NC School of Science and Mathematics

2004 Student Intensive

The Search for Fish Dam Road

Notes from the field

Joe Liles, Instructor

Wednesday, April 7

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  Dear followers of the road,

Today we drove to the area in eastern Durham County that we left off with yesterday.  We drove Redwood Road to Panther Creek where we stopped to inspect the impressive gouge of Fish Dam Road that runs on the south side of the road.  Next, we took the road across Panther Creek and parked our vehicles at the big curve on Redwood.  We followed on foot an old logging road now used by small all-terrain vehicles to the site of the old Redwood Hotel.  One the way we stopped by a the roofless remains of a hand-hewn log tobacco barn.  I explained to the students about how fire wood was shoved through an opening at the bottom of the barn into the clearly visible brick-lined flue on the dirt floor of the barn.  A piece of tin remained in the barn that once covered the flu to keep the sparks from going up into the tobacco that was hung in the rafters.  A pipe chimney would have been at the other end of the flu to carry the smoke outside the barn.  I told the students that it might take five days to cure out a barn full of tobacco with the heat from the fire.  When we reached the hotel site, we saw that only a chimney remains, but it was clearly a two story building with a fireplace on each floor.  Just behind the hotel we found the foundation of the kitchen which looked to be detached from the main building.  Farther behind this, we found what we think was the foundation for the stables.  David Glenn had told me of this layout since he remembered visiting the still standing buildings in his younger days.

At this point, we gathered the students and announced that we were going to have a contest.  We divided up into to groups of four or so.  Each group would try to be the first to find Fish Dam Road.  The instructions were that, if you found the road, all of your group were to holler six times in rapid succession, repeatedly.  I explained where the water of the Neuse River was, where the road was, and what to do if you got lost.  We agreed that, if you did not find the road in 40 minutes, we would meet back at the vehicles. 

In just a few minutes, there were several bursts of six hollers coming from different places in the woods.  I went to investigate each claim.  Every group had indeed found roadbed, just not the Fish Dam Road bed.  In the process, we did discover an abandoned tenant farmer house near the edge of a field.  This appeared to be a four room house of a very humble nature.  We also found the feathers of an entire wild turkey which we guessed had been killed by a fox.  Brandon Locklear found a beautiful box terrapin turtle which was quite friendly.  Hannah petted it on its head.  With time running out, I pointed one group in the direction of Fish Dam Road, we found it and followed it to Rocky Branch.  On returning to the vehicles, which were parked on the spot (unbeknownst to the students) where Fish Dam Road left the pavement at the big curve of Redwood Road and went straight, we found most of the remaining students.  I escorted anyone who missed the sighting of the road on a quick trip to the roadbed.  On our way back, we talked about how sometimes the solution to a problem is so simple that it escapes us.  In this instance, all that was necessary to find the road is to follow the farm road that led straight from the curve on Redwood, and it would turn right into Fish Dam Road.

This brings me to what I think is an important discovery.  Last night, David Southern, brought a couple of old property plat maps to my house.  One of them is titled "Property of P. C. Cameron Estate, Durham County, NC, November and December 1923."  On the north side of the Neuse River that appears on this plat, it is labeled "Fish Dam Tract."  Clearly marked on the south side of the Neuse is "Rocky Branch."  Rocky Branch!  This is where we were today!  Just a few minutes ago, here it is Wednesday evening, I got this plat and took it to the bulletin boards outside the Art Studio at NCSSM where we have all of our Fish Dam Road documents posted.  I went to the topographic map which conveniently shows the original channel of the Neuse River going through the middle of Falls of the Neuse Lake.  I lined up the property plat with the topo map.  The curves of the river channel on both maps line up perfectly.  Rocky Branch is in the right place. 

Now for the discovery:  The roads on the 1923 property plat line up with our modern day roads:  Cheek Road and Herford Road.  Fish Dam Road is not shown!  To my mind, the discovery is this:  The eastern section of Fish Dam Road was abandoned much earlier than we have been thinking, before 1923, how much before, I don't know. 

We have oral history in Orange County of at least some of those western sections of Fish Dam Road being in use well into the 1920's.  I think we have a clue with the P. C. Cameron map that the eastern end of Fish Dam Road was abandoned before that time.  Maybe this is why all the old timers we have found on the Neuse River end of things, cannot remember Fish Dam Road taking the course we have uncovered.  They associate Fish Dam Road solely with Cheek Road coming all the way into Durham.

I cannot wait until we download all our GPS longitudes and latitudes of the Fish Dam Road bed we have found and compare them with these old property plats!  More discoveries await!

I'll try to finish this up quickly.  On returning to the vehicles after our hunt for Fish Dam Road at Rocky Branch, we took the curve of Redwood to its intersection with Herford and turned into the driveway of the old Holloway house, the home today of Dr. Fredric Jameson and Sue Willis of Duke University.  Sue had given us permission to see her old barn with "1860" painted on an interior post.  She encouraged me to introduce my students to all of her baby goats and their nannies.  We had a wonderful time with these cuddly, nibbly cutie pies.

Last act of the day, we inspected and cleaned up the old store/post office across Redwood Road from the Holloway place.  Could this be the old Fish Dam Post Office?  We inspected many old, wonderful things inside including a meal and grain chest, a large set of scales, a spittoon, hats, shoes, medicine bottles, and books of history, home remedies, and hymns.

We returned to NCSSM a little dusty but still excited about our quest.

This part of our quest concludes tomorrow with the last day of our Miniterm.  We will cross the Neuse River at the eastern end of Fish Dam Road!