A Tale of Two Houses
07 Jun 2020
Celebrating 200 Years in Moore County — 1820 to 2020
By Ray Owen » Photos by Mollie Tobias
The Bryant House and Black-Cole House are extraordinary survivors, owing their existence to European immigrants who made their way to the Sandhills over 200 years ago. Today, the properties are sustained by dedicated stewards: Bryant House owned and operated as a museum by the Moore County Historical Association, Black-Cole House a private family getaway for Russell and Elizabeth Sugg that is shared with the public as a rental retreat.
Located in central Moore County, both houses are fine examples of transitional Georgian to Federal period architecture, popular throughout the country after the American Revolution. These dwellings are strong reminders of our agrarian past and the early farmsteads that were once scattered across our region.
Bryant House is typical of the modest farmhouses constructed in the area during the early 19th century and its adjacent log kitchen, the McLendon Cabin, probably dates from the late 18th century. Crepe myrtle and other mature plantings flourish in the yard, the farm complex sited near a now fallen gristmill that was run by consecutive property owners.
A man named Colin Monroe is thought to have built the two-story house for James Bryant around 1820. Resting on fieldstone piers with two chimneys on its south side, the exterior is covered in plain weatherboards, except beneath the porch where flush sheathing extends across the full facade.
Inside walls are covered with horizontal sheathing and the stairway is vertically sheathed. Molded chair rail and baseboard finish the rooms and six-panel doors occur throughout the house. Like the exterior, all interior surfaces with the exception of the mantel were never painted.
Joel McLendon owned the property for many years and built the gristmill sometime before 1763. According to local lore, he also constructed the log cabin that stands approximately 40 feet to the side of the main house.
The cabin is a dovetailed plank building. The logs are cut to a precise thickness and fit so tight that the walls are virtually without chinking. There is no evidence of 18th century wrought nails in the planking, and the structure has been rebuilt to such an extent as to make its construction date uncertain.
In 1787, McLendon sold 100 acres to Robert Graham and this would become the site of the Bryant farmstead. Robert’s daughter, Leah, married Michael Bryant and they were the parents of James Bryant, who in time inherited the land.
Of interest is an entry in the 1803 Moore County Deed Book, where Robert Graham gave Leah his personal estate consisting of three beds, two pots, two pewter dishes and an earthen dish, two plates, one chest, one tub, three pails, 20 yards of cloth, three barrels, one cow, one looking glass, one butter tub, and all his household furniture.
Historically, Bryant House was the center of a prosperous farm that was perhaps the earliest agricultural site in the area. James Bryant started an apiary with 150 bee hives, his biggest crop was corn and he owned a substantial amount of livestock. It is also noteworthy that the 1850 Census indicates the Bryants held no enslaved workers.
The orchards and vineyards encircling the place are now gone, along with smoke-houses, barns, stables, buggy shelters and tenant buildings. Still, much is known about the family garden and house yard.
A fenced garden was located on the south side of the main house. Vegetable rows ran east to west and flowers were planted between the rows. Fruit trees grew outside the fence and there was a flower pit at the corner of the front porch with a hinged top. It had steps and an earthen floor and held plants during winter months.
James Bryant's great-granddaughter, Flossie Bryant Davis and her children, gave the buildings and 3.4 acres to the Moore County Historical Association in 1969. The property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 and is currently open to visitors, the site depicting the daily life of early county settlers.
Black-Cole House, known as Rubicon Farm, is located in the Eastwood section of Moore County above the banks of Little River. Built sometime around 1820, based on architectural evidence, it has long been a landmark in the region.
The house is associated with the Black family, who are believed to have built the dwelling, and the initials “M.B.” appear on the chimney. Loyalists during the American Revolution, the Blacks were known for sheltering Scottish heroine Flora MacDonald on her flight back to Scotland to elude the patriots. The original property consisted of over 2,000 acres of longleaf pines, production of tar and pitch, the primary agricultural purpose.
Later owners, the Coles, also have a long and distinguished history here. Due to a courthouse fire in 1889, reliable historical information about their home on Little River has proven difficult to find. According to family tradition, Richard Cole purchased the house from the Blacks sometime after 1853. Cole was a farmer by occupation and he apparently spent most of his adult life on the property, which was owned by the Cole family until 1968. Cole’s Gristmill, now on adjacent property owned by The Dormie Club, ground grain for the surrounding community.
Simple and quiet, the house is a good example of the small plantations once found in the Sandhills. Unpainted heartpine lapped siding encases the one-and-a-half-story structure that rests on short brick piers and its clipped gable roof is a rare architectural feature in the state.
Situated at the end of a long, sandy road, its grounds are marked by ancient pine, cedars and magnolias. Near the house is a smokehouse and a log corncrib and barn. At the turn of the 20th century, the Eastwood Post Office and a store were located on the property. Over the years the house fell into disrepair, and through the efforts of Preservation North Carolina the house was saved.
Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, the house was restored by Jack Carter in the 1980s and further conservation was accomplished by Bob and Jane Wetmore. Great care was taken in both renovations to retain the original character of the historic structure.
In 2005, the Sugg family purchased the property and they host a range of private events, such as weddings, fundraisers and festivals. The couple both have roots in eastern North Carolina and love history. It was important for them to share a living experience of an old Southern place – with their children and those around them.