Cars whiz by much faster now than wagons did in the 1880s on the old stagecoach road between Hillsborough and Greensboro. Horses knew then that the well at Cedar Grove meant a water stop while riders rested at the old Patton Store at the crossroads of this historic farming community in Orange County.
Just 11 miles north and slightly west of Hillsborough, Cedar Grove is still a tight-knit community. Many of the farmsteads have been in the same families for generations – the Allisons, Comptons, Pittards, Olivers, McDades, Penders and Finleys, to name a few.
“A Compton has lived on the Compton farm since the 1700s,” said Betty Compton who is head of the music group “Pickin,’ Grinnin,’ and Singin’” that meets every Friday in the Schely Grange Community Building east of Cedar Grove.
“The existence of Cedar Grove as a community can be traced to around 1828, when the community’s first post office was established with Joseph Allison as its postmaster,” according to Cedar Grove Rural Crossroads Historic District documents which were received March 27, 1998 at the National Register of Historic Places National Park Service and entered in the National Register on April 23, 1998.
The Cedar Grove Rural Crossroads Historic District centers on the intersection of Carr Store Road (SR 1357) and Efland-Cedar Grove Road (SR 1004) and is comprised of approximately 135 acres containing a total of 60 contributing and 26 noncontributing sites, buildings and structures.
“Although most of the primary barns associated with the farmsteads have disappeared, sufficient physical vestiges in the form of field patterns strongly allude to the historical agrarian character of the community,” according to the National Register documents.
“The undulating farm land is laid out in fields and pastures delineated by tree lines, fences and two narrow main roads with their grassy verges – all remaining relatively unchanged during the last five decades (now more than six decades). “The natural and agrarian countryside overlaid with the built environment constitutes a significant cultural landscape which embodies the essential character of the once-typical rural crossroads community. “The community’s first post office was established at the former site of the Finley house on the southeast corner of the crossroads where a stand of English cedar trees, for which the community was named, still stands along with the contemporary Mildred Finley House,” according to the National Register documents. By 1850 Cedar Grove not only had a post office, but also a private academy, a tanner, doctor, coach maker, and three businesses, including a dry goods store, blacksmith and grocer. Later in the 1800s, Cedar Grove had a saw mill, grist mill, two churches and several large residences, including the Allen A. Ellis house.“Through the 1920s and into the 1940s a variety of enterprises established earlier were still thriving,” the Register documents state, including the Allen A. Ellis’s General Store, C.C. Oliver’s General Store, the Oliver’s blacksmith, pharmacy and physician’s office. C.C. Oliver Auto and Tractor Repair Shop stands on the site of the former Oliver’s Blacksmith Shop at the northwest corner of the crossroads intersection.
Eno Presbyterian Church, which anchors the northernmost end of the Cedar Grover Rural Historic District, was established in 1756 (first church building erected between 1897 and 1899). A group of quilters from across the Piedmont still meets in the fellowship hall of the church.
The Cedar Grove United Methodist Church was established in 1832, and the first church building was erected in 1834. Cedar Grove native Jo Westbrook said that her grandfather, Samuel Freeman Nicks, built four churches in the 1930’s, one of which was the old Cedar Grove United Methodist Church building, circa 1939. This was called the old Duke rock church, because the builders used the same type of rock that was used to build the Duke University Chapel.
A fire in 2000 destroyed the Duke rock church building, but Cedar Grove Methodist parishioners rebuilt another stone church that stands near the current post office. The church building fronts on Efland-Cedar Grove Road, but can be seen from the back yard of the Allen A. Ellis house.
“Miss Mildred Finley was the post mistress when we were growing up,” Westbrook said. “Mr. Tom Ellis (descendant of Allen Ellis) played the organ at the Eno Presbyterian Church and ran his accounting business from the old Ellis Store building in Cedar Grove.
“Mr. Ellis had an accounting business with clients from all over the United States and even overseas,” Westbrook said. “He had a brochure about his business that said, ‘A Dollar A Week Bookkeeping and Tax Service (started in 1943) 23 miles from Durham, Chapel Hill, Burlington, Yanceyville and Roxboro, a peaceful hamlet of 43 tranquil souls 23 miles from everywhere,’” Westbrook said.
“I’m 67, and I remember that Mr. Ellis passed when I was quite young. Lucille Ellis was his wife’s name. I would ride my tricycle up to visit with them and then go on and visit the next person. My mother and Daddy’s house was on Carr Store Road – the first house on left from Efland – we lived within sight of the Ellis House. Our house faced Carr Store Road and the Ellis house faced Cedar Grove Road,” Westbrook said.
The Ellis house, situated adjacent to and south of the Ellis Store, is on an acre of land and has an old well house at the front of the property that reminds passersby that stagecoaches used to stop here. The rear enclosed porch also has an old well. A latticed gazebo is just outside the back kitchen wing of the house.
As is true of many of the homes in Cedar Grove, large trees and flowering shrubs grace the yard of the Ellis house. Located at 5132 Efland-Cedar Grover Road, the Greek Revival house has 1,766 square feet of living space and a rocking-chair front porch whose roof is defined by decorative woodwork and supported by chamfered posts with sawn brackets.
The double front doors open to a wide center hall. The interior front door faces have faux grain paint, as do many of the interior doors of the house, whose main section dates to the 1880s. The interior doors also have three-part moldings with corner blocks. Some of the doors have decorative hardware.
The exterior of the house has wood siding (under the current aluminum siding) and crossetted door moldings. The windows are large, six-over-six paned. There are four vernacular mantels.Four rooms make up the main section of the house. There is also a kitchen wing, rear enclosed porch and a side addition wing with two rooms and a bath.
There are several out buildings, including a board-and-batten shed, metal shed and an over-sized, one-car garage/workshop with two-over-two windows and track-hung, sliding carriage doors.
The Allen A. Ellis house, which is for sale at $71,000 through Preservation North Carolina, will need a new roof on the main section, HVAC systems, new electrical system, the removal of artificial siding, and cosmetic updates, according to Cathleen Turner, regional director for Preservation North Carolina. Because the house is located in the Cedar Grove Rural Crossrods Historic District, the buyers would be eligible for preservation tax credits, she said.
“There are a variety of things that Preservation North Carolina brings to the table in addition to information about tax credits,” Turner said. “We can help connect people in the preservation trades with buyers who have a vision for what a property could be,” Turner said. “Perhaps a rehabilitation of the Ellis house will jump-start other preservation projects in the community.”
“Located just a few miles north of the acclaimed literary community of Hillsborough, the Ellis House is the best of both worlds - surrounded by lovely countryside with farms that source local restaurants, while being close to shopping, dining, area universities, and employment centers,” Turner wrote for a brochure about the Ellis house which can be downloaded as a PDF at www.presnc.org, click on Buy Properties, then Central Piedmont. A link to directions and a map can be found there, also. Turner can be reached at 919-401-8540. Children living in this house would attend Orange County Schools.
Directions from Chapel Hill: Take Highway 86 North all the way into Hillsborough. After crossing US 70 north of town, keep going another 5-plus miles. Take a left onto Carr Store Road and go another 2-3 miles until you get to the intersection with Efland-Cedar Grove Road. Cross the road and pull in behind the old store building on the left.
Or, take I-40 west and get off at Exit 160 (road to Efland). Take a right at the bottom of the ramp (that’s Mount Willing Road). Go north into Efland and cross over the Railroad tracks and take a left on Forest Avenue East. After about 700 feet, take a right onto Efland-Cedar Grove Road. Cross US 70 and keep going another 5 miles or so. The house is on the left near the intersection of Carr Store Rd.