Driving Tour of the Little River
This self-driving tour will lead you through the Little River Basin. You will see some of the most attractive rural areas of Durham and Orange counties, travel two North Carolina Scenic By-ways, pass an important water source for the City of Durham, and glimpse a number of historic houses. The tour is approximately 25 miles long.
Remember that this is intended only as a “windshield” tour. Most of the sites are private property. Please respect the owner’s privacy by remaining in your car except where noted below.
Start the tour at Historic Stagville.
To reach Stagville from Durham, take exit 177C/Roxboro Road North off 85N. Wind onto Roxboro Road, and drive north approximately 1.4 miles. Turn right onto Old Oxford Highway. (One should see aHistoric Stagville sign at this point.) Go approx. 6.8 miles on Old Oxford to Stagville entrance (on right). more directions
1. Historic Stagville
Historic Stagville, a state-owned Historic Register property, is a remnant of a once 30,000-acre plantation complex begun in the 18th century and belonging through most of two centuries to the Bennehan-Cameron family. At its antebellum height it was also home to over 900 slaves, whose descendants continued to live and work on the land. A vast storehouse of family records gives remarkable insight into all the facets of daily life here. (Information available at the site.) Visit the 18th Bennehan House.
Leaving Stagville, turn right on Old Oxford Highway, pass Stagville Rd. on the left and turn left onto the next road, Jock Rd. (gravel). Drive one-half mile to the large barn on the right. You may explore the barn.
2. Horton Grove – Barn
The barn at Horton Grove is a unique 132- foot long structure built in 1860 by slaves for Paul Cameron, who had inherited Stagville from his uncle Thomas D. Bennehan in 1848. Note the wooden pegs joining the massive hand-hewn supports and beams. The stalls have been removed but some feed boxes are still in place.
Turn around opposite the barn and go a short distance before turning right up a driveway to a row of slave houses. You may park on grass and walk around the houses.
3. Horton Grove – Slave Houses
Horton Grove is named for the family that settled this tract of land in the 18th century. Their house (possibly 18th century) is past the slave houses (c.1860) and is undergoing restoration. The typical yeoman farmer residence was used by the Camerons as an overseer’s house and later a tenant house. Each of the four slave houses (c. 1860) sheltered four families. After the Civil War the freedmen continued to live and work here. The back els are later additions. Notice the original brick nogging in the walls for insulation.
Retrace your way to Old Oxford Highway, turn right, and at the first road on the right, Stagville Rd., turn right again. Continue to Orange Factory Rd. and turn left. As you turn left notice the unpainted two-story Southerland house on the far corner.
4. Southerland House
Philip Southerland, a long-time overseer at Stagville, built this typical I-house in the 1880s for his retirement. The interior contains many Greek Revival architectural features. The long el at the back was a later addition.
Continue along Orange Factory Rd. across the Little River Reservoir, a Durham water supply. Its construction in the 1980s flooded the village of Orange Factory.
5. Orange Factory
Built in 1852 by John H. Webb and John C. Douglas, the water-powered textile factory was called Orange Factory because it was the first factory in what was then Orange County. Around it stood a village of the same name with houses for workers, a store, a school, church, and other mill buildings. During the Civil War the factory produced cloth for Confederate uniforms. It operated until the late 1930s. A few houses and a later church remain on the original site.
After passing the River View Methodist Church on the left you’ll be passing the previous location of the Albert Gallatin Cox House on the right, demolished in 2000.
6. Cox House
Albert Gallatin Cox built this house either at the time he ran the company store at Orange Factory or when he became its mill superintendent in the 1890s. Later he was part owner of the factory with John B. Mason. Cox is buried in the church cemetery. An earlier church building and the graveyard, in which he is buried, were his gifts to the community.
Continue on Orange Factory Rd. to the stop sign at Roxboro Rd, US 501. Notice on the right Dr. Holt’s house in a grove of trees.
7. Holt House
Dr. Edwin Michael Holt – an off-shoot of the Alamance County milling family, a graduate of South Lowell Academy, and a Confederate veteran – built this house after the Civil War on land he received from the Parker family into which he married. The house is notable for its two-tiered porch across the front with a fancy sawn work balustrade.
Turn left on Roxboro Rd. and go to the traffic signal at Mason Rd. Turn right, noticing the arrow-shaped Trading Path marker on the corner and behind it the imposing William Lipscomb house (now the Arrowhead Inn).
8. Trading Path and Lipscomb House
The Indian Trading Path, originally connecting present-day Petersburg, Virginia with the Catawba Indians on the South Carolina border, was a main road for settlers entering central North Carolina. It passed through Stagville and Snow Hill plantations before reaching present-day Mason Rd. and continuing on by St. Mary’s Rd. to Hillsborough. There the Occaneechee and earlier Indians had successive villages on the Eno River.
The Lipscomb house began as a small two-room, probably 18th century, structure. Later came the main block with exceptional Federal interior detail. Whether it was built by Edward Davis, William Cain’s son-in-law who owned it in the early 1800s, or by William Lipscomb, a large planter and gristmill owner to whom Davis sold out in 1834, is not known. All the additions, including the pillared portico, are 20th century.
Continue on Mason Rd. about one mile and watch carefully for the right turn into Johnson Mill Rd. As you cross the Little River or Johnson Mill Road, the mill site is down-stream (to the right).
9. Johnson Mill Site
About 1795 William Cain established a gristmill here, which he left to his son Thomas in 1856. Thomas Cain took as his partner Samuel H. Johnson, to whom he soon sold half of his interest. Traces of mill races and dam remain.
Continue on Johnson Mill Rd. to its intersection with South Lowell Road. Turn left and continue over the North Fork of the Little River. The old house of the Rev. John A. McMannen will be on the right.
10. McMannen House
The Rev. John A. McMannen house (c.1830s), now restored with alterations front and back, was home to the Methodist lay-preacher and visionary entrepreneur. Traces of the dormitory foundations (1850) for South Lowell Academy, a classical school for boys and preparatory school for Randolph-Macon College, are in the side yard. The Academy (1848), now demolished, stood opposite the house.
Continue on South Lowell Rd. Opposite barns and fences on the right, note the Coggin house on the left very close to the road, just before crossing the South Fork of the Little River.
11. Coggin House
The core of the house by the South Fork is possibly late 18th century or early 19th century. George T. Coggin, treasurer of South Lowell Academy, owned it in the mid-19th century and boarded students here. Later it became the home of Dr. Isaac H. Cannady, who is buried in the family graveyard in the field.
On the bridge over the South Fork look to your right (up-stream) to see the site of the South Lowell Mill.
12. South Lowell Mill
The earliest mill on this site was George Newton’s (1770). The name South Lowell was given to the mill in 1846, presumably in emulation of the Massachusetts enterprise, and was adopted by the post office and community as well. McMannen owned the mills in the 1850s and manufactured smut machines here.
Continue on South Lowell Rd. to Guess Rd. (NC 157). Turn left onto Guess Rd. and continue to a traffic signal. Turn right onto St. Mary’s Rd., immediately passing Cain’s Chapel Church on the left and beside it the Russell School.
13. Russell School
Built in the 1920s with matching funds from the Rosenwald Fund, the Russell School is named for one of the major neighborhood supporters, Thomas Russell. Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, gave $81 million to various causes including rural schools for black children in the South. The building, now owned by the church, is used as a community center. Cain’s Chapel Church was established after the Civil War by former slaves of the Cain, McMannen, Lipscomb and other families.
Continue on St. Mary’s Rd. to the Hardscrabble development on your right. After passing the entrance, look to your right across a large meadow up a hill to a grove of trees to glimpse Hardscrabble.
A National Register property, Hardscrabble was the 18th century home of William Cain, a member of a family that settled many thousands of acres in the St. Mary’s and Little River areas. The house was built in two, two-story sections, connected by a passage. It was restored in the 1970s with some modifications.
Continue on St. Mary’s Rd. Just before the intersection with a stop sign and flashing lights notice on the right the grove of trees inside a stone wall. Turn right onto Schley Rd. You are now in Orange County and for a short time will be in the Eno River Basin.
15. St. Mary’s Church and Cemetery
St. Mary’s cemetery and the site of the 1760s Anglican chapel are within the wall. On the hill behind the grove stands the 1859 St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, reestablished in 1818 with the help of Duncan Cameron and the Cain family.
Continue on Schley Rd to New Sharon Church Rd. Turn right on New Sharon Church Rd. and continue to Guess Rd. Turn left on Guess Rd. and in just over a mile notice on the right a log cabin close to the road.
16. Walker Cabin
A dog-run or possum-trot type of construction, Clyde Walker’s cabin represents the most common 18th and 19th century Orange County housing–the log cabin. Mill stones from the former Turner Mill on the North Fork of Little River are used as entrance steps.
Continue on Guess Rd. to a stop sign and flashing light at the Caldwell community. Note the Harris-Hamlin house on the left corner as you turn left onto NC 57.
17. Harris-Hamlin House
The Harris-Hamlin house (mid-19th century) was used in later years to board students of the Caldwell Institute or Academy. Founded in the 1830s in Greensboro, the school moved first to Hillsborough in 1844, then to a site beside the Little River Presbyterian Church in the 1850s, and next to a site beside the Harris-Hamlin house in the 1870s. Destroyed by fire, the school finally moved to a new, two-story building across NC 57 beyond the boarded up store building. The name Caldwell commemorates Dr. Joseph Caldwell, a Presbyterian minister and first president of the University of North Carolina.
Continue on NC 57 a short distance and notice the large two-story A.C. Jordan house on the left.
18. A. C. Jordan House
Dr. Archibald C. Jordan built the house in 1875. An expanded rear addition to the house incorporates an original rear section of this National Register property. The Caldwell post office stood in the yard beside the house. Within the woods opposite the Jordan House are the ruins of his office and his brother’s drugstore. Dr. Jordan later moved his practice to Durham where a frequently-filled prescription became the basis of the BC headache remedy.
Continue on NC 57 to the first road on the right, Little River Presbyterian Church Rd. Turn right and go ¸ mile to the church on your left. Turn into the second driveway and explore the cemetery at will.
19. Little River Presbyterian Church
Settlers, predominantly from Northern Ireland, founded Little River Presbyterian Church in 1761. Some of the gravestones are very old, including one with a pictograph on its buried end. The current building dates from 1974.
This concludes the driving tour. To return to Hillsborough retrace your way to NC 57 and turn right. To go to Durham, turn left on NC 57 and right at the blinking light onto Guess Rd. (NC 157) which will take you to Durham and I-85.