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5. Kenly/Selma


This tour for our tour participants takes you to Atkinson’s Mill, the Tobacco Farm Life Museum in Kenly and then onto Selma for some antiques shopping before returning to Cary.

Atkinson’s Mill – Atkinson Milling Co. – since 1757

John Richardson built the mill in April 1757 and died 1802; the mill passed to his son William Richardson who died 1822; the mill passed to his son Dr. Joseph Richardson who died 1840; the mill passed to his son Lunsford Richardson who drowned at the mill in 1856 at age 48. He had five children, William, Clement, Martha (Pattie), Rozetta and Lunsford II. Rozetta married Dr. Joshua Vick of Selma. Her brother Lunsford II operated a drug store in Selma; here Vicks VapoRub was developed along with 21 other Vicks products sold under Vicks Family Remedies. The Mill passed to Martha (Pattie) Richardson, who married Thomas H. Atkinson, a wealthy land owner near Boone Hill (Princeton) in 1859. Thomas died 1905 - Pattie died 1912. At that time the property consisted of a cotton gin, sawmill, general store, blacksmith shop, wheat and corn mill. Thomas and Pattie Atkinson had seven children, Robert, Minna, Joseph, Albert, Robena, Thomas II, and Wade. Mill passed to their son Thomas II and later to another son, Dr. Wade Atkinson.

Dr. Wade Atkinson owned the mill in 1930. He was the first owner to attempt to build a concrete dam across The Little River. He was probably the first owner in the history of the mill that could afford the labor and materials to construct a concrete dam. Dr. Wade Atkinson grew up around the mill and up and down this river. He gained national fame as a physician in Washington, D.C. and local fame on his summer vacations by giving medical attention to people in Johnston County for very little or no pay. Dr. Atkinson died in 1942.

Mrs. Mary Atkinson (wife of Dr. Atkinson) owned and managed the milling operation from 1942 until 1950 when the mill was destroyed by fire. Mrs. Atkinson already at a retiring age, decided not rebuild the mill. Dr. Atkinson's three nieces, Misses Jean, Cora and Ruth McLean, who were also raised in and around the mill, approached her about forming a corporation with the four of them to rebuild the mill. This was done in 1951 with Mrs. Atkinson serving as a member of the corporation until her death in 1968. A memorial to her may be seen across the river from the mill as the Mary Atkinson Girl Scout Camp.

The McLean sisters acquired Mrs. Atkinson's share of the stock in the corporation at her death and continued the operation of the mill with Jean McLean as President. The McLean sisters operated the mill until 1971, when they sold the corporation to Ray and Betty Wheeler, who had been employed at the mill since 1958. This ended 214 years of a single family ownership.
Tobacco Farm Life Museum, Kenly

Since 1983, the Tobacco Farm Life Museum has been preserving the history and cultural heritage of Eastern North Carolina farm life. The museum was started by a group of local families who had pride in their past and a strong volunteer spirit. Having seen the way of life of their parents and grandparents becoming obsolete, these families wanted to preserve this personal and special history of the Eastern North Carolina flue-cured tobacco farm family for future generations. The museum has grown to an internationally recognized and accredited museum and today continues to interpret and present this important rural legacy to the public.

Traditional Tobacco Growing - North Carolina farmers have grown tobacco since the 1660's, but the biggest boom in production started in 1880 and lasted until the 1990's. Until the advent of modern machinery, farmers relied on hand and mule power to grow the huge supplies of tobacco demanded by the public. This exhibit highlights the days of traditional growing practices and explains the time and care needed to produce the "gold' in the golden leaf.

The Tobacco Warehouse - explains the purpose and history of the tobacco warehouse. As recently as 1997, more than 130 warehouses operated in North Carolina. In 2003, however, that number had drastically declined and only 14 warehouses opened for the auction season. Additionally in 2003, computerized bidding replaced the long-familiar tobacco auctioneers and ticket markers. This rapid decline of the state's tobacco warehouses prompted the museum to develop the exhibit before the artifacts, documents, and oral histories disappeared forever. The exhibit includes items for "drumming up business," weighing and inspecting the tobacco, the auction process, and the cashier's cage where farmers receive their checks. A short video in the exhibit also explains the roles of the people carrying out the tobacco auction.

The Country Store - exhibit returns the visitor back to days when farm goods could be exchanged for hardware, meat was cut and weighed in front of customers, and cookies were two for a penny. Two rare artifacts displayed in the exhibit are early production Coke and Pepsi bottles, both with paper labels. For those interested in tobacco products, the Country Store exhibit also has many brands of tobacco on display alongside pipes, snuff canisters, and other smoking paraphernalia.

Log Tobacco Barn – for curing came from another farm and is one of the last remaining in the state. Visitors can look up into the rafters to see how the tobacco sticks were hung, view the wood furnace, and inspect the authentic tobacco carts — both wheeled and sled versions — which were pulled by mules.

The Packhouse - is the newest addition to the farmstead. It is a reproduction of the general-purpose style buildings found throughout North Carolina's countryside, and represents a farm's general work and storage facility. One room is set up to show how newly cured tobacco was graded and prepared for auction.

Selma was officially chartered as a Town on February 11, 1873, but the Town's true birth took place on May 1, 1867 when lots were sold around a newly established station on the North Carolina Railroad. Selma was born as a Railroad Town, and its rail heritage is still evident - from its recently renovated 1924 passenger Depot, which supports AMTRAK services, to its Mitchener Station, built ca. 1855, thought to be the oldest surviving train station in North Carolina.
Enjoy a walking tour of uptown Selma's well-stocked antique shops, specialty shops, restaurants, and an old-fashioned drug store with soda fountain and hand-dipped ice cream. All are located within walking distance of city parking lots, the recently restored and operational train station, and the Rudy Theatre, home of the American Music Jubilee variety show.