By Laurie Paolicelli
Old houses tell a story. They have a history. How many, over the course of the last two and a half centuries, have walked these floors before you? Soldiers, artists, men and women in elegant finery contradancing across the ballroom floor. In an old house and on the surrounding grounds we find a sense of place, of time, a perspective on where we fit in the grander story.
In the South, that story also includes the unheralded achievements of enslaved men and women whom history tends to overlook, which is why at Moorefields an archaeological survey is underway to learn more about how these inhabitants lived and worked.
Moorefields, built in 1785, stands on one of the highest points in Orange County. Its builder, Alfred Moore, was a founder and trustee of the University of North Carolina, a Revolutionary War soldier, N.C. attorney general, and a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
A descendant of Justice Moore has given us a glimpse of how the old place looked in its earlier days. In the 19th century book, Some Memories of my Life, we learn that the house itself was surrounded by fifty white oaks planted when the house was built. The last of the giant trees blew down during Hurricane Fran in 1996.
On the west side of the house were large flower beds full of roses, dahlias, lilacs and peonies, while in the corner stood tall sunflowers. In spring the beds were colorful with jonquils, narcissus, hyacinths, and anti-lilies of the valley. Box bushes and a large mimosa tree, together with dogwoods along the edges of the woods, added their charm to the garden.
At the bottom of the hill, under a brace of shady oaks that still stand, was a spring branch, and a little farther downstream a rock-built dairy.
From the west side of the house it was nearly a mile to Seven Mile Creek, a tributary of the Eno River. On the way east to the state courts at Hillsborough lay fields of grain and Indian corn, cherry trees and plum thickets. No surprise, then, that Moorefields is now a wildlife refuge.
South of the house, and at some little distance towards the woods and the county’s Seven Mile Creek Preserve Trail, lies the Moore-Waddell family cemetery with graves for relatives from infants to centenarians.
Moorefields was fortunate to be befriended at mid-20th century by Edward Thayer Draper-Savage, a UNC French instructor and noted artist. He bought the house in May 1949 when spring was in full bloom and, he said, “the music was playing”. Only after purchasing and later restoring Moorefields — earning it recognition on the National Register of Historic Places — did Draper-Savage discover he was related by marriage to the Moores.
Draper-Savage died on February 15, 1978 and is buried west of the house with his cats. Upon his death the house and current 70 acres were conveyed to the Effie Draper Savage-Nellie Draper Dick Foundation for the Preservation of Moorefields. Named after Draper-Savage’s mother and her sister, the foundation is administered by the nonprofit Friends of Moorefields, a group of interested local residents dedicated to maintaining the house and grounds in perpetuity.
Walking into a historic house is like traveling in a time machine: the past and the present meet in a single moment. Today the Friends of Moorefields invite you to take that trip.
Upcoming Events at Moorefields
Moorefields is now offering Guided Tours from 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm on the Last Sunday afternoon of each month through September.
The annual Bluegrass Festival at Historic Moorefields will take place on the lawn on Saturday, September 18, 2021. The festival lasts from 2:00 pm – 7:00 pm and helps to fund the educational, environmental, artistic and historic preservation goals of the Friends of Moorefields, the nonprofit administrator of the Moorefields Foundation.
Parking remains free. Lawn seating is $15 per person. Tickets for teens 13-17 are $10. Children 12 and under attend without charge. Bring your own chair but not your dog. Food trucks on site, and beer, wine, and other drinks are available.
The rain date is Sunday, Sept. 19.
Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.