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Rod's Umstead Ruins Hike 2013

posted Dec 14, 2013, 6:53 PM by Justin P   [ updated Dec 18, 2013, 6:06 AM ]

Today, I joined Rod for his annual Umstead Ruins hike, highlighting the history of William B. Umstead State Park.  The forecast was for a dreary day, but the rain wasn’t supposed to start until around lunch time.  We all met up at the Reedy Creek entrance to the park and started hiking shortly after 8.  Our hike began along the Company Mill Trail and our first stop was just shortly after passing the intersection with Inspiration Trail.  Rod pointed out a couple of rock piles just a few meters off the trail.  Old homesteads used to be here and children would help dig up rocks after school.  Farming was difficult here because the land was so rocky and everyone had to help out.  The rocky soil conditions and hilly terrain led to poor farming outcomes and was one of the main reasons the federal government bought up the land to make a park.  We continued on the trail to the footbridge across Crabtree Creek, which was put in place by helicopter, and turned right and made our next stop at the old Company Mill.  Here, Joe met up with the group.  He had lived here as a boy until age 8 when the federal government bought up the land to make a park.  As a former resident, Joe could provide an interesting first-person perspective on the park’s past.  The Company Mill and dam were built in 1810 and used to mill wheat and corn.  It was also a social site, where people in the community would gather.  But the mill washed out in a flood and all that remains are the ruins and the mill stone.  Next, we headed off trail a bit up a hill away from Crabtree Creek, where Rod showed us an old magazine that was built to store explosives.  The small brick structure was intended to absorb the force of an explosion if the material unexpectedly blew up.  Next, we headed to the northwest and stopped at the old homestead of Joe’s childhood house, just up the hill from Crabtree Creek.  Joe showed us an old spring that he had once gotten water from.  Nearby was a small stream that his mother had washed clothes in, since this was before washing machines.  Next, we started following an old roadbed, which was Mill Road at one time, and headed to Camp Craggy, an old boy scout camp.  A nearby pond had been built for swimming and at one time, there were diving boards on the shore.  Local residents would use the area for recreation when scouts weren't using the camp.  We went up the stone stairs to the circle where scouts had once met.  Openings in the circle indicated the four cardinal directions.  Surprisingly, we saw a black racer snake hiding among the stones.  It seemed to have been too cold recently for snakes to still be out.  We continued on the old roadbed, stopping at another old homestead.  There was what's left of a very old car here, probably a Model T or Model A.  Joe and Rod also pointed out the location of an old tobacco barn.  Nothing was left of the barn, but we could see the remains of a stone structure where fire was used to cure the tobacco.  Joe told us the barn had burned down before before the land had been bought to make a park.

From here, we headed to Reedy Creek Trail and hiked off trail from here to an interesting site, although not one of human history.  There’s a huge boulder just a quarter-mile off the main trail.  We stopped here for a couple of minutes to climb around on the boulder and take pictures.  Then, we continued a short ways further to Company Mill Trail and turned left, stopping almost immediately at another old homestead.  This one is right off the popular Company Mill Trail and I wondered how many people walk past it without realizing it was there.  I had certainly hiked past it countless times unaware what was right next to the trail.

Continuing on Company Mill Trial, we took the spur trail and stopped at the bridge over Sycamore Creek.  Although there weren’t any signs of the homestead that was here, it belonged to an important woman named Genevieve, who was a school teacher and was instrumental in bringing special education to Wake County.  This was Joe’s last stop; he was getting tired and took off.  We continued on up Graylyn Trail and turned into the woods to see the remains of the log cabin theater.  Genevieve had worked to get the theater built and it was very nice for its time.  Unfortunately, it was only in use for a short time before the federal government bought out the land.  It was starting to rain at this point.  We got back on Graylyn Trail and cut through the open field at the power line right of way and stopped to see a lot of artifacts.  These looked a lot more modern that what we had seen earlier, like dishwashers.  This land was not originally part of the park and a house was built here in the 1950s.  Later, the park acquired the land and tore down the house but left the artifacts.  We stopped by another similar newer homestead with just a chimney remaining of the house.  But the artifacts here included a wheel and a very old lawnmower. 

We got back on Graylyn Trail and continued to the King Family Cemetery, stopping right before at a huge oak tree, which was used as a cider press.  It was starting to really rain now, so our stops were getting shorter.  We stopped briefly at King Cemetery, and then headed back on Graylyn Trail.  We had a quick lunch at the Sycamore Creek Bridge and many people opted to head back.  But a few of us were staying for the entire hike.  We stopped briefly at the locations of a few more homesteads as we got back on Reedy Creek Trail.  We took a quick detour through the woods and stopped at the location of the CCC headquarters when they were building the park.  All that’s left are foundations of some of the buildings and an old well that once had a water tower.  Then, we got back on Reedy Creek Trail and took Reedy Creek Lake Trail back towards the parking lot.  Along the way, we got off the trail and found an old homestead that was just off the trail.  No one was sure who had lived here, but certainly some family had.  We would need to come back another time when it wasn’t raining and try to figure out the story behind this one.