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Destroying a local legend: Development could break 200-year-old immovable 'Stagecoach Rock'

Posted July 15, 2021 3:02 p.m. EDT
Updated July 29, 2021 10:33 a.m. EDT

History or myth? Regardless, the popular and immovable Stagecoach Rock is at risk of being destroyed. (Photo courtesy of Gary Clark)

— After over 1,500 locals signed a petition to save an immovable historic rock in Mebane, officials have announced they intend to preserve it.

"The rock will not be destroyed and will remain in place as it has for millenia, and hopefully for all future generations of Mebanites!" said J. Allen, who started the petition.

Supporters had put signs up around Stagecoach Rock with messages like, "This is a grave."

Allen wrote on the petition wrote that supporters should take a moment to thank the developer, the mayor and the city council for their "diligence and collaboration in saving the rock."

History or legend? Carvings on Stagecoach Rock date back to 1800s, could indicate a gravesite

According to historic legend, the immovable Stagecoach Rock in Mebane dates back to the early 1800s.

It's a relic from an era when stagecoaches from around the state passed through the popular intersection. It's a gravestone to a man "who lost against the forces of nature," according to an old newspaper article. Some legends even say it's haunted by a headless horseman.

The inscription etched on the stone's side was meant to last forever: J. Whitaker, 1828.

According to local lore, Whitaker tragically died when his stagecoach, which was rolling downhill towards Hillsborough, hit a bump in the road and spooked the horses. He was thrown against the rock and killed – then buried there. Locals engraved his name and date of death on the stone.

The marker is listed on Cemetery Census as a grave.

Since that date, nearly 200 years ago, other prominent locals have engraved their own names on the stone. The name B. H. Mebane is carved into a corner of the stone, along with the date 1906.

A man named Gary Clark has been researching the mysterious rock of myth. He believes it's possible B. H. Mebane is related to Alexander Mebane, for who the town is named.

He also found an inscription that appears to be from even earlier: Pratt Witt, 1817.

Clark has reason to believe even more names are hidden underground.

"There are so many names etched on it," said Clark. "Some are even close to the base of the rock, and I don't think someone laid on their stomach to carve into it."

It can be hard to distinguish between truth and myth of the mysterious Stagecoach Rock because much of the history isn't written down – it's oral history and storytelling passed down generation to generation.

According to an article written by Sondra J. Harris in 1975, the story was passed down to a man named C.E. Patterson who was 89 at the time. He rallied his nephew and cousin to clear off the overgrowth that had hidden the old stone to verify whether or not the writing they had heard about was really there.

It was.

Stagecoach Rock has names carved near the base as well, possibly indicating more names hidden beneath the ground. (Photo courtesy of Gary Clark)

The old stagecoach road is still visible

Passing by the Stagecoach Rock and rolling over the nearby stream are the remnants of the old stagecoach road.

According to Patterson, the road was referred to as The King's Highway or Mason Hall Road in the early 1900s or late 1800s. It stretched between Raleigh and Greensboro.

"In 1817, this was the wilderness. There was no Mebane yet," explained Clark.

He's approached the town's mayor and assistant manager, and begun rallying the community to raise awareness for the rock.

"It was covered with ivy and leaves when I found it," he said. "I bet many people didn't realize it was here."

Given its proximity to the historic stagecoach road, mixed with the oral traditions passed down about it being a grave site, he feels like the city should at least consider having historians take a look at the rock. Historians could perhaps determine the validity of the carved names – and thermal imaging could prove once and for all if someone is buried there.

Tearing down the Stagecoach Rock

A new housing development had threatened the future of the historic stone.

The development has been approved, and a proposal had been submitted to destroy the Stagecoach Rock in order to make room for a road entrance to the developing neighborhood.

The rock is very large and has been described as "immovable."

Some neighbors say they have offered to make room for the stone in their yards in order to save it, but the city did extensive research and found the rock to be immovable, according to the Mebane Enterprise.

Many residents are trying to save Stagecoach Rock – and have put together a petition with hundreds of signatures.

"We would like to see the rock not only preserved, but also designated as an official historic monument by the city," says the petition.

They point out how few historic monuments stand the test of time like the 200-year-old, immovable Stagecoach Rock.

Whether or not the Stagecoach Stone's story is legend, history or a mix of both, some locals argue that the decades of engraved names automatically make the stone a piece of history. Likewise, many believe, the decades of stories surrounding the stone have earned it a place in Mebane culture.

And now, because it's being preserved, it can continue to gather stories and legends for the next 200 years.

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