Senate budget plan would shutter House in the Horseshoe

State rep. pledges to fight for local historic landmark
Jun. 03, 2014 @ 06:33 PM

The House in the Horseshoe State Historic Site, home to Moore County’s annual Revolutionary War reenactment, is scheduled for closure as of July 1 under the budget passed by the North Carolina Senate.

“This is nothing new,” said Rep. Mike Stone, R-Lee. “It’s been slated to take it off-line for the last three years, and we’ve been able to save it. We’re working and negotiating in the House. I’ll be working diligently to save it.”

The House in the Horseshoe was one of four historic sites in North Carolina considered for closure last year, along with the Zebulon Baird Vance birthplace near Weaverville, the President James K. Polk site in Pineville and the Charles B. Aycock Birthplace in Fremont. This year, the House in the Horseshoe is the only site set to close.

“This is a complete surprise to us as staff and to our upper management,” said House in the Horseshoe Site Manager Alex Cameron.

Cameron said he learned the Senate proposed to close the house last Wednesday night. Last year’s proposal would have closed the house to the public and eliminated two of the three staff positions in what Cameron called a gradual shutdown.

“This time,” he said, “it’s all three positions and closed effective July 1. [The legislature] is moving very quickly, so unfortunately, we don’t have much time to act on this.”

Division of State Historic Sites and Properties Director Keith Hardison said the move is especially puzzling given the number of visitors the House in the Horseshoe gets.

“Our visitation last fiscal year was over 20,000,” Hardison said. “And in that same year, we had more than 7,800 volunteer hours of labor donated to just that one site.”

The house, which is located in Moore County but has a Sanford address, was the site of a Revolutionary War skirmish in which loyalist soldiers under the command of David Fanning attacked Phillip Alston, the leader of a local rebel militia, at his home. It is the only site of a Revolutionary War battle owned by the state government, according to Hardison.

“There were lives lost in that house and around that property for us to have the independence to enjoy everything we have today,” Cameron said. “And that is the actual house. It still has the bullet holes. People lived in the house until the 1950s, and they kept the bullet holes. They knew the historical importance of it.”

Hardison said the reenactment that takes place at the house each August has been going on for more than 30 years and is one of the most accurate war reenactments of which he’s aware.

“It is one of the military reenactments that actually takes place on the ground that it happened,” he said. “It is also accurate in the sense that is is almost a full-scale reenactment. The number of people in the reenactment is very close to the number of people involved in the actual battle.”

Lee County Commissioner Kirk Smith has been part of the reenactments at the house for about 20 years. He portrays a member of the loyalist forces to whom Alston surrendered after both sides sustained casualties.

“[The reenactment] portrays a skirmish that is not widely taught in our schools,” Smith said. “The house is still there. It’s the original site. It is a key component of our history, and I’d like to see it maintained by the state.”

The house also is notable for being the home of four-term North Carolina Governor Benjamin Williams. Hardison said that the closing of the house would be akin to losing two pieces of history at once.

“All our sites are important,” Hardison said. “Our system of historic sites, 24 in number, should be thought of as a string of pearls. Each of those pearls represents a different location and a different aspect of our state’s history. Any time you lose one pearl out of a necklace, that necklace is not complete. When a site is proposed for closing, you’re taking an aspect of state history away from the public, and we find that troubling.”

Stone said the site was covered in the budget originally proposed by Gov. Pat McCrory, but it was de-funded in the budget passed in the Senate.

“I’ve put it back in the House budget,” Stone said. “The governor had it funded. We have it funded. And we’re talking about a small amount of funds. I think we’ll be in good shape.”

Hardison said the state appropriation to the house is less than $150,000, and that programs like the reenactment and the house’s Christmas events are fully funded through donations and private money. He said the house ranks in the middle as far as visitation compared to the state’s other 23 historic sites, and that there are some sites that cost a lot more to keep running.

“We certainly hope when all is said and done that the wisdom will be there to restore this particular part of the budget,” Hardison said. “We think it’s important to preserve it and for the public to have access to it.”