NC MRF History Tour: 5-19-07

The House in the Horseshoe

The second of five scheduled NC MRF History Tours was held on May 19th. The tour started in Apex, NC and traveled to The House in the Horseshoe in Moore County.

At the start, Bruce Harris, our Tour Director told the riders about what they would see at the House in the Horseshoe to give the riders a primer on the historical significance of our ride destination. Before we departed, Bruce reviewed the proposed route and held a brief safety meeting. The first stop was at the site of the original Chatham County courthouse. That site is about a mile south of the existing Chatham County courthouse. Then we made a gas stop in Carbonton, and rode to our destination. Once at the House in the Horseshoe, we were lucky enough to get a personalized lecture from local historian Elizabeth. Elizabeth is the Site Manager at the House and was dressed in period clothing. She gave us a 60 minute informative tour of the House. After the tour was over, many of us headed to the Checkered Flag Grill in Sanford for lunch.

The weather was clear and we all had a safe ride. We made some new friends, had a good meal, and learned more about North Carolina's history.

We would like to thank long-time MRF Individual Sustaining Member Bruce Harris for his dedication to the MRF, his time and effort in organizing and planning this History Tour, and his enthusiasm for creating fun, alternate riding opportunities for North Carolina's riders.

We'd also like to thank Mike Hodges and David Williams for helping run this tour. These two are long-time MRF supporters and dedicated riders.

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Story of The House in the Horseshoe

During the American Revolution, irregular warfare was being waged in the back country of North Carolina by groups of citizen-soldiers: the whigs--or revolutionists, and the tories--who were still loyal to the King of England.

The House in the Horseshoe was then the home of whig colonel Philip Alston. The home is named from its location on a horseshoe bend in the Deep River.

On the morning of August 5, 1781, while Alston and his band of revolutionaries were camped at the dwelling, they were attacked by a unit of tories, whose leader was the notorious David Fanning. During the ensuing skirmish, the tories attempted to set the house on fire by rolling against it a cart filled with burning straw. After several casualties on both sides, Alston surrendered. The house stood riddled with bullet holes, many of which still remain.

Although Alston was distinguished as a lieutenant colonel in the state militia, a justice of the peace, and a state senator, his career was marked by corrupt activities. He was twice indicted for murder, removed as justice of the peace, and suspended from the state legislature for a variety of reasons. In 1790 Philip Alston sold the house and plantation and left the state.

In 1798 the twenty-five-hundred-acre plantation was acquired by Gov. Benjamin Williams who, in addition to serving four one-year terms as the governor of North Carolina, had been a colonel under George Washington, was a member of the first board of trustees of the University of North Carolina, and served in the national Congress at Philadelphia.

Williams enlarged the house by adding two wings containing a kitchen and a master bedroom. One of Williams's ambitions was to become a planter. The growing of short staple cotton was becoming a profitable pursuit as a result of Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin, and the Horseshoe land was excellent for that purpose. In 1801 Williams planted forty-two acres of cotton; he grew nearly two hundred acres the following year. By 1803 his plantation was being worked by approximately fifty slaves and was valued at thirty thousand dollars.

Williams died on the plantation in 1814. Though he was first buried some distance away, his grave was subsequently relocated on the grounds of his former home. Williams's family occupied the house until 1853. The dwelling changed ownership several times until 1954, when it was purchased and restored by the Moore County Historical Association. In 1955 the state acquired the property.

The architectural style of the house follows that of the coastal lowlands. The two-story frame dwelling is a typical eighteenth-century plantation house that features a gable roof with large double-shouldered Flemish bond chimneys and a shed porch. The center-hall plan reflects Governor Williams's early nineteenth-century remodeling of the house. It is distinguished by the strikingly elaborate and well-executed detail of the doorways and some of the interior woodwork, including the especially fine mantel in the north parlor. The interior is furnished with interesting late colonial and early Federal-period pieces. In the summer and spring, bright flowers surround this white plantation house.