Traphill, NC Historic District

Some of the best written town histories and genealogical references can be found within the National Register of Historic Places registration forms. The extracted text below is indicative of what was required in order to nominate buildings and Towns to be entered into the nation’s official list of buildings, structures, objects, sites, and districts worthy of preservation because of their significance in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture.

The NRHP document, linked here is the nomination of Traphill, at the intersection of SR 1002 and SR 1749, as a historic district. It contains a pretty thorough synopsis of the History of historic Traphill.

All the NRHP listings for NC are linked here.

We, in NC, were fortunate to have a professional and thoughtful NC State Employee that apparently took pride in her work. Claudia Roberts, who worked as a consultant for the NC Division of State Archives and History, at the time, was instrumental in helping get NC small towns into the National Historic Registry. She later retired as the Survey and National Register Branch Supervisor for the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office. Our thanks to her for her research.

Below are excerpts from the National Register of Historic Places registration form.


Situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northeastern Wilkes County, the small rural ‘community of Traphill retains several structures that formed the heart of the village in its nineteenth and early twentieth century period of importance as a regional trading and educational center. Taken as a whole, these structures and their undisturbed setting provide a glimpse into past rural community life of western North Carolina in a way that has not often survived in similar crossroads settlements of the region. The dozen buildings are of simple, vernacular forms representing the broad scope of agricultural, religious, educational, and commercial life of a remote agrarian community.

According to legend, the name (first Trap Hill, standardized as Traphill in 1892) derives from wild game traps placed nearby by William Blackburn, an early settler. The community grew slowly as a trading center in the antebellum period. Like other sections of the west, during the Civil War the Traphill area became known as a haven for Union sympathizers. After the war the community grew in importance as the county’s second most populous settlement and developed a reputation chiefly as an educational center for the region.

First Class of Trap Hill Institute, Prof. J. H. Yarboro, Principal
Image from WCC Slide Collection

Two important schools, Trap Hill Academy (later Fair View College) and Trap Hill Institute, were established after the war by local Methodists and Baptists. The schools were widely considered to provide excellent educational opportunities at reasonable cost, and they flourished into the early twentieth century when unfavorable economic conditions and new developments in public school education resulted in the permanent closing of both. Notable students of Traphill schools include Thomas C. ”Tam” Bowie (1876-1947), frequent and outspoken member of the General Assembly sometimes called ”the Lion of the Mountains, 11 and Robert Lee Daughton (1863-1954), a U. S. Congressman for forty-two years.

After the war the community grew in importance as the county’s second most populous settlement and developed a reputation chiefly as an educational center for the region. Two important schools, Trap Hill Academy (later Fair View College) and Trap Hill Institute, were established after the war by local Methodists and Baptists. The schools were widely considered to provide excellent educational opportunities at reasonable cost, and they flourished into the early twentieth century when unfavorable economic conditions and new developments in public school education resulted in the permanent closing of both. Notable students of Traphill schools include Thomas C. ”Tam” Bowie (1876-1947), frequent and outspoken member of the General Assembly sometimes called ”the Lion of the Mountains, 11 and Robert Lee Daughton (1863-1954), a U. S. Congressman for forty-two years.

Tom Bowie at Clifton Post Office
Source: Ashe County Public Library
Robert Lee “Bob” Doughton
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Surviving structures at Traphill include the early Joseph Bryan House (ca. 1847), the Old Storehouse (1850-1870), two churches, and other late nineteenth and early twentieth century residences and commercial structures. The Trap Hill Institute building (1891) survives in somewhat altered form as a community library; Fair View College was dismantled in the1920s, and its materials used in construction of the Methodist Church. Though several of the buildings have been neglected in past years, the opening of a new access road to nearby Stone Mountain Park from a point near the old crossroads has aroused interest in preservation possibilities for the simple but evocative historic buildings of the community.

Old Storehouse (1850-1870)

Criteria Assessment:

A. Typical of many such small crossroads settlements that characterized the early development of North Carolina–few of which retain that early character–the old core of the village of Traphill is representative of rural community life in nineteenth and early twentieth century western North Carolina; and associated with the development in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century of respected local academies and schools.

C. Exemplifies several characteristics of North Carolina vernacular architecture including domestic, commercial, agricultural, and institutional forms.

In 1752 Lord Granville granted Morgan Bryan much of the land that was to become Wilkes County in 1778. Bryan and Squire Boone (father of Daniel Boone) settled ln the forks of the Yadkin River in what was then Rowan County around 1753. Shortly thereafter, three streams of immigrants, mainly British, arrived in the area from Pennsylvania, Virginia, eastern North Carolina and South Carolina. Many of these settlers and their descendants penetrated the mountains of Wilkes County to settle in the area of the present community of Traphill, south of the Elk Spur. Little is known about the village before the Civil War. Most of our knowledge of this early period is culled from local tradition, the few recorded deeds for area property, and church minutes. The last thirty years of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth constitute Traphill’s most active period which is thoroughly documented.

Early Settlers and Development

Perhaps the earliest recorded reference to the community now called Traphill is the 1772 order by the Surry County Court for a road from “Thomas Joines at Long Bottom on Roaring River to David Allen’s”. 1 The terrain dictates that a course connecting these terminus points passes through Traphill. The community that grew at the south end of Elk Spur was referred to for many years by the name of that mountain. Sometimes the settlement was called Blackburn’s Tar Kiln or Clayburn’s Bank by area residents. The name Traphill was coined in the 1830s in reference to the occupation of William Blackburn, traditionally cited as the first settler in the community. 2

Legend states that William Blackburn settled at the crossroads in the late 1770s. He was a hunter from Virginia who devised a rail-pen trap for catching wild turkeys on the rise beyond what is now the southwest bank of the crossroads; The name developed due to the location of his traps on a hill. 3 Local historians believe that Blackburn built a house on the hill and that he is buried behind the modern brick house that now occupies the site.

Documentation does prove that Blackburn owned 70 acres on the south side of Elk Spur Ridge, but he did not purchase this tract until 1807. 4 He bought the land from Thomas Billings (listed in the 1787 census) who is supposed to have obtained the land through a State land grant. According to the first U. S. census, Blackburn is recorded as living in the area as early as 1790. It is possible that ownership of property at the crossroads by Blackburn prior to 1807 was not recorded, as was the case of many early Wilkes County property transactions.

Settlement in the neighborhood grew in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. According to Wilkes County records, Jacob Lyon is the earliest documented owner of land within a mile of the present Traphill crossroads. In 1779, Jacob’s older brother William left his family in Culpepper County, Virginia, to travel to North Carolina where he applied for a land grant in the name of Jacob for 100 acres about one mile east of the crossroads. 5 It was not until 1782 when he was discharged from Colonel John Greene’s regiment of the Virginia Continentals, after fighting in battles at Guilford Court house and Eutaw Springs, that Jacob settled on his 100 acres. He was one of several Traphill area settlers, including members of the Sparks, Spicer, and Johnson families who fought at Kings Mountain and represented Wilkes County in the American Revolution. 6 In later years Lyon acquired· hundreds of acres around Traphill.

As the Elk Spur was a natural pass to watering places for animals, Traphill was populated with many deer, elk, pheasants, wild hogs and turkeys, as well as some bear. In the 1780s a village sprang up as a small post for trading meats and provisions. By 1787 the settlement had become significant enough for the county to order a jury to ” … view and lay off a Road the Best and most Convenient way from the Iron-works Road (just north of present-day Traphill) on the Elk Spur to the North Fork of Roaring River thence … to Wilkes Court-house and make Report to next Court.” 7 Common schools were conducted as early as 1790 when the first school building of logs was constructed near the site of the present Traphill Elementary School; .Washington Welsh is said to have conducted another Traphill school in 1815 in another log structure nearby.

Minutes for January 12, 1791 of the Old Roaring River Baptist Church, at which Traphill area Baptists worshipped for more than 100 years, indicate that there must have· been a store then near Traphill, if not within the village proper: “Quary whether it be lawful for a member of the Church to follow trading for a lively hood & would not work–the lazy man condemd–the Trading man unsettled.” 8 The building consistently cited by local tradition as the first store in the village was a one story flat-roofed building on the site of the Old Storehouse. Details about the store vary. Everyone seems to agree that Stephen Johnson erected the store although no deeds have been located to substantiate his having owned the property. Some accounts infer that the Old Storehouse is a later building, while others say that Johnson’s one-story building was later added to, resulting in the present configuration of the
Old Storehouse.

By 1833 the community had grown to the extent that in that year the General Assembly, acting on a bill introduced by representative Benjamin F. Martin of Wilkes County, authorized that a town be laid out at the site of Traphill to be called Johnsonville in honor of Captain Samuel Johnson, an invalid Revolutionary War veteran who had been wounded at the Battle of Kings Mountain and who was living about two miles away. 9 Captain Johnson was probably an older relative of the abovementioned storekeeper Stephen Johnson, though their relationship is not known.) These plans for a town never materialized for reasons that are not altogether clear, but the idea was probably too ambitious given the economic realities of the area. At any rate, Captain Johnson died in 1834, and the name Johnsonville was quickly forgotten, for in that year the same Benjamin F. Martin who introduced the Johnsonville legislation applied for a license to sell spiritous liquors at ”Trap Hill”. 10

With the establishment of a U. S. Post Office on April 4, 1837, the name Trap Hill (standardized in 1892 as Traphill) became officially and permanently fixed. The first postmaster was Thomas Crumpler who distributed the mail brought on foot weekly by the unshod Daniel Logan. 11 Except for a two- and one-half-year lapse from Harch, 1846, to September 1848, the Traphill Post Office has remained in continuous operation to this day and holds a significant position in Traphill history as the source of local news often gleaned through daily informal gatherings there and it is a strong confirmation of the community’s identity. The post office has been located in many buildings in and near the historic district; the earliest documented location was the Old Storehouse beginning in 1866.

Farms thrived around Traphill. The biggest crop were grains while livestock, game, and hides were the chief items of export. Hany farmers distilled spirits from the grain they did not eat or take to market. As the economy in Traphill grew and there were more goods to be traded in other towns, better roads became a necessity. In 1858 the North Carolina Legislature ordered the improvement of the road “commencing at the Elkin factory, in Surry County, and running by the Little Elkin Bridge or by John Crouse’s, and then the most direct and best way to Trap Hill, in Wilkes County … ” 12

The growing security and prosperity of Traphill was further confirmed by the construction of substantial structures such as the Joseph Bryan House. As he was the second Traphill postmaster, appointed September, 1838, Joseph Bryan must have owned unrecorded· property and at least one building in the village prior to the 1847 grant for the land on which he constructed his two-story frame house.13

During the Civil War, Traphill was a focus of Unionist sentiment. So many forebears of Traphill citizens had fought for independence in the Revolution that there was a strong predilection in favor of maintaining the Old Union. There also were very few slave owners in the Traphill area. Hany men who refused to fight formed local Home Guards and stayed in Wilkes County to defend their property. There was a high rate of desertion among the ranks of Wilkes County men sent to fight for the Confederacy.

Traphill was a haven for Union sympathizers led by John Quincy Adams Bryan whose homeplace stood one-and-one-half miles from the Traphill crossroads. A nephew of Joseph Bryan, J, Q. A. Bryan–known also as the “Red Fox “ — supported the Union so strongly that he led almost 1,000 men from Wilkes County to Tennessee to join the Union Army. Of the scores of small groups of men J. Q. A. Bryan led to Tennessee, only one group of about 16 men had trouble when they were ambushed at their camp outside Johnson City, Tennessee; four or five men were killed and the rest escaped including the Red Fox and a Spicer and a Sparks from Traphill.

Before he left Wilkes County to become a scout for the Tennessee Volunteers, Bryan was brazen enough to raise the Union flag at the county courthouse as. a testimony of his political standing. As a result of this action, Governor Zebulon Vance sent a brigade to check the “uprising” in Traphill. Traphill citizens in turn sent as their representative Dr. Tyre York (who himself harbored evaders of the Confederate Army at his farm one mile east of the crossroads) to see Vance and to offer his services to form a local Home Guard and thereby prove the loyalty of Traphill to the State Government. 14

Education and Religion in Traphill

Traphill made a quick recovery from the few set-backs it suffered during the Civil War. The renewed prosperity is evidenced by the holdings of large tracts of land by several well-established individuals. A prime example of this situation is the ownership by A. C. Bryan (brother of J.Q.A. Bryan) until the mid-1870s of several hundred acres that included all of the district on Elk Spur Road and south up to and including the White-Hinson property. Until the mid-1870s, A.C. Bryan lived in the Joseph Bryan House, which Joseph is said to have moved, probably before the Civil War. According to legend, the house was rolled by 200 men after they drank twelve wooden water buckets-full of apple brandy and had eaten four wash pots-full of chicken and squirrel stew. 15

Traphill’s leading citizens were active in Wilkes County’s political life after the Civil War. A. C. Bryan, who ran the Old Storehouse for many years, served in the North Carolina General Assembly during the session beginning in 1872. A good indication of the support avid Union sympathizers received from. fellow Wilkes County citizens is the fact that J.Q.A. Bryan, also a merchant, served in the North Carolina House of Representatives during the sessions beginning in 1876, 1883, 1891, 1897, and 1903. Dr. Tyre York, Traphill’s best known physician, served in the North Carolina Senate in 1876 and 1881 and the North Carolina House in 1865, 1866, 1970, 1979 and 1887; he also was a U. S. Senator to the 48th U. S. Congress and an unsuccessful 1884 candidate for governor against A. M. Scales.

The postwar era also witnessed great strides in education; Traphill was no exception in a county recognized for its interest in education since its formation in 1778. Early education often was associated with a church and many teachers were clergymen or lay readers and during the last three decades of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth Traphill continued its dedication to local church affiliated education. Shortly after a Methodist Episcopal Church, the first church established within the town limits, was organized iri Tuaphill in 1870, the progressive citizens, including the prosperous merchants, farmers, and a doctor, realized the need in Traphill for an educational facility more advanced than the common school.

The Methodists and the Baptists joined forces to establish the Traphill Seminary which shortly changed its name to Trap Hill Male and Female Academy. The term “academy” applied to the type of school established in the early republic to educate youth not planning to enter a college, yet desiring to progress beyond the lower school.

In 1871, A. C. Bryan donated a tract of land (on which the Methodist Church now stands) to the trustees J.Q.A. Bryan, Dr. T. W. Smith, and J. S. Holbrook, a prominent Traphill farmer, so that a school building could be erected. The Academy conferred certificates, not degrees. The trustees selected the principal and teachers and ltad general control over the school. A bulletin for the Spring 1877 session states:

The Academy is situated at the foot of the Blue Ridge, and for scenery and healthfulness unsurpassed in Western North Carolina. Morality of the community good. –Here students are not exposed to the allurements and vices so incident to larger towns. Special attention will be given to the moral training of students. The school will be strict, but impartial–non-sectarian and non-political. 16

The claim about attention to moral tnnn1ng was reinforced by an 1881 law passed by the North Carolina General Assembly, ”An Act to Prevent the Sale of Spirituous Liquors within One mile of Trap Hill Academy in Wilkes County.”17 Student housing was available at the school building and in local homes and businesses~ including the second story of the Old Storehouse. Early principals included S. G. Coltrane and Charlie White, for whom the White-Hinson House, rented to other principals, was constructed on the property White purchased from Dr. T. W. Smith. Shortly after the and opened, Dr. Smith had purchased most of A . C. Bryan’s land in the district and lived in the Joseph Bryan House.18

The success of the Trap Hill Academy reflected well as contributed to the growlng prosperity of the town. North Carolina business directories substantiate this growth and identify Traphill merchants, tradesmen and farmers. Branson’s North Carolina Business Directory for 1869 lists J.Q.A. Bryan as the only merchant whereas the 1884 directory lists four merchants and tradesmen–R.J. Bauguss, Hanks Bros. J. D. Hunt, J. McCann, and G. R. Reeves; 19 all but Hunt operated stores outside the ·district. Traphill also had a grist mill, probably built by Joseph Spicer, a mile from the district on Little Sandy Creek. Rather than sell their lumber, livestock, and hides, Traphill citizens were using their resources to manufacture finished products; manufacturers listed in the 1884 directory include R. M. Holbrook and J. C. Lowe (building and contracting), E. L. Smoot (millwrighting), William Cheatwood (saddles and harnesses), Joshua Spicer (tannery), ~1arion McCann (wagons), and Spicer & Bro. (wool-carding). Many of these merchants, tradesmen and manufacturers established Masonic Lodge No. 346 in 1874; they received their charter in 1875 and drew up their by-laws in 1876. A room on the second floor of the Academy was used as their hall.

In 1886 the trustees of the Trap Hill Academy were promised aid from the Methodist Episcopal Church if they would convey the school property to the Church. A rivalry between Methodists and Baptists ensued that resulted in a division between the two factions. The two groups had cooperated with each other when the school was founded because teachers, books, and money were scarce, but as the economy improved in Traphill the schism widened. In 1887 the school was deeded to the Church, which remodeled the building and took over management of the school. From then on the Baptists referred to the institution as a Methodist school and the Methodist described it as interdenominational. 20 For the next four years the school was called both Trap
Hill Academy and Fair View Academy.

In 1891 the school received a state charter as Fair View Male and Female College (soon shortened to Fair View College) ·with the provision that the faculty “shall have the power to grant diplomas conferring such degrees and marks of literary distinction as are usually conferred in colleges and universities.” 21 The College gave nine grades of preparatory courses and a regular four-year college program geared toward teacher training. The first College trustees were A. C. Bryan, G. W. Brown, C. W. Smith, A. J. Johnson and J.Q.A. Bryan. The school was doing so well that the same year a wing was added that doubled the size of the building. 22

During the 1891-1892 school year, the school employed five teachers and taught 195 students. Regular academic courses as well as pedagogy and psychology made up the curriculum. Commencement activities constituted a major local event and included addresses by congressmen, oratorical contests, and musical events. A letter written in 1892 to the Chronicle} a Wilkesboro newspaper, from Fair View College student S. D. Stamey states:

(Prof. Smith) carne here not as one seeking the downfall of others; not as a man who meant to deal with any one unfair, but with a
love for uncultured humanity raised Fair View high school from the mire and made a college of it, which owing to its cheapness
is unsurpassed in the North State. 23

The following item appeared in the same newspaper in 1893:

Everything is on a boom about the Hill. We have an excellent school at Fairview College under the management of Prof. W. R.
Absher there is about 80 students in attendance and new ones are coming in every day (sic). The young men also have two good
literary societies. We would say to those who contemplate going to school that Fair View College is the place as it cannot be
excelled for both cheapness and instruction. 24

In reaction to the poor economy nationwide, the College closed ~n 1904. It reopened in 1910 after being reorganized and remodeled; the curriculum now covered elementary, preparatory, and two-year college courses and the second floor of the building had been designed for a girls’ dormitory to relieve the growing scarcity (due to an increased number of students from outside Traphill) of boarding rooms available in private homes. The principal was Kelly L. Haga. Athletics and music also were taught, with the principal’s wife, Edith L. Haga, teaching piano and voice. The 1912 catalogue lists five faculty members, a librarian, and girls’ dormitory matron and states that:

The citizens are cultured and refined and are ready to extend any kindness to our students. The village contains two stores, a telephone system, four daily mails, one rural free delivery route and a printing office. It is in a section of country famed for its scenic beauty, and the College building beautifully situated on an elevation is ideally located and can be seen for many miles around. 25

The school closed in 1918 when Traphill High School opened. Pupils who earned state and national recognition included C. T. ”Tam” Bowie, Lt. Gov. R. A. Daughton and Robert L. Daughton, a congressman for forty years and a chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

In the same year (1887) that the Methodists acquired Fair View College, several Traphill members of the Old Roaring River Baptist Church were granted letters of dismission to organize a Baptist Church at Traphill. The first eighteen members who met in 1887 were three Brinegars, one Cheatwood, ten Holbrooks, two Kilbys and three Sparks. Within a year this church, representing the faction dissatisfied with the disposition of the Trap Hill Academy, established the Trap Hill Institute. The purpose of this secondary school was ”to promote growth in the denomination as well as to prepare students for college life and ‘for life and its duties. ‘” 26
The institute opened in 1889 and was held for the first year in the new church building while the school building was being constructed. The first trustees were J. S. Holbrook, C. F. Fields, J. A. McCann, J. A. Pruitt, Joshua Spicer, and J. S. Kilby. Kilby owned one of the largest tracts of land in Traphill and was a prosperous merchant who established (and perhaps built) the Traphill Bargain House between 1885 and 1890 after operating a store in his house on the southwest corner of the cross roads, which burned several years ago.

The Trap Hill Institute offered educational opportunities to many more students than the College could accommodate at a time when state schools were not readily accessible to Traphill students. In 1893 the North Carolina General Assembly passed
“An Act to Charter Trap Hill Institute”:

… for the purpose of maintaining a school of high grade …at Trap Hill . . .for the mental and moral training of children
of the white race of· both sexes … The faculty … by the advice and with the consent of the directors … shall have
power to grant certificates of merit. 27

The Institute’s catalogue for 1894-95, the year the school was enlarged, states:

The village and surrounding community are comparatively free from the evils and vices so common in some sections. The people
are noted for their morals and hospitality. The claim of Traphill Institute is that of first class preparatory school. The Institute prepares pupils for entrance to any of the colleges or the university of North Carolina . . .28

Tuition for the Primary Department Was $1.00 per month and that for the Common and High School Department was $1.00 to $3.00 per month. The explanation in the 1895 – 1896 catalogue of Institue discipline includes:

The habitual indulgence of profane language, the reading of pernicious literature, the use of intoxicating drinks or tobacco, and the carrying of pistols or other dangerous weapons would be considered grave and treated accordingly. 29

The Institute did not recover from the economic decline of the early 1900s as the College did. In 1912 the building was sold to the Masonic Lodge which had moved to new quarters in the Institute building. In 1896 the Masons had surrendered their charter for Lodge No. 483, which owns the building to this day. Although the building is no longer used as· a school, it houses on the first floor a branch of the county library system and still stands as a reminder of Traphill’s prominence as an education

The establishment of the College and the Institute heralded a decade of unprecedented prosperity in Traphill as the nineteenth century drew to a close. Traphill had the second largest population in Wilkes County throughout most of the 1890s. In 1890, it had 140 citizens as compared to Wilkesboro’s population of 850. The great increase by 1896 to 300 residents as compared to 1500 in Wilkesboro attests to the rapid growth. 30 An 1891 item in the Chronicle reads, “Trap Hill seems to be entering upon
a substantial building boom. A dozen or more parties are preparing to build this summer or fall.” 31 The Trap Hill Bargain House was doing a thriving business selling a wide variety of general merchandise that included blocks of ice stored in its basement. The increased need for medical attention by a larger population necessitated visits by doctors and dentists who augmented the services of Traphill doctors by setting up temporary offices in the second floor of the Bargain House. In addition to the College and Institute, small subscription schools opened, such as that run in the first years of the next century by Hrs. Pegram, wife of a merchant who owned the Old Storehouse and the Joseph Bryan House for several years.

Changes in the Twentieth Century

After a general economic decline at the turn of the century, Traphill could not permanently regain the regional status it had earned as a source of educational opportunities. As these opportunities became scarcer, the increasing prosperity subsided: the town’s hopes for economic growth were dashed when plans to extend a railroad to Traphill were cancelled.

In 1890 the Winston Land Improvement Co. purchased 300 acres that included Stone Mountain as part of a plan instigated by George W. Hinshaw of Winston-Salem who wanted to extend his Danville to Winston-Salem railroad. As the practical way to extend a railroad is to build up business in the towns it passes, Hinshaw and the Winston-Land Improvement Co. planned to develop the granite and timber resources on Stone Mountain and the surrounding forests. (This scheme followed an unsuccessful attempt in the 1880s by another party to develop the Bryans’ mine containing copper, gold and silver above the Bryan homeplace.) Hinshaw retained as his agent J. S. Holbrook who conducted subsequent purchases of thousands of acres of land in the name of the newly-formed Stone Mountain Granite and Timber Company. Unfortunately, the railroad charter was blocked by influential Wilkesboro residents who wanted the railroad to go to their town before turning northeast to Stone Mountain and the Blue Ridge. Plans for development of the mountain and forests, which included building a tannery and a large lake, were abandoned and the holdings of the Stone Mountain Granite and Timber Co. were sold to some northern capitalists and the North Carolina Granite Corporation which donated its portion to the State a few years ago for Stone Mountain State Park. 32

Traphill did not suffer an immediate decline, as indicated by the reopening of Fair View College in 1910. J. S. Kilby sold his business to L. A. Harris who continued to operate the Bargain House in the first decade of this century. Another store was established by C. D. Holbrook, a portrait artist who studied at the Corcoran School of Art, and who also worked as a local merchant, farmer, and postmaster from 1904-45. For a while Traphill had a printing press that published the newspaper Curfew-Outlook in 1911 and 1912.

But as the century progressed, the population of Traphill did not expand and the prosperity of the three businesses in the district waned in the face of rising costs. Today the principal local enterprises of grain, dairy, and poultry farming often are augmented by employment with industries in nearby towns. In spite of the mercantile decline in Traphill, the continued existence of church, commercial; educational, and residential structures in the heart of the village, and the enthusiastic interest of some of the residents in historic preservation, remind this generation of the heyday of the community in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Today, the opening of a new access road to Stone Mountain State Park from a point near the Traphill crossroads promises a revival of commercial activity in the community and raises interest and concern for the preservation of the structures of this tiny nineteenth century western North Carolina community.


1 – Surry County Records, State Archives, Raleigh, Court Minutes, 1772.

2 – William S. Powell, The North Carolina Gazetteer, (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1968), 498. Hereinafter cited as Powell, Gazetteer.

3 – Until 1892, the name of the town was two words, “Trap Hill.” All information cited as legend or tradition was gleaned from conversations with Traphill residents.

4 – Wilkes County Deed Book F-2, Page 42.

5 – Wilkes County Deed Book I, Page 131.

6 – Kermit Lyon, Biography of Jacob Lyon, Revolutionary Soldier 1785-1782 (published by the author) 1976.

7 – Wilkes County Records, State Archives, Raleigh, Court Minutes, term beginning 22 January 1787.

8 – J. Jay Anderson, Wilkes County Sketches (Wilkesboro; Wilkes Community College, 1976), p. 39. Hereinafter cited as Anderson, Sketches.

9 – General Statutes of North Carolina, Chapter 183, 1833-34, and Powell, Gazetteer, p. 498.

10 – Wilkes County Records, State Archives, Raleigh, Court Minutes, August 1834 term.

11 – “Traphill Postmasters,” typed list, U. S. Post Office Department.

12 – General Statutes of North Carolina, Chapter 179, 1858.

13 – Wilkes County Deed Book Q, page 172.

14 – Anderson, Sketches, p. 48-49.

15 – C. D. Holbrook, “History of Traphill,” Unpublished manuscript, 1929. Private collection of Beatrice Holbrook, Traphill, N. C. Hereinafter cited as Holbrook Collection. “Minister Owns Two Wilkes Landmarks.” Winston-Salem Journal, Winston-Salem, N.C.
7 December 1966, p. 34.

16 – Trap Hill Academy Bulletin, Spring 1877 Session, n.p. Holbrook Collection.

17 – North Carolina General Statutes, Chapter 171, 1881.

18 – Wilkes County Deed Books: Book C-2, page 8; Book D-1, page 403.

19- Levi Branson, Branson’s North Carolina Business Directory, Raleigh, 1869 and 1884. Hereinafter cited as Branson, Directory.

20 – Eunice Hicks Clark, “A History of the Traphill Institute, Wilkes County, North Carolina” (M.A. thesis, Appalachian State Teachers College, Boone, N. C., 1954), p. 30.

21 – North Carolina General Statutes, Chapter 255, 1891.

22 – The Chronicle, Wilkesboro, N. C., 22 July 1891.

23 – The Chronicle, 22 July 1891.

24 – The Chronicle, 25 February 1893.

25 – Twenty-First Annual Catalogue of Fair View College. Session of 1911-1912, n.p. Holbrook Collection.

26 – History of the Stone Mountain Baptist Association, 1897-1976. Associational Histori c al Comnmittee , n . p . , 1976 , p . 119 .

27 – North Carolina General Statutes, Chapter 334, 1893.

28 – Traphill Institute Catalogue, 1894-1895, n.p. Holbrook Collection.

29 – Traphill Institute Catalogue, 1895-1896, n. p.’ Holbrook Collection.

30 – Branson, Directory, 1890 and 1896.

31 – The Chronicle, Wilkesboro, N. C., 15 July 1891.

32 – “Instead ‘of a Quarry, a Park” Winston-Salem Journal (Winston-Salem, N. C.)
21 March 1976.


Once an educational center known throughout western North Carolina, the village of Traphill has retained much of its nineteenth-century character. With only a couple of exceptions, all of the structures that comprised the town during its most distinguished years at the end of the nineteenth century remain standing today, unlike the. majority of rural North Carolina communities. The small crossroads community is located on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northeastern Wilkes County. South and east of the town the hills are rolling, but to the north they soon become steep. Five miles to the northeast is the mountain resort of Roaring Gap and three miles to the north, just over the Alleghany County line, is Stone Mountain State Park, reached via the access road that begins at Traphill.

The predominantly rural, agrarian character of Wilkes County prevails in Traphill. Each of the four approaches to the to the town traverses farmland before joining at the crossroads. The east-west axis is SR 1002 which winds from just north of North Wilkesboro to U. S. 21 five miles to the east. The north-south road is SR 1749, with the south branch leading to Austin; the northern branch is called the Elk Spur Road, a narrow, winding route along the south side of Elk Spur. The crossroads forms the original heart of the community and the district addressed herein.

Since the early years of this century the town has expanded to the south and west along the state roads so that activity no longer centers on the crossroads area. Although this flanking development consists largely of houses built in the first quarter of this century with productive farmland behind, there also are a couple of new general stores and a modern elementary school, post office, service station and fire station buildings. In spite of this development, the atmosphere of the original center of the community persists due to the survival of most of the structures that existed during the last quarter of the nineteenth century and the early years of the t1ve.ntieth, the town’s most viable period. Only two intrusions appear among these early structures and the surrounding land associated with them remains undeveloped beyond simple cultivation. The crossroads occur at a sharp bend in SR 1002; traffic speed is curtailed so that this road does not seem to be the major county highway that it is. As the district did not develop according to a specified plan, the individual pieces of property are irregular shapes and sizes.

The structures of the district that contribute to its overall character may be divided into three groups–those erected before 1870, those built during the heyday of Traphill in 1870-1900, and those erected in this century. All of these buildings are constructed in simple vernacular modes. If there is any decoration, it is restrained. All of the buildings originally were covered with weatherboards and most of them have stone foundations and at least some stone in the chimneys.

C.D. Holbrook House

The two structures representative of the earliest designated period are on the north side of the crossroads. The Joseph Bryan House (D), on the northwest corner, was erected on a site set back from the southeast corner of the intersection near the location of the C. D. Holbrook House (E), probably shortly after 1847 when Joseph Bryan received a land grant from North Carolina for that tract. According to tradition, the house was moved more than 100 years ago to its present location. It has two stories and a gable roof with a one-story shed across the rear. An exterior, single-shoulder chimney stands at each gable; one is original and is of stone
construction up to and including the shoulders, with brick stacks. 1 The interior walls are sheathed in horizontal hand-planed boards.

The most distinctive feature of the house, which augments the prominence rendered by its location on a high bank, is the two-story, two-level porch across the entire main facade. Each level of the porch is supported by bungalow type Wood piers on larger plinths that are wood on the second level and brick on the first. The triangles that are formed at the ends of the porch between the shed roof and the flat ceiling of the second story, as well as the exterior of the second-story floor, are covered in narrow vertical beaded boards. The use of beaded boards as a restrained form of decoration is found repeatedly in the Traphill area. In the yard to the north of the house there is a well operated by long poles.

Across the Elk Spur Road is the Old Storehouse (8), dating from some time between 1850 and 1870. This building also is a plain, weatherboarded, two-story, gable roofed structure with a one-story, shed-roofed wrap-around porch on the west and south sides. Similar to the Joseph Bryan House, the porch wall is sheathed with flush horizontal boards that are wider than the weatherboarding. The structure also is one room deep, but it is longer than the Bryan house, with three rooms across the first floor. The enclosed staircase in the southwest corner has both interior and exterior access.

The Bryan House and the Old Storehouse are situated on the same large tract of approximately 100 acres. Also, on this tract in a large expanse extending north and east of the Old Storehouse there is the small Tenant House and Barn (A), nestled in a hollow and surrounded by cow pastures.2 This is a simple one-story L-shaped, board and batten-covered house with stone gable-end chimney; it and the single-pen barn with sheds on the long sides are abandoned and deteriorated. In this post card setting, however, they contribute to the character of the tract, undivided since before 1875, which represents the residential, agricultural (owner
and tenant) and commercial aspects of Traphill life.

Another aspect of Traphill life, religion, produced no buildings until 1871 when some local Methodists and Baptists organized and constructed the Traphill Seminary which later became Traphill Academy and, still later, Fairview College. Although dismantled in 1921 to provide timbers for the Methodist Church (C), the earliest building deserves this attention as it heralded an increase in building activity over the next thirty years that is represented in several structures in the district.

The White-Hinson House (L) was built in 1882 or shortly thereafter. The core of this house is in the traditional configuration, without the rear shed, first exhibited in the Joseph Bryan House. 3 A one-story, gable-roofed rear T has been added. The White-Hinson House has two exterior single-shouldered chimneys, one of stone in the south gable end and one on the rear near the north end that has been covered in concrete and probably also is of stone. Typical of the area, the finish of this well-maintained house is restrained; details include the only surviving vergeboard in the district (around the entire roofline of the original portion of the house), a lunette window at the attic level of the north gable end, and a one-story gable roofed porch over the entrance bay.

Across the road, another major Traphill store, the Traphill Bargain House (G), was erected about the same time as the White-Hinson House. Now deteriorated and over grown with foliage, this two-story structure has its entrance in the gable end oriented to the street, and is distinguished by its two-story recessed porch that carries across the entire facade, supported by narrow trellisses. This facade under the porch is sheathed in the same sort of flush horizontal boards found on the other walls of Traphill porches that extend across the entire facade. The floor plan is irregular, with two rooms, front to back·, on the first floor, an enclosed staircase in a rear corner, and several rooms upstairs. An early photograph indicates that there once was a one-story, gable-roofed, hewn log wing on the north side of the store; it is possible that the two-story frame portion of the store was added to the log structure. There also was a walkway that extended from the second floor of the porch across the street at an angle to the house on the bank of the southwest corner that burned several years ago.

In 1887, Traphill Baptists built a traditional gable-roofed church with the gable end oriented to the street, on the land next to the White-Hinson House. The Traphill Baptist Church (I), consisting of one room three bays long with a three-sided projecting bay behind the altar in the rear gable end, originally had a short, octagonal bell tower at the crest of the roof near the entrance. In 1957, the church was moved across the road so that the original, adjoining cemetery could be expanded. At that time, a shorter and narrower, gable-roofed narthex was added, and the tower was replaced by an octagonal steeple set on a square base. A marble
plaque imbedded in the weatherboarding above the entrance indicates the date of construction: “Trap Hill: Baptist Church:
1887 .”

Shortly after the Baptist Church was constructed, the Baptist-affiliated Traphill Institute (J) was erected in 1891. Although much altered, the building remains on its original site and retains its austere, school building character. In recent years, this structure, which now serves as the Masonic Lodge and the Traphill Branch Library, has had a one-story, pedimented porch supported by fluted columns added to its main facade. Similar to the Baptist Church now situated next door, the main facade of this building also is in the gable end oriented to the street. Early photographs show a two-story, gable-roofed ell on the north side of the building added in 1894 and saw-tooth vergeboard over the doors and windows.

Two structures built in the early years of this century (the last building period of the district) are the C. D. Holbrook House (E) and the C. D. Holbrook Store (F) on the southeast corner of the crossroads. The house was erected shortly after C. D. Holbrook acquired the property from his father in 1905, and the store shortly thereafter. The store is a traditional one-story, gable-roofed commercial building with a recessed porch in the gable-end supported by wooden pylons on brick plinths. The house is the most elaborate of the district. Constructed in a form popular throughout North Carolina in the early part of this century, the one-and-one-half story house is characterized by a steep hip roof with large gable-roofed dormers on the north and west sides and short one-story gable-roofed wings on the south and east sides.

The detail of this house indicates that it was constructed for one of the wealthier residents of Traphill. Cornices with returns enframe the gables in which are set diamond-shaped windows consisting of a central diamond-shaped pane of clear glass surrounded by small squares of colored glass. A simple friezeboard wraps around the entire house and on the gables just under the eaves. The front and rear porches are supported by turned posts with spandrels. The style of this house is found in many North Carolina cities, but its rural location is attested to by the well on the rear porch; the C. D. Holbrook House, however, was the first Traphill structure to have running water. The interior has a central hall plan, an ornately carved walnut staircase, and notable mantels of walnut, each in an individual design, in three of the first-floor rooms.

The latest building in the district is the Traphill Methodist Church (C), already mentioned in connection with the Traphill Seminary. Erected on the site of the Seminary in 1921, the Methodist Church stands as a reminder of the faith of the Traphill residents even though it has not been used since the church consolidated with Charity Methodist Church in the 1960s. The gable-roofed building is 1-shaped, with a short projecting square narthex in the inner corner of the ell~ above the narthex there is a short, square, hip-roofed tower. The tall window~ have triple hung sashes. A three-sided bay marks the altar. Narrow vertical beaded boards appear on the exterior in the eaves beneath the box cornices and on the interior at the top of the walls above the sheathing of flush, horizontal boards.

There are only two intrusions within the district. The trailer around which a frame house (K) was constructed in the 1960s is on the same piece of property as the White Hinson House and is screened from the road by tall trees and shrubbery. A small frame building (H) erected in the 1930s and once used as the town post office is located between the Traphill Bargain House and the Traphill Baptist Church and recently was renovated as rental housing.


1 – The south gable-end chimney has been rebuilt entirely in glazed brick.

2 – A specific date of construction has not been determined for these farm buildings. After conversing with residents of Traphill, it has been deduced that it was built no later than c. 1920. As the owners of the tract, as far back as 1875, have consistently been merchants operating the Old Storehouse, it is probably that the farm always was tended by tenants and that the Tenant House and Barn were erected in the nineteenth century.

3 – According to an old photograph of the J. S. Kilby House erected in 1887 on the corner lot next to the White-Hinson House, the two houses were almost identical. Several Traphill residents believe that the White-Hinson House originally had a
two story porch with trellis supports over the central bay and under a projecting central gable as on the Kilby House.

Bibliographic References

Anderson, J. Jay. Wilkes County Sketches. Wilkesboro: Wilkes Community College, 1976

Beveridge and Company’s North Carolina State Directory. Raleigh: News and Observer, 1883.

Branson, Levi. Branson’s North Carolina Business Directory. Raleigh, Years 1867, 1869, 1872, 1884, 1890, 1896, 1897.

Clark, Eunice Hicks. “A History of Traphill Institute, ~vilkes County, North Carolina.” M. A. thesis, Appalachian State Teachers College, 1954.

Hayes, Johnson J. The Land of Wilkes. Wilkesboro, N. C.: Wilkes County Historical Society, 1962.

Hubbard, Dr. Fred C. Wilkes County Doctors. Published by the author, 1978.

Lyon, Kermit. Biography of Jacob Lyon, Revolutionary Soldier 1780-1782. Published by the author, 1976.

Sharpe, Bill. A New Geography of North Carolina. Volume III. Raleigh: Sharpe Publishing Company, 1958.

Surry County Records
– Court Minutes

Wilkes County Records
– Court Minutes
– Deeds

General Statutes of North Carolina, 1833-34, 1858, 1881, 1891, 1893.


The Journal-Patriot (Wilkesboro, N. C.) 18 October 1974, 25 September 1975, 12 February 1976, 25 May 1978.

The Wilkes Patriot (Wilkesboro, N. C.) 25 January 1909.

The Winston-Salem Journal (Winston-Salem, N. C.), 7 December 1966, 21 March 1976.

The following items are in the private collection of Miss Beatric Holbrook, Traphill, N. C:

Trap Hill Academy Bulletin, Spring, 1872. n.p.
Traphill Institute Catalogue, 1894-95, n.p.
Traphill Institute Catalogue, 1895-96, n.p.
Twenty-first Annual Catalogue of Fairview College. Session 1911-1912, n.p.

Ermna Billings
Haude Billings
Tom Bryon
Beatrice Holbrook
Ruth Holbrook
Grant Lyon
Mrs. Lonnie Smith