Charming Piedmont Towns
Small Towns Along Highway 15/501
Cruise down Highway 15/501 for a unique experience in the North Carolina Piedmont.
Our drive starts in Chapel Hill, home to the nation’s first state university, the University of North Carolina. Highway 15/501 passes over Morgan Creek via the James Taylor Bridge. The famous musician, whose father taught at the University of North Carolina, spent much of his youth here. If you want to linger, visit the Ackland Museum or the Morehead Planetarium.
Development bustles around the university but eases to a more suburban pace as you head out of town and across the Haw River, the most popular paddle for Triangle residents. At Fearrington Village between Chapel Hill and Pittsboro, the gardens and the black and white Belted Galloway cattle are a visitor favorite. Although the rare Belted Galloway is actually a Scottish beef breed, Fearrington’s bovine residents are here as part of an effort with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy; they’re not headed to the plate. Buy your own “beltie” at the gift shop – in the form of a stuffed toy, of course.
The rural identity of the road asserts itself as we close in on Pittsboro. Hardwoods flank the two-lane blacktop that sets the tone for this stretch. Tractors head toward the south 40. Livestock dot the fields. History still has a firm foothold along this route, most evident as you pull into Pittsboro’s historic traffic circle. The courthouse, which hosts the Chatham Historical Museum, another good spot to linger, sits in the middle of the circle.
Highway 15/501’s rural nature continues south of Pittsboro, with sightings of the occasional tractor or horse still common. You’ll also notice signs for potteries along the road, an indication that we still put the region’s clay to good use, as we have for more than 200 years. You’ll cross Deep River, and soon the road goes to four-lanes to accommodate traffic in the growing town of Sanford. It seems we’ve found another use for our red clay: making bricks. In fact, Sanford is known as Brick Capital, USA.
Our road slims down outside of Sanford, sandy soil replaces red clay and longleaf pines supplant hardwoods. We enter the leisurely Moore County, where the horsy set competes with duffers for supremacy. Carthage, once known as the buggy capital of the United States, is the county seat. Antique shops are the rage in Carthage and nearby Cameron. Buggies have gone by the wayside, but horse farms and riding stables abound. Golf courses – some of the finest in America – seem to be the latest cash crop. Pinehurst, our last stop, hosted the U.S. Open in 1999 and 2005.
For sand and clay, pines and hardwoods, history and horses, urban and rural, art and commerce, great golf and a one-of-a-kind look at North Carolina, take a road trip down Highway 15/501.
added: December 31, 2008
updated: January 2, 2009