Mar. 7th, 2010

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If I had more time, what I would do is, get a domain name, hook a blog up to it, and then extensively document every one of the motor tours from the 1939 WPA book NORTH CAROLINA: A Guide to the Old North State. There are 33 tours, ranging in length from 35 to 613 miles. But more time is something I perpetually lack, so I have not done those things.

What we did do, yesterday, is attempt to replicate Tour 8 from the guide. We drove up to Clarksville, Virginia, then came back down to Durham on US-15. Or rather, what would've been US-15 in 1939, which is close but not exactly the same. US-15 is the old Jefferson Davis Highway, and while it's still signed as such, the granite and bronze markers are mostly gone. There's one in Clarksville at the big intersection there. There's one over the state line in NC, but it's clearly new; at least the metal tablet is. The one marker that we found that looks realistically old was in Stovall, NC. Stovall is also where we attempted to find the family cemetery near the site of John Penn's house, but failed. Penn being one of the three Signers from NC. We were driving down a dirt road through land that was marked "No Trespassing" and also clearly a place where a lot of hunting happens, and the dirt road became a mud road so instead of getting stuck we turned around. This was the first site/sight mentioned in the guide that we failed to see.

Still, there is relatively current information on that cemetery (http://cemeterycensus.com/nc/), unlike many of the other places mentioned in the guide. House of Col. William T. Gregory, who ran a general store where he gave away rather than sold things? No dice. Hester Grange, the meeting hall of a farmers club in Hester, and Indian Grave Hill, where amateur archaeologists carted off Native American relics, ditto and ditto. We stopped in Oxford, where the courthouse dates from 1838, and discovered a museum there in the old jail, with lots of wonderful artifacts (including some Native American relics). Once we got to Durham, we switched over to Geer Street, which used to be US-15, and cruised into town on that stretch, passing the Hell's Angels clubhouse and the dearly departed Hartman's Steakhouse on the way.

The allure of this project is that you WILL find some peculiar old landmark that has traveled in time relatively unscathed. We didn't find anything like that this time. What we did find was the usual mix of beauty and ugliness, poverty and riches.

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