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Rod's Umstead Ruins Hike 2014

posted Dec 15, 2014, 4:25 PM by Justin P   [ updated Dec 16, 2014, 5:54 AM ]

Saturday was Rod’s annual Umstead Ruins Hike in William B. Umstead State Park.  We started from the Reedy Creek entrance and Rod gave us a little history of the park before we set off on Company Mill Trail.  We stopped in about a half-mile at a big pile of rocks right alongside the trail.

These piles were made of rocks cleared from the land for farming.  A lot of the labor came from children who moved rocks after school.  Farming was difficult in the rocky land and everyone needed to help out.  The poor soil for farming was one of the reasons that the federal government purchased the land to convert into a park.  From here, we continued on the trail to the ruins of the Company Mill, where we met Joe Grissom and his son.  Joe was born and lived in what is now the park until age 8 when the federal government purchased the land as part of the New Deal.  Company Mill was built in 1810 and was used to mill wheat and corn.  Originally called Page Mill, it became a center of social activity for the community.  The mill was washed out in a flood and all that remains are the ruins of the dam and the millstone.  The millstone was discovered in the river and lifted out by helicopter.  A helicopter was also used to place the footbridge over Crabtree Creek right upstream.

Next, we got off trail and headed up a short ways to old magazine that was used to store explosives.  The thick stone walls would absorb much of the blast if they were to accidentally detonate.  From here, we headed to the old homestead where Joe was born and lived the first eight years of his life.  There wasn’t much left of the homestead, but we could see an old, dying walnut tree near where his house had been.  He used to eat walnuts as a boy.  When the tree was healthy, it secreted juglone to poison other trees and the land around it was clear.  Now, the tree was dying and plants were growing in around it.  Our next stop was Camp Craggy, an old boy scout camp.  Next to the camp was a pond that served as a local swimming hole, even having a diving platform.

Joe told us how the camp was used for recreation by the community when scouts weren’t camping there.  We also saw a ceremonial stone circle with openings in the cardinal directions.  From here, we continued on the old road to another homesite with the remains of an old car.  In years past, we had seen an old Champion spark plugs sign at this site.  Rod said it was missing when he was here recently, but when we arrived at the site, it was back.

Next we headed to the ruins of an old tobacco barn.  All that was left were the stone pits where fire would cure the tobacco.  Joe remembered the barn from his childhood - it was only up one year before it burned down.  Curing tobacco required careful monitoring of the temperature or it would catch fire.

From here, we continued to Reedy Creek Multi-Use Trail and turned right, going a short ways then heading back into the woods to see the ruins at the Teal homesite.  Only the remains of the of the walls were still here and a tree had recently crashed down on those.


The Teals had the only home in the community with a basement.  Mrs. Teal was an older lady and as children, Joe and his sister thought she might be a witch.  One day after school, she summoned the children and offered them some apple pie and milk.  After that, Joe and his sister changed their minds and thought she was a nice lady.  We then crossed back across Reedy Creek Trail and headed back in the woods to the see the big pluton rock, which looks out of place in the middle of the woods.

Then, we headed back to the multi-use trail and continued to Company Mill Trail and stopped at a pile of rocks that was another old homesite.  We followed Company Mill Trail to the bridge over Sycamore Creek on Graylyn Trail and stopped here from lunch.  After lunch, we continued up Graylyn Trail along the power lines and ducked into the woods on the left at the big pine tree.  There were many glass bottles on the ground here, so we had to watch our footing.  Rod brought us to the ruins of the log cabin theater.  It was built by Genevieve Woodson, a local schoolteacher and had attracted the attention of folks at UNC in Chapel Hill.  We then crossed Graylyn Trail and went through the power line clearing to another old homesite.  This one looked more like junk than historical like the others.  And the stuff looked too new to have dated from before the park’s creation.  This area is one that was more recently added to the park.  We bushwhacked through the woods a little further and came to another homesite in which the most of the ruins had been crushed by fallen tree.  Although the home was barely visible under the fallen tree, there were some interesting old artifacts here, including a wheel, a lawnmower, a tank, and part of a tractor.

From here, we bushwhacked north a bit and stopped at an old cemetery with some barbed wire around the plot.  Rod pointed out that this was a poor family’s cemetery with small grave markers and little upkeep.  Then we continued to Graylyn Trail and stopped at the King cemetery - the rich family’s cemetery.  With nice gravestones and a well-manicured plot, it was easy to see the difference in affluence.  At this point, we turned around and started heading back on Graylyn Trail.  Near the power lines, we headed into the woods along an old road and came to another magazine, this one made of brick, on a ridgeline above Sycamore Creek and Trail.

Then we hiked the rest of Graylyn Trail and found another homesite right at the intersection with Reedy Creek Trail.  Then we headed south on Reedy Creek Trail to Cedar Ridge and headed into the woods here to see the ruins of the CCC Headquarters.  The CCC were responsible for the labor involved in constructing the roads, dams, trails, shelters, and other facilities in the park during the New Deal era.  Finally, we continued on Reedy Creek Trail to one more site.  The old Camp Crabtree was just off the trail to the east before crossing Crabtree Creek.  This camp was originally built for workers constructing the park, but was mostly abandoned when the US entered World War II.  British sailors, while their ships were undergoing repair in the Norfolk area used the camp during the war.  There are a couple of old foundations here as well as a big water tank.

After that, we got back on the trail and headed back to the parking lot after a very enjoyable and informative hike.