Partially hidden from plain sight, at the back of a field in Harnett County, nestled in the pines, sits one of the best-kept secrets in North Carolina, the Shaw Halfway House! The house is the last remaining stage stop on the Fayetteville to Raleigh Old Stage Road and is believed to be the second oldest house remaining in Harnett County.
Built around 1798 by Daniel “Poplar Foot” Shaw, this house has survived the extension of the Revolutionary War (War of 1812), the Civil War, hurricanes and the ravages of time for a reason. Who was Daniel “Poplar Foot” Shaw? He was born about 1745 in Isle of Skye, Scotland, an early settler in the area that became Harnett County. A Revolutionary Patriot, Daniel was shot in the foot during the war and his foot was amputated. He asked his son Dushee to cut down a poplar tree and bring it to him. From that tree, Daniel carved a new foot and gained a new name.
Located on the Fayetteville to Raleigh Old Stage Road (near the present town of Coats) built as an inn, tavern, and residence for the Shaw family, the house became a popular stage stop on the route for weary travelers. It became known as the “Shaw Halfway House” because it was located halfway between Fayetteville and Raleigh. Stage stops were made about every 11 miles due to the fact they had to change or rest their mules or horses and probably have the horseshoes checked or replaced. Stage travel was very difficult for the passengers. They had to get up in the wee hours before dawn and ride late hours. Often the stage would break down or get stuck in the mud and the passengers had to get out and push to help free up the stage. Some even walked instead when problems arose during a trip! One of the stagecoach lines that traveled this route beginning around 1829 was the O & D Saltmarsh Stage.
No one lives now who personally knew the famous or infamous who crossed the threshold. We do not know that the Marquis de Lafayette of France passed this way and probably stopped while visiting America in 1824-25. About 1836 Santa Anna was escorted by Sam Houston to Washington DC under guard along this very route! Frederick Law Olmstead traveled the old stage road and wrote about his experiences in his book, The Cotton Kingdom. More than likely, the stage stopped as they did every 11 miles along the way. School teachers stayed here and taught the local children. The house was also used as a hospital for wounded soldiers from the Battle of Averasboro in 1865. Names of soldiers can be still seen where they were scratched or written on the wide cedar boards of the upstairs walls.
Plans are to have summer camps or events where children can learn, participate and enjoy how their ancestors lived and worked with gardening, soapmaking, candlemaking, weaving, cooking, copper, and blacksmith, etc. We are working on the Harnett History Center, a museum to be located inside the old Turlington home (built about 1906) on the site. Our plans are to tell the complete history of this property and the area.
Bryan Avery, a local historian and author from Angier, NC introduced us to his dream to “Save the Shaw Halfway House” about seven years ago and we have worked with him and others to fulfill his dream. Senator Ronald Rabin, former commissioner, Jim Burgin and the present Harnett County commissioners and many others all helped! The Shaw Halfway House and land were purchased by Averasboro Town Restoration Association, Inc, a 50(C)(3) non-profit in December 2016. With the help of volunteers and donations, the long process of restoration has begun.
If you are interested in being a part of this project, either through monetary donations or volunteering, get in touch with the following address: Averasboro Town Restoration Assn.,Inc—73 Turlington Road—Dunn, NC 28334. Checks are appreciated to continue the plans for this worthy cause.