Not Even a Ghost Town: Waynesborough, NC

By the beginning of the Civil War, the original county seat of Wayne had disappeared

Churchill-Cogdell cemetery, Waynesborough
Churchill-Cogdell cemetery

In 1758 the General Assembly ordered the division of Johnston County and formation of a new county, Dobbs, named in honor of Arthur Dobbs, the royal governor. Almost three decades later Dobbs was broken up and a new county, Wayne, was created. The new county, named for famed Revolutionary War hero “Mad” Anthony Wayne, had a large problem- there were no towns and thus no place for a county seat.

Wayne County today is home to over 110,000 people but the late 1700’s was a very different affair, with only a few thousand residents. A prominent local landowner, Andrew Bass, offered a plot on the Neuse River as the site for a new town.

In December 1785 the North Carolina General Assembly authorized the establishment of Wayne’s Borough “on the lands of Andrew Bass, on the north side of the Neuse River, in Wayne County, where the Court house and other public buildings now stand…” The town trustees were William McKinny (actually spelled McKinne), William McKinny Jr, Burwell Moring, Matthew Turner, John Howell, William Fellow, Richard Bass, William Whitfield Jr, and David Cogdell.

Transcript of entire General Assembly act establishing Waynesborough

The new town grew slowly but never had more than five hundred residents. The lifeblood of the town was the river. Warehouses along the banks were filled with a variety of goods and materials, primarily pine sap, a key ingredient in the manufacture of naval stores. Waynesborough also benefited from its location on the Neuse. Past the town headed west, only small boats could safely navigate the river year round making the town an important transportation hub for areas west of town. The town was also an important stop for stagecoaches running from Raleigh, New Bern, Wilmington, and Fayetteville.

1833 Wayne County map     1870s Wayne County map

Wayne County in 1833 (left) and the 1870s (right). By the 1870s, Waynesborough
had disappeared from maps.    Courtesy Library of Congress

 

As areas of the Deep South opened up in the early 1800’s some locals moved on in search of new and better opportunities. The ultimate downfall though, began with the construction of a railroad line. Completed in 1839, the Wilmington & Weldon was the longest stretch of track in the world, just over 161 miles.

Wilmington & Weldon schedule, 1859
W&W train schedule, 1859 NC Archives

The engineer in charge of its construction, Matthew T. Goldsborough, chose a halfway point just a mile north of Waynesborough for his headquarters. The line bypassed the town and residents almost immediately realized their town was lost. Townspeople began deconstructing their homes and rebuilt them around Goldsborough’s office a mile away, located today at the corner of Center and Walnut Streets where the Hotel Goldsboro now stands.

Over the next two decades, two more railroad lines, running from Charlotte to Morehead City, intersected the north-south Wilmington & Weldon in Goldsboro, signifying the end of Waynesborough. The end officially came in 1848 when the citizens of Wayne County voted to switch the county seat from Waynesborough to Goldsboro.

How big was Waynesborough?

Fortunately a plat map of the town survives today. Originally drawn in 1822 by Britton Hood, the first Wayne County surveyor, the surviving map is a copy made in 1875.

The land is divided into 100 lots, both residential and commercial, along with the courthouse and jail. There were six streets, Water, Middle, Main, and three unnamed.

The entire town measured 126 x 102 poles, an old measurement rarely used today. One pole equals 16.5 feet, meaning the town in 1822 measured just over 2,000 x 1,600 feet, equal to about 80 acres. If you overlayed this map on downtown Goldsboro it would cover an area bounded by George and William Streets and Oak almost to Chestnut.

Waynesborough, 1822 map

1822 Waynesborugh map overlay on modern satellite image          Waynesborough 1822 overlay on downtown Goldsboro

1822 Waynesborough map overlayed on modern satellite images of Old Waynesborough Park (left) and
downtown Goldsboro (right).

Waynesborough today

Near the end of the Civil War there were only three buildings left in the former town, warehouses by the river. A fire destroyed them just after the war. Local legend says that General Sherman ordered their destruction as his men approached Goldsboro in the spring of 1865. While a great story, it is not true. What started the fire is not known but there is no evidence that Sherman, or any other Union officer, ordered the fire.

For decades the land sat unused other than for farming. At one time a brick manufacturing plant operated on the premises and for a few decades Goldsboro used a portion of the property as a dump for white goods- appliances.

Today the land, over 150 acres, is Old Waynesborough Park, with several miles of walking trails, a visitors’ center, and a dozen old buildings brought from around the county.

The only remnants of the town are the Churchill-Cogdell cemetery and possibly a channel cut in the river that would have been used by ships to turn around to head back east towards Kinston and New Bern.

Waynesborough- Neuse River bend

 

 

 

 

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