Lafayette’s Tour - Coastal Scenic Drives
This byway takes motorists through several of the communities that General Lafayette visited on his 1825 tour of this country.
To begin the byway through one of North Carolina’s richest historical areas, exit off U.S. 1 Bypass, outside of Henderson in Vance County, onto Warrenton Road (S.R. 1001). Along the way, notice that North Carolina’s early development was not bound by political boundaries as explorers and settlers from Virginia and North Carolina crossed the present state line to share culture and trade.
In many cases, this part of North Carolina and the southern part of Virginia, are identical in economy, architecture and regional dialect.
It is 11 miles from the U.S. 1 interchange to Warrenton. Although the secondary road number remains 1001, the road name changes to Dr. King Boulevard at the Warren County line. At the intersection of Dr. King Blvd. and Main Street (U.S. 401) turn left.
Warrenton, named for Joseph Warren, a soldier killed in the Battle of Bunker Hill, is the Warren County seat. Enjoy views of historic antebellum houses while driving through the town or enjoy a pleasant stroll on the courthouse grounds. General Lafayette stayed at a plantation south of town between his speeches in Halifax and Raleigh.
Warrenton was home to many famous people including journalist Horace Greeley, the Bragg brothers-politicians and soldiers and John A. Hyman, North Carolina’s first black congressman. One block later, turn right at the courthouse onto Macon Street (N.C.58/43). Remain on N.C. 43 when the routes split about four miles later at the community of Liberia. Follow N.C. 43 for about 11 miles across rolling hills to Essex. Incorporated in 1891, Essex was the center of a free negro settlement prior to the Civil War. Descendants of some of the original families still live here.
Make a sharp left turn onto N.C. 561 East from N.C. 43. Follow this route for seven miles to the community of Brinkleyville. To reach Medoc Mountain State Park, turn right onto N.C. 4/48 and follow the signs. Medoc Mountain, a high hill on the Little Fishing Creek, was named for the vineyard established there in the late 1800’s by Sidney Weller. He introduced to America a system of grape culture and named his vineyard after the wine-producing area of Medoc, France. Medoc Mountain is an elongated ridge, the ancient granite core of a mountain range formed in the Paleozoic era. The state park offers campingand hiking areas.
Continue along N.C. 561 East for nine miles, crossing I-95 near the community of Beaverdam located on the Beaverdam Swamp. From Beaverdam, settled in 1770, it is 7.5 miles to the stop sign at U.S. 301 Business. Turn left to venture into Halifax one-half mile north.
Now a state historic site, Halifax was at one time a colonial seat of the State Assembly. Laid out in 1757, Halifax was named for George Montagu, the Second Earl of Halifax, who helped expand colonial commerce in his position as the President of the Board of Trade and Plantations. Lafayette spoke here on February 27,1825. The Resolves of Halifax were signed here in 1776 as one of the first actions taken by a colony for independence. Several historic buildings are part of the tour in Halifax. One of these homes is pictured above.
After touring Halifax, backtrack south on U.S. 301/N.C. 903/125 for about three miles and turn left onto N.C. 125/903. About 4.5 miles from this intersection is the community of Crowells Crossroads, settled by Edward and Joseph Crowell in 1730. Stories say that these men, relatives of Oliver Cromwell, escaped during the English Reformation by dropping the ‘m’ from their name.
Follow N.C. 125/903 southeast to Scotland Neck for another 10 miles. Scotland Neck is in an area first settled by Scottsmen in 1722. From the intersection of N.C. 125/903 and U.S. 258 in downtown Scotland Neck turn left. Follow U.S. 258 North for six miles to the Roanoke River. The C.S.S. Ram Albemarle was built near here and outfitted in Halifax with machinery and guns. As an early trade route, the Roanoke River valley is home to many colonial plantations.
Stay on U.S. 258/N.C. 561 over the Roanoke River 6.5 miles to Rich Square; settled by Virginia Quakers in 1750 and named for its fertile soil.
Continue on N.C. 561 for 10.4 miles to St. John passing through Eagletown, a nearly Quaker settlement. St. John was settled around 1722 and was known as Douglas Ordinary for a tavern there. At the large white church at the intersection, turn left onto Menola St. John Road (S.R. 1141) then right 1.5 miles later onto Flea Hill Road (S.R. 1142) after crossing the Cutawhiskie Swamp. The Cutawhiskie Swamp and the Potecasi Creek, located three miles further north, flow into the Chowan River basin to the east. Turn right 2.8 miles later onto Woodland Road (S.R.1160) which becomes Benthall Bridge Road (S.R. 1160) about one mile further north after you cross Potecasi Creek. Continue four miles north into Murfreesboro.
Settled in the early 1700s, Murfreesboro was first known as Murfrees Landing in 1707 for the family who owned the land on which the town was built. The nearby landing on the Meherrin River was called Murfrees Ferry in 1770 and by 1787 was called Murfreesboro. Murfreesboro has a notable historic district to the north of Main Street. General Lafayette, for whom Fayetteville is named, stayed in Murfreesboro on February 26, 1825. Famous former citizens include Dr. Walter Reed, head of the U.S. Yellow Fever Commission in Cuba who discovered acure for the disease; Richard J. Gatling, who invented the gatling gun and agricultural tools and John W. Wheeler, minister to Nicaragua and State Treasurer in the mid-nineteenth century.
Turn right on Main Street and follow it to the U.S. 258/N.C. 11 stoplight. Follow U.S. 258 North across the Meherrin River for 2.7 miles to Barrets Crossroads. Turn left onto Statesville Road (S.R. 1310). About four miles later turn right onto Foushee Railey Road (S.R. 1315) and right again two miles later onto Buckhorn Church Road (S.R. 1316) at Britts Store community. Follow Buckhorn Church Road for two miles into the community of Como. Named for Lake Como, Italy, the town was established in 1883. Turn right onto U.S. 258. Look closely for old plantation houses while traveling south along this short stretch.
Take a left turn onto Parker Ferry Road (S.R. 1306) to travel one mile south through Union Camp Paper Company’s pulp forest to the Parkers Island Cable Ferry (pictured on page 100).
NOTE: Recreational vehicles are too large for the ferry and should continue south along U.S. 258 to U.S. 158 and follow U.S. 158 to Winton.
Take the Parkers Island Cable Ferry,which has operated across the Meherrin River near its junction with the Chowan River since the early 1900s. Across the river the unpaved road picks up as Parkers Fishery Road (S.R. 1175) for another 1.5 miles before the intersection with U.S. 158.
At the junction with U.S. 158, turn left. One mile later then left again onto U.S. 13/158 crossing the Chowan River at Winton. Built on the land of Benjamin Wynns in 1766, Winton was burned to the ground in 1862 by Union forces. Chowan Academy, one of the earliest schools for negroes, was founded in 1886 by C. S. Brown in Winton. The Chowan River, named for the Chowanoc Indians, was explored around 1585 by Ralph Lane and in 1622 by explorers from Jamestown. It was a major trade access route for residents of the northeastern corner of the state.
Travel into Gates County for three miles then turn right to follow N.C. 137 East to Gatesville. Settled in the 1700s, Gatesville, was first called Bennetts Creek Landing when it became the county seat in 1779.
From Gatesville, follow N.C. 37 South for three miles before turning left onto Mill Pond Road (S.R. 1400). Follow this road north to Merchants Millpond State Park. If you stop at the park in warm weather, wear lots of insect repellent – mosquitoes are abundant. Veer to the right on Pond Road (S.R. 1403) to Easons Crossroads Community.
Turn right onto U.S. 158 following the Lassiter Swamp that feeds Merchants Millpond into the Great Dismal Swamp. Thought to be more than 9,000 years old, the Great Dismal Swamp has decreased in size since the arrival of Europeans because of drainage and logging. This forested wetland was shown on maps as early as 1647 and is made of a 210,000-acre area of marsh, lake and cypress swamp. It was first called the Dismal Swamp in 1715. In 1763, George Washington surveyed this area for a canal to drain part of the swamp for lumbering. The route ends 16 miles later in Lynch’s Corner in Pasquotank County at the intersection of Lynches Corner Road (S.R. 1356) and U.S. 158, four miles west of Morgans Corner and U.S. 17. A Civil War battle was held at the Great Dismal Swamp Canal locks near South Mills when Confederate forces were prevented from blowing up the locks to keep Union supplies from coming down the canal.
From Morgans Corner it is an easy drive to the North Carolina Outer Banks or to Portsmouth, Virginia.
For more information about this area and the Outer Banks, visit the N.C. Welcome Center on U.S. 17, just three miles south of the Virginia border.
Length: 173 miles
Driving Time: 4 hours
Counties: Vance, Warren, Halifax, Northampton, Hertford, Gates, Pasquotank
courtesy of NC Department of Transportation
added: September 15, 2009
updated: September 25, 2009
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