Category Archives: Local History

Happy Birthday, Pittsboro!

On this day 232 years ago, the Town of Pittsboro was officially established!

On their FB page, the Chatham Historical Museum writes,

“Town of Pittsboro established! On January 6, 1787, the North Carolina General Assembly authorized nine commissioners to purchase one hundred acres and the Town of Pittsborough was formed as the seat of Chatham County. At the time of the founding of the town, a land survey was undertaken and a map with 125 lots was made. Although the original map has long since disappeared, a copy was made by county surveyor Rufus Clegg in 1889.”

Volume 24, chapter 81, of the Acts of the North Carolina General Assembly, 1786 – 1787 reads, “An Act for Establishing a Town on the Lands late the Property of William Petty, adjoining Chatham Court-house, as laid off by the Trustees named in the Act of the last General Assembly, entitled, “An Act for establishing a town on the Lands of Mial Scurlock, deceased, in Chatham County,” for appointing Commissioners for the Regulation of the said Town, and repealing said Act.” and declares,

“I. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same, That the said lands so laid off by the trustees aforesaid agreeable to a plan thereof, be and is hereby established a town and town commons by the name of Pittsborough.”

According to the Act, the NC General Assembly appointed George Lucas, Joseph Stewart, Roger Griffith, Matthew Jones, Zachariah Harman, Patrick St. Lawrence, Nathan Stedman, James Massey and William Riddle as Commissioners.

Full text of the Act can be found online courtesy of the The Colonial and State Records of North Carolina digital collection, a project of the University of North Carolin at Chapel Hill.

Map of Pittsboro 1787

An image of Clegg’s map. My, how times have changed!



A Real Local History Gem

Our friends and colleagues at the Chatham Historical Association do an amazing job of researching and preserving the history of Chatham County!

The Historical Association is a volunteer based organization devoted to collecting, preserving, and sharing the history of Chatham County through exhibits, tours, publications, research, and educational and community outreach programs. They also promote the preservation of public and private structures that are of historical significance to the county.

Volunteers also operate the Chatham Historical Museum, located in the historic Chatham County Courthouse. The museum includes archival collections accessible to researchers and a museum gift shop. Tours and programs are available for schools and community groups.

Visit the Historical Association’s Collections and Research page to learn more about their unique holdings. Some of their collections, such as the Chatham County Funeral Programs, have been digitized and are available for online viewing.

Enjoy exploring the history of Chatham County!

Friends of the Library to Celebrate 50th Anniversary!





The Friends of the Chatham Community Library will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a gala open house at the library on Saturday, May 19th from 2:00 to 4:00 pm. Activities will include children’s entertainment (face painting, balloon animals), live music, historical displays, free books for adults and children, a plaque dedication and more! Refreshments will be served.

The Friends got its start officially on October 3, 1968, when an organization committee meeting was held to revitalize an informal group of Friends which had been started as early as January 28, 1928. At that time, 12 Pittsboro citizens formed the McNeill Book Club. One of its members, Margaret (‘Maggie’) Horne, became Pittsboro’s first librarian 14 years later.

When the group met in 1968, the members felt that Pittsboro deserved better than the series of makeshift libraries which had served the citizens up until then, such as (1) small collections in homes, academies and schools in the 19th Century, (2) a bookmobile in the 1930s funded under the Works Progress Administration, (3) small collections in the basement of the Siler City Town Hall in the 1940s and (4) a bookcase in Maggie Horne’s living room from 1942.

Later, the library was housed in the Pittsboro Jaycees Community House and the basement of the County Agricultural Building. During all this time, there had been an informal group of supporters who met occasionally to discuss ways of improving the library’s structure and services.

During the meeting on October 3, 1968, the participants agreed that Pittsboro finally needed a library that was larger than “any extra, one room in any existing building anywhere in Pittsboro”. Marvin Reeves, perhaps influenced by his wife Myrtle, a McNeill Book Club member since 1947, saw this need, and he did something important to meet it.

In his 1969 will, Reeves left $20,000 for a new library building, and this bequest was the spark that inspired the overwhelming interest in and effort leading to the building of the Pittsboro Memorial Library. This facility on West Street served the community well until the new Chatham Community Library was built on the campus of Central Carolina Community College, which opened to the public in September 2010.

Supply and Demand

Show business has not changed a bit in one hundred years. Take for example this article from the September 24, 1903 edition of the Chatham Record:


Veteran Showman Says There Is Fascination in the Life.

“There is a charm, a fascination about circus life that is hard to explain,” said a veteran showman. “It is surely a tough existence, being buffeted about from place to place, often without a bed to sleep in, and the wages, outside of the salaries paid to a few stars, are amazingly small. Yet when a man once gets a taste of circus life it’s all up with him. He’s never good for anything else, and never wants to be. There must be a germ, bred of the sawdust, that gets into the blood. Take the canvasser, for instance. They get $20 a month and their board, which usually consists of bad grub and an impromptu bed in a wagon. Often they don’t take their clothes off for weeks at a time. There’s one fellow I know who possesses more than the average intelligence. He has a trade, and during the winter he makes, on average, $20 a week. And yet just as soon as the circus season opens he throws up his job and goes out on the road with a show for $20 a month. In almost every town the management is besieged by men and boys who want to go along, and many of them offer their services for their board. It is a queer state of affairs.”

Sad Trombone Music

I get to the end of this article from the front page of the August 17, 1893 edition of The Chatham Record, and I imagine the protagonist turning toward the camera with his shoulders shrugged and lip pooched out.


“You Don’t Get the Clock.” 

An old custom once prevailed in a remote place of giving a clock to anyone who would truthfully swear he had minded his own business alone for a year and a day, and had not meddled with his neighbors. Many came, but few, if any, gained the prize, which was more difficult to win than the Dunmow flitch of bacon. Though they swore on the four Gospels, and held out their hands in certain hope, some hitch was sure to be found somewhere; and for all their asseverations the clock remained stationary on its shelf, no one being able to prove his absolute immunity from uncalled-for interference in things not in any way concerning himself. At last a young man came with a perfectly clean record, and the clock seemed as if it was at last about to change owners. Then said the custodian, “Oh! A young man was here yesterday, and made mighty sure he was going to have the clock, but he didn’t.” Said the young man seeking the prize, “And why didn’t he get it?” “What’s that to you?” snapped out the custodian; “that’s not your business, and you don’t get the clock.” – New York Dispatch

Fingers and Toes Are Really Quite Useful

As we approach this year’s Independence Day, let us count our blessings and digits.

This poem, published on the front page of the July 2, 1903 edition of The Chatham Record takes a fatalistic approach:



Willie has five fingers
On each boyish hand;
Willie likewise has ten toes
Upon which to stand.
But a doubt comes o’er us,
Tear drops dew our eye.
Will he have so many
On the 5th of next July?

Willie has two eyebrows
Each in proper place;
Has his ears and cheeks and chin
Safe upon his face.
And we foldle Willie
As we softly sigh,
“Will he still possess them
On the 5th of next July?”

It’s pronounced “shahd-n-froi-duh”

Everyone has at least one “funny man” in their life. This reprint from the Chicago Sun appeared on the front page of the June 4, 1896 Chatham Record.

He Caught the Funny Man.

He was one of the “smart” kind. He belonged to a class of funny men who do things in public places calculated to turn the laugh on the other fellow. He was one of those who tell the barber to give him chloroform; who request the waiter to furnish an ax with the sirloin;  who inquire of the grocer if the sand in the sugar is pure like grit; who say: “Is it warm enough for you?” and who “sass back” at the telephone girl. When the conductor held out his hand for the street-car fare this funny man bestowed a general wink, and said, loud enough for every one in the car to hear: “Can you change a $100 bill?”

“That depends on whether you have the bill,” replied the conductor, promptly.

Then the funny man hugged himself gleefully, drew a crisp “century” from his pocket and gave it to the nickel collector.

The conductor gravely examined the bill, and folding it nicely, placed it carefully in his trip book. Unbuttoning his overcoat he loosened his coat, opened his vest, and from the inside pocket he drew forth a bulky pocketbook. From it he took a roll of bills, and in matter of fact I-do-this-every-hour way, counted out $95. This he handed to the funny man, and then he shoveled out $5 in dimes and nickels and poured them into the funny man’s hand. Next he rang up the fare and said: “Transfers for Fullerton avenue.” And the funny man spent the rest of the time counting his ones and twos and fingering his nickels and dimes.

“I’ve been laying for just such a lamb for a month,” said the conductor to the man on the rear platform.—Chicago Record.


Our Dear Deer

This reprint from Young Folks appeared on the front page of the May 8, 1884 edition of The Chatham Record. There is no mention of how Deer’s life ended, but he certainly seems well-regarded.


A Strange Race.

A little time ago a young man died in Philadelphia who was popularly known, from his swiftness in running, as “Deer.” His story was a singular one.

A few years since he was a ragged, shrewd lad peddling newspapers about the railroad depot. One day he happened to be on the line of the Pennsylvania Railroad when he saw an engine rushing down the track without any driver or tender. By some chance it had been separated from the cars, and was driving on alone.

The boy knew that it would meet an express train this side of the next station. He had about four minutes’ start, and darted down the track after it. The engine was, of course, not at full speed, yet nobody but Deer could have won in such a race.

He did win; was cool enough to remember the signal to the station-0keeper necessary to have the switch placed so that the engine would be turned on to another track. It was done just two seconds before the express train went thundering by.

Deer, for this service, was granted by the Pennsylvania Railroad corporation monopoly of the newspaper and book trade on its trunk route, and from this he derived a handsome income. It was to the boy’s coolness, as well as to his fleetness, that hundreds of human beings owed their lives. – Young Folks.

Never Blog Hungry

For whatever reason, everything but the recipe section is bouncing off my forehead.

This particular recipe was popular enough to warrant space on the front page of March 10, 1904’s edition of The Chatham Record.

Honey Cake.

To make honey cake melt a cupful of butter and mix it with two cupfuls of strained honey, a tablespoonful of ginger, a grated nutmeg, a bit of lemon rind and a little flour. Dissolve a heaping teaspoonful of soda in a cupful of water and strain into the mixture. Then add flour till the mixture is stiff enough to pull out. Bake like gingerbread. This cake may be eaten warm or cold.


From the August 9, 1886 issue of The Chatham Record (reprinted from Albany Argus). I get the feeling the author never actually asked about the price of rum, but he and anyone else within earshot got a full report anyway.

Patriotism and Rum.

A gentleman who has been looking up the early history of Albany assures me that patriotism and rum were about the same those days as at the present time. At the time of Washington’s prospective visit to Albany, he was to be entertained at a hotel standing on the corner of Beaver and Green Streets. Great preparations were made for the occasion, and a gentleman was delegated to deliver the welcome address. How long he labored in writing out his remarks, history does not state. It intimates, however, that the orator “enthused” to a considerable extent, and when the distinguished guest arrived was in a condition that unfitted him to perform his delegated office. In modern parlance he was “knocked out,” and his essay, burning with eloquence and patriotism, was read by a substitute and Washington never knew the difference. “Those were great days,” continued our historic friend. “Why, the price of a beer at the present time would buy enough rum to keep a man drunk for a week.” – Albany Argus