History of Ellerbe, North Carolina
Native American History
One of the best archaeological records of the movement of a people in the southeast is that of the Pee Dee culture. It moved into the upper Pee Dee River valley with household and baggage…forcing the Uwharrie descendants into the hills of the Piedmont. They established large villages and cultivated large fields. They were mature agriculturalists. Yet, they never crossed the narrows of the Yadkin and after less than five generations of warfare, they left the region to return to the coast. They contributed nothing in the indigenous cultures except strife and received the same in return. Their period of success is stratigraphically sealed between the deposits of the dispossessed Uwharrie people and those of the historic Siouan tribes who finally forced their withdrawal. (Dr. Joffre Coe, 1953)
Beginnings of the Town of Ellerbe
In 1781 a road built from General Nathaniel Greene’s encampment at Hicks Creek, South Carolina to Guilford Courthouse (near Greensboro) was completed. It intersected with a previously built road running from the Yadkin River at Swallow Ford to Crosscreek (now Fayetteville).
People began to meet at this intersection to trade and socialize. The crossroads was first called Hurricane. Matthew Dockery opened a store at the crossroads in 1793. Soon after, Richard Adams bought 75 acres of land near the store and started the “Old Scotch Fair.” Hundreds of people from Richmond and surrounding counties gathered semi-annually for festivities. The name Hurricane gave way to Fairgrounds. In 1850 Colonel W. T. Ellerbe acquired 1,077 acres of land which included the mineral springs and the area previously used for the fair. It is from Colonel Ellerbe that the town took its name when it was incorporated in 1911.
Mr. T. C. Leak purchased the land containing the mineral springs from Colonel Ellerbe. Later his son, Tom C. Leak, built a 30-room hotel, dance pavilion, and several cottages. The site was called The Ellerbe Springs Hotel. It became well known as a popular gathering place for people who came to rest, escape the malaria and yellow fever of the lowlands, and cure their ailments by drinking the mineral water from the springs. In the late 1800's an academy, a post office, and a Presbyterian Church were located near the Ellerbe Springs Hotel. Having had a variety of owners and uses through the years, the property was developed again in 1967 as a recreation facility with camping area. The hotel was completely renovated and a restaurant was added. The Ellerbe
Springs Inn and Restaurant offers well-appointed rooms, a bridal suite, and private meeting space for groups. It was featured in Our State Magazine in 2007.
Although a one-room school (the Bostick School) had existed in Ellerbe prior to 1917, the citizens of Ellerbe petitioned the School Board to establish a high school for their children that year. In 1919 a six-room brick school was erected on the present Ellerbe Junior High School site. Ellerbe School opened for the 1920-l921 school year with thirteen students. Mr. Morris Randolph Mitchell was the first principal. He also worked with the black citizens in the community to establish the first consolidated black school in the area. By 1923, Ellerbe School had 500 students. Mr. Mitchell determined to give the students as much experience as possible and began to implement “learn by doing” projects. He was followed by Mr. Richard F. Little who continued to implement and publicize the “learn by doing” activities at the school. In the 1930's articles appeared in educational journals; when Clare Louise Burke allowed her book of poetry,
Bowl of Petunias, to be printed by Ellerbe School Press, the reviews brought a great deal of attention to Ellerbe School. The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, The State Magazine, and Reader’s Digest were among the publications featuring Ellerbe School’s projects and philosophy.
It is reported that in 1939 more than 4800 visitors came. In 1967-68 the Hamlet City Schools, the Rockingham City Schools, and the Richmond County Schools (including Ellerbe) were consolidated. The former Ellerbe High School building now houses the Ellerbe Junior High School and the former Mineral Springs Colored School houses the Ellerbe Primary School.
In 2007 the Rankin Museum of American Heritage celebrated its 20th anniversary. Founded by a gift of a core collection by Dr. and Mrs. P. R. Rankin, the museum now displays fossils, Native
American artifacts from North and South America, artifacts related to local, state, and southern history, antique pottery and tools, Civil War memorabilia, and animal mounts from North America, Central America, and Africa. Of special interest is a turpentine distillery from 1880 that was operated in Richmond County. One of the largest known collections of Native American artifacts from the Southeast is also on display. The museum is open six days weekly.
Groups may call for reservations.
Opened in 1978, the Kemp Memorial Library was started with a gift to the town by J. T. and Arina Sugg in memory of their daughter, Mary Kemp Hopke, and is a part of the Sandhills Regional Library System. It offers computer access, has a large genealogy section, and provides best sellers as well as use of interlibrary loan. It has a large collection of children’s books and references. The library also provides a meeting room for community use and has an active “Friends of the Library” group.