Chapter 8 "The New County"

Chapter 8


BY the early 1800's, Orange County was the largest county in the State both in area and population. From. the county's western border, the settlement on Alamance Creek, it was a full day's wagon journey to the county seat at Hillsboro. As the population west of the Haw River increased, agitation grew for the establishment of a new county. Many citizens, however, opposed any division of Orange, especially the citizens of Hillsboro itself. The following petition appeared in 1842:

"To the Voters of Orange County

"It is known to you that at the ensuing election a vote is to be taken on the question of a division of Orange County . . . The question originated, we believe, a few years ago with the inhabitants on the west of Haw River, who complained:

"1, That their people have to cross that river to get to the Court House . . .

"2. Secondly, it is urged that persons having business at Court are compelled to travel too far, and at too great a sacrifice of time and money . . .

"Two new county seats would . . . of course require new bridges to be built . . . new roads to be laid off . . . increased taxes . . . increase the cost of maintaining two court houses . . . jails . . . Poor houses . . .

"Again, it is well known that suits can not be as impartially tried in small counties . . . because jurors are apt to become acquainted with the parties and their suits . . .

"Approved, and unanimously adopted, by a meeting of the citizens of Hillsborough, on the 26th of July, 1842."*

Another seven years passed before the question reached the General Assembly at Raleigh.

* From the files of the N. C. Historial Commission, Raleigh.



Giles Mebane, Orange County's representative in the Assembly, was born west of Haw River, near the present town of Graham. He was educated at the Bingham School and later became a highly successful lawyer. First elected to the Assembly in 1844, he was successively reelected in 1846 and 1848. Few citizens realized more than he the inconvenient vastness of Orange, and few more strongly favored the plan to create a new county.

On January 1, 1849, Mr. Mebane introduced before the legislature a bill entitled, "An Act to Lay Off and Establish a New County by the Name of Alamance."

The act provided:

"That a county shall be, and the same is hereby, laid off and established, out of that portion of the county of Orange lying West of a North and South line running from the Caswell line, South to Haw River; thence down the meanders of the said River to the Chatham line, said North and South line running nine miles West of the town of Hillsborough, as heretofore surveyed by Edward Benson; said County to be called Alamance: and it shall be: and is, hereby, invested with all the rights, privileges and immunities of the other Counties of the State; provided a majority of the qualified voters for members of the House of Commons in the County of Orange, shall vote for the division aforesaid."*

Later during the same month, a second act was introduced by Mr. Mebane, which provided further:

"That John Stockard, John Fogleman, Jesse Gant, Peyton P. Moore, Wm. A. Carrigan, John Scott, Absalom Harvey, James A. Craig" be appointed a board of commissioners to select a suitable location near the center of the proposed Alamance County for the county seat. This board was given the power to purchase or receive as a donation a tract of land of not less than twenty-five nor more than a hundred acres, upon which a town would be laid off and the courthouse and jail erected. Sale of the lots which were not needed for public use was to provide the money for the building of the court house and jail.1

The name of the new county, Alamance, was suggested to her husband by Mrs. Mebane, "in memory of the Battle of Ala-

* Laws of N. C. 1849, Chapter XIV.

1. lbid.. Chapter XV.



mance."* There was heated debate in the Assembly, however, on the selection of a name for the town which would be county seat. In the act which provided for location of this town, the name "Gallatin" first appeared, but it was repeatedly changed, to "Vernon," then "Montgomery," then "Berry," and, finally to "Graham," which Mr. Mebane himself chose in honor of the contemporary governor, William A. Graham.1

Governor Graham, a native of Lincoln County, graduated from the University of North Carolina as one of the four highest students in his class. He studied law, and at twenty-nine years of age, was elected to the State Legislature. He helped establish the first public schools of the State and aided in the building of the North Carolina Railroad. In 1840 he became United States Senator. In 1845 he was elected governor. Following his term in this office, he was unsuccessful in 1852 as the Whig Party candidate for Vice President. He was later appointed Secretary of the Navy, in which office he sent the first American expedition to Japan under Admiral Perry. His home, for some time, was in Hillsboro.

Although the Assembly ratified the plans for Alamance County and the new town of Graham, both acts were dependent on the choice of Orange County voters. An election was set for the following April, in which the voters would decide for or against the proposed division.

Strong influence in favor of the division came from the man who had introduced the bill, Giles Mebane.

"It is alleged," he wrote in the columns of the Hillsboro Recorder, "that division of the county will increase taxes, especially in the new county . . . Western Orange is densely inhabited by an industrious and enterprising population, and we may reasonably anticipate a large surplus from the sale of town lots . . . In a few years a flourishing country village, with schools and churches to liberalize and instruct the surrounding country . . .

"The paupers and public bridges would be divided . . . the number of suits to be tried in Hillsborough would be reduced one half . . . Your taxes could be reduced . . .

* Ashe, Samuel A'Coart. Biographical History of N. C., Raleigh, 1908.

1. Hillsboro Recorder, Hillsboro, N. C., February 14, 1849.



"The ordinary inconveniences of traveling from remote parts of the county . . . have been . . . long felt . . .

"By a division of the county . . . political power would also be increased in the state legislature. Retaining the four Commoners (representatives) we now have between the two counties, according to their federal population . . . Orange and Alamance would each be entitled to a Senator, and thus have six votes in the legislature."*

Such an appeal from one as respected as Mr. Mebane probably had great influence on the approaching election, and it seems likely that there would be no Alamance County today had this appeal not been made.

The election on dividing Orange County took place Thursday, April 19, 1849, and results were:

For the division .................. 1,257 Against the division ................ 1,0011

By a narrow margin of 256 votes, Alamance County was born. The Governor officially proclaimed the establishment of the new county on April 24, 1849.

On the last day of the same month, the commission named by the legislature met at Providence Meeting House, (near the site of the present Providence Church in north Graham), to discuss a site for the new county seat.


The first "Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions" for the county of Alamance opened on June 4, 1849, at Providence Meeting House. The session was well attended, for much of the life of the county revolved around the courts, and at this particular session, many plans for the new county had to be made.

Michael W. Holt, father of E. M. Holt and Governor Thomas Holt, was elected Chairman of the Court. Other officials chosen for Alamance County offices were Peyton P. Moore, clerk: Thomas Webb, county solicitor; Joseph S. Holt, sheriff; George Freeland, county register; Oliver Newlin and Jno. S. Turrentine, county

* Hillsboro Recorder, February 14, 1949.

1. Ibid., April 25, 1849.



surveyors; James B. Fonville, coronor; and George Albright, county trustee.

Later in the session the court elected the new County's first board of commissioners, which included Absalom Harvey, Abraham Tarpley, William Harvey and George Garrison, Jr.

Turning to the immediate problem of how to finance county schools, a poor house, and other expenses, the court established a poll tax of seventy-three and three-fourth cents to be paid by all male voters. This was divided into seven and three-fourths cents for the support of the poor, eight cents for common schools, and fifty-nine cents for other county contingencies. The property tax rate was fixed at thirty-five and one-fourth cents on each hundred dollars worth of land, to be divided at six cents for schools, four and one-fourth cents for the poor, and twenty-five cents for other county expenses.

The biggest problem facing the first court, however, was that of constructing a court house and jail. A committee was appointed to receive bids for these buildings and to superintend the building. "The court house to be built of stone or brick, to be covered with tin or zinc . . . the cost of building said Court House not to exceed . . . eight thousand dollars." The new jail was to "be built of lasting material at the discretion of the commissioners . . . the cost . . . not to exceed four thousand dollars."*

The contract for the court house was granted on July 17 by the building committee, which included Gabriel B. Lea, John Tapscott, Jacob Summers, John Stockard, Edwin M. Holt, Henry Fogleman, Eliss Albright, Lemuel H. Mebane and Alexander Mebane. Two years later the new town was completed and the two-story brick court house was furnished as a seat of justice.


Silas M. Lane, a local surveyor, was hired to lay off the town of Graham, which, according to the Legislature, was to be located as near the center of the new county as possible. Since the exact

* Minute Docket, June term, 1849, Alamance County Court Minutes, State Historical Commission files, Raleigh,



center of the county turned out to be a soggy pasture, the county seat was established a short distance northeast of that point.

Seventy-five acres of farm land were purchased for the village. On the east side) John A. Holt sold forty-and-one half acres for $303; on the south west, Joseph M. Freeland sold twenty-four-and-one-half acres for $201; and on the north, William Clendenin sold nine acres for $99. In addition, Clendennin was paid $20 for a crop of corn which he had planted on the land he sold. The tract altogether formed a square, extending from the present Market Street north of the court house to McAden Street on the South.

Near the center of this plot, a smaller square measuring 297 feet was set aside for the location of the court house. The remainder of the village was divided into blocks, 420 feet square, which in turn were divided into sixty-eight lots of varying size. During the summer of 1849 a number of these lots were sold for a total of $5,562.43, ranging in price from $726, which E. M. Holt paid for a lot on the court square, to the sum of $1 paid by Jno. R. Pugh and James A. Graham, trustees for the Graham Baptist Church, for property adjoining North Main and Market Streets, which is still occupied by the church.

Other purchasers of lots included Joseph S. Holt, General Joe Holt, General John Trollinger, James T. Murray. Samuel M, White, John G. Albright, A. H. Boyd, Pete R. Harden, F. W. Fonville, David L. Ray, J. T. Thompson, Daniel Isley, John Scott, John W. Harden, James E. Boyd, and the Honorable Giles Mebane.*

Life in Graham was soon centered around the court square, which in many ways resembled the common of a New England village. North and South of the square, Main Street was ninety nine feet wide, and east and west extended Elm street, sixty-six feet wide. Both of these streets were dirt surfaced, and a few hours of rain frequently turned them into impassable streams of mud. Cattle and hogs wandered freely through the streets of the village, taking advantage of the fact that there were no stock laws. The public water works consisted of a wooden pump and a water trough at the north west side of the square.

Graham was incorporated in January, 1851, two years after

* Alamance Gleaner,



the establishment of the county. John Scott was named the first Magistrate of Police, and the first board of town commissioners was composed of John Faucett, John R. Holt, Robert Hannah, James M. Boyd and Samuel A. White. As soon as the courts were moved from Providence Meeting House to the new court house, the village began to flourish as both a legal and business center. Its founders had intended that Graham should be a quiet and attractive residential village, and in many ways it has remained such a place until the present day.

James Bason built the first business place in Graham, a three-story brick building on the southeast corner of the square which has been operated for a number of years as a grocery and feed store by W. J. Nicks.

Many rural folk came to the village by wagon to shop or to trade. A camping site, and later, hotels, were located on the edge of town for those who could not make the trip to Graham and return home on the same day. For years Graham served as a trading center not only for Alamance County, but for parts of Orange, Chatham, Caswell and Randolph counties as well. Two newspapers appeared, The Southern Democrat, started by J. W. Lancaster in 1851, and The Alamance Gleaner, begun by J. W. Kernodle, Sr., two years later, the latter having continued until the present day. Both of these carried advertisements which attracted many people to the Alamance County seat.

Graham's town fathers had scarcely leaned back in their chairs with satisfaction over the planning of their town, when the news came that the North Carolina Railroad planned to construct a track through the village. The Railroad officials felt that Graham would be the ideal place to locate the company's repair shops. In their preliminary survey, they had laid out the line to run within one block of the new Alamance court house. This report shocked Graham officials to action.

It was unthinkable to allow the "iron horse" to tie up at the court house hitching-post, so to speak. The smoking, bellowing monster would frighten the other horses, not to mention the disturbance it would cause to the courts and the unsightly path it would make across the neat little square which was the proud town of Graham.



After brief deliberation the officials handed down their decision. The North Carolina Railroad Company could not lay its tracks within one mile of the courthouse, nor could the Company locate its shops in Graham. Thus, the Graham fathers voted down the one chance for their village to become a city, perhaps without realizing this fact, or perhaps with the hope that Graham would remain a small but dignified country town. The Railroad Company chose a site two miles west and there erected its shops. The resulting settlement soon grew into a thriving village, and within a half-century, into the town of Burlington.



Chapter 5

Chapter 11

Chapter 16

Chapter 21

Chapter 1

Chapter 6

Chapter 12

Chapter 17


Chapter 2

Chapter 7

Chapter 13

Chapter 18

Book Index

Chapter 3

Chapter 9

Chapter 14

Chapter 19

Chapter 4

Chapter 10

Chapter 15

Chapter 20