Placenames, streets and their stories

By: Beacham McDougald - Special to the Exchange

Near the end of the colonial era of North Carolina, the idea of cutting off western Bladen County and creating Anson County was in the works. In those day — as today — eastern North Carolina was filled with swamps and marshes making migration – let alone surveying- very difficult. Rivers were the major modes of transportation and convenient boundaries. The dividing boundary for Bladen County and Anson County became prophetic in the late 20th century.

The colonial Campbell family had built a bridge across a river, and like many families of the time, tolls were charged to others in order to cross Campbell’s Bridge. Part of the boundary between Bladen and Anson Counties became “the shortest distance between Campbell’s bridge and the South Carolina line” and the rest of the border was the upper part of the river.

Today, that same boundary exists between Scotland and Robeson counties, the State of North Carolina took over over maintaining roads and bridges and Campbell’s bridge became an unnamed state owned bridge. Ironically, Campbell’s Soup Company located their huge facility as close to Campbell’s bridge as possible.

It is doubtful that the folks at Campbell’s Soup knew that bit of history.

Now, let’s go back to a question that was recently posed: “Where did the streets (and roads) in Laurinburg and Scotland County get their names?”

Certainly Campbell’s bridge existed long before Campbell’s Soup Company, but there was no true connection; only fate.

Until the early 20th century most roads in this area and any area were dirt, mud, sand, and possibly some rocks. They were maintained by landowners, and having land near a river meant that building a bridge (or operating a ferry) across the river became a source of income. The McGirt family built McGirt’s bridge, the Barnes’ family built Barnes bridge, etc.

One of the earliest roads coming through what is now Scotland County connected the inland ports of Campbell Town (or today’s Fayetteville) on the Cape Fear River with Cheraw, South Carolina which is on the Pee Dee River. The earliest name of that stage or trading road is unknown, but locally Duncan McFarland dreamed of a major city being built on a rolling hill at the point that was about a day’s travel from either of the two major inland port cities. Laurel Hill was thus formed and became the location of the famous/infamous Scotch Fair which was likely the first “Highland Games” in America. Later, Laurel Hill Presbyterian Church (1797, and now known as “Old” Laurel Hill Presbyterian Church) became the first church built in what is now Scotland County.

Later the road coming into Scotland County near Wagram and exiting near Gibson was the path of a telegraph wire. The road later became — and parts of it still are — “Old Wire Road.” While we’re thinking or reading about Wagram, it was named by a man who loved the French Emperor Napoleon. One of his largest battles was in July 8-9, 1809, in Wagram (Vagram), Austria.

Early roads and streets in nearly every settlement were placed and maintained by families, land owners, and hired help. Then in the 20th century the formation of what is now the NC Department of Transportation or – closer to home – the City of Laurinburg, names were given to wagon roads according to what they were commonly called at the time – and they were usually named after families.

Some of the McRae family lived on McRae Street and James Street was named for the James family – who were descendants of the first student to register at the University of North Carolina, Hinton James. Hinton is said to have walked from Wilmington to Chapel Hill to register, and years ago when the huge Hinton James Dormitory was build far from the main campus, many Tar Heel students joked that the University was making them retrace Hinton’s long journey to class.

When Church Street was named only one church was located beside it: Laurinburg Presbyterian Church – one of the many “daughter” churches of “Old” Laurel Hill Presbyterian Church. Then came the First Methodist Church which moved there exactly 100 years ago from downtown Laurinburg, and later the First Baptist Church which moved there from the corner of Cronly and Everett Streets.

Laurinburg, itself, was named for the mid 1800’s “Laurinburgh” High School, which was a private school owned by the McLaurin family. It also beared the pronunciation used for “burgh” as used for Edinburgh, Scotland, but the US Post Office forced the change to the “more appropriate American-English” and we became “Laurinburg.” That school was located on Caledonia Road just south of the Wilmington, Charlotte, Rutherfordton Railroad that had begun laying tracks from Wilmington in 1857 and by 1861 – 112 miles of track had been laid to Rockingham. Old Hundred in western Scotland County was so named as it was the 100th mile of rail from Wilmington — which was for a century the longest stretch of straight rail without a curve in the world.

The impact of the railroad had upon the local economy was beyond belief. The Laurel Hill community moved from north of what is now Laurinburg to the railroad tracks in what is now Laurel Hill as more commerce shifted from mule drawn wagons to steam railroad engines pulling cars as fast as 8-12 miles per hour!

Another railroad ran from McColl, SC (named for the McColl family. THINK: Hugh McColl, former CEO of NationsBank and Bank of America whose ancestors are buried in Scotland County’s Stewartsville Cemetery) through Hasty, NC (which is named for the Hasty family) and on to John’s Station – the former “Cantaloupe Capital of the South” — (which is named for the John family) and on to Maxton which was named because of the number of “Mac’s” in the town.

“Caledonia” admittedly is not a common name in America, but you can either blame the ancient Romans or the early Scottish settlers for that unusual name. In the first century the invading Romans called the land that is today’s Scotland – “Caledonia.” A 180 year old United Methodist Church bears that name and a major road or artery on the eastern side of Laurinburg also carries that name.

East of Laurinburg is Rocky Ford Road, but there are — of course — no naturally forming rocks nearby. In fields along the road once grew fields of a small cantaloupe (it has a green interior, is sweet, and delicious) known as the “Rocky Ford.”

Laurinburg is no different than most early towns as family names were chosen for many streets and roads, and one City employee who lived at the intersection of Everett, Prince, and Covington Streets gave those streets his name: Everett Prince (or E. P. as he was called) Covington.

Of course in modern times private developers chose the names of many streets in their developments, and they sometimes got their homonyms a wee bit twisted: “Scotch” is a drink and “Scots” are people, but of course a meadow full of Scotch may be an enticing for some passing through Scotch Meadows. Also, off of Lauchwood Drive we have Sterling Lane in a development otherwise filled with placenames from Scotland. Silver is Sterling, but the Scottish city and home of the William Wallace monument is “Stirling.”

Of course there are other names and name changes that defy explanation: Stewartsville Road becomes Old John’s Road when it crosses over the U.S. 74 Bypass, and McDougald Avenue becomes College Street when it crosses Caledonia Road. Certainly, there are good reasons for these and many other name changes, but let’s leave that issue for another day and another “issue” to ponder.

Beacham McDougald is a Laurinburg resident and Scotland County historian.

Beacham McDougald

Special to the Exchange