EDENTON — After months of planning, the North Carolina General Assembly recently appropriated $6.1 million for the purchase of Hayes Farm.
The farm, which lies just over a wooden bridge that straddles Queen Anne’s Creek, is a historic 194 acre tract that is currently owned by the Wood family.
Originally, the property was owned by Samuel Johnston, an American Revolutionary statesman and planter who became North Carolina’s first senator and sixth governor.
The tract will be sold in 2022 to the state of North Carolina to be added to the Edenton State Historic Site, which also includes the Iredell House, 1767 Chowan County Courthouse and the 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse.
The Elizabeth Vann Moore Foundation, an Edenton-based nonprofit charity, will be responsible for the day-to-day upkeep and maintenance after entering into a partnership with the state.
The foundation was created to honor the expansive preservation legacy of Edenton resident Elizabeth Vann Moore, who resided on West King Street in Edenton until her passing in 2010.
“I know that this announcement would have thrilled Elizabeth Moore, who would have challenged us all to get every facet of this project done correctly and in an historically accurate way and based upon facts found in primary source materials,” said Sam Dixon, Chairman of the EVM Foundation.
The rest of the EVM board includes treasurer Miles Badham Coxe, secretary Ginny Gardner Waff, John Morehead, Anne Shepard Parrish, Chris Bean, Thomas B. Paxton Wood, Benbury Wood, Benjamin Speller, Jennifer Harris and Bill Chesson.
Current plans foresee Hayes becoming much more than a house museum.
Dixon said that — upon completion of the sale — Hayes will provide cultural, walking, running, hiking, kayaking and swimming activities for all of Edenton. The site will also host events that will help sustain the property while still protecting the structures and artifacts.
Important ecological landscapes on Edenton Bay and along Queen Anne’s Creek will be preserved in perpetuity, Dixon said.
“The structures located on Hayes range from the large James C. Johnston house to the rare and important enslaved workers’ cottages,” Dixon said. “The Elizabeth Vann Moore Foundation will make sure that these buildings help tell the full and inclusive story of life in Edenton since the mid-18th century.”
The EVM Foundation said in an official statement that it is “especially excited” to work with the Southern Historical Collection and other scholars to interpret accurately and help publish the rich African-American history at Hayes.
“The African American burial ground needs to be located and marked and the stories of the enslaved workers need to be studied and published,” the statement read. “Many of the letters written are included in the Hayes collection in the Southern Historical Collection, in Chapel Hill.”
Sam Dixon says he is honored to have worked on this project with the other members of the EVM Foundation, as well as State Sen. Bob Steinburg and N.C. Rep. Ed Goodwin.
“We are all thankful that Sen. Steinburg and Rep. Goodwin were able to get this important project funded,” Dixon said. “I would also like to thank the North Caroliniana Society and the Conservation Fund for financing specific parts of this project.”
The history of the site is bountiful. The farm’s main house was completed in 1817, one year after Samuel Johnston’s death and is now known for its superlative Palladian design.
The property is one of only 38 National Historic Landmarks in North Carolina. Both the Cupola House and 1767 Chowan County Courthouse are also on the list.
Johnston himself resided on the property in the Gate House, constructed before 1765. The Gate House is included among the 194-acre purchase, as are five enslaved workers’ cottages, the dairy, stables, carriage house, several farming buildings and a cemetery.
The cemetery on the property holds the graves of many of the United States’ foremost revolutionary leaders, beginning with Johnston himself and including James Iredell Sr., James Iredell Jr., Penelope Barker and James Cathcart Johnston — the latter of whom was responsible for completing the 1817 Hayes house.
The current inhabitants, John and Susan Wood, have been caretakers of the property for decades. Hayes was originally handed over to the Wood family by James C. Johnston after his death.
Six generations of the Wood family have resided at Hayes in the 15 decades following the handover. Since then, the farm has become a fountain of historical significance and contains a plethora of past relics in its dusty tomes, antique furniture and hallowed portraits that define statesmen of old.
“We’ve been working on this particular development for about four years,” says Susan Wood. “In the past, we rejected numerous offers from private developers and even a golf course. But this time we felt it was right.”
“Hayes being handled by the EVM is really great and was what helped sell us on the idea,” John Wood said, who has lived at Hayes for about 60 years. “We’ve always enjoyed sharing the property with the community, which is what will happen more in the future.”
When asked how they felt about being the final family members to reside in the home, the couple was reminiscent.
“It’s very much a family home and it will be bittersweet,” Susan Wood said. “But we’re excited for the future.”
Edward Wood, brother of John Wood, spoke about the purchase via telephone. Edward resides in Wilmington part-time.
“We’ve been the stewards of Hayes for over 150 years,” Edward Wood said. “The time is right, however. John, [sister] Heide and myself own the property and we all agreed that this was the right thing to do.”
The Wood family praised the efforts of both Sam Dixon and Steinburg for their efforts in making the Hayes purchase a reality.
“Sam Dixon had endless effort and energy put into this project. He was the catalyst to make it work,” Susan Wood said.
“Steinburg was there the whole way,” Edward Wood said. “As for Sam Dixon, people would always say ‘no this can’t be done,’ and Sam is the guy that gets it done.”
In a press release, Edenton Town Manager Corey Gooden noted the significance of the purchase.
“Generations of the Wood family have welcomed thousands of visitors and shared the history of Samuel Johnston and Hayes,” Gooden said. “This acquisition assures that the history and natural beauty of the property will continue to be shared for generations to come.”
While the sale is not yet finalized, the Wood family is hopeful and jubilant about what the property can become.
“This is really the best path forward,” Susan Wood said. “The possibilities with Hayes are endless and we can move into the next chapter for our family while handing this over to the community.”
“I know my father would be very pleased with this,” Edward Wood said. “He thought it was a treasure that should be in the hands of the state or a foundation.”
The farm has seen centuries of history and numerous occupants through the decades. From the Johnston family to the Wood family, Hayes will soon belong to the Edenton family.