DAVID FREEZE COLUMN: The 100-county adventure is underway

Editor’s Note: David Freeze of China Grove has set out to run in the county seat of all 100 North Carolina counties. He has recorded more than 100,000 miles running and 20,000 long-distance cycling miles.

It was just a few weeks ago when I revealed my plan to visit all 100 N.C. county seats. I have been excited about it since and began the journey this past Tuesday by exploring the first four.

David Freeze

After my own run at home and a quick shower, I drove to Albemarle, county seat of Stanly County, and did a 1.54-mile run down First Street and back up Second Street that ended at the YMCA.

The park across the street was donated by Charles Cannon of Cannon Mills fame. More familiar with Albemarle than the other towns I would see later, I wasn’t surprised by much.

Albemarle is coming alive with new and refurbished apartments and a bold new park in the works. There is a new wood bat baseball team starting this summer called the Wampus Cats, plus a new business that encourages throwing axes and hatchets at targets.

My first breakfast on this series of adventures was paid for by Stanly County Commissioner Peter Asciutto. He arranged for me to eat at the Goody Shop Café, in business since 1919.

I met Hugh Wainwright and Lynn Russell, and we talked while they made my egg and cheese sandwich and waited on customers. Hugh, the owner, and Lynn love the café and their customers. It’s all take-out now, allowing Hugh and Lynn more free time and more fun while working.

Hugh showed me the Hearne house behind his business where court was held on the lawn and in the house from 1841 to 1941.
Next came Troy, the Montgomery County seat and a major part of the North Carolina’s “Gold Region.”

I ran 1.55 miles on the “Streets of Gold.” When the streets of the town were first paved in 1922, residents found traces of gold in the gravel used for the subsurface.

Troy is in the heart of the Uwharrie National Forrest, named by President Kennedy in 1961. Historical markers are notable throughout the town. Andy Griffith’s wife, Barbara, came from Troy and they returned often to visit her family. Her dad was the county school superintendent.

Bill Clinton visited Troy for a town hall meeting at the elementary school in 1994. The most prominent building in downtown is the Hotel Troy, first built in 1909 as a four-story hospital. It also housed a drug store, jewelry story, clothing store and grocery market before being converted to the hotel in 1920s.

Carthage was my next stop, Moore County’s seat. I ran 1.52 miles while dodging trucks carrying logs and lumber.

The Carthage courthouse sits right on the top of the hill in the center of town, with traffic heading east on one side and west on the other. Tobacco was long important to the economy here and a few remaining tobacco storage facilities are now used for other things.

The farther east I went, more spectacular murals dominated the towns. Carthage resident James R. McConnell, highly decorated WWI aviator for the Lafayette Escadrille, died in the war and had the most impressive mural in Carthage. Another well done mural noted the Tyson and Jones Buggy Company, one of Carthage’s major employers from 1850-1929. A Tyson and Jones buggy was considered well-built and a certain status symbol.

Andrew Johnson, 17th president and one-time resident, was honored by Moore County citizens for his calming influence during the bitter days of Civil War reconstruction.

My final visit of the day was Sanford, county seat of Lee County, where I did 1.63 miles. Early on, I was fortunate to find the future visitor center and Downtown Sanford Executive Director Kelli Laudate. Her office is in a renovated portion of the old depot.

Kelli and I talked running and the strong wind blowing that afternoon in Sanford. She gave me information on the town and told me especially about the Temple Theatre, built in 1925, and an Elvis show, “All Shook Up,” coming for two weeks in April. I plan to return for the show and hopefully visit a few other counties at the same time.

Just outside Kelli’s office was the No. 12 steam locomotive and railroad house museum in Depot Park. The museum wasn’t open, although the house is the oldest in Sanford, built in 1872.

Sanford was born in 1871 and was once the only N.C. town serving four rail lines. I got that spectacular courthouse photo I was looking for in the 1908 Lee County Courthouse and also the town hall building.

About a dozen murals already grace the town, one honoring the Tobacco State League Baseball Champions 1946, 1947 and 1948, the Sanford Spinners. Another mural was being painted that same afternoon. An app tells the story of each mural.

One final thought-provoking thing that I saw on my last block was a giant wall-sized chalkboard with this statement and about 60 blanks: “Before I die, I want to _____________.” I had to read them all.

A grand day resulted in 6.13 miles in four county seats. Ninety-six more to go and I hope they are this much fun.