, an outdoor ice cream hangout that opened this spring. Order a scoop (or two … or three) or a milkshake from the walk-up window. Will you be tempted by one of their creative flavors, like Graham Central Station — s’mores-like ice cream with a graham cracker swirl and chocolate-covered honeycomb candies — or stick with a tasty tried-and-true like chocolate?
Carthage is the county seat, and it’s deeply rooted in Moore County’s past. Along McReynolds Street, you can stroll through the town’s historic district, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It includes more than 50 homes and buildings, some of which have stood here since before the Civil War.
On Sunday afternoons, venture into the McPherson House to visit the Carthage Historic Museum, which chronicles the town since its beginnings in 1796. And the town’s mural trail is a fun way to learn more about the area’s past through art.
The trail’s five installations, scattered around downtown, depict significant people, industries, and places from Carthage’s long history. An expansive mural landscape painted by artist Scott Nurkin on the side of the Luke Marion building follows tobacco from the field to auction in When Tobacco Was King. The most recent installment, Landmarks and Legacies, highlights the longest continuously operating business in town, Fry & Pickett Funeral Home. The mural, created by brothers Dan and Jordan Dreyer, includes scannable QR codes that link to videos that help tell the story.
Hop in the car and extend your mural tour with this map of more artwork along the roadsides of Aberdeen, Vass, Robbins, and Cameron.
The iconic barbecue joint Pik-N-Pig is recently back in business after a fire destroyed the beloved Carthage restaurant more than a year ago. To find it, set your GPS to the Gilliam-McConnell Airfield, where you can watch small aircraft land as you savor eastern-style ’cue, ribs, and award-winning smoked chicken — and a BBQ Sundae, a jar layered with baked beans, barbeque, slaw, and sauce, garnished with hushpuppies.
Feeling inspired by all the creativity in Moore County? ARTworks Vass is the perfect place to hone your artistic skills, try something new, or shop for imaginative gifts. The studio and store hosts classes for pottery, painting, stained-glass making, tin collage, sewing, and more. Shop for locally made works, whether painted on canvas or fashioned from glass, sterling silverware, wood, yarn, felt, or some other media. On Final Fridays, the shop unveils new collections of creations from featured artists.
For a satisfying, Southern meal, Homegrown will take care of you. Under the shade of an umbrella on the patio, enjoy seasonal diner-inspired fare sourced from local farmers. The Ol’ Fashioned Cheeseburger with a side of rosemary fries hits the spot, but Paradise Salad, topped with fresh strawberries, blueberries, and goat cheese is mighty tasty, too.
Dunrovin Country Store, an old-fashioned general store filled with oddities, is sure to capture your imagination. Out front, a hodgepodge of planters and statues — like Bigfoot posing beside gargoyles and a Grecian maiden — greet you as you pull up to the store. Bright yellow signs announce the contents of this long rambling building: homemade fudge, specialty foods, cheeses, candy, toys, books, ice cream, and local honey. But there’s so much more once you step inside.
In addition to perusing the endless array of goods and handmade items, head out back to their animal sanctuary. Play peek-a-boo with Harley the macaw, visit with Harvey the coatimundi and check out other rescued animals, including a wallaby, a tortoise, and pygmy goats.
In addition to spring and fall street festivals featuring antiques, Cameron has a handful of antiques shops that line Carthage Street. Within these stores, discover everything from secondhand treasures and vintage finds to true antique furniture. (Be aware that most of the stores are open Wednesday through Saturday.) Inside the restored 1920s brick building that houses The Old Hardware Antiques, find two stories of rustic farm furniture, elegant period pieces, and home accessories. Just down the road, search for hidden treasures at Sullivan’s Antiques and Collectibles.
After antiquing in Cameron, sit a spell on the front porch of James Creek Cider House’s tasting room. Their traditional carbonated ciders, like Harvest Moon and Summer Gold, are made from heirloom apples picked from their Moore County family farm. The Stargazer line of seasonal and barrel-aged ciders offer modern interpretations of the classic beverage. Thursday through Sunday, stay for a bite from visiting food trucks.
It may hearten you to know that the cider you’re sipping was made from apples grown on the same property where you sit, by the owners who live on this same land. It’s things like this that you come to Moore County for — the connection to the land, its people, and the things they create. As Fred Johnston says, “It makes life richer.”