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New Hill - A brief history
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New Hill is an unincorporated historic community in southwestern Wake County, North Carolina, located along the original alignment of the New Hope Valley Railway between Durham and Bonsal. The community has a deep history and lies near the southern terminus of the American Tobacco Trail. It is the location of Progress Energy’s Shearon Harris Nuclear Power Plant and the associated Harris Lake recreation center.
Legendary, local stories reveal Babe Ruth stopped at Troy’s Motor Court on his way to spring training, traveling down what is now historic Old U.S. Highway 1. There is even a story about Bonnie and Clyde, who may have stayed here.
To understand the history of New Hill involves knowing the history of the New Hope Valley Railroad which was chartered from a point said to be near New Hill, NC. This place was later named Bonsal, NC in honor of the first president of the company. The Durham & South Carolina railroad (D&SC) completed thirty-one miles of railroad from Bonsal to Durham on October 15, 1906.
The original purpose of the Durham & South Carolina Railroad was to tap the timber resources of the New Hope River Valley, primarily for the manufacture of railroad ties. There was a sawmill at Farrington (just east of the present Fearrington Village in Chatham County) where the timber was cut to rough length for shipment, and a planar mill at Bonsal where the ties received their final shaping. Other communities along the railroad (like Beaver Creek, Seaforth, Penny and Blands) loaded some lumber as well, but also produced cotton, corn, beans and tobacco for shipment.
In 1920 the D&SC was leased to the Norfolk Southern (NS) railroad for a term of ninety-nine years. Under the NS, the so called American Tobacco Spur was built in 1924 from Keene Yard directly into the American Tobacco Company plant in Durham. This business became the biggest profit center on the entire NS railroad for a time, with revenues realized from just that short spur of track being enough to pay the operating expenses of the entire 978 mile railroad!
A disastrous flood caused by the hurricane of 1945 indicated the need for a major flood control project in the area, and plans were submitted on October 15, 1969 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct what was then to be called the New Hope Dam at the junction of the New Hope and Haw Rivers. This project was renamed on October 26, 1973 in honor of B. Everett Jordan, member of the State Legislature. Construction of the dam was completed on September 1, 1981 and Jordan Lake filled to capacity by February 4, 1982.
The Jordan Lake Flood Control Project also meant the end of the towns and communities of Beaver Creek, Seaforth and Farrington. The people living in those areas were relocated, the buildings burned to the foundations to remove the possibility of them becoming a navigational hazard and the locations are now under water in Jordan Lake.
The line used by the New Hope Valley Railway (NHVRy) today is a relocated line completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on March 14, 1974 to replace the original line inundated by the construction of the Jordan Lake Flood Control Project. It was last used for revenue service by the Southern Railway in 1981. Some of the last major revenue trains moved on the line brought in much of the heavy equipment and supplies necessary to build the Shearon Harris Nuclear Plant.
The New Hope Valley Railway of today was begun on January 15, 1982 when the East Carolina Chapter, National Railway Historical Society, purchased the tracks and right-of-way in Bonsal and New Hill from the Southern Railway. This consists of Bonsal Yard, the line currently operated from Bonsal to New Hill, and a small portion of the original 1906 trackage along Beaver Creek Road in Chatham County just north of Bonsal. The first public ride operations were held in April of 1984, and it has been operated as a living railroad museum ever since. North of New Hill, the track has been removed from remnants of the new line constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1974, and the right-of-way has been converted into a hiking facility called the American Tobacco Trail.
Visit New Hill today!