Ayr Mount (Hillsborough, NC)

There’s a big world out there, and sometimes you don’t have to venture too far from home to encounter something new in it. All that might be required is a slight detour; such as the one I took today after church to flee the I-40 bustle.

I took the Hillsborough exit (261), which promised a laidback route through one of North Carolina’s oldest towns. The historic borough was abuzz with activity near the River Walk and local restaurants. A brown sign for Ayr Mount that I’d never noticed before caught my eye. Intrigued by the name, I followed it. (Note to reader: If a sign said, “Jump off this bridge,” I probably would not follow it.)

I parked in a gravel lot. As I surveyed graceful, weeping trees and acres and acres (about 60 to be exact) of meadows, woodlands and gardens surrounding a brick plantation house, I wondered how I had lived in the general vicinity for eleven years and not known that this place existed.

Let me say this now in case I forget later: Anyone can walk around Ayr Mount or sit on the grounds any time they want to! Well, at least until closing, which today was 6pm. (There is a $12 fee to tour the house. Parking is free.)

Now for a little history, the rest of which can be found here. Ayr Mount was the home of the Kirkland family, whose patriarch, William Kirkland, immigrated to North Carolina from Ayr, Scotland, in 1789. Despite humble beginnings, William Kirkland became a well-respected merchant, amassing wealth and building Ayr Mount in 1815. The plantation remained in the family until 1985. In 1993, after extensive restoration, the new owner donated the house to the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust. Today, thanks to the Trust and those who came before them, Ayr Mount stands representative of early American architecture, culture, and heritage.


Ayr Mount was built in the Federal style. Its all-brick exterior was rare for the time–most houses in the region were wood frame. I found the rear of the house (shown here) to be just as pretty (prettier?) than the front. The interior, which I did not tour, possesses unique features for the time as well, such as 14-foot ceilings, intricate woodwork, and plasterwork.

A small garden edged the rear of the house. The most vibrant showing this time of year was a profusely laden yellow Angel’s Trumpet bush.


Beyond the stone patio stretched acres of meadows and woodlands, with views like this one:

Visitors can either walk through the grass and get their feet nice and wet (like I did) OR the grounds can be seen to their full advantage by traveling Poet’s Walk, which is a one-mile walking trail that loops around the property from the house down to the banks of the Eno River and back.


Poet’s Walk at Ayr Mount


Bird houses, plantings, and seats are peppered all along Poet’s Walk. I didn’t go down to the Eno River (which would have made for a nice picture) for fear of totally (as opposed to partially) ruining my good Sunday shoes.

The Kirkland family cemetery is right along Poet’s Walk (and is the first sight seen from the parking lot).


Generations of Kirklands were laid to rest in the family cemetery on Ary Mount.

In my humble (and arguably morbid) opinion, the cemetery was one of the most striking sights on the property. The trees and plantings, along with the wrought-iron gate and stone perimeter came together to produce a sense of tranquility. Amidst this reminder of the end that we each face (if the LORD tarries), an epitaph rose high with this faithful proclamation: “Resting in hope of a joyful resurrection.” …And hope, believers in Jesus Christ know, does not disappoint.


Elon University: A Botanical Garden


Alamance Building, a National Register Historic Place in the historic district of Elon University. (Alamance County, North Carolina)

Elon University, a private liberal arts school founded in 1889 and located in Alamance County, North Carolina, has the unique distinction of being classified as a botanical garden. It doesn’t have a botanical garden. It is a botanical garden. And not only that, six buildings of the Colonial/Georgian Revival style and one monument on campus are on the National Register under the designation Elon College Historic District.

Intrigued by these recent discoveries, I paid the campus a visit and was not disappointed. Take a look at some of the beautiful flora and architecture I saw as I meandered winding brick pathways and surveyed lush green lawns:


Could anyone ever be late for class, I wondered, with this pretty reminder posing at the intersection of two brick walkways?


Columns and arches, such as those behind this lovely lily, were prevalent practically everywhere on campus.


The floral splendor attracted butterflies galore, such as this black swallowtail.


But the butterflies were not to be outdone. I also spotted a hummingbird and even this hummingbird moth.


The porch of the alumni house looked like it would be the perfect place to stop for a spot of sweet tea.


You can’t stop progress! Elon’s campus is growing, as the orange construction fencing in this photo portrays. I encountered many folks, such as these leisurely dog walkers, who were taking advantage of the shady sidewalks and beautiful scenery.


A showy hibiscus bloom flaunts a raggedy petal near the historic O’Kelly monument, which I photographed very poorly and therefore did not make the cut.


Bees were busy in the lovely flower bed near the historic Carlton Library.


The relentless heat of a southern summer couldn’t wilt these hearty rudbeckia.


…and more coneflowers, because I’m crazy for coneflowers. Plus there’s the historic library in the background–nameplate and all.


Seemingly subtle accents, such as this ivy-covered brick wall, added to the charm of Elon’s campus. I wanted to go back to school all over again!


“E” is for Elon. (Believe it or not, it took me a moment to put two and two together. …Lightbulb!)


So many of the places on campus were prettier in real life than through my camera lens. One such place was here by the pergola and Lake Mary Nell.

I left Elon University decidedly appreciative of its visual appeal and southern charm.

Bennett Place: Celebrating 9 & 90+ Years


Bennett Place in Durham, North Carolina

Today marks my ninth full year as a Durhamite. I must confess that, with the exception of Duke Gardens, I really haven’t explored Durham, North Carolina, much in the past nine years. Determined to change this, I recently set out for Bennett Place, a local landmark and North Carolina Historic Site that was fully restored in 1960 to what it looked like in Civil War-era 1865.

I parked in the lot off of Bennett Memorial Road, which is by the Visitors Center. Beside the Visitors Center is a nature trail, where I immediately spotted a whitetail deer—a herald to the nature of the trail, or so it would seem.


A whitetail deer by the Nature Trail at Bennett Park in Durham, NC.

That encounter digitally documented, I made my way down a grassy road lined on both sides with snake-rail fence: the original Hillsborough Road. (I opted for a self-guided tour, but guided tours are available and free of charge. Donations are accepted.)

Meet the Family
Members of the Bennett family included James, his wife Nancy, their two sons, Lorenzo and Alfonso, and a daughter named Eliza. Both sons joined the Confederacy and died in the first years of the war—Lorenzo as a result of battle, and Alfonso from pneumonia while still in training. Eliza’s husband, Robert Duke, also died while serving.

Like the Bennetts, many other families during the Civil War experienced mortal losses and other hardships, (such as food rationing as the result of blockades). What was unique, however, was that the Bennett property would become a place for negotiating surrender–surrender that would bring with it the dawn of peace and national reconstruction.

A Meeting Place
Near the close of the American Civil War, Bennett Place became the site of a “Generals meet-up.” In April 1865, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston left his headquarters in Greensboro, North Carolina, and met Union General William T. Sherman, headquartered in Raleigh, at the Bennett Place to discuss terms of surrender. They traveled down the old Hillsborough Road toward the Durham Station of the North Carolina Railroad, each coming from opposite directions. The Bennett farm proved to be a halfway point.

Johnston was escorted by 60 troopers of the 5th South Carolina Cavalry Regimen. Sherman had with him 200 men from the 9th and 13th Pennsylvania, 8th Indiana, and 2nd Kentucky Cavalry. Sherman brought with him the news of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination only days earlier.

The generals’ private discussions began on April 17th. They met again the following day and terms of surrender were signed; however, the the terms were rejected by government officials in Washington with claims that they were more generous than previous terms (that General Ulysses S. Grant had given to General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, Virginia, on April 9, 1865). The generals met a third and last time at Bennett Place on April 26, 1865, and signed the final papers of surrender for Southern armies in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida–a total of 89,270 soldiers, making it the largest group surrender during the Civil War.


Bennett House and the original Hillsborough Road (between the two snake-rail fences): Confederate General Johnston and Union General Sherman traveled the Hillsborough Road from opposite directions, (Johnston coming from the direction on the right; Sherman from the left), and convened inside Bennett House. — Bennett Place, Durham, NC


The Bennett House as it stands today is a replica constructed of materials from another Durham farmhouse of the same period. The original house burned down in 1921. All that remained was the chimney (still intact and pictured here on the left side of the structure). The Bennett House consists of one large room on the first floor and a small room on the second floor.


The wooden well on the Bennett Farm: Reportedly, the Civil War generals tied their horses under a large oak tree near this well while they discussed terms of surrender inside the Bennett House. — Bennett Place, Durham, NC


The Bennett family gathered in the kitchenhouse, (picture here), while the two Civil War generals negotiated terms of surrender in the main house. The reconstructed kitchenhouse was built on the original foundation. — Bennett Place, Durham NC


Furniture and kitchenware of the 1800s provide a glimpse into American Civil War-era life, as seen through the window of the kitchenhouse at Bennett Place in Durham, NC.


The smokehouse on Bennett Farm was used for curing meat and storing food and supplies. (This reconstructed smokehouse was erected where the original once stood.) — Bennett Place, Durham NC


Inside the smokehouse, tools of the period (Civil War/late 1800s) are on display. — Bennett Place, Durham NC


From the rear of the Bennett Place: the replica 1800s garden in the foreground, the kitchenhouse just beyond the fence, the smokehouse to the right, and Bennett House in the distance. — Bennett Place, Durham, NC


A Unity Monument was erected at Bennett Place on October 12, 1923, as a symbol of national unity. The monument, which turned 90 years old in 2013, consists of two columns, one representing The Confederacy and one representing The Union. The columns are joined at the top by a bridge bearing two shields and the word UNITY. (Durham, NC)

Inside the Visitors Center, there is a gift shop, a research library, and a three-room museum containing information and artifacts relating to both the Bennett Family and the events that put Bennett Place on the Civil War Tours map and in the history books.

I looked for but didn’t see any signs stating that I could not take pictures, (my bad if I missed them!), so I turned off my flash and took just a few.


A Confederate soldier’s uniform and typical effects on display in the museum at Bennett Place in Durham, NC.


This Civil War-era home remedy kit is quite interesting…and quite exhaustive, it would seem. — Bennett Place museum in Durham, NC


Copies of the surrender documents between General Johnston and General Sherman are on display in the museum at Bennett Place. (North Carolina)


The Bennett family lost two sons and a son-in-law in the Civil War, leaving no males to work the farm. James Bennett (Bennitt) ceased farming at about age 70 and signed a sharecropping agreement with his in-laws. He died in 1878. Nancy and Eliza Bennett moved into the growing city of Durham.

Places like Bennett Place serve as reminders that disagreements, hardship, and loss are the sad realities of life. Places like Bennett Place can be a bit depressing. It’s little wonder, then, that some thought it important to erect a monument there to symbolize unity. One Nation. Under God. Indivisible.

A Few Moments at Murray’s Mill

Murrays_MillTucked away along a winding byway in Catawba County, North Carolina, is a National Register Historic Site known as Murray’s Mill.

On a recent trip to the western part of North Carolina, I spent a few moments snapping pictures of the historic property, which in addition to the Mill (built in 1913 to replace the original), consists of Murray & Minges General Store (circa 1890s), a Wheathouse from the 1880s, and the John Murray House (built in 1912). Three generations of Murray family members ran the mill from 1883 until 1967, when operation ceased.


Murray’s Mill has been carefully restored and preserved by the Catawba County Historical Association since 1980. — Catawba, North Carolina

Visitors can tour the Mill and Wheathouse—the last of their kind in the county—or step into the General Store for a quaint step back in time.


Parking is available by the Murray & Minges General Store, where an old pump and a rusty Pepsi cooler greet visitors. (The name Minges was added through marriage.)


Behind the mill is the John Murray House (left) and (to the right in the distance) other historic structures that are part of the Murray’s Mill Historic Site in Catawba, North Carolina.


Inside Murray’s Mill, artifacts have been well-maintained for viewing, such as millstones used to grind corn, roller mills for grinding wheat into flour, as well as storage bins used to contain the finished product.


The dam and 28-foot waterwheel at Murray’s Mill were constructed in 1938 and replaced the former wooden dam and 22-foot waterwheel.


Although not part of the Murray’s Mill Historic Site per se, trail enthusiasts and casual walkers alike can pick up the David L. Stewart Trail, which is part of a regional network of greenways and trails known as the Carolina Thread Trail that “threads” its way through 15 counties in North Carolina and South Carolina.

For more photos of Murray’s Mill, both past and present, visit NC State University Library’s rare and unique digital collections.