A Brief History of Rural Hill

While a brief synopsis of the history of Rural Hill is provided below, users are strongly urged to read the complete report, The Davidsons of Rural Hill, which may be found here.

In the Spring of 1759, when John Davidson was 23, he bought a parcel of land on Coddle Creek, near present day Kannapolis, and began farming. Two years later in 1761 he and Violet Wilson were married.  In 1765, John bought 250 acres on McDowell Creek from his father-in-law Samuel Wilson for 45 pounds.  This is the land that became Rural Hill. Their first home on the new land was a two room log cabin they called Rural Retreat.  Over the next twenty three years they added another six rooms as their 10 children were born. 

John was a Major in the Mecklenburg County Militia, and during his lifetime was customarily called Major John. Major John would be a signer of the famed Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence of 1775 and serve during the Cherokee Campaigns of the American Revolution. In 1788, having become a wealthy farmer and business man in the Lincoln County Iron Industry, John built a grand plantation home, Rural Hill.

In 1795 Major John gave his son Robert 430 acres of his eastern property for “love and affection.” This land would become Holly Bend plantation, with Robin and his wife Peggy living there until their death. Holly Bend still stands in the Cowan’s Ford Nature Preserve.  Its location, early 19th century architecture, and family connection make it a perfect adjunct to the interpretation of Rural Hill.

Rural Hill’s plantation mansion burned in 1886, although portions of it foundation and its porch columns remain.  The Rural Retreat cabin burned in 1898.  The only historic residence remaining on the property is a log kitchen building which was much modified and expanded to become the home of Major John’s great grandson John Springs Davidson’s family after Rural Retreat burned.  John Springs Davidson’s son, Jo Graham Davidson, raised his family in this much improved log kitchen.  His four children, none of whom married, were Jo Graham, Jr., John Springs, Elizabeth, and May.  They were the last Davidsons to live on the property.  Jo Graham, Jr. died in World War II; his siblings sold the property to Mecklenburg County in 1992.  They have since died, leaving no heirs.

The Rural Hill mansion and Rural Retreat no longer exist, yet there are significant features of the property that enhance historical interpretation.  An early 20th century schoolhouse remains where today’s children can experience an education similar to that of their ancestors.  The modified kitchen that became the last Davidson home still stands, and a log cabin was recently built to give an idea of what Rural Retreat may have looked like.  This cabin is also used for the demonstration of historically accurate life skills.

During the first three generations of the family Major John’s original holdings increased as adjacent land was acquired, along with several noncontiguous farms. Major John’s grandson  Adam Brevard Davidson kept farm journals spanning over twenty years.  From them we can learn extensive details about farming and land use.  Cotton was the primary cash crop for Brevard, his father Jacky, and his uncle Robin; and Major John had been an early cotton planter of the region.  All of these men were slave owners.  The extant records reveal the names, family relationships, and daily activities of many of the black families who were the work force at Rural Hill.

Most modern visitors to Rural Hill are not well acquainted with farm life.  The rich interpretative resources of slave and farm records, combined with the vast acreage of the site, allow visitors to better understand 19th century farming.  Much of the land is cleared, as it was then for planting, and some of it is actively worked for hay and corn.  The site has tools and implements of the time to display and demonstrate.  The visual impact of seeing a broad expanse of land and learning that it was a small portion of the acreage under cultivation in the 19th century cannot be replicated on other local historic properties in the area due to their smaller size.  The nature and the enormous number of seasonal tasks detailed in the farm journals offer opportunities for many interpretive and educational programs.

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Rural Hill, Where History Springs Alive
PO Box 1009 * Huntersville, NC 28070-1009
4431 Neck Road * Huntersville, N. C. 28078-8342
Office: 704.875.3113 * Fax: 704.875.3193
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