I knew I had missed a lot when I came through Falls of the Neuse area outside of Raleigh on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail the first time. So today was devoted to going back to the Falls and really looking. I was lucky enough to have Janet Steddum, author of The Battle for Falls Lake, as my guide.
The book traces the history of the Falls Community until the lake was built in the late 1970s and people had to move out. Janet has walked every old road and trail around the Falls Community. We were supposed to meet at the Falls Lake Visitor Assistance Center on Falls of the Neuse Rd. The Army Corps of Engineers runs a tiny visitor center, which explains the history of Falls Lake. The lake is the primary water supply for Raleigh.
Finding how to get to the building was the biggest challenge of the day. Because a bridge is being replaced, the road is cut in two and you can’t go through. I went back and forth on various Raleigh/Wake Forest highways until I saw my savior, PaddleCreek, the folks who shuttled me last year. Bob set me straight and I finally got my meeting place without being late. “I got friends in high and low places …”
Janet and I drove to a parking spot on the road on the dam above the lake. We walked down a back gravel road which she identified as Possum Track Road, a main thoroughfare back when that was cut and blocked long before the dam work was started. She had brought her book and showed me old pictures and compared to what we were seeing today.
We walked down to the tail race of the Falls of the Neuse. But where are the falls? Before this dam was built by the Army Corps of Engineer, there was a concrete dam and a wooden dam before that. The dam sits on top of the falls.
“In fact”, Janet explained, “Once you put in a dam, any dam, the falls disappear.” John Lawson, who canoed from the Eno to the Neuse in 1701, wrote about the falls but no one alive today has seen them.
We walked a piece of Fonville Road, where the mill supervisors used to live. No workers houses are left; maybe they just fell apart.
There’s been a mill here since 1855. After changing hands many time, the mill closed in 1959. The stone mill building has been repurposed as condominiums and I drove around the construction to find it.
The River Mills Condominiums must be a prestigious place to live. The three-story stone building with tall vertical windows looks forbidding like a prison or an old-fashioned cottage hospital. It backs on the Neuse and residents have put in lounge chairs, a gazebo and built easy access to the river. It must be a good place to live.
Janet also sent me to the Falls Community Cemetery. There were so many No Trespassing and US Property signs that I got spooked and gave it a miss.