More than a century ago, the Robertson-O’Briant farm became a major tobacco producer in northwestern Wake County, a centerpiece of the small Sandy Plain community near Falls Lake.
A farmhouse and nine outbuildings remain at the 4-acre property, a reminder that North Carolina’s livelihood was deeply rooted in tobacco.
The Wake County Board of Commissioners recently designated the farm as a historic landmark. The move kicked off National Preservation Month in May.
It’s unclear what will become of the old farm, which the county has owned since 2008. County staff members do not present options about the future of historic landmarks.
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Sometimes, sites are simply labeled with a historic designation and are never developed.
“(The designation) will help us in our efforts to keep these structures in place, on the land where they were first built, for whatever future use might arise,” said Emily Catherman, park manager at Historic Oak View County Park.
The Robertson-O’Briant farm is in good condition and is near other county-owned land. Similar circumstances existed at the site that became Historic Oak View County Park in eastern Raleigh, Catherman said.
“There’s a ton of potential, but what will happen up there we’re still unsure of,” she said of the Robertson-O’Briant farm.
The farm’s history dates back to the 1880s, when the sandy soil in Granville County allowed for the growth of the popular bright leaf tobacco.
A bacteria tore through tobacco crops, and farmers relocated to a small community called Sandy Plain along a new railroad line near the border of Wake and Granville counties.
The Sandy Plain community thrived around the farm, which could easily send its popular brand of tobacco out of the county.
Tobacco farmer James Robertson sold the farm to John Robert O’Briant in 1888.
Structures on the property, including tobacco buildings, two historic wells, a farm house and a tenant house, were built over the years.
The hall and parlor house were built in 1844 by a relative of Robertson.
A large Victorian addition from 1900 added by the O’Briant family “reflects the area’s subsequent prosperity due to tobacco cultivation,” according to a county report.