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.

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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





What’s in a Photo: Downtown Goldsboro, NC

You can discover so much from an old photo using online resources like city directories.

Downtown Goldsboro, NC about 1920.

This photo of Center St., downtown Goldsboro, was taken around, but not before, 1920. The cars are a good indicator of the time frame but they’re not always the best, or only, clues in dating a photograph.

Downtown Goldsboro movie posters, 1920If you zoom in on the large building on the right, the Messenger Opera House, several movie posters appear. The Apostle of Vengeance, a silent Western starring William S. Hart, was released in June 1916. But to the right is a poster for another Western, Ruth of the Rockies starring Ruth Holland, which did not premier until August 1920.

The Messenger Opera House contained a large theater but also housed several businesses on the first floor including a bakery that can be seen in the photo. Also present is Grady & Company, an automotive accessories business. The 1923 Goldsboro city directory lists its address as 150 S. Center St. and Walter Grady as the manager.

The Messenger sustained heavy damage from Hurricane Hazel in 1954 and the top floors were removed shortly after. The first floor still remains today at the corner of Center and Chestnut Streets.

Next to the Messenger is the Magill Brothers Garage. The 1923 Goldsboro city directory lists two auto mechanics with the last name Magill, Charles Jr. and Otis.

Further down the street, at the corner of Center and Walnut, is the Hotel Kennon (below left). It opened in the 19th century and was later torn down and replaced in 1926 by the Hotel Goldsboro (below right), which still stands today.

Hotel Kennon, downtown Goldsboro, 1890s                Hotel Goldsboro


Goldsboro City Hall, 1920Even further down the street, peeking above the roof line, is city hall. Behind that is a water tower that would have been located to the north of Ash Street. It might have been used by the railroad companies.

Running down Center Street in two rows are white planters with “B.P.O.E.” painted on the bases. The letters stand for the Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks. Today the lodge is on Chestnut just behind the Messenger, but when the photo was taken their headquarters was on James St. between Pine and Spruce.

Keaton-Fonvielle grocery, now home to Well Travveled BeerWhere was it taken?

Judging from the photo it was probably taken from the second floor of the Keaton-Fonvielle grocery on the corner of Center and Chestnut. Alexander Keaton purchased the lot in 1847 and built a wooden grocery store that was replaced with a brick building just after the Civil War. Keaton sold the business to his son-in-law, who continued the grocery business until his death in 1918. The building is still standing and is now home to Well Travelled Beer.

Online Resources

There are two fantastic resources that are on the internet and free. City directories contain a wealth of information on both businesses and people. They list addresses, phone numbers (if a business or residence had one), occupation, and sometimes even places of employment. There are over twenty Goldsboro directories, spanning 1906 to 1963. They can be found online through the North Carolina State Archives.

Sanborn maps are another great resource. Sanborn created detailed maps of cities across America primarily for insurance companies to easily assess total fire liabilities for a particular town. There are several maps of Goldsboro from the late 1800s to 1920 and they are available from the UNC archives. There are a few later maps available from ProQuest, via NC Live. It is free to access but you need a library card number to log in (you can access it from any computer, not just the library).


Section of 1885 Goldsboro Sanborn map
Section of the 1885 Goldsboro Sanborn map.

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