Names of local towns influenced by the railroad
Published 4:52 pm Tuesday, May 9, 2023
Our latest Front Porch Living magazine, which is being released this week, carries a theme of how some Roanoke-Chowan area towns got their names.
Of course there wasn’t enough room to include every town in our local area. In past special editions we’ve tackled that same subject matter and written stories on Ahoskie, Aulander, Murfreesboro, Winton, Windsor, Colerain, Lewiston-Woodville, Conway, Gatesville, and Jackson.
Our latest effort traces the roots of seven local towns/villages: Como, Corapeake, Gumberry, Little California, Rich Square, Sans Souci, and Sunbury.
As a Northampton County native, I wanted to learn more about how some of the towns there got their names. I found answers in the book – Footprints in Northampton – published in 1976 thanks to the hard work of the Northampton County Bicentennial Committee, which was chaired by the now late historian E. Carl Witt.
Researching the pages of that book revealed the following:
Originally known as Peeble’s Town or Peeble’s Tavern and later as Blakely Depot, Garysburg was first spelled as Garysburgh – named for Roderick B. Gary who operated a hotel there and also served Northampton County in the State House of Representatives between 1777-1830.
The original site of the Town of Gaston is now underwater, part of the Roanoke Rapids Lake. It was chartered in 1835 as the northern terminus of the Raleigh-Gaston Railroad. The town – named for Judge William Gaston – declined after 1865 when the bridge spanning the Roanoke River was burned.
Modern day Gaston was originally known as Camp’s Store. It was changed to Gaston in 1949 when the town was incorporated.
Historical records show that the Town of Lasker was settled around 1850 and was originally known as Alto. Some say that the townspeople opted to change their name to Lasker in honor of Hesekiah Lasker, a conductor on the famed Seaboard Airline Railroad. Others believe it’s a combination of two prominent families in that area – the Lassiters and the Parkers.
The town was incorporated in 1895.
Here’s a funny personal story about Lasker. Back in the day, my dad worked as a technician for the Northampton County Soil and Water Conservation Service. One summer, when I was about six or seven years-old, I overheard my dad say one day that he had an appointment to meet with a farmer in “Alaska” (well, that’s what I thought I heard). Later that day, a man came by the house looking for dad. I told him he was in Alaska, to which the man laughed and said, “well I hope he’s home by suppertime because I need to talk to him.”
Meanwhile, the Woodland-George area of the county was settled in the mid-1750s by Quakers.
Woodland, first known as Harrell’s Crossroads, changed it its present-day name when the town was incorporated in 1884.
George received its name when the Seaboard Airline Railroad was built there in 1887. George Harrison Parker donated the land for the depot.
Pendleton – originally known as Roberts’ Chapel and then as Starkey Woodard’s Shop – also draws its name from the railroad. It was named for the conductor in charge of the Seaboard Airline’s first train. The town incorporated in 1893.
Originally known as Cross Lox, the Town of Severn takes its name from Severn Ayers. He was one of the surveyors that mapped out the railroad line as it made its way into North Carolina from Boykins, VA. The town was incorporated in 1919.
There are three towns in the United States named Milwaukee. One is in Northampton County and was originally known as Bethany. It was incorporated in 1915 and named for its “big sister” city in Wisconsin. The other Milwaukee is located in Pennsylvania.
One would think that the Town of Seaboard got its name from the railroad as well. However, the name came from the Seaboard Institution…a “subscription school” that taught the ABC’s and religion.
Just up the road is Margarettsville, which was named for Margaret Jordan. The Post Office there opened in 1836.
The book also references places such as Faison’s Old Tavern, which according to historians was a place where cock fights were held as well as where English type pubs once thrived.
It also has info of a place known as Silver Hill, which built a reputation as a racehorse track that attracted thoroughbreds from as far away as Long Island, New York. Perhaps the county’s connection to the famed “Sir Archie” – hailed as the foundation sire of American thoroughbred racehorses – led it to host such races.
There’s also mention of several railroads that once served Northampton County. One – the Carolina & Northeastern Railroad Company – was particularly interesting. There were copies of passenger tickets on that rail line….from Gumberry to Mowfield (the latter being an old plantation situated along what is now a portion of US 158 west of the Boone’s Mill / Jackson area). There were also tickets for passage from Gumberry to Rehoboth.
Back in the mid-1970s, I worked two years with the Northampton County office of the North Carolina Forest Service. One of my jobs was to use aerial photographs to pinpoint the location of Southern Pine Beetle infestations. I would venture into the woods and mark these locations, then contact the landowner for permission to treat the infestations.
One such beetle-finding excursion led me into a wooded area slightly northwest of the Mowfield Plantation. There I discovered what I thought was an old logging path, but this one was a bit odd because it appeared to be slightly higher than the forest floor. I told my boss about it and he told me there was an old rail line in that section of the county and believed I had stumbled across it.
The book also enlightened me as to the first telephone service in Northampton County. That came in 1896 and was an effort by local citizens who purchased stock in a company that was organized to string telephone line from Jackson to Rich Square, via the Bryantown area. Other phone lines were erected between Lasker and Potecasi, then from Potecasi to Woodland.
In 1909, the Carolina Telephone Company came to Northampton County and installed the first switchboard in the Jackson home of Jim Parker.
There’s plenty of other extremely interesting information about Northampton County in that book. Perhaps I’ll share some in future columns.
Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at email@example.com or 252-332-7207.