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Hidden History: Exploring the abandoned Highway 98 beneath Falls Lake

The abandoned remains of old Highway 98 stretches through the woods near Falls Lake before running beneath the surface. Rural roads, farms and mills were part of the lost community, whose memories and remnants rest beneath Falls Lake.

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Abandoned Hwy 98, overgrown at Falls Lake. Image credit: Cyndi Savage
By
Heather Leah
, WRAL multiplatform producer
RALEIGH, N.C. — If you've ever gone out for a picnic or hike around Falls Lake, you may be surprised to discover the remains of an abandoned North Carolina highway runs through portions of the woods before vanishing into the lake itself.

In fact, a large number of roads and old home sites are now hidden beneath the water's surface.

Cyndi Savage, a local urban explorer who documents old and forgotten pieces of local history with her photography, lives near Falls Lake. She was amazed to discover the remains of an old highway stretching through the woods near her home.

"I thought it was an old boat ramp at first, but then I saw the faded yellow line going down the center," she said. "I had heard the remains of old Highway 98 were around here, and I realized this must be it."

Savage, like many locals, was unaware of the rich history of the area around Falls Lake – and the many lost homes, farms and roads that were flooded or destroyed as Wake County grew.

Abandoned Hwy 98, overgrown at Falls Lake. Image credit: Cyndi Savage

Abandoned roads beneath Falls Lake

N.C. Highway 98 isn't the only ghost road that rides beneath the lake. Prior to 1978, Falls Lake didn't exist, and several roads, including Old Six Forks Road, cut through the area. Other roads, like Possum Track, Choplin and Old Bayleaf also vanish into the water.

However, according to the N.C. Parks website, the Neuse River would regularly flood, causing "extensive damage to public and private properties, including railroads, roads, industrial sites and farmlands."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which also filled in Jordan Lake – another reservoir with remains of old communities and farms beneath it – developed the Falls Lake Project to control floods and become a water supply for locals.

According to N.C. Parks, the construction of the dam began in 1978, and by 1981, Falls Lake was built.

Old underwater roads at Falls Lake

Using Google Maps, the ghosts of the old roadways can be traced – most leading leading directly into the lake.

Savage wondered about the stories those homes and roads could tell her about the community that once lived here. Many of the forgotten roadways hint at where farms, homes and mills once stood.

She posted her photos of old Highway 98 online, and people began commenting their memories and stories from the days before Falls Lake.

Abandoned Hwy 98, overgrown at Falls Lake. Image credit: Cyndi Savage

Abandoned home sites and memories

When Falls Lake was created, the surrounding rural community was turned upside down. Many local family farms were relocated, leaving their houses and old roads behind.

Janet Steddum wrote a document called The Battle For Falls Lake, exploring the impact the lake's formation had on the tiny Falls community that lived on the land previously.

"Gary Watkins has lived on Possum Track Road for too many years to recall. He still refers to the area flooded to create Falls Lake, spitting distance from his house, as 'the river.' He is not alone. Most of the remaining residents of the tiny Falls community think the same way," she wrote.

According to her, a quarter-mile of Possum Track Road is now underwater, and another portion of it runs under the dam.

Abandoned Hwy 98, overgrown at Falls Lake. Image credit: Cyndi Savage

Some locals recall an old cotton mill known as Erwin Mills that once sat on the shore of the Neuse River, near the dam. It closed in 1959, but the granite husk of the building stood abandoned for decades – a place where some locals remember sneaking around and partying as teenagers. The mill has been renovated into condominiums, hardly recognizable for its former function of producing cotton sheets.

Newer generations may completely forget these beautiful condos were once a piece of history – art of a community that is now lost beneath the water.

Love the hidden history of Raleigh's street names and the clues they give us to our city's past? Millbrook Road has an actual hidden mill nearby, but did Six Forks Road actually have six forks? Explore the hidden history of Raleigh's street names.

If you have a suggestion for a piece of local hidden history or legend you'd like to see explored, email me at hleah@wral.com. I'm a fifth-generation Raleighite and deeply passionate about ensuring our history isn't forgotten.

Here's a live video of the exploration of the abandoned highway.

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 Credits

Heather Leah, Web Editor

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