CCHA has taken an active role in efforts to preserve Chatham’s architectural heritage and history. These efforts have taken a number of forms and have met with considerable success.
History in the Path of Growth
The rapid growth of Chatham County since the mid-1990s has put many historical structures and sites in the path of “progress.” An ongoing project of CCHA is to bring these historical structures and sites to the attention of all involved in the county’s rapid growth and development so that informed decisions can be made about their preservation.
Since 1998 Chatham County’s subdivision ordinance has required developers to contact CCHA when either a structure 50 years old or older or a cemetery is on the property to be subdivided. Once notified, CCHA volunteers, headed by Jane Pyle, visit the property to examine and document all evidence of human occupation, and then research any structures of potential historical interest. Jane Pyle and Jim and Bev Wiggins attend Planning Department work sessions and Planning Board meetings to monitor new developments and, when appropriate, lobby for the preservation of some structures, the recycling of historical materials from others, and the documentation of those slated for destruction. CCHA’s involvement has been well-received by many developers, who realize that the area’s interesting history can be a valuable selling point. Sadly, however, a number of structures have been lost to development.
In an important step toward educating developers, attorneys, and others involved in the subdivision process, Jane Pyle developed the CCHA brochure, Historical Preservation and Development: A Guide for Developers, in 2006. The goal of this publication is to see that developers are made aware of existing regulations regarding cemeteries and historic structures. The brochure is now available on the county website, and CCHA representatives continue to work closely with the county Planning Department staff to see that historic structures are preserved whenever possible and are documented when preservation is not an option.
For more photos showing CCHA’s preservation efforts, see our Preservation Photo Gallery.
County residents can assist with this effort by letting CCHA know about any old structures—houses, sheds, barns, walls, wells, or other man-made creations—or gravesites that exist on land slated for development.
Three Historic Houses in Pittsboro
CCHA first expressed concern for the Patrick St. Lawrence, Taylor, and McClenahan houses in Pittsboro when the county purchased the land for a future building site in 1999. Two of the houses are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the third is not listed only because of extensive modern additions. In April 2006 Cindy Edwards was appointed as CCHA’s representative to the Judicial Center Planning Committee created to advise the architectural firm designing the new county judicial facility.
When it became apparent that the buildings would not be preserved as part of the judicial site, CCHA supported the effort of a local developer to move two of the houses and encouraged the county to facilitate this outcome in order to preserve the structures. Economic changes affecting the pace of development derailed these plans.
The houses, unoccupied for over ten years, lacked proper care. CCHA raised funds in 2004 to repair the roof of the St. Lawrence house to stop deterioration inside and also asked the county to board up windows damaged by vandals.
When the county received a federal loan to finance the construction of the judicial center, state law required an agreement between the county and the State Historic Preservation Office before the houses could be moved from Pittsboro’s National Register-listed historic district. This agreement required relocating the three houses to another site or sites in the district and negotiation with the non-profit Preservation North Carolina for further action.
In early May 2011 the three historic houses were moved to new sites on Small Street in a corner of the National Register’s Pittsboro Historic District where they await further disposition.
In July 2012 Ray and Janet Carney became the new owners of the Patrick St. Lawrence (Yellow) House. Beginning in the spring of 2013, they plan to live in the house, first finishing the basics and then restoring the building to its 1787 glory. They are seeking as much information as they can find about construction details for the house. If you have any photos of the Patrick St. Lawrence House or know of somebody who might have some, please get in touch with the Carneys at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 585 813-6633 (Ray) or 585 495-6931 (Janet).
The Taylor and McClenahan houses remain available for restoration through Preservation North Carolina.
Historical information about the three houses is available in our features archive.
Chatham County Architectural Survey
A countywide architectural survey was completed in 1986, building on earlier inventories of historical sites, National Register nominations, and extensive fieldwork. A joint project of the Chatham County Historical Association, the Chatham County Commissioners, the Towns of Pittsboro and Siler City, the Chatham County Planning Department, and the North Carolina Department of Archives and History, the survey culminated in the publication of The Architectural Heritage of Chatham County, North Carolina, in 1991. This lovely publication continues to be a popular resource for general history of the county as well as a guide to historical buildings.
The Chatham County Architectural Survey illustrates what Chatham’s citizens can accomplish when they put their minds to it. Survey author Rachel Osborn notes that more than “1000 Chatham County citizens of every walk of life, race, size, age, and disposition aided in the inventory process,” and author Ruth Selden-Sturgill also credits the help of a “veritable groundswell of local history lovers” in carrying out the inventory.
The Pittsboro Historic District
In 1997, the CCHA prepared a successful application for grant funds to allow the Town of Pittsboro to hire a consultant to prepare the National Register nomination for the Pittsboro Historic District. That nomination was prepared with extensive involvement from the CCHA, and resulted in National Register status for the historic district in 2000. The Pittsboro Historic District encompasses some 131 buildings and an area of more than 500 acres. A brochure of the historic district is available at the CCHA Museum.
After CCHA supported a proposal to erect a marker honoring the achievements of Simon Green Atkins, a notable African-American educator who founded the school that became today’s Winston-Salem State University, the Chatham County Commissioners funded the private marker. Jane Pyle served on the planning committee to design the marker, find a site, and organize the dedication ceremony.
The marker was dedicated in Haywood, Chatham County, on June 11, 2005, the 142nd anniversary of his birth. A large cast-aluminum sign with gold letters on a dark brown background is placed near the historical location of the school where Atkins received his early education and began his teaching career in 1884.
The CCHA also supported the application for a North Carolina Highway Historical Marker honoring the achievements of slave poet, George Moses Horton, whose Hope of Liberty (1829) was the first book by a black author in the South. Horton lived on a farm 2 miles southeast of the marker, which is erected near the intersection of Mt. Gilead Church Road and US 15-501 N. Approved in 1999, the placement of the marker was delayed until 2006, because of a highway improvement project in the area.
All Chatham County markers can be viewed at http://www.ncmarkers.com . George Moses Horton’s marker is ID H-108.
Preservation Referrals and Advice
The CCHA is a source of information for inquirers about structures listed on the National Register in Chatham County, people who wish to place their houses on the National Register or receive tax credits for restoration projects. These inquiries are usually referred to the State Historic Preservation Office after a short explanation of the application process, offering the name and telephone number of a contact person. We can sometimes offer the name of a local person who has recently completed a project. We also refer interested persons to Preservation North Carolina. For help with inquiries of this kind, contact email@example.com.
How you can help
w Let CCHA know about any old structures—houses, sheds, barns, walls, wells, or other man-made creations, or gravesites--that exist on land slated for development.
w Let your elected officials know that the historic preservation is important to you.
w Get out and enjoy Chatham’s historical heritage!