A Look at the Past: My Hunt for Cumberland County’s History

August 2, 2018

Have you ever wondered how things got to be the way they are? Who was responsible for shaping our early history? What does this area have to do with our national or even global history? This summer I was on a mission to find some answers to these questions. As an intern for the Fayetteville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, I was able to visit museums and major historical sites all over Cumberland County. Using the Cultural Heritage Trail Guide as a starting point and resource, I set out on a mission to learn about this area's history. Here’s a broad overview of what I discovered about our early history, our place in national history, and our role in military history.

Cumberland County’s Early History

Fayetteville is now a mid-sized city in North Carolina and home to Fort Bragg, the largest military installation in the world, but it wasn’t always like this. In the middle of the 18th century, Scottish settlers made their way up the Cape Fear River and settled at a place which they called Cross Creek. This town eventually merged with the nearby settlement called Campbellton to form the City of Fayetteville in 1783. Where did I learn this? I visited the museum on the second floor of Downtown Fayetteville’s famous Market House, Fayetteville’s only National Historic Landmark. Featuring old maps (see picture above) and pillars inscribed with information, the Market House tells the story of how the little Scottish township grew into the seat of Cumberland County.

Trail: The Market House is one of many sites worth visiting on the African-American Heritage Trail.

Event: Visit the Market House Museum during Mid-Month Market House Open House, when the museum is open to the public.

The Fayetteville Area Transportation and Local History Museum is the perfect place to get a broad survey of the growth of Fayetteville over the last 300 years. With exhibits that include models of the developing city at different stages and artifacts from groups of people at different times, this museum gave me a full perspective of the history of the area. In the annex, they have two new artifacts that really capture this idea. As you walk into the garage of vehicles and other large artifacts, you will see two fire trucks, one from the mid 1800's and one from the 1920's. These two large pieces of history show the growth and industrialization the Fayetteville area underwent. However, my favorite exhibit in this museum is the "Local Law Enforcement" exhibit, which focuses on the Fayetteville police force—demonstrating their growth and commemorating fallen officers from Fayetteville’s history.

Trail: The Fayetteville Area Transportation and Local History Museum can be found on the fascinating Paths, Plank Roads, and Planes Trail.

My hunt to experience what it was like living in the Fayetteville area long ago led me to the 1897 Poe House, at the Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex. This well-preserved house was home to a man named E.A. Poe during the Victorian Era. Poe was also the owner of the brickyard that once stood in downtown Fayetteville. His home, which still stands today on Bradford Avenue, is like a time machine to the early 20th century. It provides the visitor with a vivid and intriguing picture of family life in the Victorian era. Tours of the home take place regularly during the museum's operating hours.

Trail: The 1897 Poe House is a wonderful example of sites featured on the Historic Architecture Trail.

Event: Visit the 1897 Poe House during the evening, from October 24th to 26th, to experience Hallowe’en Revels: Night Tours of the 1897 Poe House.

Cumberland County’s Place in National History

The Fayetteville area has not only experienced growth of its own, but it has also contributed greatly to the growth of the nation as a whole. Many may know that Fayetteville is named for the Revolutionary War hero, Marquis de Lafayette, but through this history hunt, I learned that Fayetteville (NC) was the first Fayetteville in the United States and the only namesake city the famous Frenchman ever actually visited. The residents here welcomed Lafayette like he was a celebrity. That sentiment is carried on today, as French President François Hollande once said, “We were allies in the time of Jefferson and Lafayette. We are still allies today. We were friends at the time of Jefferson and Lafayette and will remain friends forever.” Lafayette’s impact is commemorated by the Marquis de Lafayette Statue on Ann Street, near First Presbyterian Church in downtown.

Trail: The Marquis de Lafayette Statue is one of many Revolutionary War-era sites to be found on the American Independence Trail.

Event: Visit the Cool Spring Downtown District office to sign up for one of the Historic Tours by Horse and Carriage that are offered downtown monthly, from March thru November.

As the nation grew, the nation divided, and the Civil War did not leave Fayetteville and the surrounding areas untouched. Near the end of the war, in 1865, Union General William T. Sherman had just finished his infamous March to Sea and turned his attention north, to the Carolinas. After destroying towns in South Carolina, he set his sights on Fayetteville and the arsenal located here. He was successful in destroying the arsenal and ravaging other nearby areas, like Hope Mills. The remains of the arsenal can be seen as part of the Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex. A small structure known as the Ghost Tower marks where part of the arsenal once stood, in what is now called Arsenal Park.

Trail: The Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex appears on the extensive All-American Adventure Trail.

Event: Visit Arsenal Park on September 8th for the educational and family-friendly Festival of Yesteryear.

After destroying the arsenal, Sherman was met by a Confederate force north of Fayetteville, in a small town known as Averasboro (located near modern-day Godwin). Recently, I was able to visit Averasboro Battlefield and Museum. I could almost smell the gun powder as I stood at the sign that marks where Confederates gave everything they had to defend their land. The museum itself is full of artifacts left behind by soldiers from both sides of the war. As I listened to the museum docent share stories of these soldiers, I was reminded that the ones fighting this war were real-life people, and many of them were my current age, doing what they saw necessary for a cause they believed in.

Trail: The Averasboro Battlefield and Museum and much more can be found on the Civil War Trail.

Event: Visit this site to witness a live battle reenactment at the museum's upcoming Civil War: Army on the Move event.

Cumberland County’s Role in Military History

Of course, the Civil War is not the only war that has had a massive effect on Cumberland County. Various museums in the Fayetteville area tell the stories of what the people of Cumberland County gave to support the cause of every war since World War I. The Airborne and Special Operations Museum (ASOM), located in downtown, broadly surveys how different Airborne and Special Forces groups of the U.S. Army have been involved in many different military conflicts. As I stood by the Vietnam display, I heard a man say to his grandchildren, “And when you landed, you hit the ground running.” I asked this veteran if I could follow along and listen to his stories. If you get a chance to visit this museum, find someone wearing a veteran’s hat and ask them to show you around. The chance to hear from one who had first-hand experience left a big impression on me.

Trail: The ASOM is one of the fascinating sites that make up the Patriots Past & Present Trail.

Event: Visit the ASOM on August 18th for their annual National Airborne Day Celebration.

On the base of Fort Bragg is a smaller museum known as the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum. This museum focuses more specifically on the 82nd Airborne Division and their missions in military conflicts. On the walls and displays of this museum was comprehensive and in-depth information on each conflict. I learned more about the conflicts in the Middle East from this museum than I ever have from any news source. Reading the information from the teams involved gives a very different perspective on what’s happening all over the world.

Trail: The 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum can be seen on the Paths, Plank Roads, and Planes Trail.

Event: Visit the 82nd Airborne Division War Memorial Museum on November 11th to view their "WWI Peace Special Exhibit."

Near the Airborne and Special Operations Museum is the NC Veterans Park. This site celebrates the people from North Carolina who have sacrificed and served the United States in the military. Sculptures, fountains, and walkways honor these men and women. Words like “courage,” “commitment,” “honor,” “dedication,” and “service” inscribed on the sculptures remind visitors of the values the United States stands for. The most moving exhibit is found in a spot inside the visitor’s center of the park. In a small section of a wall are dog tags hanging from wire. Every tag represents a North Carolina veteran who became a casualty of war. This exhibit powerfully captures how these wars have impacted entire communities in our state.

Trail: The NC Veterans Park is also a part of the Patriots Past and Present Trail.

Event: Visit the NC Veterans Park on Veterans Day, November 12th, to be a part of the Fayetteville Veterans Day Ceremony.

I learned much during my history hunt all over Cumberland County. I learned valuable information about how this county grew, its place in national history, and its involvement in global wars. But when I look past all the information and politics and ideals, I see people. These museums showed me the value of the individuals who form our history. These names and pictures aren’t some characters in a movie or pieces of a political game. They were people. Those featured in the museums represent every single individual who left an impact on the City of Fayetteville, Cumberland County, and the United States of America. I would have never thought that the way to escape politics and conflict is to revisit our history and learn about the people that are important to what the Fayetteville area is today. Thanks to the Fayetteville Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, I was able to explore all of this, and I hope our visitors will also take the time to experience the fascinating history of our area.

Written by Communications Intern Evan Young

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