ARCHER LODGE — This rural Johnston County community is the kind of place where Chevy might film a TV commercial: Corn stalks sway in fields just beyond the water tower, kids hustle on the T-ball diamond, and the Fourth of July parade serves as the year's biggest party.
There are no Burger Kings or Super Wal-Marts and only a handful of stoplights in Archer Lodge, nestled in an unincorporated area between Wendell and Clayton. But Archer Lodge is growing, with new people moving into new housing developments, convincing some that their community should become a full-fledged town, with a mayor and council empowered to make decisions.
A group of residents came together a few years ago to form the Archer Lodge Municipal Exploratory Committee. Members organized public meetings and gathered the signatures of those who would like the community to incorporate, which led to proposed legislation before the state House of Representatives. If the legislation passes, the people of Archer Lodge will vote this fall on whether to incorporate into a town of about 3,000.
"We can't stop change," said Carlton Vinson, who has helped direct the exploratory committee. "We want to manage the change so we don't lose the character of the community."
That character includes the C.E. Barnes store, where it's not uncommon for three generations of Barneses to work at one time, and the Archer Lodge community center, where kids play baseball. The church, White Oak Baptist, is the community's other major gathering place.
The community has been known as Archer Lodge for more than 160 years, Vinson said. Although the origins of the name are cloudy, one of the state's first Masonic lodges was built in Archer Lodge, and the community may have been named for a mason named John Archer.
Scott Brush and his wife, Grace, moved to Echo Forest, a relatively new Archer Lodge subdivision, about five years ago.
"It's rural," he said, "but it had access to everything we wanted."
Archer Lodge is great for deer hunting but is also only a few minutes' drive from Clayton's shopping and entertainment. Brush is in favor of incorporating Archer Lodge so its residents can better control future growth. It's practically an official town anyway, he said.
"We act like it, we talk like it, we might as well be it," he said.
Although Vinson emphasizes that he wants Archer Lodge to incorporate so it can govern itself, some are concerned that Clayton or Wendell could one day annex some or all of Archer Lodge. Neither town is interested in doing so at the moment, but "that could change tomorrow," Brush said.
State Sen. David Rouzer, who represents Johnston and Wayne counties, held a joint hearing in Archer Lodge in January with state Rep. Leo Daughtry of Smithfield. Most of those at the meeting seemed in favor of incorporation, Rouzer said.
Status of the plan
The Archer Lodge proposal is before the Joint Legislative Commission on Municipal Incorporation, which could soon give the plan a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. From there, if the bill makes its way out of the House of Representatives, it will head to the Senate. If approved, the question will move to a vote of the people.
"We felt like that was the fairest way to handle it," Rouzer said of the ballot referendum.
Not everyone in Archer Lodge is certain that incorporation is the right route to take. Margaret Stevens, who has more or less lived in the community since 1963, is undecided about the idea.
When asked about what she enjoyed about living in Archer Lodge, she didn't hesitate. "I like everything," she said. "I don't have any complaints about Archer Lodge."
But becoming a town will mean additional taxes. Although the proposed tax rate is only 8 cents per $100 of valuation, that number is bound to increase, she said, because that's what taxes do. "I know they're going to," she said. "They do everywhere."
On the other hand, if Archer Lodge doesn't incorporate, Stevens figures Clayton or Wendell might eventually annex it and charge taxes of its own.
"It's inevitable," she said. "We're going to pay them to somebody."
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