Moments in Time in Chatham’s History

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12,000 – 8,000 B.C.
Native Americans lived in the area now known as Chatham County. Spear points and scrapers were found along the New Hope Creek during construction of the B. Everett Jordan Lake Dam.

European settlers arrived and established an English Quaker settlement in what is now Siler City.

April 1, 1771
The Colonial Assembly established Chatham County, named after the first earl of Chatham, England, William Pitt, who served as British Prime Minister from 1766-1768.

May 16, 1771
Residents known as Regulators fought and lost in the Battle of Alamance against British militia over corrupt colonial government practices.

March 1781
At the end of the American Revolutionary War, British army under Lord Cornwallis retreated through the county. They camped at places such as Chatham Court House, now Pittsboro, and Ramsey’s Mill and Tavern on the Deep River. Americans in pursuit, led by General Greene, camped along Tick Creek and used John Brooks’ home (said to be the first framed house and the first house with glass windows in Chatham County) as a headquarters.

July 1781
David Fanning and his Loyalist militia attacked Chatham Court House where other Loyalists were being court- martialed. In the attack, Fanning captured 53 Patriots, including most of the court officials and militia officers, as well as several members of the General Assembly.

The town of Pittsborough, originally known as “Chatham Court House,” was named the county seat. Locals shortened Pittsborough from the old English spelling to Pittsboro sometime in 1893.

Pittsborough Academy was the first school established in the county.

The water at Mount Vernon Springs was believed to have healing properties. John Washington, descendant of George Washington, was one of many people who believed in and drank the “magic water.”

Chatham County total population: 16,242; slave population: more than 3,000

The Cape Fear and Deep River Navigation Company formed to improve water access for steamboats traveling to the coal deposits of Moore and Chatham counties.

Charles Manly, Pittsborough Academy graduate and local attorney, was elected governor of North Carolina for one term (1849-1851).

The census listed the following occupations and their numbers: 1,434 farmers, 521 laborers, 39 blacksmiths, 38 mechanics, 35 shoemakers, 32 carpenters, 32 merchants and 11 peddlers.

The Western Railroad opened and connected Fayetteville to the coal mines of Egypt (now Cumnock).

Census: 19,000 total population; 6,000 enslaved people and 300-500 free Black people.

Following South Carolina’s secession from the Union, wealthy residents led by John H. Haughton met at the Baptist Church at Love’s Creek, near what is now Siler City, for anti-secession meetings.

Moncure was established after the Raleigh and Augusta Air Line Railroad obtained land there.

An example of farm expenses: $196 (wages and board for hired man, $84; horse board, $60; interest, taxes, repairs, $10). Income: $160.50 (35 barrels of corn, $87.50; shucks and fodder, $15; 25 bushels of oats, $10; 40 bushels of wheat, $40; wheat and oat straw, $8).

The Chatham Record is established, the county’s oldest newspaper in continuous publication.

George Pilkington moved to Chatham County from England and opened the first drugstore in Pittsboro.

The Chatham County Courthouse was built in Pittsboro for $10,666.

Mount Vernon Springs post office is established.

The Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Railroad opened; its traffic led to the development of GoldstonBear CreekBonlee and Siler City.

Siler City is incorporated.

Farmers Alliance Store opens in Siler City. After 130 years in business, the farm and garden store closed in 2018. Today, the historic building has been restored and reopened as a coworking space and event venue.

Chatham County native Clarence Poe became editor of The Progressive Farmer magazine.

Goldston is incorporated.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Davis

Siler City Mills is built.

Bonlee High School was founded as a private institution in a two-story building that included an auditorium seating 500 and a 20-room dormitory. It became a public school in 1917.

May 27, 1925
Coal Glen Mine explosion near Farmville on the Deep River was the worst industrial accident in North Carolina history, killing 53 men.

The Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital is built near Elkin, North Carolina.

Pittsboro Colored School is renamed Horton School after George Moses Horton (1798-1883), an African American poet who was born a slave and lived in Chatham County; the school name was later changed to Horton High School and is now Horton Middle School.

Bynum General Store opened and was operated by James Gurney Williams and his wife, Ruth Williams. In 2006, the Bynum Front Porch was created – a nonprofit organization that hosts a variety of community events, the most popular being its live concert series.

Chatham County launched into the hothouse broiler business (eggs, chicks, feed, growing chickens and processing). Chatham was the leading poultry producer in the South by late 1960s.

The Chatham County Colored Agricultural Fair was held. Local founders included Robert Gade BryantCharles W. Baldwin and Mildred Bright Payton. Today, it is known as the Chatham County Agricultural and Industrial Fair.

Early 1950s
A wooden bridge crossing the Haw River in Pittsboro collapsed beneath Walter Hugh Campbell and his Studebaker truck full of chickens and is known today as Chicken Bridge.

The Coal Glen Mine permanently closed.

The Chatham Community NAACP Branch No. 5377 was chartered. Residents join in the community branch’s fight to eliminate racial discrimination.

The state’s first integrated poultry processing facility was at Carolina Poultry in Siler City. It later became Townsend. The old Townsend processing plant was purchased and updated by Mountaire Farms in 2016.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started construction on Jordan Lake Dam. The recreational reservoir was originally called New Hope Lake.

Chatham County Schools are fully integrated.

The Carolina Power & Light Company‘s Cape Fear Steam Electric Plant near Moncure used 63 rail cars’ worth, or about 3,780 tons, of coal per day – enough to heat an average home for 400 years – in 1971. The plant was in operation from 1923 to 2011.

The Silk Hope Ruritan Club hosted its first annual Old Fashioned Farmers Day event – a showcase of antique farm machinery, old cars and equipment. The event is held every Labor Day weekend at Silk Hope Farm Heritage Park.

The county adopted the council-manager form of government. Chatham has five county commissioners elected to four-year terms. They must reside in specific districts and are elected by voters.

June 28 is declared “George Moses Horton Day” by the state. George Moses Horton was the first African American man to publish a book, “The Hope of Liberty” (1829), in the South.

El Vínculo Hispano or The Hispanic Liaison was founded in Siler City.

Gene Oldham opened S&T’s Soda Shoppe, named after his two sons, Steve and T.J. Gene passed away in December 2020.

George Moses Horton was named Historic Poet Laureate of Chatham County.

Chatham County hosts the first Fiesta Latina at Bray Park in Siler City to benefit El Vínculo Hispano.

UNC journalism professor Paul Cuadros starts the first soccer program at Jordan-Matthews High School and leads the team to win the state championship in 2004. In 2006, he published “A Home on the Field: How One Championship Soccer Team Inspires Hope for the Revival of Small Town America” based on his experience.

The Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance was launched. The biannual arts festival is held the first Thursday through Sunday in May and October in Pittsboro on a 75-acre farm managed by the Shakori Hills Community Arts Center.

March in Siler City for immigrants’ rights.

Chatham Hospital joins UNC Health Care and moves to a new 25-bed facility in Siler City.

Chatham County ranked No. 1 in beef cattle production and No. 5 in hay production in North Carolina.

March 25, 2010
The Chatham County Courthouse caught fire while undergoing renovations. The interior was damaged by fire and water. Today’s Historic Courthouse retains its 1881 exterior, and the fire and water damaged interior was rebuilt and reopened in 2013.

Census: total Chatham population: 63,505; 71% white, 13% Black, 13% Hispanic, 2% Asian, 1% Native American.

After closing in 2015 due to financial constraints, El Vínculo Hispano reopened its doors.

Chatham County NAACP launched the Community Remembrance Coalition Chatham – an initiative to recognize the six documented victims who were lynched in the area between 1850 and 1950. The victims include: Harriet FinchJerry FinchLee TysonJohn PattishallHenry Jones and Eugene Daniel.

The Chatham County Board of Commissioners voted to remove the statue of a confederate soldier that was placed at the north-facing entrance to the Courthouse circle in 1907 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Central Carolina Community College Chatham Health Sciences Center opened, CCCC’s newest building in Chatham County.

Franklin Gomez Flores becomes the first Latino county commissioner elected in Chatham County.

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Marie Muir

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