"The History of Mount Shepherd Retreat Center" Researched and Written by Mr. Bill Johnson
The tract of 542 acres west of Asheboro, North Carolina which constitutes Mount Shepherd Retreat Center was discovered by white settlers from Europe nearly three centuries ago. It had been occupied by the Keyauwee Indians for countless centuries before that.
Fortunately, there’s a bit of recorded history about the area in the writings of John Lawson, Surveyor General of the Carolinas. He and an exploration party visited the area in late winter of 1701. Lawson recorded the group’s findings in his logbook and later published them in England.
His notes describe the area in and around what is now known as Shepherd Mountain in enough detail to allow recent scholars to confirm some of the locations he mentioned in the area. In 1936 Joffre Coe and the Research Laboratories of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill excavated the Keyauwee Indian Village and other sites in the area which Lawson described.
Lawson’s notes told about this Indian village which had large corn fields joining the cabins (probably the Caraway Creek valley). He also recorded having seen open land at the foot of these mountains capable of keeping a hundred head of cattle.
He described the mountains as being high with no grass growing on the cliffs. Trees were sparse on top of the mountains but he observed that there were plenty of chestnut trees growing here which was rare for Carolina. He also noted that the Indians had plenty of meat from deer, turkey and bear.
In Lawson’s words, “At the top of some of these mountains is a cave that 100 men may fit very conveniently to dine in; whether natural or artificial, I could not learn.” To this day no one has located such a cave, nor does anyone know which mountain it might have been. Was it Shepherd Mountain?
Lawson portrayed the Indians he met as being smart but ignorant when measured by European standards. He noted that most of them wore mustaches and beards which he explained as, “rare, by reason that the Indians are a people that commonly pull the hair of their faces and other parts up by the roots and suffer none to grow.”
No one knows what happened to the Keyawee Indians, but soon after Lawson’s visit in 1701, white settlers began to move into the area in significant numbers. It is believed that only a few years after Lawson’s visit a fairly active settlement began to develop in the Shepherd Mountain area.
Evidence of this has been found in the remains of a fairly large pottery making operation located just a few hundred feet from the lodge at Mount Shepherd Retreat Center. Robert Armfield, a noted potter and historian in Ramseur, N.C. says some historians believe the Mount Shepherd pottery site is one of the oldest in the nation built by people of European decent.
On July 13, 2010, the pottery site was recognized by the Randolph County Commissioners as a Historic Landmark. Such recognition affords Mount Shepherd the opportunity for applying for state grants for further archaeological work. A detailed history of the pottery site can be found at http://www.co.randolph.nc.us/hlpc/MtShepherdPottery.htm.
One of those early settlers in the area was John Shepherd. No one knows from where this adventuresome man came but in 1771 he was granted the tract that contains the mountain which bears his name. Shepherd Mountain is one of many central North Carolina mountains called the Uwharrie Chain. Uwharrie (spelled Heighwaree by John Lawson) is believed to be the name given to the nearby river by the early white settlers in the area and not an Indian name.
Visitors from Western North Carolina often scoff at the idea of the Uwharries being called mountains since the tallest of these ancient hills is not much over 1,100 feet above sea-level. Shepherd Mountain which is one of the tallest is just 1,157 feet above sea-level.
Several other early settlers received land grants in the immediate area. In 1782 James Morgan was granted 440 acres by the state and in 1784 Lewis Morgan received a state grant of 200 acres.
Over the next couple of centuries the land changed hands many times as family members inherited it or it was sold. Sometimes portions of the land were sold for failure to pay taxes or was lost in foreclosure.
In addition to the Shepherds and Morgans other names such as Robbins, Barker, Nixon, Owen, Beeson and Morehead (John M. Morehead is one prominent name on the records) show up on the list of owners of property on and around Shepherd Mountain during the past two centuries.
During the great depression the owner of the property, which is now Mount Shepherd Retreat Center, was unable to pay his mortgage on the land which totaled almost 700 acres. Thus, the property was sold by the sheriff on the Randolph County Courthouse steps in October 1935 for $700. This grand sum of $1 an acre was not enough to pay off the $929 judgment against the land, but the mortgage-holder settled for the meager $700 bid offered by Mattie Burchette of Burlington.
In 1939 the Burchette family sold the property to Delos S. Hedgecock who was in the lumber and building supply business. Mr. Hedgecock began right away cutting the timber off the large tract. He soon found the price of lumber skyrocketing after World War II broke out in 1941 and lumber became very much in demand to build military bases all around the country.
His business associates say that Mr. Hedgecock cut a large amount of timber off Shepherd Mountain and surrounding areas and shipped much of it to Fayetteville where it was used to build army training facilities at Fort Bragg. The mad rush to build military facilities at that particular time sent the price of lumber through the roof.
This stroke of good timing for Mr. Hedgecock along with his good business sense helped him develop one of the most respected lumber and building supply firms in the state. He was a very generous man and later decided to donate the tract containing Shepherd Mountain to the Methodist Church.
On June 2, 1961 Delos S. Hedgecock and his wife Mary Lee donated the tract which now includes Mount Shepherd Retreat Center to the High Point District of the Western North Carolina Annual Conference of The (United) Methodist Church.
This generous gift from the Hedgecocks set the wheels in motion to develop a facility which could be used and enjoyed by all United Methodists in the High Point District and other people in the area.
Since that time a considerable amount of work has been done by thousand of United Methodist to develop the property into a first class retreat center. The main use of Mount Shepherd Retreat Center is for summer children and youth camping programs.
However, the facility has become a respected year-round center for all kinds of church-related activities. Many local church groups and organizations spend days, weekend-ends and weeks at a time enjoying this beautiful natural setting.
The center has been indeed fortunate to have good leadership as dozens of capable people from the High Point District of the United Methodist Church have served on its Board of Directors. The board’s major responsibility has been to employ a director, to help with fund raising and to determine operating policy.
Water and Evelyn Farlow were caretakers of the center form 1963 until 1973. Reverend Paul Duckwall, who was a minister at Mount Shepherd United Methodist Church (just a mile from the center) served as caretaker form 1973 to 1975. In 1975 Reverend Grady Burgin served as minister as the same church and was also caretaker of the center until 1977.
Pat McPherson became Mount Shepherd’s first full-time Camp Director in 1977. Under his leadership a tremendous amount of camp development and facility improvement took place during his 11-year stay. Kris McIntire served as Director form 1988 to 1989. Chris Brown was interim summer camp director in 1989.
Reverend Kent Shrader became Camp Director in 1989 and has facilitated a very enthusiastic program ever since. His leadership has helped direct the center toward unprecedented future expansion.
From it’s very beginning following the generous gift of land from the Hedgecocks, this land has slowly been developed into a well-respected camping and retreat center. Although in centuries past it had been the site of a pottery business, hotel and possibly other buildings, it was essentially timberland when its development began.
Shortly after the Hedgecocks donated the land in 1961, the Methodists went to work developing it into a camping and retreat center. During the next couple of years they built the caretaker’s house, a ball field, a picnic shelter, a large sewer system, a water system with a large tank on the mountain and other facilities.
Water and Evelyn Farlow moved into the house in 1963 and took care of the property as it developed over the next 10 years. In 1968 their sons Lee and Geoffrey discovered pieces of broken pottery near the care-taker house. It turned out to be one the country’s oldest pottery making sites. They brought the site to the attention of potters Dorothy and Walter Auman who realized the importance of this find and helped them investigate it.
This pottery site is located on what was the Ridge Road connecting the Great Trading Path to the Road to Cape Fear. It is believed this pottery was operated from around 1775 until about 1800. One operator of the business may have been Philip Jacob Meyer (1771-1801).
The North Carolina Historical Potters Exploration, Inc. was formed to research the site. In 1971 Archaeologist J. H. Kelly from Stoke-On-Trent Museum and Art Gallery in Staffordshire, England, sank three test trenches in the Mount Shepherd pottery site. He recommended that a further, more thorough dig be undertaken.
In 1974 Alain Outlaw was hired from the Virginia Historic Landmark Commission to conduct another archeological dig. He dug two major areas of the site that summer.
The next year a grant from the Bicentennial Commission made it possible to re-hire Outlaw to conduct an on-site field school with students of Dr. David McLean of St. Andrews Presbyterian College.
Less than half of the pottery site area was ever dug. Thus, much is left of this treasure to be explored. The Mount Shepherd pottery site was named to the National Registry of Historic Place in 1980.
In 1986, Randolph Community College recommended that a pottery program be added to the summer camping schedule. In 1991, under the direction of Kent Shrader assisted by Bob Armfield, a program was initiated. This program allows each summer camper to receive instructions and to actually make one or more pieces of pottery. As one camper put it, “Some folks go to camp and make a pot-holder. We go to camp and learn to make a pot.”
In 1982, C-FAR, the North Carolina Archaeological Assistant’s group adopted Mount Shepherd’s pottery program as an on-going project. John Davidson, a local archaeologist is working with this group to facilitate the program. It is hoped that the long-range plan for Mount Shepherd Retreat Center will contain a working pottery museum.
In 1968, Hedgecock Lodge was erected on the site which made it the pivotal point for the entire retreat center. The log-type building came in kit form from out west. Dr. Philip Shore, who was Superintendent of the High Point District of the United Methodist Church at the time, recalls the early morning call he received informing him that the kit was to be delivered. “Where do you want me to put your log cabin?” the voice on the phone asked. “I’m delivering your building today and I need to know where to put it.”
The top of Shepherd Mountain has served a major communications function for a long time. No doubt, the Keyauwees climbed the mountain to look out across the countryside to observe activities of wildlife and maybe even survey enemy movement. Or they may have just used it to capture and enjoy the beauty of this grand scenery.
Later the U.S. military place a wooden observation tower on top of Shepherd Mountain. A metal plate is embedded in a rock near a communications tower.
In 1968 Mount Shepherd Retreat Center signed an agreement allowing the state to place a communication tower on top of Shepherd Mountain. It is now used for communications and broadcasts across central North Carolina serving thousands of people with business, law enforcement, educational broadcasting and other public and private uses.
When the tower site contract came up for renewal in 1988, the state agreed to pave the road from Mount Shepherd Road to the entrance of Mount Shepherd Retreat Center. The center then paved it’s driveway leading up to Hedgecock Lodge.
A 3.5-acre pond was built near the Hedgecock lodge in 1974 and a small swimming pool soon thereafter. Many other facilities have been built as needed and as finances would allow.
In early 1993 the Board of Directors of Mt. Shepherd Retreat Center commissioned the firm of Harrison, Hempe and Davis to develop a long-range plan for the center. A year-long study will be completed in 1994.
In July of 2013 delegates to the Western North Carolina Conference voted to designate Mount Shepherd as a conference camp thus removing it's status as a district camp.
Over the past three decades the center has been financed by apportionments from churches in the High Point District, usage fees, contributions and miscellaneous sources. A few small tracts of timber have been solid and the sites reforested for future camping use.
Camping and activities programs have continued to expand over the years as the retreat center reached out to more and more people. New facilities are needed and plans for acquiring them are contained in the long-range plan.
In the future as funds are needed for expansion and as Mount shepherd Retreat Center’s program continues to grow, larger financing will be required. The Board of Directors will be giving its many friends the opportunity to be part of this growing outdoor ministry which is unique and different from any other in the world.