Walking Tour – African American History Tour


African Americans in the Pittsboro Community have survived despite segregation and discrimination throughout the history of enslavement that began over 250 years ago. The walking tour was created by the Community Remembrance Coalition-Chatham.

Once slavery was outlawed, many African Americans in Chatham County became sharecroppers and then began owning property and developing businesses many from their own homes (photo by Dorothea Lange).

*Blacks in Pittsboro owned many types of businesses such as taxicabs, restaurants, pool rooms, service stations, beauty salons, barber shops, grocery stores, and rest homes. They were farmers, construction, workers in pulpwood and cedar post dealers, plumbers, electricians, and operators of roadside produce stands. Most of the places in this walk no longer exist.

*Emancipation Day (Jan 1) was a gala affair for the African- Americans with a big parade through Pittsboro. Pittsboro was in the mud until 1911.
Begin: Hillsboro Street.

  • Café – Martin Scurlock and Violet Williams´ Café served both Black and White patrons.
  • TAXI Service – Elbert Ramsey – Charlie Council –
  • Wade Pugh – Cornish (Connie) Sellars*  – David Smith*
  • Mail Deliverers – Richard Ramsey and his son Elbert Ramsey. The gymnasium in the Chatham High School in Siler City is named after another son, Ernest Ramsey, a resident of Pittsboro who was a Principal of the school.
  • Barber – John Council was also a store owner
  • Fish Market and Ice House and Undertaker – Manley Smith*
  • Blacksmith – Henry Thompson & Simon Tennin*
  • Dry Cleaners – Roy Siler’s Dry Cleaners
  • Auto Repair – Peter Rogers operated a garage.
  • Coffin Maker – Charles Warmack* – served both Black and White
  • Shoe Store – Sherman Alston *
  • Hotel – Long Hotel – * Mark Farrar and Simon Leach operated a shoe shop in the hotel.
  • Bicycle Shop – Franklin Kirby

Directions: Turn onto Hanks Street; turn right onto Credle Street.

  • BROWN TOWN – This area of Pittsboro is referred to as Brown Town because the Brown family lived here. It was, and still is, home to many Black families.
  • Staunton Memorial CME Church was, at one time, part of Hamlet Chapel CME. 230 Credle Street.
  • Rev. Rufus V. Horton and Mr. Knotts operated a funeral home across the road from Staunton Memorial CME Church.
  • A special thank you to Rev. Horton (author of Can These Bones Live?) who was also our water witcher and owner of a grocery store.

Directions: Turn around on Credle Street; turn right onto W Salisbury Street.

  • Lewis Freeman Home (159 W Salisbury Street) is now the office space for Hobbs Architects. It is one of four remaining dwellings from Pittsboro’s initial settlement in the early 19th century and is on the National Register of Historic Places. North Carolina law restricted free black men from buying slaves; white businessmen in Pittsboro performed the transactions on his behalf. In honor of his contributions to the history and early economic development of the town, The Lewis Freeman Historic Park is now located between Rectory Street and Hobbs Architects on land Freeman once owned.

WEST – Directions: Return to Hillsboro Street. Make a sharp right onto West Street at the circle.

  • Mathiesen Clinic – 45 West Street – Before the clinic opened, health care was provided locally through traditional herbal remedies. The Mathiesen Clinic was built in 1948 and closed in 1974. For many years there was a colored section of the clinic. Aunt Junior Alston, a midwife, and JoAnna Leach, known as a baby nurse, worked in the maternity ward where many current Pittsboro residents were born. Mrs. Naomi Womble served as a nurse and Mrs. Leola Headen and Ms. Alice Peoples were cooks.
  • St. James Episcopal Church – St. James Mission started in 1880. The church served Black Episcopalians and one stone remains in the old cemetery behind Modern Life Deli & Drinks.
  • Turn left on Fayetteville Street. A one-room schoolhouse was once located between St. James Episcopal Church and the Pittsboro Methodist Church. Walker and Margaret Bynum lived there.
  • *Aunt Margaret Bynum and Katie Jackson owned land and a house where Twin Rivers is now located (U.S. 64 W – 25 South Rectory Street).

SOUTH Directions: Return to the circle and turn right onto Sanford Road.

  • In 1949, now the site of John’s Pizza, the Bryant family bought the land and rented it to Mr. Black and Mr. Knott for the Blackknott Restaurant, which later became Wade Pugh’s Grill and then Marsh’s Grill. More was added to the building and it was rented to Cliff Scurlock for a barber shop and then Dudley’s Beauty Supply, now owned by Carl Bryant. He also owns the Joint Orange Chatham Community Action Building (JOCCA) at 35 West Chatham Street and the blue building that was Faye Cheek Leach’s Beauty Shop, now The Hop Pittsboro.
  • Across the road, The Bryant family owned property adjacent to the Chatham NC First Responder Memorial. In 1949, they donated one tract of land to the Chatham County Fair for office space for the Chatham County Negro Home Demonstration Extension Agenda Director, Mrs. Mildred Bright Payton, and Mr. Joseph Turner, County Farm Agent, and Mildred Powell Ramsey, Secretary. A trailer was added on a second lot and it became the Hair Gallery, operated by Brigal Nettles Stone’s, then Susan Brooks Dark. Josie Snipes Ramsey’s Beauty Shop opened beside the Bryant’s land.
  • A baseball field for Blacks was across the road from the Circle K Gas Station.
  • On the right side before Robeson Creek where Circle K Gas Station is now located was once Floyd Wicker (Phil’s) Restaurant.
  • Cross the road over Robeson Creek and on the left side was June & Mary Reaves Barber Shop. Their restaurant and the pool hall were on the left. It is still owned by the Reaves Family and is now four apartments.
  • George Moses Horton Middle School (79 George Moses Horton Road): 1933-1934 Pittsboro Colored School was renamed to Horton High School in 1935, renamed to Horton Middle School 1970 and renamed George Moses Horton Middle School in 2021. George Moses Horton was a Black poet who was born a slave. George Moses Horton Middle School has had a black principal from 1933 until 2020.
  • Barber Shop – Turn around and on the left side (after the George Moses Horton Middle School beside Diane Street) is now an empty lot but was Mathy Goins Barber Shop.
  • Charlie Baldwins, Sr.’s Boarding House was a site for many teachers to stay. It was located across from the George Moses Horton School.

EAST – Directions: Return to the circle, turn to your right onto US 64 business – East Street.

  • Boarding House – Ruth McLeadon’s Boarding House is now Knott’s Funeral Home (50 Masonic Street) behind Hardee’s.
  • Church – Mt. Sinai AME Church, the only AME in Chatham County, is across the road from Knotts Funeral Home parking lot – Masonic Street. The church provided day care for Pittsboro.
  • South Small Street – Dorothy Poston’s Beauty Shop.
  • 300 East Street – Delgado Auto Shop
  • Julia (Mama Junior) Roberts Alston owned several acres of property behind the former Piggly Wiggly. She only sold her land to Black families. This land has since been sold to Habitat for Humanity.
  • Toomer Loop Road – Gene Taylor Barber Shop. He was also the Bondsman for the community.
  • Lee’s Barber/Beauty Shop is in the Food Lion Shopping Center.

Directions: Turn right onto Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and go to the end of the street on the right to the Chatham Agriculture and Industrial Fair Building.

  • The Chatham County Agriculture and Industrial Fair Building opened in 1950 as the Chatham County Colored Agricultural Fair.
  • R.G. Bryant was the first President of the Chatham County Agricultural and Industrial Fair Association. Charlie Baldwin, Sr. donated the Milliken Log Cabin that has been on the grounds since the 1980’s. Across the road is the cemetery for First Baptist Church, Mt. Sinai Church and Staunton Memorial Church members.

Directions: Go back to the stoplight and go straight across the road.

  • C. E. Willie’s Funeral Home, previously owned by Oliver and Julia Marsh, was on the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, where B & T HVAC is today.
  • Church – First Baptist Church started under a tent in 1944 is the only Black Baptist church in Pittsboro. Corner of Thompson Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

Directions: Turn right at First Baptist Church and then left into Chatham Park.

  • Tony and Eliza Knight, Black farmers born before the Civil War, acquired and developed more than 100 acres. This land was acquired by the Chatham Park development; the Knight Farm Community Park is named for them.
  • Descendants of the Yarborough and Alston families have also sold land to Chatham Park.

Directions: Across from the entry to Knights Farm Community Park.

  • St. Andrews Church, 723 East Street, was built in1952 and established in the 1880s as Hanks Chapel. The original site of the church after slavery is on Thompson Street where the cemetery is located. A few bricks from the original church remain.

Directions: Turn right on Thompson Street onto Fire Tower Road.

  • Beauty Shop – Mary Lillie Snipes Wombles beauty shop
  • The land on the left behind the green house on Fire Tower Road where Mary Alice Taylor sold buttermilk and butter wouldn’t sell to Chatham Forest. Taylor’s heirs still own the land.
  • On the right side of Thompson Street, before the entry of Chatham Forest, belonged to Elbert and Mildred Ramsey before it was sold.
  • Thomas and Rachel Taylor were the first former slaves to purchase land near Chatham Forest. The land was in their family for 155 years.
  • North Small Street
  • Garage – James Lee Harris was on the corner.
  • Barber – At the corner of East Salisbury Street and North Small Street – Donnie Womble
  • *Richard Ramsey Sr., embalmer and Justice of the Peace owned property behind Claps Laundry on Masonic Street then Harry Lee Smith and Maggie Smith owned the property.

NORTH Directions – Return to Hillsboro Street and go towards Chapel Hill on 15/501 North.

  • Josie Snipes Beauty Shop at her home at 739 Hillsboro Street.
  • On the left side is Marsha and Robert (Bob) Scurlock’s Catering,773 Hillsboro St.
  • Restaurant – Gather and Lillie Freeman Rodgers Grill then George L. Dark’s Grill was beside the Belmont Church 15-501 north. The land is still owned by the Rodgers’ Family and is now two apartments.
  • Belmont AME Zion Church was at 947 Hillsboro Street.
  • Beauty shop – Mary Patterson Farrar, 971 Hillsboro Street. Now operated by her daughter.
  • PROPERTY OWNERSHIP – Many African Americans who were brought here as slaves became land owners.
    *Per Bishop Leach Research