House in the Horseshoe threatened with closure

Apr. 04, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

For generations, school children from around the state have looked at the holes in the walls of the House in the Horseshoe, imagining themselves in the battle when musket balls created those holes more than 230 years ago. Others have even more vivid images of what it was like, having watched or even participated in the re-enactment that draws thousands every summer.

But like the battle itself, the re-enactment and the availability of the historic locale to the public could soon be things of the past.

A budget presented last week by Gov. Pat McCrory called for funding cuts that will potentially force the site — which has a Sanford address but is in Moore County on the banks of the Deep River — to shut down. Of the 27 historical sites run by the state, the Division of State Historic Sites and Properties is looking into closing four, including the House in the Horseshoe, to meet the demands of McCrory’s budget.

It’s unclear when the site would close, if it does at all. First, the cut must be included in a budget passed by the General Assembly and approved by McCrory.

Site Director John Hairr wasn’t available for comment Tuesday, and Site Assistant Alex Cameron said he couldn’t speak about the potential closing and its effects. However, Lee County native Cameron — who first visited the site on a field trip and applied for the job after earning a history degree from East Carolina University — said he was more than happy to talk about the site itself.

“To my knowledge, this is one of the very few places where you can come and see the re-enactment take place where it actually happened, with the original structure still intact,” he said.

Roy Timbs, who has been the House in the Horseshoe site interpretor for the past 11 years and has been a re-enactor for nearly 30 years, agreed that the local reenactment is probably the most authentic one in which he has participated.

“It gives you a sense of pride,” he said of the site’s age and authenticity. “You’re standing where history was made.”

Lee County Commissioner Kirk Smith has also been among the ranks of re-enactors at the site, participating every year since 1995. Smith plays one of the loyalist soldiers who attacked the house of Philip Alston, leader of a local militia, in 1781. The battle culminated with Alston surrendering after both sides sustained casualties in the heavy fighting that left the house pock-marked.

And Smith said he thinks it should absolutely remain open.

“It’s historically significant, and of course if you don’t know your history, you’re bound to repeat it,” he said.

He said he would assume the Moore County Historical Association would take over the site because there was discussion about that very action in 2011, when the N.C. Senate tried unsuccessfully to close it down in another money-saving venture.

In fact, the historical association owned the site from 1954 to 1955, when the state took over. Between then and the house’s original construction sometime around 1770, it was owned by a series of private citizens, including former Gov. Benjamin Williams. A representative of the historical association said the group’s president, Vickie Rounds, would be best suited to answer questions about potential plans, but Rounds did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

In addition to the House in the Horseshoe, the other sites that Keith A. Hardison, director of the Division of State Historic Sites and Properties, told the Raleigh News & Observer are marked for closure are the Zebulon Baird Vance birthplace near Asheville, the President James K. Polk site on the Charlotte beltline, and the Charles B. Aycock Birthplace between Goldsboro and Wilson. Of the four, the House in the Horseshoe drew the most visitors last year — 17,500.

Cameron said the reenactment weekend by itself — which has been ranked one of the top 20 events going on in all of the Southeast during August by the Southeast Tourism Society — draws 4,000 or 5,000 visitors, with the other 12,000-plus coming on tours or family trips like the ones he used to take with his dad.

According to the News & Observer, two of the three employees at the site would be laid off; one would remain to ensure that no vandalism or theft occurred. That would reportedly save approximately $50,000, which is 0.00024 percent of McCrory’s $20.6 billion proposed budget.