Cabe Lands refers to lands occupied by Barnaby Cabe in the years prior to the Revolutionary War. A Tory, loyal to the King, Barnaby, and his son John, earned a living carting suppiles and prisoners for the English. After America won her independance, the Cabes were patriots to the cause and became loyal citizens, even representing Orange County in Congress and serving in the militia. John built a grist mill before the land was even sold to him by the State of North Carolina, and eventually controlled many acres in this area. He had three wives and 9 daughters, many of whom married mill owners along the Eno River in turn. One, Rachel Cabe, married John McCown and together they built what was to become known as Cole Mill downriver. They also built the Alpha Woolen Mill between these two landmarks, which has since all but been erased from the landscape.
After McCown died, Rachel married Colonel Sims and together they owned and operated West Point Mill at Roxboro Road. The historical side of these families is well documented on EnoRiver.org, the Eno River Association’s website.
The Cabe Land Trail is accessed near the end of Howe Street west of Sparger Road and north of I-85. Commonly known as the Quarry Parking Area, you’ll see two trailheads in the corner of the lot. The one with the Trailhead sign is the official trail, the other 10 yards to the right is an abandoned road leading to the Cabe-McCown family cemetery. Down this nearly-straight unblazed trail, you’ll spot the headstones on the right, and the trail continues feintly until it crosses the Mountains-to-Sea Trail coming in from the left, and splitting off just over the crest of the bluff, to the right. Continuing straight downhill slightly to the left, it follows a “social trail” (unmarked, unofficial) that follows the Eno upriver to the intersection with the main Cabe Land Trail described below.
Following the Cabe Land Trail from the official trailhead, blazed in deep red, you’re advised to look for a left-hand trail-split, marked by two red blazes, just as you may have found the way to the Quarry Trail. Soon after hiking over the old abandoned and unmarked (but obvious if you’re looking for it) access road to the Cabe Mill, that Quarry Trail forks to the left, now blazed in light blue. The Cabe Trail continues downhill to the Eno River. Just prior to hitting the river, look to your right and you will recognize the old long-abandoned head-race for the mill. The Eno was dammed at this point to supply the 1000 foot-long mill race with water at the mill. Turning downriver to the right, follow it until just before the two wooden footbridges. (Along the way, notice how easy it is to make out the mill race on the right.) 30 feet short of the first footbridge (which crosses the still obvious tail-race), turn right and bushwhack up that ridge, keeping the tail-race on your left, and veering slightly to the right, and you will stumble onto the well-preserved stone foundations for the old mill. Note behind it and to the left, is the end point of the Access Road. It is followable, up and beyond the hill behind the mill to where it connects to the Cabe Lands trail mentioned above, but with considerable scrambling over deadfall trees and brush – however the features of the roadbed are obvious.
There is no known information on exactly how the mill operated, but it appears the head-race water was emptied into a raised wooden sluiceway that dropped over the water-wheel into the large hole you see in front of the mill, and it is clear how the spillway water (in high-water conditions) diverted in a sharp bend into that same deep hole, and all of it emptied into the tail-race and back to the Eno. You might question why they dug this tail-race parallel to the natural creek bed a few feet away. It is surmised that the action of digging out the tail-race left such a pile of debris on the edges that over the next 100 years of abandonment, this natural creek deepened as you see it today.
Back on trail, and over the two footbridges, the first is the tail-race and the second is the natural creekbed, the trail turns sharp right toward the distant bluffs. If you continued straight on the social trail along the river, you will hit the MST near the old Cemetery. By following the marked trail uphill, notice on your left, just as you start to hit the top of the bluff, a long flat area of land overlooking the lowlands below – this was the site of the old John Cabe homestead – nothing remains but some daffodils in the spring, and the memories of 9 daughters playing in the yard on the winds. Continue on this trail to the south and you’ll pass a left-side trail with a marker posted for the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. That trail is blazed white. Further on the Cabe Lands Trail is a fork to the left where you started this hike, and further to the trailhead and parking lot.
Use caution parking at this lot as it gets a lot of traffic, especially weekends in the summer, and has experienced some vehicle break-ins in the past. It is heavily patrolled by Eno River State Park rangers, but staffing limitations keeps them pretty busy and often occupied elsewhere.
One of the more interesting facts about the Cabe daughters, was one of Rachel’s sisters married a gentleman named Shields (there are Shields gravestones in the cemetery!) and thier daughter Martha married a Lorenzo Bennett. Lorenzo died during the Civil war of sickness while with the NC Infantry. His parents owned the farm where Gen’l Sherman (US) and Gen’l Johnston (CSA) met for the true surrender of the Civil War and family lore claims the Cabes, McCowns and Sims families were present. Appommattox didn’t end the war as is commonly believed. Immediately after Lincoln’s assassination, Gen’l Grant was ordered to NC to ‘resume the hostilities’ but before Grant arrived, the war weary generals in the field affected the surrender of over 80,000 confederate troops, ending the war here in Durham. However, the Yanks won, so they got to write history. As I always say – ‘History is lies agreed upon’. The Bennett Place Historical Site is less than a mile away south of US 70 and east of Sparger Road.