Editor’s note: Orlando Dobbin, a Chatham County school counselor, shares this story of his exploration of what Chatham has to offer.
Special — better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual, as defined by Oxford Languages.
I moved to Chatham County about two years ago. And when I moved here, I felt like I had landed in a special, better or otherwise different from what is usual, place.
My feeling that Chatham is special birthed the first time I went to do some shopping for my new apartment. As I was leaving the store a man stopped me and asked if I was new to the area. I was a bit suspicious, but when I told him I was, he enthusiastically invited me to come to his farm so that he could treat me to pie and coffee and welcome me to the community.
The next day, I went grocery shopping and filled my cart with way too many items. As I was going to the cash register, items were falling out to the left and right of me — I was a mess. When I finally went to get the items I had dropped, I turned around to find that a man had been following me the whole time picking up the items I had dropped. Before I could thank him, he’d already gone ahead to continue his grocery shopping.
Then the next day at my first training for my job with Chatham County Schools, I was vigorously taking notes when all of a sudden I had to use the bathroom. I went to the restroom lamenting how far behind I would be when I got back. When I got back to my seat, though, I found that the person I was sitting beside (whom I hadn’t said a single word to) had taken my notebook and filled in all the notes I’d missed.
Last summer I wanted to know if the magic I experienced my first few days in Chatham extended beyond those brief encounters. That’s when I decided to go on a little journey to visit all of Chatham County’s 31 towns and unincorporated communities to try to discover the history and stories that makes this place so special.
My journey started in Southwest Chatham where I visited the communities of Bonlee, Bennett, Ore Hill, Bear Creek and Mt. Vernon. At first, my friend and I could not find a sign for the community of Ore Hill. We searched far and wide but found nothing. Just as we were getting ready to give up, we saw a sign in someone’s yard that said “Welcome to Ore Hill.” For a brief moment we hesitated to go into someone’s yard to ask to take a picture of their sign, but immediately agreed it was worth it.
In Chatham County fashion, the couple not only allowed me to take a picture with their sign but was also generous enough to speak with us for 25 minutes about the local history of the area — pulling out old news articles and sharing stories about their home of 50 years.
As we were saying our goodbyes, the couple said we had to visit the natural springs of Mount Vernon just up the street. At Mount Vernon Springs, there was once a resort that attracted people from all over the South. Legend had it that the water from Mount Vernon Springs would heal any stomach or kidney issues one had. I can’t say my stomach or kidneys are now immune from future troubles after drinking the water, but I definitely appreciated the crisp refreshing water from the spring.
My travels then took me a little north to the community of Silk Hope. Silk Hope gets its name from Henry Lutterloh, who arrived in the community in the late 1800s with dreams of making the area an economic hub for the silk industry. Unfortunately, his silk worms weren’t interested in the mulberry trees he planted, and his silk dreams never came to fruition. Silk Hope, though, would become the economic hub of agriculture in the county. Agriculture played such a large role in the community that community members decided to organize an event called “Old Fashioned Farmers Day” to commemorate its agricultural roots — Chatham’s longest-running event.
I then traveled further north to the community of Crutchfield Crossroads — named for Jesse Crutchfield, who owned a corner store in the community. Jesse’s store wasn’t just any corner store, though; it was also the local hot spot for a good game of checkers. Some of the best checkers players from all over the region would come to Jesse’s store on the weekends for his famed checkers tournaments that would draw 30 to 40 people.
Lastly, I traveled to the southern portion of Chatham to visit the communities of Haywood, Moncure and Gulf. I learned that the little community of Haywood, just south of Moncure, was just one vote shy of being the capital of North Carolina and was initially proposed to be the location for UNC-Chapel Hill. Although Haywood wasn’t chosen to be the site of our state’s capital or North Carolina’s first public university, it would become the site of another important institution in Chatham — the first school for Blacks in the county. One of the founders of Winston Salem State University, Simon Atkins, was educated at the school.
My final destination on my adventure was the community of Gulf — home of the JR Moore & Sons store. The store’s slogan is “a place where you can get a little bit of everything.” While reading old news articles on the area, I discovered this quote someone said about the community: “It was the interdependence of individuals in group actions that gave my country community a special beauty, dignity, and charm.”
I realized that while I appreciate the fascinating history to be found here in Chatham and love the rolling hills I experience on an afternoon bike ride, it’s the people of Chatham that make it such a special place.
It’s the people, like Jesse Crutchfield, who created space for community events like checkers tournaments in his store, or neighbors who so love and value their community that they put a sign of its name in their yard, or strangers who pick up a struggling man’s groceries as he clumsily stumbles around the store.
It’s the people of Chatham that make me smile every time I see the “Welcome to Pittsboro” sign and the people who have made me and many others feel so lucky to call this place home.
As things change here, may we, the people of Chatham, continue to make it the special — otherwise different than usual — place that it is.
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