Looking at the map provided below, follow the Holden Mill Loop trail across the small creek toward the Mill itself. In short order you are given a choice to go right slightly uphill or left along the river at a trail split. At that split, look to your right (northwest uphill) and notice what would appear to be a gully or wide ditch. This is actually the remnants of what was a major roadbed for this area back in the 1800’s and into the early part of the 1900’s called Holden’s Road. There was a ford crossing here at the Eno, crossing to the far side of the river, turning downriver, following it before crossing Cox Mountain, headed for Fanny’s Ford. Follow the old roadbed on this side of the river uphill from this point with a very slight curving bend to the right. Before it reaches a slowly leveling terrain, notice another old abandoned roadbed to the left – this was the upper driveway to the old Mill, where trucks and wagons, laden with grains and lumber, would drop off cargo at the upper part of the mill for processing. You will curve sharply to the right and follow the depression in the earth which was the roadbed back then. Notice at some points, there are several ‘ruts’, which is suspected to be one of two things, alternative wheel tracks when one got too muddy over the years, or perhaps serving two-way traffic. The only critical thing to watch for is the obvious old roadbed that heads generally North. You might want to walk with that old roadbed to your right, on what seems to be a later-day version of the same road, being level, raised and with less obstructions.
Holden’s Mill Trail is most easily accessed from the point where Buckquarter Creek Trail adjoins it at a wooden footbridge. There is a possibility of accessing it off the Knight Trail and Ridge Trail, or by fording the Eno at Fanny’s Ford, but few ever do. It can also be accessed off the self-named and un-blazed Dumont Trail, coming in from the far west side of the trail.
Once crossed over Buckquarter Creek on that footbridge, you immediately are presented with an option to continue straight uphill, or turn left and following it upriver. I will describe it counter-clockwise, being the way I generally do it to get the grunt up/downhill out of the way early and meander back along the river. (Alternatively, many people only walk up and back along the river!)
Going uphill, it is a pretty relentless, but not too steep climb to the top, ironically the same height as Cox Mountain but more gradual. It also comes slowly back downhill after crossing a powerline cut. Just before it reaches the Eno River, you are at a small creek, with a short loop extension crossing the river and you can follow that up and back to the remnants of the old Holden’s Mill. Once on the extension toward the old Mill, you will find a trail split, the right fork (upper) going to the upper foundation of the mill and the left (lower) going to the mill races themselves. As you approach the mill on the lower side, you are walking IN the tailrace. Once beyond the mill foundations, you are in the head race, which supplied water from the (then) dammed up Eno River. Once you complete the extension loop, return downriver to that same creek, and follow the riverbank, over a slightly challenging rock formation at the river’s edge, and back to the footbridge at Buckquarter Creek. Usually, you can cross the rocky outcrop (called Rock Beach) near the river edge at low water, but after a long rain, you may need to scramble high to go around the rocks, as the water may be too high lower. This trail is generally done as part of one or more other trails in this area.
BUSHWACKING TO THE HOLDEN CABINS!
Here’s an opportunity to see some of the best kept secrets inside the Eno River State Park, but it takes a little bit of bushwhacking to get there. Hiking off-trail, while frowned upon by the rangers, is completely legal. They don’t recommend it because they don’t want to come looking for you when you show up late to the trailhead. It is completely legal, and in my opinion going off-trail brings you to some of the best secrets of the park. In this case, the bushwhack is pretty easy to follow, is only about 1/3 mile one way, and ends up at the homestead of not only the mill owner, Thomas Holden, but the 38th and 40th Governor of the State of North Carolina! (Continues to the left in that column)*
After you’ve walked in the old roadbed for about 10-15 minutes, you’ll begin to notice a large amount of deadfall debris in the road, and you should get on the far right bank of the roadbed. Shortly after, you’ll come across a very obvious and easily seen old Tobacco Barn. If you’re fortunate enough to have planned your trip for the green-up season, you’ll find a carpet of greenery that will stun you (see image on left). Inside, the rafter poles – called ‘bents’ – that held the ‘sticks’ full of drying tobacco can still be seen, as well as the ventillation holes and the hole left behind when the Wood Stove was removed. Just north of this barn, only about 50 feet away, lies the ruined remnants of a more modern house, complete with standing chimney, foundations, front steps and debris indicating a plumbed and wired house. Find your way back to the roadbed – not sunken at this point, but level and fairly obvious – and continue another 100 yards north. Look on the west (left) side of the road and you will surely find the old two-story duplex cabin of the 1800’s. (GPS: N36.0884 W-79.0251) PLEASE be careful in these ruins as they are delicate artifacts, and protected by state law. No Tresspassing signs are posted at this cabin for good reason because it is a bit unstable. And be aware we have found angry possums inside!
Directly west of this duplex cabin, follow the terrain into a wide shallow basin. On the far west side of the basin, maybe 75 yards from the house, you will find an abandonded spring cistern, now dry, with a covered concrete cap. (GPS: N36.0883 W-79.0261) A much more recent cement patch is seen on top with the name J.T. Powell on it and 1929 scratched into it while it was being poured. The cistern itself appears older than the cement cap.
Make your way back the way you came to return to the Holden Mill Trail, turn left, or downriver, to return to the Buckquarter Creek Trail, and your return to the parking area. Or if you haven’t been to the Holden Mill yet, turn right and follow the lower river trail to the Mill remnants.
* WILLIAM W. HOLDEN
William W. Holden was the bastard son of the Mill Owner, Thomas. He originally lived in nearby Hillsborough with his unwed mother until he was 8 years old. The later wife of Thomas then petitioned Thomas and the mother to allow William to live with them at their Mill and Homestead, and she agreed. William worked the mill as a young man, and eventually went to college for become a lawyer, as well as worked for the local newspaper. While a reporter, he bagan to uncover and report on the wrongdoings of the establishment polititians’ involvement in the Ku Klux Klan and became a thorn in the side of the Democrat Party establishment in this area. Eventually, President Johnson, not long after Lincoln was killed at the end of the Civil War, appointed William Holden as the interim Governor, and two elections later was successful in being fuly elected as the 40th Governor of NC and our state’s first Republican Governor. He was soon after harrassed and impeached by the Democrat party’s loyal opposition to his rule, and was the first American Governor removed from office – all because he attempted to squash the Ku Klux Klan – by the KKK’s supporters, mostly members of the Democrat party. His actions were exonerated and his impeachment nullified by NC’s Legislature in the last years of the 20th Century long after he was forgotten.
This twice Governor of NC, and champion to the cause of Civil Rights during the Civil War is now totally forgotten, his boyhood homestead left abandoned in the woods without a sign, or a reference to it in the official trail maps, or literature of this State Park. (NOTE: The remnant cabins described earlier were likely NOT the cabins of his era, but it is widely agreed that the homestead where the Holdens lived was likely that same locaiton.) It’s embarrassing that our State Park officials have allowed this to happen – and it is due to this one spot, that this Eno Trails website was begun, so you can go find it, and explore the treasures lost in our woods.
If you feel worried of getting lost bushwhacking to this homestead, feel free to drop me a line – I try to go back and show it to people all the time, I just might be willing to lead you in. If you attempt it yourself, just bring a compass – it is located on top of a gentle slope to the north, and you can always find the river again by heading generally south, downhill. And please let me know if you find it. I’d enjoy hearing from you.