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Prior to 1600[edit]

Early native American settlers in and around the Falls area and along the Neuse River were the Tuscaroras, Coree, Secotan and Neusiok Indians.[1] The English naming of the Neuse River is accredited to Capts. Arthur Barlowe and Philip Amadas, explorers of North Carolina under the direction of Sir Walter Raleigh in 1584, where they mention a goodly river named Neuse in the Neusiok occupied region.[2] [3] The area specifically around the great Falls of Neuse was known to be the hunting ground of the native Tuscarora Indians.[4] This hunting would have included buffalo (or wild oxen as they were sometimes called) which were native to the region until the 1700's.


In 1629, King Charles I of England granted Sir Robert Heath, his Attorney General, the Province of Carolina, spanning from the southern Virginia border to the coast of present day Georgia. Sir Robert’s attempts at settlement failed and on March 24, 1663, King Charles II of England granted instead to a group of eight of his supporters, called the Lord Proprietors, the Province of Carolina for settlement. One of these Lord Proprietors was Sir George Carteret. We will see later that his great-grandson became the first owner of the land containing The Falls.


In 1701, English explorer, naturalist and writer John Lawson explored and mapped part of North Carolina for the Lord Proprietors. He became the first known Englishman to visit the Falls of Neuse, as he wrote "We went about 10 Miles, and sat down at the Falls of a large Creek, where lay mighty Rocks, the Water making a strange Noise, as if a great many Water-Mills were going at once. I take this to be the Falls of Neus-Creek, called by the Indians, Wee quo Whom".[5]

Some 28 years later in 1729, ten years after North and South Carolina were converted to royal colonies and after replacing the Lord Proprietors with Royal Governors, the Crown bought out seven of the eight of the Lords Proprietors for £22,500. The heir of Sir George Carteret, his great-grandson John Careret, 2nd Earl Granville, was the sole heir to retain his 1/8 ownership which amounted to a 60-mile wide strip of land in North Carolina adjoining the Virginia boundary, which became known as the Granville District.

Allen, Runnel 1753, Oct. 25 Acres 119, No. 119 70-L

    On south side of Neuse River, beginning at a hickory 

Higdon, Daniel 1755, May 13 Acres 400, No. 153 72-A

    On south side of Neuse river, beginning at a red oak

On June 25, 1762, Earl Granville granted to Joseph Montfort lands on both sides of the Neuse River including the great falls.[6] Montfort was one of the wealthiest North Carolinians of the period, owning more than 30,000 acres scattered across the province. In 1771, Montfort was named the first and only Freemason 'Provincial Grand Master of and for America'.

Abbett, William 1762, May 21 Acres 578, No. 55 70-M

    On south side of Neuse River joining his own and 
    Daniel Higdon's lines 

• Land Purchase: 325 acres from Dan Higdon to Charles Sims, Jan 8, 1763, Johnston (now Wake) Co., North Carolina. 1 19 In Apr 1763, "Charles Sims applies for license to keep tavern at his own house. Sec. Dons. Wright and William Sims, Senr." as per The Johnston County Court Minutes, April Term, 1763, page 145. • Court: Quit claim of Charles Sims to Joseph Munford, Aug 8, 1765, Johnston (now Wake) Co., North Carolina. 1 20

22 Charles Sims to Joel Lane. This indenture made this first day of May in the year of Our Lord 1767 between Charles Simms and Easther his wife of the County of Johnston and the Province of North Carolina of the one part and Joel Lane of the County of Halifax and Province aforesaid, etc. … one certain tract or parcel of land and plantation situated in Johnston County aforesaid and lying at the Falls of Neuse River containing 325 acres more or less of land granted to Daniel Higdon bearing date 17 September 1744, and bounded as followeth: viz, beginning at a hickory on the north side of the Neuse River, John Higdon's corner, thence north 160 poles to a pine, thence west 260 poles to a red oak, thence south 182 poles to the river at a corner and continuing across the river to a hickory, thence east to the beginning, etc. …

On July 7, 1767, Joseph Montfort sold to William Brewer 150 acres on the Neuse River adjoining Daniel Higdon and Allen (granted to Montfort on June 25, 1762), and the adjoining land bought from Charles Simms “together with one Water Grist Mill,“ for 240 Proclamation Money witnessed by Benjamin Hardy and Joel Lane. This grist mill is the first mention of a mill being at The Falls. Just a few months later, on Oct. 21, 1767, John Mays o sold William Brewer 200 acres near the Falls of Neuse River for 20 Proclamation Money adjoining Joel Lain, witnessed by Benjamin Hardy, Jephthah Terrell and James Mays. [7]

Wake County was formed in 1771 from parts of Cumberland County, Johnston County, and Orange County. The Falls had previously been part of Johnston County before Wake County was formed.

At some point, Samuel High came to own the land on both sides of the Neuse River including the great falls. This is evidenced by a deed from Samuel High to Swann Thomson on May 16, 1788 for half of a 150 acre tract lying on both sides of Neuse River and including the Great Falls. The deed states they were to jointly build a grist mill and other useful buildings on the site. According to family tradition, Swann Thompson built the first grist mill in Wake County with material brought from England.[8] The parcel adjoined land of Daniel Higdon on the north side of the river and Allen (either Reynold Allen Sr. or Jr.) on the south. Based on deeds, other land owners in the area on both sides of the Neuse included: Reynold Allen, Sr (south); Reynold Allen, Jr. (south); Richard Hudson (north); John Pullin (north); Daniel Higdon (north); Robert Wilson (south); and Esrom Cogwell (south). So, the second mill at The Falls was likely this grist mill built on/around 1788 as a partnership between Samuel High and Swann Thompson. We are not sure if this newer mill replaced the previous grist mill or was a second one. This was just prior to North Carolina becoming the 12th state in Nov. 1789.

Evidently, a dam was constructed across the Falls to help power this new mill since in 1790, the NC General Assembly passed a law for Samuel High to create an 8’ wide gap or slope in his dam at The Falls of Neuse River in Wake County for the passage of fish to be completed by Feb. 20, 1791.[9]

The Falls was in the final running as a possible site of the new North Carolina State Capitol. Friday, March 23, 1792, the commissioners appointed to find a suitable location of the new state capital in the Wake county area, visited "the lands on both sides the River Neuse at the great Falls and the Lands of Thomas Crawford on the north side of Neuse three miles below the great Falls." They ended up purchasing 1000 acres from Joel Lane at the present location of the state capital in Raleigh.[10]


Confirming the existence of Samuel High's Mill, Jonathan Thompson placed an ad in The Raleigh Minerva (Raleigh, North Carolina) on Nov. 23, 1802 (Page 3) advertising for sale 250 acres "on Neuse River within one mile of Mr. Samuel High's Mill, and thirteen miles from the city of Raleigh."

A "Lancaster" School was opened at the Falls of Neuse by Governor David Stone in 1814. James Boyle, trained at Georgetown, D.C., was in charge of the school for 2 years.[11]

In May 1833, an ad appears in The North Carolina Star (Raleigh, North Carolina), Page 4, offering for sale the estate of the late Samuel High for the payment of back taxes (from 1927-1831) 550 acres on Neuse River.

Historic Neuse River Bride at Falls, North Carolina

On Nov. 24th, 1846, the owner of certain property, Jas. D. Newsom, at the Falls (described as being 13 miles north of Raleigh on the Raleigh-Oxford Road) placed 113 acres for sale containing a grist mill, a saw mill, a tan yard, and store houses. In an article entitled “Great Falls of Neuse River: Important to Capitalists” and published in The Raleigh Register (Raleigh, North Carolina)[12] on Friday, December 25, 1846, Mr. Newsom notes “The water power at this place is immense, embracing from head to foot a fall of upwards of thirty feet, and sufficient to run any amount of machinery that might be desired”. Mr. Newson also mentions “I have owned this property ever since 1835, since which time these mills never have been stopped by either high or low water.” In the same article he lists three other tracts of land for sale: one adjacent to the above land and containing 250 acres and a dwelling house, and two other nearby tracts of land containing almost 1000 acres in total. He indicates that the area around this property is a major cotton growing region. Mr. Newson also mentions the land is within 4 miles of two railroad depots, one at Forestville and one at Huntsville.

This land and the mill were likely previously owned by Burwell Perry. A notice was published by Wesley Jones, Trustee, in The Weekly Standard (Raleigh, North Carolina) on January 29, 1840[13], advertising the sale of "that valuable plantation belonging to the said Perry, lying in the county of Wake on the Neuse River, containing, about two thousand acres, on which is an excellent Saw and Grist Mill."

Paper and Cotton Mill Community[edit]

The community was founded in the 1850s, with the construction of a paper mill on the Neuse River at the site.[14] It was named for the now-submerged Falls of the Neuse, which were the reason for building the mill. The community grew around the intersection of Falls of Neuse Rd (SR 2000), Fonville Rd (SR 2001), and Possum Track Rd. (SR 2002). At its peak, the community contained three churches, a volunteer fire department, a one-room school house, a ball field, and an ice house.[15]

Erwin Mills 1956 Pay Stub, Falls, North Carolina

The community began its decline after the mill shut down in 1959. In 1981, Falls Dam was completed, flooding Possum Track Rd and dividing the community in half.[16]

The Falls of the Neuse Manufacturing Company was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.[17] It has since been converted into an apartment complex.[18]

  1. ^ "The Neuse, River of Peace". Retrieved 2019-04-21.
  2. ^ "Neuse River". Retrieved 2019-04-21.
  3. ^ Neuse_River
  4. ^ Tuscarora_War
  5. ^ "A New Voyage to Carolina". Retrieved 2019-04-21.
  6. ^ Abstracts of Wake County, NC Deeds 1785-1802, Deed Book H, p. 408
  7. ^,135466
  8. ^ "LaRue, Green, and Taylor Counties, Kentucky Genealogy". Retrieved 2019-04-21.
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ North Carolina Schools and Academies 1790-1840: A Documentary History by Charles L. Coon, Page xl.
  12. ^ The Raleigh Register (Raleigh, North Carolina), page 2, December 25, 1846.
  13. ^ The Weekly Standard (Raleigh, North Carolina), page 4, January 29, 1840;
  14. ^ Catherine W. Bishir and Brent D. Glass (n.d.). "Falls of the Neuse Manufacturing Company". National Register of Historic Places - Nomination and Inventory. North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office. Retrieved 2015-06-01.
  15. ^ Barham, Paul T. "Falls Community Website - Wake County, North Carolina". Retrieved 2018-04-23.
  16. ^ Steddum, Janet (2007). Battle for Falls Lake. Falls Lake, NC.
  17. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09.
  18. ^ "River Mill - About". Retrieved 2018-04-23.