Doorways to the Past
After the Civil War, prosperity did not return easily to the Holly Springs community. The construction of the Chatham Railroad through Apex, a neighboring town, encouraged economic prosperity down the road from Holly Springs. Historian M.N. Amis described the Town as “a deserted village;” only 10 buildings of size in the community are shown in an 1871 survey. Among the buildings was the downtown Masonic Lodge, constructed in 1854 and used as a school for girls in 1856. The structure is the oldest lodge and school building remaining in Wake County and still is used today for meetings and community events.
While the Masonic Lodge has remained relatively unchanged structurally throughout the years, the Leslie house has been renovated dramatically. In 1875, George Benton Alford moved his mercantile business to Holly Springs. He purchased the Leslie house and expanded it, adding side wings, a third story and a widow’s walk. Years later, a monument adjacent to the 31-room mansion was erected, commemorating the 26th Regiment North Carolina troops.
Alford was a man on the move. He ran a general mercantile, sawmill, cotton gin, turpentine works and brick kiln. He even drained a local lake to plant rice paddies. Alford, along with 20 other Holly Springs men, helped bring a railroad (to become the Durham and Southern) to the community. He also established the Holly Springs Land and Improvement Company, which encouraged economic development in Town, and the Cape Fear News and Advertising Company, which published the Cape Fear Enterprise newspaper.
In one of his weekly editorials lauding the Town and encouraging investors to buy stock his company, Alford wrote, “We can convince any capitalist who will visit our town with a view to locating any manufacturing enterprise in our state that there is no place in the state to surpass Holly Springs as to health and pure spring water.”
Alford also led a successful effort to petition the North Carolina General Assembly to incorporate the Town of Holly Springs in 1877. After its establishment, the Holly Springs Town boundary remained a solid, one-mile square for 110 years.