by Matt White | Photography by Beth Mann
When Barbara Blank and her husband, Stephen, moved to Fearrington in 2016, they expected that the neighborhood would be an easy place to make friends. There was the Roost Beer Garden at Fearrington Village, the Swim & Croquet Club across from their home and a long list of programmed activities for residents.
But Barbara didn’t have to go looking for friends. Instead, a group in Fearrington found her. And remembering new names was no problem. “The first people I met were the Barbaras,” Barbara says. “Barbara Harris called and invited me to their meeting.”
It turns out that enough women named Barbara live in Fearrington to start a social group, the Barbaras of Fearrington (including Barbara Fearrington, whose husband, Jesse, is part of the original Fearrington family). The group meets monthly and sponsors annual events.
“You just talk and get to know people,” she says. “Once a year, there’s a brunch at The Carolina Inn.”
Barbara also joined the Women of Fearrington, a long-standing social and civic-minded group that raises money and donates to Chatham nonprofits.
This year, the group donated nearly $35,000 to area causes.
“They’re very proactive,” Barbara says.
Most famous, perhaps, for the Belted Galloway cows that draw stares from passing cars on Highway 15-501, Fearrington is both one of Chatham’s most established neighborhoods and one of its fastest growing, with active building still underway in several corners. Once a 640-acre dairy farm, Fearrington passed from family control to developer R.B. Fitch in 1974. In the spirit of English farm villages, which R.B. and his wife, Jenny, enjoyed visiting, he remade the farm’s homestead into Fearrington Village, with restaurants, event spaces and boutique shopping. Original buildings were preserved to become landmarks, like The Barn and The Fearrington House Restaurant.
The earliest residential phases – which residents today affectionately call the “historic district” – include about 250 homes north of the main village. Built in the 1970s and ’80s, the earliest homes now sit in a mature forest, the lots connected by a web of creeks, trails and treehouses.
Further sections followed in the 1990s as townhomes and condos sprung up around the village and its adjacent parks, all designed and built by Fitch’s development companies. Walking and bike paths snake between streets, and few homes are more than a 10-minute walk from the central village.The latest offerings, east of the village and more secluded from 15-501, are the neighborhoods of Millcreek Circle, Burke Place and Richmond Close. New Millcreek homes start in the $400,000s, while Burke and Richmond’s begin in the $500,000s, primarily due to larger lots, according to Laura Morgan, general manager of Fitch’s real estate sales and construction.
Nearby, a rare non-Fitch development, Henderson Place, is underway by Homes by Dickerson. Starting in the $600,000s, most of the neighborhood’s 44 lots are spoken for.
In all, Fearrington today holds slightly fewer than 1,400 homes, with 200 still to be built in the next eight to 10 years. “We’re pretty happy to be building 18 to 20 homes per year,” Laura says.
A NEW ERA
For decades, Fearrington was the only major development between Chapel Hill and Pittsboro, gaining fame for its bucolic event spaces but with a residential reputation that leaned toward older residents from out of state or Chapel Hill relocators who worked, shopped and saw themselves as a part of Chapel Hill. At its heart was always a question: Just how Chatham was Fearrington?
No longer, says Rachel Goolsby, who moved into Fearrington with her husband, Brad, in 2005. “People are a lot more familiar with Chatham now,” says Rachel, a researcher at UNC.
Rachel had lived in Chapel Hill since her undergraduate years at UNC, and Brad, a drummer, was active in the local music scene. If anyone would feel attached to Chapel Hill, they were it. When their daughter, Stella, was born, they considered homes in Hillsborough before finding Fearrington. Today, with Stella now 14 and their son, Quinn, 9, Rachel says it’s her co-workers at UNC who quiz her about the happenings in Fearrington and Chatham.
“People were always like, ‘What’s Pittsboro like?’” Rachel says. “I work in Chapel Hill, but on weekends I try to find things more out in this direction. I like the vibe better. I’m not a college student anymore, and there’s a lot of stuff going on here.”
To appeal to families like the Goolsbys, Fearrington has re-oriented its focus in recent years, opening the Roost Beer Garden with seasonal live music while retooling restaurant and shopping offerings. The Fearrington House remains a fine-dining staple, but the recently revamped Belted Goat offers lighter, easier options. The village’s Pumpkinfest, held just before Halloween, now draws up to 1,000 visitors, many from well outside Chatham.
Rachel says her school-aged kids keep active with friends on the trail system or at the pool. Brad, a Chapel Hill hairdresser, even arranged to swap haircuts for babysitting services with a neighborhood teenager. And Rachel trained with a friend for a half-marathon almost entirely on the neighborhood’s streets.
“We pretty much did 13 miles in here,” Rachel says. “There are a lot of good hills and then some flat areas, so we had some good routes.”
She also said she and Brad look forward to the annual Farm to Fork Picnic. “There’s always a lot of fun events that bring a ton of people in,” Rachel says. “It used to be just locals. Now people drive in from all over.”