Falls Community History
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This site is maintained by the Heritage Committee of Falls Baptist Church.
Falls, North Carolina (aka Falls of Neuse; Falls of the Neuse), is an unincorporated community in Wake County, North Carolina on Old Falls of Neuse Road, between North Raleigh and Wake Forest, near the Bedford and Wakefield Plantation developments. Falls Dam, on the Neuse River, is within the community.
Prior to 1600
Early native American settlers in and around the Falls area and along the Neuse River were the Tuscaroras, Coree, Secotan and Neusiok Indians. The English naming of the Neuse River is accredited to Capts. Arthur Barlowe and Philip Amadas, explorers of North Carolina under the direction of Sir Walter Raleigh in 1584, where they mention a goodly river named Neuse in the Neusiok occupied region.  The area specifically around the great Falls of Neuse was known to be the hunting ground of the native Tuscarora Indians. This hunting would have included buffalo (or wild oxen as they were sometimes called) which were native to the region until the 1700's.
In 1629, King Charles I of England granted Sir Robert Heath, his Attorney General, the Province of Carolina, spanning from the southern Virginia border to the coast of present day Georgia. Over the years, Sir Robert’s attempts at settlement failed and on March 24, 1663, King Charles II of England granted instead to a group of eight of his supporters, called the Lord Proprietors, the Province of Carolina for settlement. One of these Lord Proprietors was Sir George Carteret. We will see later that his great-grandson became the first owner of the land containing The Falls.
In 1701, English explorer, naturalist and writer John Lawson explored and mapped part of North Carolina for the Lord Proprietors. He became the first known Englishman to visit the Falls of Neuse, as he wrote "We went about 10 Miles, and sat down at the Falls of a large Creek, where lay mighty Rocks, the Water making a strange Noise, as if a great many Water-Mills were going at once. I take this to be the Falls of Neus-Creek, called by the Indians, Wee quo Whom." Elizabeth Reid Murray, in her book Wake: Capital County of North Carolina, Volume I: Prehistory through Centennial, echos this belief that the location described by Lawson was indeed the Falls of Neuse area (pp. 8-9):
"Lawson described the terrain along the river, observing that the south side had high banks and stone quarries; the north, white sandy land with 'no Timber, but small shrubby Oaks.' Following the river downstream, the party camped for the night at 'the Falls of a large Creek, where lay mighty Rocks, the Water makeing a strange Noise, os if a great many Water-Mills were going at once . . . called by the Indians, Wee quo Whom.' Without questions, this site was the Falls of the Neuse area in northern Wake County, where the man-made dam upstream from the now abandoned paper and textile mill marks the largest of the natural falls described by Lawson."
Some 28 years later in 1729, ten years after North and South Carolina were converted to royal colonies and after replacing the Lord Proprietors with Royal Governors, the Crown bought out seven of the eight of the Lords Proprietors for £22,500. The heir of Sir George Carteret, his great-grandson John Careret, 2nd Earl Granville, was the sole heir to retain his 1/8 ownership which amounted to a 60-mile wide strip of land in North Carolina adjoining the Virginia boundary, which became known as the Granville District.
Murray notes (p. 24):
"Some time in the 1740s several famillies found their way to land above the Great Falls of the Neuse in northern Wake County. John Terrell had settled and built a mill on Horse Creek north of the Falls by 1744. Royals grants were issued in 1745 to members of the Bledsoe family with the four-generation Biblical names of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Benjamin, on Horse Creek as well. Also in 1745 Edward Powers, John Heaton, and John Higdon received trants in the Falls area."
Some early land grants were:
Allen, Runnel 1753, Oct. 25 Acres 119, No. 119 70-L
On south side of Neuse River, beginning at a hickory
Higdon, Daniel 1755, May 13 Acres 400, No. 153 72-A
On south side of Neuse river, beginning at a red oak
On June 25, 1762, Earl Granville granted to Joseph Montfort lands on both sides of the Neuse River including the great falls. Montfort was one of the wealthiest North Carolinians of the period, owning more than 30,000 acres scattered across the province. In 1771, Montfort was named the first and only Freemason 'Provincial Grand Master of and for America'.
Describing this era, Murray (p. 30) says:
"As these mills became landmarks, so did some of he early trading posts and stores. Some of the merchant mills doubled as both. In the 1750s Daniel Higdon had a trading post or store near the Falls of the Neuse, where John Higdon had owned land sinec e the mid-1740s. Assuredly this powerful source of energy was used as water power for his or someone else's mill long before 1762, the earliest documented date of legal ownwership of the Falls itself. It was in that year that Joseph Montfort of Halifax County acquired title to 150 acres on both sides of the Neuse, 'including the Great Falls Joining Daniel Higdon's line.' Mortfort had been clerk first of Edgecombe and then of Halifax County, later achieved distinction in other governmental affairs, and was the first and only North Carolinan to be Provincial /Grand Master of Mason in the American Colonies. As first owner of the Falls of the Neuse, he was an early Wake landholder, but never a resident of Wake. His Wake County descendants, however, incuded the Boylans, pominent in early Raleigh."
Murray (p. 35) also talks about ordinaries and one in particular at the Falls:
"Most ordinaries were kept as a sideline by persons whose primary occupations were farming or some other trade. . . . The equivalent of the Sunday blue law was in operation then. A specific provision of the license was the the ordianry keeper 'shall not suffer unlawful Gaming in his or her House nor sell Liquors on the Lord's Day to any Person, by which such Person may be intoxicated.' On any other day, liquor by the drink (a 'toddy') or by the gallon was freely offered for sale. . . . Charles Sim's ordinary was a frequently mentioned landmark at the Falls of Neuse."
Abbett, William 1762, May 21 Acres 578, No. 55 70-M
On south side of Neuse River joining his own and Daniel Higdon's lines
• Land Purchase: 325 acres from Dan Higdon to Charles Sims, Jan 8, 1763, Johnston (now Wake) Co., North Carolina. 1 19 In Apr 1763, "Charles Sims applies for license to keep tavern at his own house. Sec. Dons. Wright and William Sims, Senr." as per The Johnston County Court Minutes, April Term, 1763, page 145. • Court: Quit claim of Charles Sims to Joseph Munford, Aug 8, 1765, Johnston (now Wake) Co., North Carolina. 1 20
22 Charles Sims to Joel Lane. This indenture made this first day of May in the year of Our Lord 1767 between Charles Simms and Easther his wife of the County of Johnston and the Province of North Carolina of the one part and Joel Lane of the County of Halifax and Province aforesaid, etc. … one certain tract or parcel of land and plantation situated in Johnston County aforesaid and lying at the Falls of Neuse River containing 325 acres more or less of land granted to Daniel Higdon bearing date 17 September 1744, and bounded as followeth: viz, beginning at a hickory on the north side of the Neuse River, John Higdon's corner, thence north 160 poles to a pine, thence west 260 poles to a red oak, thence south 182 poles to the river at a corner and continuing across the river to a hickory, thence east to the beginning, etc. …
On July 7, 1767, Joseph Montfort sold to William Brewer 150 acres on the Neuse River adjoining Daniel Higdon and Allen (granted to Montfort on June 25, 1762), and the adjoining land bought from Charles Simms “together with one Water Grist Mill,“ for 240 Proclamation Money witnessed by Benjamin Hardy and Joel Lane. This grist mill is the first mention of a mill being at The Falls. Just a few months later, on Oct. 21, 1767, John Mays o sold William Brewer 200 acres near the Falls of Neuse River for 20 Proclamation Money adjoining Joel Lain, witnessed by Benjamin Hardy, Jephthah Terrell and James Mays. 
Wake County was formed in 1771 from parts of Cumberland County, Johnston County, and Orange County. The Falls had previously been part of Johnston County before Wake County was formed.
At some point, Samuel High came to own the land on both sides of the Neuse River including the great falls. This is evidenced by a deed from Samuel High to Swann Thomson on May 16, 1788 for half of a 150 acre tract lying on both sides of Neuse River and including the Great Falls. The deed states they were to jointly build a grist mill and other useful buildings on the site. According to family tradition, Swann Thompson built the first grist mill in Wake County with material brought from England. The parcel adjoined land of Daniel Higdon on the north side of the river and Allen (either Reynold Allen Sr. or Jr.) on the south. Based on deeds, other land owners in the area on both sides of the Neuse included: Reynold Allen, Sr (south); Reynold Allen, Jr. (south); Richard Hudson (north); John Pullin (north); Daniel Higdon (north); Robert Wilson (south); and Esrom Cogwell (south). So, the second mill at The Falls was likely this grist mill built on/around 1788 as a partnership between Samuel High and Swann Thompson. We are not sure if this newer mill replaced the previous grist mill or was a second one. This was just prior to North Carolina becoming the 12th state in Nov. 1789.
Evidently, a dam was constructed across the Falls to help power this new mill since in 1790, the NC General Assembly passed a law for Samuel High to create an 8’ wide gap or slope in his dam at The Falls of Neuse River in Wake County for the passage of fish to be completed by Feb. 20, 1791.
The Falls was in the final running as a possible site of the new North Carolina State Capitol. Friday, March 23, 1792, the commissioners appointed to find a suitable location of the new state capital in the Wake county area, visited "the lands on both sides the River Neuse at the great Falls and the Lands of Thomas Crawford on the north side of Neuse three miles below the great Falls." Murray confirms this in her book on page 79. The commissioners ended up purchasing 1000 acres from Joel Lane at the present location of the state capital in Raleigh.
Confirming the existence of Samuel High's Mill, Jonathan Thompson placed an ad in The Raleigh Minerva (Raleigh, North Carolina) on Nov. 23, 1802 (Page 3) advertising for sale 250 acres "on Neuse River within one mile of Mr. Samuel High's Mill, and thirteen miles from the city of Raleigh."
A "Lancaster" School was opened at the Falls of Neuse by Governor David Stone in 1814. James Boyle, trained at Georgetown, D.C., was in charge of the school for 2 years.
In May 1833, an ad appears in The North Carolina Star (Raleigh, North Carolina), Page 4, offering for sale the estate of the late Samuel High for the payment of back taxes (from 1927-1831) 550 acres on Neuse River.
On Nov. 24th, 1846, the owner of certain property, Jas. D. Newsom, at the Falls (described as being 13 miles north of Raleigh on the Raleigh-Oxford Road) placed 113 acres for sale containing a grist mill, a saw mill, a tan yard, and store houses. In an article entitled “Great Falls of Neuse River: Important to Capitalists” and published in The Raleigh Register (Raleigh, North Carolina) on Friday, December 25, 1846, Mr. Newsom notes “The water power at this place is immense, embracing from head to foot a fall of upwards of thirty feet, and sufficient to run any amount of machinery that might be desired”. Mr. Newsom also mentions “I have owned this property ever since 1835, since which time these mills never have been stopped by either high or low water.” In the same article he lists three other tracts of land for sale: one adjacent to the above land and containing 250 acres and a dwelling house, and two other nearby tracts of land containing almost 1000 acres in total. He indicates that the area around this property is a major cotton growing region. Mr. Newson also mentions the land is within 4 miles of two railroad depots, one at Forestville and one at Huntsville.
This land and the mill were likely previously owned by Burwell Perry. A notice was published by Wesley Jones, Trustee, in The Weekly Standard (Raleigh, North Carolina) on January 29, 1840, advertising the sale of "that valuable plantation belonging to the said Perry, lying in the county of Wake on the Neuse River, containing, about two thousand acres, on which is an excellent Saw and Grist Mill."
Other sources of history for the Falls, NC area are:
Other Websites for The Falls, NC
Historic Photos at The Falls, NC
Falls Baptist Church
9700 Fonville Road
Wake Forest, North Carolina 27587
10:00 am - Sunday School
11:00 am - Morning Worship
6:00 pm - Fellowship Supper
7:00 pm - Prayer Time/Bible Study