Drive down highway 87 and you will stumble across a town like no other. Saxapahaw, North Carolina is a town that many have never heard of. That's because it has a population of 1,418, according to the 2000 census. It is a rural place that sits directly on the haw river, a river that runs from the Cape Fear River Basin to Jordan Lake. The Haw River is a valuable water source for many in the area. Walk down the sidewalks of Saxapahaw and you will know why many people call this their home. People walk around town with no fears or cares, barefoot, eating Luna Pops and sitting on porches listening to local musicians play their instruments.
History of Saxapahaw
The area was first discovered in 1569 by a spanish explorer, who found Sissipahaw indians that described the land behind the river as "Sauxpa." In 1700, an English explorer gave the town the name of "The Flower of the Carolina." Saxapahaw is also given the name of "UCLA" or "Upper Chatham, Lower Alamance". The town originally revolved around its cotton mill, which was built in 1844 by a Quaker settler. But when the mill closed in 1994, the town was left as just a small, rural, southern town located outside of Burlington in Alamance County. John McLean Jordan Jr, a current resident of Saxapahaw, is the grandson of the late US Senator B.Everett Jordan, who had owned the cotton mill since 1924. It was Jordan Jr. who purchased the mill once it had closed for just $385,000. Jordan did many things to renovate the town. This consisted of renovating the old community center that now houses the "Paperhand Puppet Intervention" a local puppet shows, as well as the Haw River Canoe and Kayak company. The building looks old and beat up, but has character that lures visitors into it with its giant sculpted hand on the outside of it. Walk around this small town and you will find many different pieces of artwork.
Renovations and a New Era
In 2006, the Rivermill Apartments were completed in the old Spinning Mill and became the start of new life in Saxapahaw. Mac Jordan also recruited Heather and Tom Lagarde to help with marketing at which point the Saxapahaw Farmer's Market and Music Series was born. This is and always has been a free event every Saturday evening from May through August from 5-8pm where local farmers, families, and music come together on the hill next to the old Mill offices.
2008 marked the beginning of developments in the Dye House. One of the many changes included Cameron Ratliff and Jeff Barney's involvement in the Saxapahaw General Store where they began to sell fresh produce such as muscadine grapes, eggplant and collards from local farms. The General Store also sells luna pops, something only Chapel Hill natives would know about. They are a frozen delicacy made locally in Chapel Hill out of fresh ingredients. In early 2009, the general store started a full day food service/cafe with a variety of tasty sandwiches and comfort foods such as a simple bowl of mac and cheese.
Meanwhile, a small team of business folks including Doug Williams, Claire Haslam, Margaret Jemison, Tom and Heather Lagarde, and Mac Jordan were in the midst of renovating the Dye House to include The Eddy Pub (opened December 2010), The Haw River Ballroom (opened May 2011), and the Sissipahaw Lofts, a luxury condominium project which won the Gold Stewardship Development Award from the Greater Triangle Stewardship Development Awards Program in 2015. More information on the Sissipahaw Lofts can be found at www.sissipahawlofts.com. As word spread of the new found restaurants and music venue, food and music enthusiasts from surrounding cities have traveled to this small town to have a meal and catch a show. Saxapahaw has become a working/living town as well as a destination for travellers, and has even been featured in the New York Times! Aside from the restaurant, the old dye room of the cotton mill was converted into a ballroom that stands three stories high and hosts many events and concerts.
All in all, Saxapahaw is full of culture and is a very open community to all tourists. Every member of the community seems to be living life to the fullest, taking it day by day as they sip on coffee and watch the sun set over the haw river; a beautiful image that some only dream of. Whether you want a place to relax, a place to listen to local music, or a great gourmet meal, Saxapahaw is the place to be day or night.