Joe Grissom tells us some early history of Umstead State Park:
In what is now Umstead State Park, there were several water-powered grist mills. The Page Mill was built in 1810. Another mill, located on the very edge of the park on Ebenezer Church Road, was called Blake’s Mill. And a third mill on a branch to Sycamore Lake was called the Old George Lynn Mill. They all ground mostly cornmeal.
Page Mill is the oldest and the best known. There was a strong community of about 40 families in this area. There are still a number of graveyards there. I found a cemetery with the grave of Oscar Page, and next to it was a stone that said “Wife.” The Pages left the area about 1900. The large King cemetery is the most widely known, located off of Ebenezer Road. Another large cemetery in the middle of the park is called the Warren-Haley Cemetery.
My great-grandfather, John Walden, came from Raleigh to Umstead in 1915. He was a skilled carpenter, but in retirement he heard that the Page Mill needed a custodian, so he and his wife moved there.
In 1927, Dad and Mother moved there from Raleigh so Dad could assist his grandfather running the mill. My dad, Joseph Grissom, also became custodian of the Camp Craggy Boy Scout camp there. I was born there in 1928.
The Page Mill, later renamed the Old Company Mill, had quite a historical significance. The mill’s name was changed when a group of men formed a company and took ownership. Camp Craggy Boy Scout camp near the mill had cabins, the administration building and the swimming pool. Dad maintained the cabins and ran the camp.
During the Depression, the federal government saw poverty everywhere, but they decided they could do something for this area of the country. Their plan was to construct a park, to be known as a federal recreation demonstration area, to teach local people how land could be improved.
Word got out that the farmers had to sell their land to the federal government or they would take it. In 1936-37, they started buying up all of the subsistence farms on the land they wanted for the park.
All of the farm families had to sell their land and move away. Many families had lived there for generations after obtaining their farms through land grants.
One of the first pieces of property the government bought was Camp Craggy. In 1938, they tore down the buildings and hauled them away. They didn’t want structures remaining in the woods where vagrants could go in and start fires.
The Old Company Mill operated until it washed away in a flood in the spring of 1939. We were one of the last families to leave. We moved to the very border of the park to the Trenton Road area of Raleigh in 1939. When the mill and the Boy Scout camp closed, my dad returned to his carpentry trade to make his living.
Cary’s Heritage is taken from the book, “Just a Horse-Stopping Place, an Oral History of Cary, North Carolina,” first published in August, 2006. The book is a collection of oral history interviews conducted between local citizens and Friends of the Page-Walker Hotel.
Celebrating Umstead State Park
To celebrate the 80th anniversary of the establishment of Umstead Park, the Friends of the Page-Walker, the Umstead Coalition and Town of Cary are hosting the following events:
▪ “Capturing the Essence of Umstead State Park” exhibition: Photos of the park will be on display at the Page-Walker Arts and History Center, 119 Ambassador Loop, Cary from Wednesday, Sept. 23 to Saturday, Nov. 15. An artist reception is Friday, Sept. 25, from 6 to 8 p.m.
▪ Stories in Stone: A Look Back at Umstead’s Past: The program at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 24, will feature memories from the community that once existed on land now occupied by the park. The program is at the Page-Walker Arts & History Center.
▪ Company Mill Hike: A tour of the park’s origins is 9 to 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26, at the park. Meet at the park’s North Harrison Avenue entrance at 2000 N. Harrison Ave. Call 919-571-4170 or go to umsteadcoalition.org for details.