Chatham County, North Carolina

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Chatham County administrative offices are located at 12 East Street, Pittsboro, NC 27312; phone: 919-542-8232.

Beginnings [1]

In the mid-eighteenth century, settlement started in what was to become Chatham County, and in 1771 the county was formed from the south-central portion of Orange County. At that time the county was more nearly rectangular in shape than it is today, with only a slight jog forming a promontory in the southeast corner. The earliest known structure in Chatham County dates from 1790, so the county's period of architectural significance dates from then through the first three decades of the twentieth century.

From the initial period until about 1830, certain developmental patterns were set upon which the county expanded throughout the rest of that century as its population grew. The first settlers fanned out from two chief points of entry: the Cape Fear and Deep Rivers in the southeast, and the northwest corner with its connection to the wagon road of the "Great Valley of Virginia." The rich bottom lands along rivers and streams were favored farm sites, and a number of wealthy plantations as well as mining and iron-making activities were established, along the Deep River. Grist mills and attendant sawmills were established, one of the most important being Colonel Ambrose Ramsey's at what was to become Lockville on the Deep River. Important east/west and north/south thoroughfares developed, forming the basis for the current US 64 and US 15-501, respectively. Along the former route, members of the important Halifax County Alston family founded their large plantations. Pittsboro and Haywood were significant settlements. Both were laid out on the Lancaster central-square plan, although Pittsboro as the seat of government developed more fully than did the smaller village. A crossroads community began at the site of what is now Siler City, and by 1937 twenty-two post offices were-scattered across the county.

Various new patterns were introduced in the decades up to the 1880s. A high level of antebellum agrarian prosperity found architectural expression in fine Greek Revival structures on small plantations, in Pittsboro and Haywood, and at Mt. Vernon Springs where an important Baptist academy was constructed. The efforts of the Cape Fear and Deep River Navigation Company to build a system of locks, dams and canals intertwined with the building of plank roads, chiefly in the western portion of the county; with increased connections to larger population centers in the region, Chatham County's back country status began to fade. The Civil War brought one railroad into the county, which heralded later nineteenth century developments. In 1868, twelve townships were established by the application of a simple gridwork boundary scheme. The county's first cotton textile mill with its attendant mill village was founded in 1872 by Carney and Luther Bynum on the Haw River at Bynum.

  1. Rachel B. Osborn, Historic Sites Consultant, Chatham County Planning Department, Chatham County Multiple Resource Nomination, Chatham County, NC, nomination document, 1982-1983, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

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