Overhills: Former Rockefeller Estate Sequestered on Fort Bragg


For more than one hundred years the idyllic Overhills golf and hunt club in the foothills of North Carolina has remained hidden from the public eye. At the dawn of the twentieth century its private fox-hunting trails, golf course, secluded lake, and polo fields were quietly enjoyed by some of the most powerful families in America. This southern Arcadia was the antipode of Biltmore and a polar Pinehurst, content with a comparatively quiet opulent existence.

Overhills spent more than seventy-five years as a private estate of the Rockefeller family before it was eventually sold to the Army and incorporated into Fort Bragg. For the last twenty years it has been isolated on military grounds, fenced but not groomed or maintained. Wild fires have replaced thieves and vandals as the chief threats to the abandoned structures, most of which have retreated into vegetative overgrowth.

In this post we remember and tour the former Rockefeller estate, before it disappears under a canopy of longleaf pine forever.

cover photo courtesy undertheradar.military.com


Map It!


Regional History

In the mid-nineteenth century the vast rolling landscape that became Overhills was originally the family plantation of Daniel McDiarmid. Situated in the Sandhills region of North Carolina, McDiarmid’s 13,000-acre plantation specialized in the production of naval stores (such as pitch, rosin, tar, and turpentine) culled from the great longleaf pine forests of the area.

Overhills Hunt Club
On a hunt at Overhills, circa 1920s. (courtesy North Carolina State Archives)

A series of financial burdens forced McDiarmid descendants to sell the plantation at auction in February of 1892. The buyers were officers of the Consolidated Lumber Company, a timber business with regional holdings approaching 20,000 acres. During the last decade of the nineteenth century, Overhills was timbered extensively.

Access to the remote area greatly improved in the late 1890’s after a reorganization of the Southern Railway by J.P. Morgan. Within a few years the Sandhills region of North Carolina was one day’s trip from New York.

At the turn of the century it was common for prosperous northerners to purchase large tracts of contiguous southern farmland and establish hunting clubs. These several-thousand-acre bucolic retreats were typically private, and funded by well-heeled families. An interesting corollary to the hunt club trend was the preservation of vast acreage of forested lands, deemed necessary to maintain a strong wildlife habitat. Foxes need forests.

In 1901 Consolidated Lumber sold its interest in the Overhills tract to Liverpool-based William Johnston, who envisioned building a hunting club named Arranmore on the property. While the Johnston family did use the property for hunts during their six years of ownership, the plans to build a grand hunt club lodge were never realized. There are no known surviving structures from this period.

It is proposed… to make A GREAT GAME PRESERVE on this property.”

– Fayetteville Observer (March 21st, 1901)


Croatan Club of Manchester

Croatan Club
(courtesy North Carolina State Archives)

Johnston’s plans would begin to take shape after his family sold the property in 1906. Business partners James T. Woodward and General John Gill purchased the 22,000-acre Arranmore for $32,500.

The two gentlemen were members of, and subsequently transferred the deed to, the newly formed Croatan Club of Manchester. The club was founded by wealthy northerners interested in developing a high-end hunt club in the hill country of North Carolina. There were twelve initial investors in Croatan, each subscribing with a contribution of $5,000 toward capital stock.

Little is known of the improvements made to Overhills by the Croatan Club during its four years of ownership; however when the group sold the property in 1910 for $75,000, it more than doubled its return on capital. The sale was prompted by the death of Croatan Club visionary James Woodward and a fading interest in Overhills by his partner, General Gill.

photos courtesy North Carolina State Archives

The new owners were a partnership already familiar with Overhills. James Francis Jordan was a tobacco merchant and had served as the secretary of the Croatan Club. His partner Leonard Tufts, was the son of James W. Tufts, the developer of nearby Pinehurst. Through these connections the gentlemen would also land Pinehurst’s course designer.

Tufts’ involvement was fleeting; he quickly sold his interest in Overhills to California Congressman and real-estate magnate William Kent. This would launch the successful Kent-Jordan partnership in 1911, which ushered in an era of expansion and prosperity for the property they dubbed “Pinewild.”

[ Jump to S-I’s buildings & maps section ]


Pinewild under Kent-Jordan

Since the Johnston days the property was always a private club. Poaching was deterred by the scattered tenant-farms at Pinewild, established in the second decade of the twentieth century. These occupied farms began a nearly 70-year tradition of farming activities that provided income to subsidize operating costs.

J. Van Lindley Nursery Co. catalogue 1919While farming was an important part of Pinewild, the majority of the property remained covered in a thick forest. In 1911 the site was described as thickly wooded, with pines and numerous other trees, and through all flow many streams and everywhere sparkling springs. Deer, partridges, wild turkeys and other game are in abundance.”

Because the structural build-out was exhausting to the partnership’s capital, the men occasionally did fundraising. In 1911, 650 acres of Pinewild were sold to the J. Van Lindley Nursery Company for use as a branch nursery. At the time the J. Van Lindley Nursery was one of the largest growing-operations in the country, supplying grapevines and fruit and nut trees to commercial farmers across the entire southeastern United States.

The nursery, which operated at Pinewild (and later Overhills) from 1911 until 1932, would eventually grow to more than 1,000 acres across the Sandhills of North Carolina.

Kent-Jordan Overhills site map
Kent-Jordan Overhills Townsite Map (source)

[ Browse J. Van Lindley Nursery’s 1901 catalogue or their 1925 seed guide brochure. ]

Announcing the change: Pinewild to Overhills, circa 1913
Announcing the change: Pinewild to Overhills, circa 1913

In 1912 Kent-Jordan sold the nearly 1,000 acres occupied by the Long Valley Farm along the southeastern edge of Pinewild. Purchaser Robert Wall Christian expanded its farm operations and implemented experimental farming techniques until his death in 1927, at which time Overhills re-acquired Long Valley Farm.

Through strategic land sales and purchasing the Kent-Jordan partnership eventually owned more than 35,000 acres in Harnett and Cumberland counties. It was under Jordan and Kent that Pinewild began to take shape on “the Hill,” a high point on the property with scenic views. This became of the property’s hub of activity when the resort was re-named Overhills in 1913. According to the owners, the reason for the name change was the existence of too many nearby clubs with the word “Pine” already in the name.

By this time Overhills boasted constructed roads and trails throughout the property, a large lake stocked with fish, kennels for hunting hounds, and other support buildings. A clubhouse (pictured below, later demolished in 1945) was opened in 1913 as the centerpiece of a residential compound, surrounded by a hunt club, horse stables, and a nine-hole golf course.

By 1916 the back nine holes had been added to the course, along with additional barns and kennels, a kitchen, a passenger railroad station, and a tennis court.

Overhills clubhouse circa 1920
Overhills clubhouse circa 1920 (courtesy North Carolina State Archives)


Overhills Golf

Overhills golf
(courtesy North Carolina State Archives)

The overgrown golf course at Overhills is something of a legend. It was one of the greatest courses of a bygone era, designed by a high priest of golf course design, with eighteen scenic holes inaccessible to professionals and public alike.

A 1917 Golf Illustrated article described the course as “one of the very finest golf courses in the country,” while another visiting golf professional claimed the course was better than any at Pinehurst,” another course coincidentally designed by the same person responsible for Overhills.

At the dawn of the twentieth century one man was behind the most brilliant golf courses in the country: Scotsman Donald Ross began his work at Overhills with the first nine holes in 1910. His orders, handed down from Mr. Jordan:

“Here, Mr. Ross, you have 3,500 acres of property to choose from.  I want a golf course that will have no superior – you are the doctor and do anything you want to – and do not consider expense when making your plans, you have an absolutely free hand.”

James Francis Jordan, 1917 Golf Illustrated

Overhills golf photos courtesy North Carolina State Archives

Having Ross pen the design was a superb ingredient, but the unique topography of the Sandhills was the Ace in Kent-Jordan’s sleeve. The rolling pitch, elevation changes, and endless views of Overhills provided one heck of a blank canvas. If there was a golf mind capable of harnessing the capabilities of the site’s rolling hills, it was Donald Ross. Credit James Jordan with the sapience to combine the two.

The front nine were completed in 1913 and coincided with the opening of the Overhills Country Club in December of that year. Donald Ross completed the back nine over the next three years, finishing in 1916.

Overhills golf course sign late 1910s
Overhills golf course signage, circa late 1910s. (courtesy North Carolina State Archives)

[ Did you Know? Donald Ross (1872-1948) was a Scotsman who relocated to the United States in 1899 to build and manage a golf course. From humble beginnings he developed a reputation as a talented designer who worked with the natural terrain to develop challenging yet deceptively simple courses. Ross had designed over 400 courses by his death in 1948, and his courses have been the site of over 100 U.S. National Championships. ]

Overhills golf was designed to take advantage of the undulating terrain provided by the topography. The 6,429-yard, par 71 course presented a challenging and scenic play, with its highest point being about 267 feet above sea level. It utilized an advanced underground irrigation system supplied by strategically placed water features, a purposeful trademark of Donald Ross courses.

When the course was first designed, Overhills was intended to become a major golf resort; however it never reached such prominence as the club’s members increasingly turned private. For decades the course received little publicity and remained a hidden gem of the Sandhills.

[ Check out SandhillsInsider for a more complete compilation page and tour of the Ross Overhills course. ]

Overhills golf course overgrown
Overhills golf course in 2005 (courtesy Library of Congress)

The back nine were sacrificed in the 1930s because gasoline rationing during World War II prevented mowing and general upkeep. For more than a decade the vegetation of the back nine holes was allowed to grow uncontrolled. During the 1950s the back nine holes were reconstructed with minor changes, and golf enjoyed a brief resurgence among the family and staff at Overhills.

In the fifty years since the course was operational, nature has reclaimed its land. Some maintenance has been performed over the years, such as controlled burning and trimming, however for the most part none of the openness from early photographs is present today. Vegetative overgrowth has camouflaged the fairways and greens while the faint outline of the course remains visible. Unlike most Donald Ross courses, Overhills has experienced few changes over the last one hundred years.

An abandoned Ross course is extremely rare. With few exceptions, the courses that survived were usually altered. Those that did not survive faced quick re-development. To find a Donald Ross course abandoned for fifty years – and still intact – is nigh indescribable, and adds to the legend of Overhills golf.

The course was designed by one of the world’s greatest, maintained by one of the world’s richest, and only played by several hundred people. There are few courses (if any) with such pedigree that are also in such a state of preserved abandonment. Overhills golf is a gift to us from our golfing forefathers, a time capsule from the early twentieth century. We are fortunate it still exists.

[ Golfex: For additional information about Overhills golf check out this post on golfclubatlas.comwhich has done a good job of compiling information and photos. ]

The 12th fairway at Overhills in 2010
The 12th fairway at Overhills in 2010 (courtesy Chris Buie)

Explore Overhills golf course on the map ]


Rockefeller & Harriman

Percy A. Rockefeller
Percy Avery Rockefeller

Between 1913 and 1915 visitors to Overhills rarely exceeded a few dozen. Guest invitations were limited to family and close friends of Kent and Jordan. This changed in 1916 when some new names began to appear in the guest register. Among them was Percy Avery Rockefeller (1878-1934), son of William Rockefeller Jr. and nephew of John D. Rockefeller.

Percy was a pivotal figure for the development of Overhills in the twentieth century, eventually becoming a significant benefactor, and primary owner. He was married to Isabel Goodrich Stillman (1876-1935), the daughter of banking and railroad tycoon James Stillman.

Isabel Goodrich Stillman
Isabel Goodrich Stillman

Like her husband, the benevolent Isabel Stillman Rockefeller – who inherited and managed her own fortune – also become instrumental in shaping Overhills for the next twenty years.

 [ John D. Rockefeller might be the most well-known in the family, but Percy was an accomplished man in his own right. He served on the board of directors for the Air Reduction Company, American International Corporation, Atlantic Fruit Company, Anaconda Copper Mining Company, Bethlehem Steel Corporation, Bowman Biltmore Hotels Company, Cuba Company, Chile Copper Company, Consolidated Gas Company, Greenwich Trust Company, W. A. Harriman & Co. & Brown Brothers Harriman & Company, Mesabi Iron Company, National City Bank of New York, National City Company, New York Edison Company, North American Reassurance Company, National Surety Company, Provident Loan Society, Remington Arms, United Electric Light & Power Company, and Western Union – and he still found time to hunt. ]

W. A. Harriman (center), between two other guys.
The well-known W. A. Harriman (center) between two random guys, 1945.

The Rockefellers were joined in 1917 by William Averell Harriman (1891-1986), the son of a railroad baron who later became an important United States diplomat and one of the six Wise Men.

Harriman was an expert polo player who became smitten with Overhills. He envisioned the grounds as a winter polo haven for his adroit comrades of the Orange County Polo Club in New York. The scenic Overhills provided an ideal training ground and home to the winter stables for his polo ponies.

W.A. Harriman decided to become an investor, and he began by building Harriman Cottage, completed in 1918. Under his guidance the country club converted and enlarged the nearby barns and stables for polo, and polo fields were constructed near the fifteenth hole of the golf course. Each season teams of laborers were required to keep the polo fields groomed.

Ultimately Harriman was Overhills’ only polo benefactor. When he abdicated from Overhills, all polo activity at the club ceased.

"The Hill" and Overhills golf course, circa 1930s. Note the groomed polo fields in upper right corner.
“The Hill” and Overhills golf course, circa 1930s. Note the groomed polo fields in upper right corner. (courtesy North Carolina State Archives)

[ Did You Know? In 1928 W. A. Harriman led the United States in its first victory against Argentina during the Copa de las Americas. The 1928 games were played at Meadowbrook in front of 100,000 spectators. The United States would win again in 1932, but the sport has been dominated by Argentina in the years since.]

Overhills railroad line
Overhills railroad, circa 1920s. (courtesy North Carolina State Archives)

In addition to those already named, another entity that has indirectly shaped Overhills and deserves mention is the United States Army. The Army’s presence has coincidentally helped shield Overhills from public access and view for nearly a century, starting in 1918 when the Department of the Army spent $6 million acquiring large swaths of land just south of Overhills to establish Camp Bragg.

This field artillery training center – known today as Fort Bragg – has grown over the years and stands today as one of the largest U.S. military bases in the world.

By the early 1920’s the Rockefellers were regulars at Overhills. The family formally established their roots between 1921 and 1922 with the construction of the Covert Cottage family residence (pictured below). This was the first Rockefeller residence built at Overhills, and incidentally it was the only one to meet the wrecking ball during the country club’s operative years. By the early 1940’s the Rockefellers had built a newer, larger home at Overhills, and Covert Cottage was relegated to duty as a guest house; a decade later it was torn down.

Covert & Harriman Cottages

W.A. Harriman and the Rockefellers were the only club members to ever build homes at Overhills.

Covert Cottage front and back and Harriman’s Cottage photos courtesy North Carolina State Archives.

Overhills clubhouse, Harriman's Cottage, and Covert Cottage, circa 1910s-1920s.
Overhills clubhouse, Harriman’s Cottage, and Covert Cottage, circa 1910s-1920s. (courtesy North Carolina State Archives)


The Boom Years

Overhills Hunt Club logo
Overhills Hunt Club logo (courtesy Chris Buie)

As the Rockefellers got more involved with Overhills, the Kent-Jordan Company began to withdrawal its interest. William Kent physically disengaged and returned to California at the conclusion of his Congressional service in 1917; he eventually sold his remaining interest in 1921.

James Jordan died unexpectedly in 1919, which opened the door for Rockefeller – who consequently purchased Jordan’s interest and became Overhills’ majority shareholder. Commensurate with such an investment came a greater level of control. By 1920 Percy Rockefeller had assumed a central role at Overhills and led the club through its most prosperous decade.

The 1920’s were the golden years at Overhills. Elite membership formed a “wealthy syndicate of sportsmen,” who spent winter seasons chasing foxes, fishing, golfing, hunting, and playing polo. The Rockefellers continued to acquire land surrounding Overhills, both to expand hunting lands and to further insulate the grounds from outside development.

A rail freight station and miles of new track were added to the Atlantic Coast Line to ease shipping of dry goods, farm produce, horses, and nursey stock.

Overhills Hunt Club Card 1920
Overhills Hunt Club Card, circa 1920. (courtesy National Sporting Library Archives)

While there are no written records of who designed the hunt courses and bridle trails at Overhills, a popular version of events recalls the landscaping being the work of Beatrix Farrand, one of the eleven founding members of the American Society for Landscape Architects. Her association with Overhills came by way of a friendship with Abby Aldrich Rockefeller.

Percy A. Rockefeller (center) at Overhills, circa 1920.
Percy A. Rockefeller (center) at Overhills, circa 1920. (courtesy North Carolina State Archives)

In 1921 the final 46 tracts of the Kent-Jordan holdings were sold for $200,000 to the newly formed Overhills Land Company (OLC). The OLC was established by Rockefeller to formally manage the operations at Overhills and the oversee maintenance of its grounds.

Also established was the Shooting Syndicate, a very exclusive and limited membership hunt club. Comprised of fifteen men (including Harriman and Rockefeller), the Shooting Syndicate enjoyed exclusive hunting privileges at Overhills in exchange for $500 per year in membership dues. Activities extended beyond hunting and polo; golf, horseback riding, tennis, and skeet shooting had also become popular activities during the 1920’s.

Overhills Land Company Shareholders, 1921

Farming also continued at Overhills throughout the 1920’s. The 1925 Farm Census for Harnett County reflected 30 tenant farms across 3,034 acres at Overhills. Cotton was the most common crop, followed by corn and tobacco.

The 1,000-acre Long Valley Farm was re-acquired by Overhills from the Christian estate following Robert Christian’s death in 1927. This time Rockefeller partnered with Cleveland, Ohio-based Windsor T. White (of White Trucking Company) to buy the property. The OLC owned and operated Long Valley Farm until 1937, when it sold the farm to Percy’s nephew, James Stillman Rockefeller.


The Hunt & Stables Complex

One of the most notable Percy Rockefeller additions was the Hunt & Stables Complex. Situated roughly one mile east of the Hill, the hunt and stable complex consisted of an arrangement of kennels and stables around a “Grand Circus” (pictured), an oval-shaped riding and training area with jumps.

Early aerial photo of the Overhills Grand Circus.
Early aerial photo of the Overhills Grand Circus. (courtesy North Carolina State Archives)

The ceremonial arena was bisected by a clay avenue, lined with hedges. Privet hedges bordered the oblong pen, which was entered and exited through one of several pairs of concrete columns (most of which still stand today).

Pine allée at Overhills, 2005
Pine allée at Overhills, circa 2005. (courtesy Library of Congress)

Extending from one of these sets of concrete piers is a pine allée (pictured), which stretches westward toward the Hill. Particularly ideal for fox hunting, the beautiful allées were not maintained beyond the 1930’s.

The kennels were designed by Joseph Brown Thomas, an expert foxhound breeder from Virginia and an authority on the matter. Coincidentally Thomas had been an Overhills guest in 1920; at Percy’s request, Thomas designed the kennels at Overhills.

The cry throughout was wonderful; the pack work excellent; hounds ran well in the open, also on the bare, burnt ground. They went through the briers, cane, and water of the swamps, as if there was nothing to stop them, and ran with terrific dash and drive . . .

Captain Adamthwaite, Overhills fox hunt diary entry, January 1926

photos courtesy Kim Elliman & North Carolina State Archives

When the earlier hunt stables burned down in a March 1927 fire, new kennels and stables were built in 1928. These were nearly identical to the earlier structures, both still sitting across from each other and encircling the Grand Circus.

The era of Overhills as a sportsmen’s retreat ended several years later; hunting would continue in earnest, primarily by the Rockefellers and Overhills staff, until the last fox hunt was held in 1937.

Hunt Complex from water tower, circa 1930
Hunt Complex from water tower, circa 1930 (courtesy Ed Bruce Jr.)


From Private Hunt Club to Rockefeller Estate

Overhills Croatan interior 1930s
Croatan interior, circa 1950s. (courtesy Ann Elliman)

Percy and Isabel Rockefeller completed Croatan Cottage (pictured) in 1929. It is a stately two-story red brick Colonial Revival residence, originally commissioned by Isabel and designed by New York firm Hiss and Weeks.

Croatan was more of a lodge than cottage, appropriately large to accommodate a family such as the Rockefellers, who would use the lodge for decades and help the building become an iconic structure of Overhills. When it opened, Croatan featured a flagstone terrace, an informal garden, and sweeping views of the golf course.

Together Croatan Lodge, Covert Cottage, Harriman Cottage, and the original Clubhouse formed an arc around the first and ninth holes of the golf course. This “ring” completed the Hill complex, and would serve as the centerpiece of the Rockefeller family estate at Overhills for the next seventy years.

Overhills Croatan Cottage 1930
Croatan Cottage, circa 1930. (courtesy Sandy Hemingway)

The high-flying era of the Overhills Hunt and Country Club came to an abrupt end concomitantly with the stock market crash of 1929.

Affluent members of private hunt clubs were not immune to the pangs of the ensuing Great Depression. Visitation at Overhills languished after the 1929-1930 season, with the final guests signing the visitor’s book in 1932. That year, a local newspaper referred to Overhills as “the Carolina estate of Mr. Percy A. Rockefeller.”

The original Overhills clubhouse (shown here in the late 1920s) was demolished in 1945.
The original Overhills clubhouse (shown here in the late 1920s) was demolished in 1945. (source)

Economic hardships created by the depression also forced the Lindley Nursery annex to close. In 1932 the nursery’s 1,224 acres were sold back to Isabel Rockefeller, who converted the Lindley structures into a private health care complex for tubercular and mal-nourished children.

Known as the Hope Farm Preventorium, it operated only briefly – from 1932 until 1936, a year after the death of lsabel.

“Too beautiful here now TO GO ANYWHERE ELSE.”

                – Isabel Rockefeller, July 11th, 1933

By the time Percy died in 1934, the Rockefellers had amassed close to 40,000 acres for Overhills. When Isabel passed away in 1935, the estate experienced a generational shift within the family. The Overhills Land Company and its acreage were divided among the five Rockefeller children: Isabel Lincoln, Avery Rockefeller Sr., Winifred Emeny, Faith Model, and Gladys Underhill.

Percy’s son Avery emerged as the patriarchal figure of the estate, and guided Overhills through a long and successful period as a private resort for the family.

Avery Rockefeller Sr. 1940
Avery Rockefeller Sr. circa 1940. (photo courtesy Ann Elliman)

Avery Rockefeller (pictured) approached the remaining Overhills Land Company shareholders and suggested their shares be turned over to the estate to settle debts to his father.

Once shares were consolidated to the Rockefellers, the Overhills Land Company was dissolved. In 1938 all shares were transferred to Overhills Farms, Inc., a new corporation established for the ownership by the Rockefeller children.


Period of Contraction

Overhills Harriman Cottage rear 2005
Back of Harriman Cottage, circa 2005 (courtesy Library of Congress)

An enormous estate tax bill forced Avery to undo much of his father’s land acquisition work during the decade of prosperity. Between 1935 and 1938, approximately 75% of the Overhills acreage was sold as Avery pared the family retreat from 40,000 acres to 10,000 acres.

Strategic land sales would continue for several decades to fund property maintenance and reinvestment. By 1942 the estate had been reduced to 8,000 acres.

The younger Rockefellers did not share their father’s passion of fox hunting or Harriman’s fancy of polo. After the hunts stopped, the dog kennels were mostly neglected (and later demolished in the 1950s). The polo fields had already been neglected, and would be buried further in overgrowth. Another victim to the cost-cutting were the back nine holes of the golf course, also abandoned in the 1930s.

Overhills encountered more headwinds during World War II, which effectively shut down the golf course. Rationing of gasoline prevented the usual maintenance and upkeep of the estate – including mowing. During the war the Rockefellers granted the Army maneuvering rights on their surrounding grounds, especially if it meant Overhills wouldn’t be claimed for base expansion.

[ Did You Know? In 1939 president of Overhills Farms, Inc., Avery Rockefeller invested in a startup Georgia-based grocery store chain named Piggly Wiggly. Returns on this investment were so profitable it was able to subsidize the Overhills farm operation for decades. ]

Entrance Road to the Hill at Overhills
Entrance road to “the Hill” at Overhills (courtesy Library of Congress).

It was out of economic necessity that operations at Overhills shifted from hunt club to commercial farm. Tenant farms were reduced, and eventually abolished altogether, as the Rockefellers got more involved.

The increased focus on agriculture resulted in changes to many of the buildings at the estate. Horse stables were converted into a dairy barn, although the dairy didn’t last long and was closed by 1942. Commercial timbering returned to Overhills for the first time in more than fifty years.

The original Overhills Clubhouse, no longer in use and carrying a significant maintenance cost, was demolished in 1945. The hunt kennel met the same fate after 1949, and Covert Cottage in 1954. Harriman’s Cottage remained, and until 1960, was the primary residence of the farm manager and long-time site caretaker W.B. Bruce. That year a new Estate Manager’s residence was constructed just south of the Hill; Bruce and his family moved in.

While in charge of Overhills Avery Rockefeller designed and built three ranch-style family cottages: Sycamore (1949, map), Cherokee (1955, map), and Bird Song (1963, map), which became his personal winter residence. Sycamore and Cherokee sat in thick brush between Croatan and Harriman Cottages. Sycamore was the smallest of the three ranch cottages and built adjacent to Covert Cottage at the end of the garden lane. Appropriately named, it was surrounded by several specimen sycamore trees.

Overhills ranch homes Bird Song Cherokee Sycamore
Overhills ranch homes, L to R: Bird Song, Cherokee, Sycamore. (courtesy Fort Bragg)

The H-shaped Cherokee Cottage is the only one of the three ranch cottages still standing today. It was constructed on the former site of Covert Cottage, between Sycamore and Harriman Cottages. Today, two juniper trees and one boxwood hedge are all that is left of the original entrance drive to Covert cottage.

Bird Song was the largest of the three cottages, with fourteen bedrooms and an indoor pool. It had a garden comprised of remnants of the former Lindley Nursery, which were excavated and relocated to the Hill. Bird Song was located southwest of the original Clubhouse site, situated between holes 1, 9, 10, and 18 of the golf course. The largest cottages were Croatan and Bird Song, which faced each other at either end of the Hill’s semi-circle.

Abandoned Overhills Polo Barn, circa 2005.
Abandoned Overhills Polo Barn, circa 2005. (courtesy Library of Congress)

The primary family activity during this time was horseback riding. From the 1940s until the 1990s, the estate maintained nearly 200 miles of bridle trails. A paddle tennis court was built behind the Croatan Cottage, the remnants of which are still visible today under some overgrowth. An asphalt tennis court was erected nearby, just southeast of the Hill.

For a brief spell in the late 1950’s there was a renewed interest in golf at Overhills, which finally saw a return of the back nine after decades of overgrowth.

Avery Anna Rockefeller Bird Song 1980
Avery & Anna Rockefeller in Bird Song circa 1980. (courtesy Sandy Hemingway)

In the 1970’s Overhills became more of a cattle, hog farm, and timber operation.  Additional agricultural production included corn, hay, row crops, and tobacco. The Rockefellers maintained administrative control of the farming operations over the years.

Avery Rockefeller ran Overhills and planned to have his son Avery Rockefeller Jr. take over, until his death in 1979. Christopher J. Elliman, Avery Rockefeller Sr.’s grandson, would lead Overhills Farms during its final years in the family.


End of the Rockefeller Era

Harriman Cottage Overhills
Harriman Cottage today (source)

By the early 1990s the estate was seeing less of the Rockefellers every year. The reasons for the eventual decline of Overhills were rooted in a lack of a common vision between the family members, which led to unfortunate conflict over how best to utilize the property. When the family failed to reach a consensus, they began to entertain the idea of selling the family estate.

In 1992 Overhills Farms’ James Stillman Rockefeller entered negotiations with the U.S. government about incorporating the estate into the greater Fort Bragg Military Reservation. The mammoth Army base northwest of Fayetteville, North Carolina, is home to the U.S. Special Operations Command and the 82nd Airborne. Army officials were interested in expanding the buffer zone around the encampment and increasing the size of its training area.

Croatan Cottage Today (source)

There were two major roadblocks to completing the deal with the Army: A moratorium on Army land purchasing had been enacted in 1990 (coincidentally enough by Dick Cheney). The moratorium was eventually lifted in 1993, and Congress appropriated $15 million for the Army to buy 11,000 acres at Overhills.

However in 1994 Senator Jesse Helms blocked the Army’s plan to buy the Overhills tract, highlighting the budgetary deficit to county schools and tax rolls created by the sale. Helms argued if the land was sold to the Army, “the county would lose approximately $25,000 per year in tax revenue and create a significant funding deficit for the public school system.”

Back of Bird Song Cottage, circa 2005
Back of Bird Song Cottage, circa 2005 (courtesy Library of Congress)

The last Rockefeller to stay at Overhills was Avery Lincoln Chappell Smith, the great-granddaughter of Percy and Isabel Rockefeller.

Sixty-seven years after the first name was signed in the Croatan guest book, she wrote its final entry:

“Even though we did not stay here in Croatan, I just had to write one last thing. Goodbye beloved Overhills, Croatan, and all of the most wonderful people in the world.

Overhills water tower
Overhills water tower (courtesy Donald Lee Pardue)

I will always love you and never forget you. So many great memories here, so much fun. NEVER WILL THERE BE ANOTHER PLACE LIKE OVERHILLS AGAIN. Goodbye.”

– Avery Lincoln Chappell Smith, November 14th-17th, 1996

The delays in closing were expensive for the buyer. Fort Bragg officially acquired the Overhills estate in 1997 for $29.4 million – nearly twice the amount originally appropriated by Congress in 1993. In order to overcome Senator Helms’ objections the Army agreed to give Harnett County $1 million and 157 acres for schools, and promised to help with construction projects.

Today the 10,580-acre Overhills tract is part of Fort Bragg’s Northern Training Area. It is only sparingly used for military training, and the Army has erected fencing to protect and respect the boundaries of the Overhills Historic District.

Long Valley Farm stayed in the Rockefeller family until James Stillman Rockefeller’s death in 2004. In his will, James left Long Valley Farm to the Nature Conservancy.

Croatan deteriorates, but still offers fantastic views of the golf course.
Croatan deteriorates, but still offers fantastic views of the golf course. (source)


Archiving & Preserving Overhills

In the early 1990s historian Davyd Foard Hood was hired by the Rockefellers to aggregate information in order to secure a nomination for Overhills on the National Register of Historic Places. Hood deserves a mention for his meticulous and exhaustive compilation of history at Overhills, much of which was used for this article.

Long Valley Farm was independently listed on the National Register in 1993. The North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office offered a favorable preliminary review of Hood’s Overhills nomination, however for reasons unknown the owners did not submit the bid for consideration at that time.

Rockefeller inscription
Solomon Rockefeller was here. (source)

In the year 2000, a subsequent study by Mattson, Alexander and Associates, Inc., officially outlined the 5,700 acres of the Overhills Historic District. Southeastern Archeological Services, Inc., completed testing of fifty sites at Overhills and concluded that twenty-one were eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Due to the property’s relatively minor disturbances over the years, Overhills was said to offer a “higher level of integrity of archaeological sites” than other regional artifacts.

In 2001 fifty structures (built between 1906 and 1938) and 5,700 acres of the Overhills Historic District officially earned eligibility for the Register.

Throughout 2005 the Army Corps of Engineers conducted an extensive survey of the Overhills Historic District. The archival research expedition took eleven months and provided historians with the greatest level of Overhills documentation to date. More than one hundred structures and landscapes on the property were independently evaluated and recorded.

The buildings were broken into six groups (explored in greater detail in each link): The Hill, the Entrance Compound, the Shops Complex, Overhills Lake, the Hunt & Stables Complex, and Lindley Nursery.

Croatan Cottage: Still standing, but deteriorating.
Croatan Cottage: Still standing, but deteriorating. (source)


The Role of Fire

Overhills controlled burning 1940
Controlled burning at Overhills circa 1940. (photo courtesy Ann Elliman)

As might be expected with a large forested property, fire played a large role in the history of Overhills. Somewhat surprisingly, of all potential fire threats, arson was lowest on the list at Overhills. Greater hazards were lightning and the dried resin on box-cut pine trees, susceptible to sparking in the proper conditions.

Whether it was brush clearing, controlled burns, or lightning strikes, fire was a part of life for the residents of the Sandhills region. A drought from 1931 through 1932 dried out a swampy portion of the Overhills property and resulted in wild fires burning 3,090 acres.

To limit potential damage, fire lines were established and fire protection associations formed. Fire towers were built, and farm laborers were contracted to fight fires when necessary. When maintained, the system worked well. However in the years after Overhills was sold to the Army, there was no active maintenance to the systems nor laborers to fight fires.

A firebreak was added to the golf course in 2002-2003 after an August 2002 wildfire burned the White Servants’ Quarters and came perilously close to the Bird Song house and Croatan Lodge. Unfortunately the firebreak could not save Bird Song, which burned down to its foundation in a February 2009 fire.

Bird song fire photos courtesy Dawn Pandoliano

[ Did You Know? Only about two million acres of longleaf pine forest remain in the United States. The intact woodlands of Overhills contain the second-largest surviving forest of longleaf pine. ]


Overhills Today

Overhills Atlantic Coast Line railroad corridor
Abandoned Atlantic Coast Line Railroad corridor at Overhills in 2003. (source)

A railroad once bifurcated the Overhills property. Now the tracks are long gone, leaving a conspicuous corridor void of trees slicing through the Sandhills. The old line’s embankment is identifiable as it peeks from overgrown pine forests on its way past Overhills Lake toward the Entrance Compound. To the north of the Hill, the rail corridor doubles as a dam for the west side of the Overhills Lake.

The Entrance Compound still has nearly a dozen abandoned buildings, including some pre-Rockefeller structures, although they are in various stages of decomposition.

Overhills Harriman Cottage fireplace
Harriman Cottage fireplace (source)

North of the Entrance Compound is Lillington Road (map), once used to access the Overhills Lake and dam to the east. The remnants of Croatan’s gardens on the north and south side of the house are overgrown; the once manicured sand paths are now grass.

A garden path bordered by bricks that once extended from Croatan to Sycamore is slowly disappearing into the terrain. The golf course itself is severely overgrown, but mostly intact. Sporadic controlled burns over the years have maintained a modicum of course integrity.

A stand of pine trees hides the shops complex of cottages, shops, and support buildings along the north side of the Hill today. Some of these are still used for storage and training exercises by the Army. Of the four pairs of columns that once ringed the Great Circus, one is invisible behind a grove of volunteer pines.

Each of the Overhills structures have succumbed to vegetation. It’s a peaceful existence here now, largely void of the typical copper thieves and taggers. Aside from the military, visitors at Overhills these days are rare: The infrequent hikers, off-roaders, or unlicensed poachers. Occasionally the sounds of artillery will reverberate on the grounds, courtesy of nearby military exercises. But most of the time, only the birds and wind disturb the solitude enjoyed at Overhills.

The only visual disruption is a chain-link fence, erected years ago by the Army to protect the Overhills Historic District. It’s not foolproof in stopping trespassers and vandals, but it’s a start. Ultimately what has really protected Overhills is what helped keep it a secret for nearly a century: Its location.

Fencing at Overhills
Fencing at Overhills. (source)


Overhills murals photos below courtesy flickr user tenderpoison24

[ Behind the art: Animal wall art still visible today at Overhills was the work of Ethel Peterson (known as “Miss Pete” to the Rockefeller family). A talented artist, she began working for Isabel Rockefeller in the 1920s. One of her gifts to the family: Painting the children’s bath and bedrooms in Croatan and Bird Song Cottages. ]




Buildings and Maps

Overhills is dissected by NC 87 (a.k.a. “Old Western Plank Road”), a four-lane highway that carries traffic north-south from Fayetteville toward Winston-Salem. It intersects with Nursery Road, an Overhills avenue that serves as the spine of the property. Nursery Road extends from the former Lindley nursery complex in the northwest quadrant of the property and crosses the old railroad corridor southeast of the Hill on its way to Vass Road.

Nursery Road provides access to Highway 87, the Hill, the Hunt Stable Complex, Jumping Run Creek, the Lindley Nursery Complex, and Vass Road. South of the NC 87 intersection, the gravel Nursery Road is part of the Historic District and not accessible to the public. North of Highway 87, Nursery Road is paved and public.

Bird's eye view of the Hill at Overhills
Bird’s eye view of the Hill, circa 1938: A-Croatan Cottage; B-Covert Cottage; C-Harriman Cottage; D-Overhills clubhouse; E-Servants Cottages; F-Alabaster Cottage; G-Water Tower; H-Railroad; I-Pine Allée.
1938 aerial photo of "the Hill" & Entrance Complex at Overhills
1938 aerial photo of “the Hill” & Entrance Complex at Overhills: A-Overhills Golf Course; B-The Hill; C-Polo Field; D-Allee to polo field; E-Riding Stables; F-Overhills Lake; G-Atlantic Coast Line Railroad; H-Hunt Complex; I-Southern Entrance Road; J-Northern Entrance Road; K-Old Western Plank Road/Highway 24/87; L-Bain Field; M-Coble House, Cameron House, Freight Depot; N-Pea patch area.

The 2000 and 2005 surveys of Overhills numbered the structures and geographically sorted places of interest into six groups, outlined below. For the history buffs we have assembled the available public information about the structures at Overhills.

For those we could find, we included a link to each structure’s Historic American Buildings Survey report for the Overhills tract (HABS NC-407). If you see one online that’s not listed here, please let us know.


The six sections of Overhills
The six sections of Overhills


  • Overhills the hill site mapThe Hill: The Hill was the central focus of the Rockefeller estate. Located on the west side of the former Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and north of State Route 1117/Nursery Road, it served as the main residential compound with six cottages, a servants’ quarters, and an 18-hole golf course. If you stumble across old electrical boxes in the ground, those were used for recharging golf carts.
  • Structures:
    • Building 13: White Servants’ Quarters (c. 1913). This wood-framed rustic-style cottage was destroyed by fire March 17, 2002.
    • Building 44: Black Servants’ Quarters (c. 1913, map)
    • Building 45: Laundry Building (c. 1920)
    • Building 46: Harriman Cottage (c. 1918, map)
    • Building 47: Harriman Cottage Garage (c. 1935)
    • Building 48: Sycamore Cottage (c. 1949, map)
    • Building 49: Cherokee Cottage (c. 1954-1955, map)
    • Building 50: Estate Office and Manager’s Residence (c. 1960, map)
    • Building 51: Bus Shelter/Tennis Court Shed (c. 1940s). Re-located in 1988.
    • Building 52: Tennis Court (c. 1970, map)
    • Building 53: Pump House (c. 1935)
    • Building 54: Croatan Cottage (c. 1928-1929, map)
    • Building 55: Croatan Cottage Garage (c. 1928-1929)
    • Building 56: Paddle Court (c. 1929)
    • Building 57: Bird Song Cottage (c. 1962-1963, map)
    • Building 58: Bird Song Pump House (c. 1963)
    • Building 59: Dog Kennel (c. 1970)
    • Building 60: Golf Course (c. 1913-1916, map)
    • Building 61: Golf Course spectator shelter (c. 1970s)
    • Building 62: Skeet Range (c. 1960)
    • Building 63: Overhills Lake (c. 1916, map)
    • Building 64: Pasture Stall (c. 1980)
    • Building 65: Pasture Stall (c. 1980)
    • Building 138: Shed (c. 1970)
    • Building 139: Shed (c. 1970)
    • Building 140: Shed (c. 1970)
    • Building 141: Shed (c. 1970)

  • Overhills entrance complex site mapEntrance Compound: The entrance compound is located on the north side of State Route 1117/Nursery Road, and on the east side of the former Atlantic Coast Line railroad corridor. It consists of eleven buildings along the former railroad corridor. The principal buildings include the passenger and freight stations, log hunting lodge, riding stable, and former polo barn.

  • Overhills shops complex site mapShops Complex: The Shops Complex is located on the north side of State Route 1117/Nursery Road and on the west side of the former Atlantic Coast Line railroad corridor. It sits north of the golf course and the residential compound of the Hill, southwest of Overhills Lake. Today a stand of pine trees hides the complex of cottages, shops, and support buildings. Some of these are still used for storage and training exercises by the Army.
    • Structures:
      • Building 28: Shop Garage No. 1 (c. 1935)
      • Building 29: Fuel Storage Shed (c. 1935)
      • Building 30: Oil House/Former Overhills Post Office (c. 1920, moved c. 1935)
      • Building 31: Shop (c. 1935, map)
      • Building 32: Granary (c. 1935, map)
      • Building 33: Equipment Shed (c. 1970, map)
      • Building 34: Shop Garage No. 2 (c. 1960s)
      • Building 35: Woodworking Shop (c. 1950)
      • Building 36: Worker House No. 1 (c. 1915-1918)
      • Building 37: Worker House No. 1 Garage (c. 1935)
      • Building 38: Servant’s House (c. 1930)
      • Building 39: Worker House No. 2 (c. 1918, map)
      • Building 40: Mule Barn (c. 1935)
      • Building 41: Worker House No. 2 Wood Shed (c. 1950)
      • Building 42: Worker House No. 2 Chicken House (c. 1950)

  • Overhills Lake: Overhills Lake is located on the north side of State Route 1117/Nursery Road and borders the former Atlantic Coast Line railroad corridor to its east. The lake is north of the Entrance Compound and includes a concrete dam, bathhouse, walking trail, and recreational area on the edge of Overhills Lake. The lake was created when engineers dammed Muddy Creek with an earthen berm in the late-nineteenth century. The lake’s bathhouse features a red roof and was built into the dam. A picnic and swimming area overlooked the lake and its bald-cypress swamps. A concrete dam with steel gates was built in 1938 to stabilize the earthen dam. The dam, gates, and a brick bathhouse are still intact.
    • Structures:
      • Building 22: Overhills Lake, Dam, and Gates (late 19th/early 20th century, rebuilt in 1938, map)
      • Building 23: Lake Bathhouse (c. 1920s, map)
      • Building 24: Lake Pump House (c. 1963)
      • Building 25: Lake Boathouse (c. 1950)
      • Building 26: Bridge over Muddy Creek (c. 1960, map)
      • Building 27: Railroad Bridge (c. 1935)

  • Overhills hunt stable complexHunt & Stables Complex: The Hunt & Stable complex is located on the south side of State Route 1117/Nursery Road, east of the former railroad corridor and west of N.C. 87. It includes the hunt stables, the ruins of the hunt kennels, the Great Circus, and an unkempt pine allée. Four pairs of concrete columns are sited around a grassy area that was once used for jumping and parading horses and hounds. One pair once had gates attached, but they are now missing. Another pair of columns is located across the grass yard at the ruins of the hunt kennel. The columns on the west side function as an entry into the pine allée. And another pair of columns sit 450 feet to the west, in the middle of the pine allée. Today the Hunt Stable Complex is being encroached on all sides by a forest, and the hunt kennel ruins have been swallowed by the surrounding tree canopy.
    • Structures:
      • Building 1 Great Circus (c. early 1920s, map)
      • Building 2: Hunt Stable (c. 1924, map)
      • Building 3: Hunt Stable Silo (c. 1924)
      • Building 4: Hunt Stable Garage (c. 1930s)
      • Building 5: Hunt Stable Residence No. 1 (c. 1920s, remodeled in the 1980s. map)
      • Building 6: Hunt Stable Residence No. 2 (c. 1940s, map)
      • Building 7: Hunt Stable Residence No. 2 Garage (c. 1940s)
      • Building 8: Hunt Stable Residence No. 2 Shed (c. 1940s)
      • Building 9: Overhills Newer Water Tank (c. 1969, map)
      • Building 10: Overhills Historic Water Tank (c. 1925, map)

  • Overhills lindley nursery complex site mapLindley Nursery: The former Lindley Nursery was located on the north and west sides of State Route 1117/Nursery Road, about one mile east of the junction with N.C. 87. It comprises two distinct building complexes: “Lindley Nursery Complex North” and “Lindley Nursery Complex South.” Nursery Road, an asphalted striped highway, dissects the former Lindley Nursery property. The road gave the nursery access to the freight rail station at Overhills, where nursery plants were shipped to market. The Lindley Nursery Complex North is more remote and experienced a less intensive agricultural use after the nursery closed in the early 1930s; this area was used by Isabel for her Preventorium. Today the nursery complexes are both abandoned. The north complex is unused and overgrown, while the south complex has been mostly razed after its structures were beginning to collapse.
    • Lindley Nursery Complex North Structures (map):
    • Lindley Nursery Complex South Structures (map):
      • Building 77: Nursery Manager’s House (c. 1911, map)
      • Building 78: Pump House (c. 1911)
      • Building 79: Equipment Shed (c. 1980, map)
      • Building 80: Oil House (c. 1974)
      • Building 81: Feed Barn (c. 1930)
      • Building 82: Weighing/Loading Shed (c. 1970, map)
      • Building 83: Sheds (c. 1970)
      • Building 84: Garage/Stable (c. 1920, altered c. 1976)
      • Building 85: Nursery Worker House No. 4 (c. 1911)
      • Building 86: Nursery Worker House No. 4 Garage (c. 1920s)
      • Building 87: Nursery Worker House No. 4 Chicken House (c. 1920s)
      • Building 88: Nursery Worker House No. 3 (c. 1911)
      • Building 89: Horse Stable (c. 1955)
      • Building 90: Hog Pen (c. 1955)



  1. Fascinating detail, obviously so thoroughly researched! Fun to read. My favorite part was probably the photo of Harriman “between two random guys.” Ha! The humor makes it that much more enjoyable. Thanks!

    • Same. I laughed out loud when I read “between some random guys.” I also smiled at the comment about the fence.

      Great post S-I, didn’t know you were a comedian as well.

    • Thanks to both of you! I’m glad the bit of sarcasm was caught and enjoyed. Cheers on the detail comment JJukky.

      Don’t worry about me becoming a comedian Frank. I’ll keep my day job. But don’t forget to tip your waitress. πŸ˜‰

  2. You know you’re rich when you can hire an artist to paint on your kids’ rooms. I was in Fayetteville a couple years ago, I wish I had known about this place!

  3. how did percy find the time to run all those companies? what really amazes me about the rockafellers is how so many of the kids continued to be successful. i know so many families where one kid was successful but the rest of the entire family was not. even though every rockafeller wasn’t successful it is amazing how many of them were. good story.

    • My first reaction when I read that was “this was clearly in an era before email.” I’m convinced nobody could successfully replicate that kind of resume today. Mainly because of email. πŸ˜‰

      Thanks for reading!

  4. Great research. I’ve heard of this estate before but not to this level of detail. Thanks for providing the links to those surveys too, those were interesting.

  5. man those lucky surveyors who got to spend a year exploring the site and documenting it…

  6. Wow, We (Dad mom and I) moved there 1961, went to school and lived on base 2 years, then dad retired Army engineers move off base, and lived near and used the bases facilities till 1972 as a dependent, hospitals, sports, and other military adventures. Never heard or remember hearing anything about this. Very Interesting.

    • Really? Thanks for the comment Thomas, interesting to hear a first-hand account from someone who lived on post. That really speaks to how well the Rockefellers kept this quiet – that by itself is truly amazing if you think about it: Even the neighbors didn’t know it existed. Cheers for the feedback, and thanks for reading.

      • I am from Fayetteville and spent lots of time traveling plank road going to southern Pines and Pinehurst. This is all new to me! I was driving near this area two months ago!! My husband was an Air Crew member on c130s out of Pope AFB in the ’80s. Can’t wait to ask him if he knew about this place. Surely it was notated on their flying charts!!! They dropped paratroopers over the DZ’s at Ft Bragg.

        • For several years I drove an ice cream truck on post. I’d often get a request to drive out to a grid and was, every now and again, amazed to find myself on or driving past some of these structures. My heart would break because of the deplorable conditions some buildings were in…roofs caved in, vandalized, covered with over-growth. It’s awesome to see some old pics of what they used to be!

          • That’s an interesting story Pam. I’m picturing hearing an ice cream truck speaker playing through Overhills today – but you’d have to play it slower and off-key to better fit the condition of the buildings. Thanks for the comment!

        • that was the opposite side on the other side people would go hunting until early 90’s when the gov brought up the last bit of land. you can find GI’s out there now swimming in the lake, it was few people that lived in the woods long gone now.

        • Hi Lynn, if your husband flew on C-130s I’m sure he knew of these buildings. I don’t think you’re the only person who drives by and never realized Overhills was here. The Rockefellers did a good job keeping this one quiet for so long. Thanks for the comment!

    • Did a bee sting his nose? They’re great aren’t they? One of those details that can humanize the buildings and tell a story. It gives personality to the structure. The longevity of the art is also pretty spectacular if you consider the deterioration and exposure in the space. Moisture can peel paint off walls like some kind of specialized tool that peels paint off walls! Fortunately it hasn’t happened at Overhills. Ethel Peterson was a talented artist.

      • Yes, and esprecially because they lend a different tone to the overall abonded area it’s interesting to look at those. Were they at any point restored? They still look so lively!
        Btw, do you always visit the locations you explain about yourself?

        • I don’t believe they’ve been restored but they may have been repainted at some point in time. I’m impressed if that’s the original paint. And sadly no, I’m a virtual globetrotter. I sit on the shoulders of the photographers; they’re the ones who do all the hard work. πŸ˜‰

  7. I always get a chuckle at the Blog name when a new post pops up on my feed, because I know that they are ALWAYS interesting! This one certainly was. Thanks again for your fascinating posts.

  8. I am fascinated by how the wealthy of 100 years ago preserved land and created this massive, beautiful estates, where it feels like the wealthy of today just want to use land up. Destroy it to build things on it. Some of these images reminded me of how Chernobyl is being absorbed by nature.

    • I agree, probably why I’m drawn to these estates as well. Funny you point out Chernobyl. Pripyat was what really turned me on to this subject matter. I’ve never tackled the subject, but maybe I should. I would love to visit.

      • There are some really, really cool videos of the site on youtube. Check them out. It’s a fascinating place. Huge packs of wild wolves, large herds of elk and deer, the city has been consumed by nature. It is a fascinating place. I truly want to visit one day.

        • I’m familiar, I have several books on the city and have probably watched a dozen hours of amateur footage. I just want to visit! Pripyat was also featured in a Call of Duty video game (don’t remember which one, I think ten years ago or so). In the game you played a sniper and could roam the empty city by yourself. The depiction and layout provided in the game were surprisingly accurate.

    • Thanks Ben, good to hear from you again. πŸ™‚
      I’m fortunate to have a wonderful readership that sends me these suggestions. The last article I published that wasn’t a direct suggestion from a reader was “Tunnel 51” back in May of last year. Before that you’d have to go back to the Witley Court post in August of 2014. I’d guesstimate more than 95% of the articles so far are from suggestions. Thanks everybody!

          • Some friends and I explored Seven Troughs a couple years ago. We found an almost complete stamping machine (big honking contraption that crushes gold ore) and what appeared to be a cyanide/mercury slurry system for dissolving gold and silver out of the crushed up rock. You can also find the remnants of sister settlement Searchlight that was washed away in a flash flood .

            • Wow, I looked that up and saw what you are talking about. There is also a ghost town called “Tunnel” apparently. I never explored that far north while I was in Nevada, but I know there are at least a dozen places worthy to explore. There’s an old mostly-abandoned gypsum company town called Empire not far from Seven Troughs, FYI. Don’t know if you explored that too. Did you get good photos?

                • Thanks for the link, I enjoyed that story. Congrats on getting published in a magazine too. Next time I’m in Nevada I’ll have to check out the north end of the state. Have you been to Bodie or Darwin, CA? Both are fun places to explore, and within driving distance from Nevada.

                  • I’ve been to Darwin, but Bodie is new to me.

                    And thanks. I worked for that newspaper all through college. The pay was terrible, but I had a lot of fun. πŸ™‚

                    If you go to Nevada and want to publish one of your stories in the RNR, I’d be happy to introduce you to the editor in chief.

                    • Thanks, that’s a very nice offer Ben. Cheers! Sadly I am familiar with the wages of the profession, ha.

                      I’m surprised you weren’t familiar with Bodie. I believe that is the largest ghost town in the United States. It’s a park now, so it isn’t free from other visitors. But still a great visit, a must-see if you’re into abandoned places.

  9. Great stuff! It’s always interesting how an abandoned site can open-up so many fascinating angles of history and who would have thought the design of golf courses would be one of them. It’s also seems to happen so many times that a family conflict precipitates the start of a decline into abandonment. Would be a wonderful place to wild camp and explore for a few days.

    Is there anything that looks more empty than an empty swimming pool?

  10. This place is incredibly beautiful. The land, the architecture, the way it was all layed out, it’s just beautiful. Thanks so much for this article, it was so interesting.

    • Thanks for reading Lisa. You’re right about the beauty. It would have been so easy for bad taste to ruin things, but to the Rockefeller’s credit everything was done tastefully and with respect to the landscape.

  11. Very interesting, as most of these stories are! I’m curious if anyone is doing any research on Fort Ringgold in Rio Grande City, TX ? I believe there is a house there where Roosevelt? Or some other President stayed. I went to high school in that old fort. Our band hall was in one of the old buildings. I don’t believe they have done anything with the area since they built the new high school.

    • Thanks for the comment Kammie. I had not heard of Fort Ringgold but I just spent a few minutes getting up to speed. Very interesting, there can’t be too many pre-Civil War border forts left. Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll have to add that to the list! πŸ™‚

  12. Thanks for the article. My dad had a dry cleaners and I spent my younger years riding with him to pick up and deliver clothes to the Overhills Estate. So sad to see it in such disrepair. I was always in awe as a little girl driving in and seeing it’s beauty. Daddy would tell me stories of the grand hunts and golf outings that had been attended by only those we read about in the newspaper.

    • Kristye, If your dad is still with us or if you know, can you tell me if the dog kennels were an actual building or small doghouses in a run? I am doing research on the origin of kennels and the map doesn’t list the kennels as an actual building, but it sort of looks like it is one. Thanks!!

      • The kennels were more than a building, there was an entire complex including a kitchen where the hounds’ food was cooked! Really. The concrete pad from the kennels is still there if one knows where to look. All part of the β€˜Circus’ area.

  13. This was a great article and so very interesting. My great uncle was a caretaker for the Rockefellers; although, I believe it was on acreage possibly adjacent to Overhill? I sure wish my father was still living as he knew all about it. I can remember going to visit them in the late 60’s and early 70’s. We would drive from Sanford on 87 and turn left onto a sandy road with a chain across it. My aunt and uncle lived in a nice house on the farm and i can remember looking into the windows of the Rockefeller house. It was a wooden house painted white and there was a lake with a pavilion nearby. It was so interesting to just dream of what it must have been like when there was a crowd there. Sure would love to know more. thanks for sharing.

  14. Fascinating article! One of the caretakers went to our church and I’d spend Sunday afternoons with their kids . I was enthralled but had no idea of the history of the place. Thanks for compiling this research and sharing!

  15. This was awesome! as a kid I visited once in the 80’s when my grandmother was still a cook. the whole pie in the window sill is true lol. When one of the staff aka servants passed away in the late 80’s or 90’s members of the Rockefellers came to the funeral first time I ever saw long black limos or white folks at our church. Outside of that we played many games and hunts in the woods of Overhills and the annual christmas tree cuttings. My goodness the stories I can think of now. Although I no longer live there, Thank You for giving me further knowledge of the former estate.

    • Carol: Yes and yes. Although since this was a private residence and not a public building I can understand if it is not at the top of any government rehab lists. Still, a shame for sure.

  16. Growing up 2 miles from the estate in the late 50s and 60s. I was able to see this wonderful place, as Johnny Tew’s Grandpa was a caretaker of the property there. I hate to see it falling down. I was impressed by the water power station there. Sad to lose a Donald Ross Golf Course as well, I thought at one time they were going to renovate it.

  17. It’s a shame that it was abandoned and the family couldn’t agree on what to do with it. Heirs rarely share the same views as their parents. Look at that art on the bedroom walls… What a waste.

    • My family and I were a few of the “lucky” people to have lived on this great place. My father was hired in the early 50″s to be the bookkeeper, but later became the general manager. He was employed there for 28 years until his retirement in 1981. I continue to visit the property each hunting season. What a waste by our government. This property should have been converted to a southern “Camp David” where it could have been preserved.

      • Thanks for sharing your memories Ronny, sounds like your family had a close personal connection with Overhills. It is an unfortunate situation, hopefully it is not too late to be saved. Thanks for the comment.

    • Heirs rarely share the same views as their parents.” I have seen this as well. In fairness there might have been dynamics unknown to us (outstanding debts, taxes, etc.) that forced the heirs down this path. I can’t imagine the heirs wanted to see the estate fall into disrepair. But you are correct, it does seem a waste. Thanks for reading!

  18. I would love to hear from the family. Our summer softball team from Overhills High School has been named Rockefellers.

  19. I was the Corps Commander when we bought Overhills. We were restricted from using the golf course but required to protect it and the houses. I finally convinced Jesse Helms to allow the post to renovate and reopen the course for First Tee but the priorities changed with 9-11 and the subsequent wars and budget restrictions. After retirement I escorted “Sports Illustrated” out there to do an article during the 2005 US Open in another attempt to reopen the only untouched Donald Ross course. Subsequent efforts are underway to determine if the course could be used for both Wounded Warrior rehabilitation and a National First Tee championship.

    • Reading this comment over a year later, I wonder what if anything came of your proposals…both great ideas. Thank you, sir, for your efforts to try to restore this historic place, even if they were not successful.

  20. Our property abutted the Rockefeller estate off Vass Rd and we ALL (all the black families at the top of the Vass Rd) knew about it. My parents have a picture of my sister with ol’man Rockefella (Avery) from the 1960’s. The caretaker went to Bethel AME Zion church right down the road from Overhills. Everyone in the church knew Thurmond (caretaker) and his duties and when the “family” was in town. During the 80’s and early 90’s we could ride our go-carts and four wheelers on the horse paths and no one would chase us….If the family was in town we were told to stay out and that was understandable. After the Army took over everything went to crap because they started chasing you and then after Sept 11th it really got bad. I would not recommend anyone go out there unless you have permission or know somebody that knows somebody. Still this was a lot of good information. I was wondering why McDiarmid sold that property now I know.

  21. I feel fortunate to have been able to play this course as a guest in the late 1980s. I have played several of the top rated golf courses in the Country and been to Augusta National and can honestly say the Overhills course was the finest I have ever played. When I see what it has become, I am greatly saddened and hope it can one day be restored to its previous immaculate state.

  22. I was at this property today. I knew some of the history but learned so much more from your article. The dam on the lake has been destroyed (maybe during Hurricane Matthew?) taking a few structures with it. The drained lake full of tree stumps is an interesting sight.

  23. Thanks. I’m told my grandfather and his brother sold lumber to Percy R for construction there. They became friendly and when a puppy was born in a litter to and illicit mating between an Irish and English setter, one was sent home with my grandfather as a gift to my dad who was a boy at the time. He was named Jack and was my dad’s first bird dog. A relative painted Jack and I’m looking at that painting as I key this message. Always wondered about Overhills as a result of this dog and my dad telling me this story. Thanks for filling lots of gaps.

  24. My great grandfather was a tenant farmer at Overhills or some kind of farm worker and his children lived here as well. This would have been in the late 20s and early 30s. My grandfather remembers Mrs. Rockefeller bringing clothes and buying the children a pair of shoes every year. He said she was such a nice lady. He passed away several years ago at 92 years old. I would love to be able to ask him more questions about his time there and am looking for information about the lives of the workers and tenant farmers at Overhills. If you have any info to share I would greatly appreciate it! My great grandfather was Ernest Holt and he worked with the mules, horses and dogs. He sometimes took horses and dogs to other estates that were owned by the Rockefellers. That is all I know. He was a tenant farmer on one farm or another his whole life.

  25. my grandfather was one of the main guides and huntsmen who took guest on hunts. I have pictues of him horseback in front of riding stables..he also owned several hundred acres adjacent to the estate.My grandmother told us he was one of the main oversssers of the estate. by the way my grandfather was African American, also interesting my mothers birthname is Gladys Rockefeller McIver. Interesting

    • That is interesting! I bet you grandfather and my great grandfategr knew each other. Mine would have worked for yours probably.

  26. Are there any other images of Spring Lake, Manchester or that vicinity PRIOR to 1940? There are a lot of black families from that area researching their ancestry who would love to see the town from an earlier period.

  27. I spent three spring breaks (1986-88) at Birdsong. It was an amazing time capsule of a house. I believe the only things that were updated were the two televisions. All the furniture seemed to be last updated In the sixties or early seventies. Every bedroom had its own bathroom. The large dining room window was on a mechanized system. With a push of a garage door opener type button, it would slowly move down into the sill while a screen descended from a roll in the the attic space above. At that time, they still had the hog operation but were also trying out deer as a profitable venture. We enjoyed horseback riding, skeet shooting, wandering the golf course and the pool. I remember watching China Beach on tv whilst actual B-52s were flying over and making practice bomb runs. The family had stories of catching the army guys in the water tower back in the day.

  28. Overhills is the place where I was born in 1932 and lived until I went into the military service in 1954. My uncle, W. Bryan Bruce, started working for Overhills in 1919 and became superintendent of the place in 1932. My father, W. Edward Bruce, started in 1921 as a chauffeur and later worked primarily as a carpenter maintaining structural facilities and building new ones. I really enjoyed growing up in Overhills. I loved the outdoors and I did small game hunting, fishing, golfing, swimming, and biking throughout the area. My mother, Vernice Bruce, was Postmaster of the Overhills Post Office from 1943 until her retirement in 1976; she then moved from the Overhills. I continued to visit my mother at Overhills (my father died in 1966) with my wife Barton and our two children and it was always like a special vacation. It is depressing to see the current deteriorating of the houses, golf course, stables and lake. Nevertheless, I will always have fond memories of Overhills.

  29. Hi…some of the photos attached to this article are actually mine. We moved to Fayetteville in 2010. I was a portrait photographer and a client wanted her photos taken at the Rockefeller Estate. Once I knew it was there I went back many time to photograph it and wrote several articles for local publications about its history. I haven’t been there since 2015…my parents drove down from Tennessee and I took my mom out to see it. We had nearly 3 solid months of rain so it was really wild with vegetation and there was a really creepy vibe to it that summer. The locals were starting to use it for parties and there was more trash in every building than I’d seen before. Bragg had already started to use it for field training exercises and soon after they closed and locked the gates. Now, it’s completely closed to the public.

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