LAURINBURG — Come and take a step back in time.
The John Blue House is a historical staple for Laurinburg, but there’s more to it than just a house and history.
Run by the Scotland County Historic Properties Commission the Rural Heritage Center is divided into four areas — including the John Blue House, Heritage Village, the Museum of Agriculture & History, and the Indian Museum of the Carolinas.
The John Blue House and Heritage Village are separated from the Museum of Agriculture & History and the Indian Museum of the Carolinas by X-Way Road.
Located in the old shop of the John Blue Factory sits the Museum of Agriculture & History as well as the Indian Museum of the Carolinas. Inside the center, you will find everything from a large collection of arrowheads to an old Nazi flag to a 1903 Studebaker that still runs.
The Rural Heritage Center is a place for history fans and the curious to come together and take a trip into the past.
Inside the large Museum of Agriculture & History, you can vote on one of the last voting machines used in Scotland County, admire one of the city’s first fire engines, or just get lost in the different corners looking at the hidden gems waiting to be found.
“There’s just a lot of old things,” said Lee Gaunt, chairman of the Scotland County Historic Properties Commission. “We take things that are 50 years or older. We’re looking to expand our military rooms eventually as well.”
The museum also offers a look into old Scotland County with a copy of the deed that made Scotland County its own county and copies of the original bonds to build the jail.
The smaller Indian Museum of the Carolinas was brought from its original location on Turnpike Road about five years ago. The museum was originally started by St. Andrews University Professor David McLean in 1972. Relics include arrowheads from 9,000 B.C. to an old canoe likely used in 1735 — as well as plenty of other artifacts to spike the attention of not only adults but children too.
Looming across the street is the magnificent 12-room and 12-door home that was inspired by the riverboats that traveled along the Mississippi and the old structures of Heritage Village.
The property where the John Blue House now sits was bought by John Blue Sr. from his father in 1883 and construction began in 1890, taking eight years to build.
Blue himself was born in 1861 and, in 1886, he and his father established a business on the John Blue land, eventually adding a shop and foundry where he mass-produced and sold items to other cotton farmers. John Blue Sr. died in 1935 and his family continued to live in the home until 1945, when the foundry burned down. After the destruction of the foundry, the company moved to Huntsville, Alabama, where it remains today.
During the time the house was being built, Blue and his wife lived in a small two-room house next to the building that eventually ended up being connected to the main house for a sitting room.
The house is built entirely of the heart of pine lumber from trees on the grounds. There are also doors and windows of stained glass, and 90-percent of the original stained glass remains. Many of the glass downstairs is tinted red, which in the time was a show of wealth, according to Gaunt.
Along with the stunning, sprawling porches that gave the house an indoor-outdoor effect when weather permitted, there is a room that acts like a Widows Watch where Blue would be able to go and see everything that was going on from his cotton fields to his foundry.
The home was run on a Delco system, which Gaunt says they hope to one day restore, and was the first house in the county to have both running water and electricity.
Laying beyond the house in Heritage Village, there are many structures that have been brought in from different areas, such as a pre-Civil War cotton gin originally from South Carolina that had been destroyed in Hurricane Hugo and rebuilt on the grounds, as well as the A.D. Gibson Store that was moved from Snead’s Grove to the grounds in the early 2000s.
Inside the A.D. Gibson Country Store lies an exhibit that takes those who enter back in time — a replication of what an old country store would have looked like, along with a soda fountain in the back and an old-time replica of a doctor’s office.
The soda fountain could potentially sell ice cream to those who visit the museum someday, but until then, children can enjoy looking at the fake ice cream on the counter and old-time soda bottles that line the wall behind the fountain.
The three homesteads on the property include the McNeill Homestead, the Shaw Homestead, and the Jones-Lytch Homestead — all built before 1830 and feature different designs and architecture.
The Shaw Homestead was once located on Barnes Bridge Road and the McNeill house was built in the Laurel Hill area; the Jones-Lytch Homestead came from Richmond County.
The Ferguson Study is the study of the Rev. A.N. Ferguson, who once used it as his personal study while he served Presbyterian churches in the area. The structure was once located at his home but was moved to the Old Laurel Hill Presbyterian Church, which in return donated it to the John Blue House in 1990.
In the farthest back location of the grounds is the tobacco barn. Scotland and Robeson counties were once known for the immense amount of tobacco grown in the area, but that has now dwindled.
The barn itself is believed to be at least 100 years old and once sat on the land of a Robeson County family. Reportedly it’s one of only four left in the state open to the public. It barn features two brick furnaces and measures 23-by-23 feet and visitors can peer inside and see the beams that at one time held the tobacco to dry.
Throughout the center, visitors are able to take a cell phone tour that was activated several years ago. The tour has a number for visitors to call along with the different numbers to press to hear about the varying sites and exhibits throughout the property.
The Scotland County Historic Properties Commission is an organization that falls under the county auspices, and its commissioners are elected by the Board of County Commissioners. Currently, the commissioners include: Lew Brett, Leon Butler, Danny Coulter, JP Locklear, Carol McCall, Philip McRae, Marcus Norton, Lyle Shaw, John Stewart, Cecil Walker, and Dewey Lamb.
“The men and women on this commission spend hundreds to thousands of hours a year on this,” Gaunt said. “We take care of the majority of the maintenance, upgrades and new things to the property.”
Besides offering tours, the location is open to large tour groups and homeschool groups as well as being available to host birthday parties and reunions.
The grounds also host two of the major festivals in Scotland County — the Highland Games, which will be held Oct. 5-6, and the John Blue Cotton Festival, which will be held Oct. 13-14.
“The more that the grounds are used the more that we like it,” Gaunt said. “It’s here for the people of Scotland County.”
The museum is located at 13043 X Way Road and is open for tours on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays 1 to 4 p.m.
Reach Katelin Gandee at 910-506-3171 or at [email protected]