Land that will become one of the county’s first open spaces projects and another tract of land identified as one of the earliest hubs of Wendell economic activity received special recognition last week.
Wake County commissioners designated the Robertson Mill Historic Site and Dam and the Dr. Thomas H. Avera House in Wendell historic landmarks at their meeting on Oct. 6.
The sites will be the seventh and eighth historic county landmarks in Wendell and the 12th and 13th in eastern Wake County.
The designation is an honor, Capital Area Preservation President Gary Roth said, but it also allows owners to get a 50 percent property tax deferral.
The Robertson Mill site is currently owned by the county so the tax break will not apply to that property. The county plans to turn the site into a county park for canoeing as part of the countywide open spaces program.
The Avera House is currently occupied John Winston Broadfoot and Marla Vacek Broadfoot. Broadfoot is a descendent of the house’s builder, Thomas Avera. Thomas Avera’s father, William Avera, constructed what is now known as Robertson Mill.
Center of activity in early Wendell
That special connection between the Avera House and the Robertson Mill site make the designations even more special, Roth said.
The early Avera family came to the Wendell area around 1820, the county’s historical background estimates. For every historic landmark, the county has to prepare a report that details the history and significance of a site.
The family kept livestock, had 50 acres of wheat, 400 acres of corn and 240 acres of oats with the help of 12 slaves. William Avera died in 1847 and his son, Thomas Avera took over the family farm in 1857.
Thomas Avera was a doctor and eventually switched professions to be a full-time farmer. His farming efforts produced “considerable” amounts of corn and he owned 29 slaves by 1860, the county’s historical background says.
In that time, he also established a general store on his property.
In 1887, Thomas Avera sold to the land to Moses C. Winston. Avera kept his home and it passed through his daughter, Lizzie and then to his granddaughter in 1949.
In 1970, Thomas and Janet Broadfoot purchased the property until their son, John Broadfoot acquired the home in 2009.
The county noted in its report that the family has done a good job keeping up with the house on their own.
“My parents moved into the house and they were the ones who really brought it back to life,” Broadfoot said. “Wendell, at that time, was still kind of the middle of nowhere and they took it upon themselves to live out there and fix up the house.”
Broadfoot and his family have lived in the house for nine years and have done some renovations to the bathrooms and just finished renovating the kitchen. But like his parents, there is still some fixing up to do.
“Truly with an old home, there’s constant maintenance and repair,” Broadfoot said. “I think my favorite phrase is ‘It’s always something.’”
County-owned mill site
Robertson’s Mill went through a different exchange of hands.
After Thomas Avera sold the land to the Winston family in 1887, it was sold to the Marshburn family.
Allen B. Marshburn held onto the land until his death in 1914, when it was purchased by the Robertson family.
“(The site) is significant as a focal point of economic activity in the Eagle Rock/Wendell community for almost two centuries,” the county’s report said.
The report said the mill was likely the first in the area and anecdotal evidence from community members suggests the area was once used by Native Americans.
When the Robertson family took over the mill, it was heavily farmed by tenant farmers.
By the 1940s, the land became popular for recreational use. The mill fell into disrepair in the 1950s and in 1960 Charles Robertson divided the land among 11 heirs.
One heir, James Fowler, received the land that Wake County now owns and plans to use for an open spaces project. When he died in 1997, the land went to his nephew, Edward Gehrke, who sold the land to Wake County in 2013.