By Scott Baughman
Residents of Lake Lure could be forgiven for thinking they had slipped through a time warp in March when the longstanding, historical building known as Russell’s Fort appeared on the shores of the lake looking much closer to it’s original, 16th century condition.
The building, originally constructed in the 1770s, had previously occupied a space just outside of town along U.S. Highway 64/74 on the banks of the Rocky Broad River. But erstwhile owners Brad and Jaimee Peters gave the historic building to new owner James Sciandra on one condition – the fort cabin had to be preserved and relocated.
Now, thanks to some national attention via the reality TV series Barnwood Builders, Sciandra has accomplished both of those things as the cabin has arrived in renovated condition at its new home on White Oak Point overlooking the lake.
While the building is a hugely important historical landmark not just for Rutherford County history and United States of America history, it has had a second life of sorts when it was previously known as The Pumpkin Center of the South – having become surrounded by pumpkin fields later on in the life of the structure.
Sciandra said he was thrilled to be a part of helping preserve this important edifice and the Barnwood Builders crew were meticulous in their disassembly followed by a painstaking rebuilding process that culminated in the unveiling of the cabin at its new home in March.
The Barnwood Builders team took portions of the cabin to West Virginia for cleaning, restoration and then reassembly work. Two episodes of the series will premiere on the Magnolia Channel later this year highlighting the work.
The home’s history in the area begins in the 1700s when North Carolina residents of the then English Colony began to explore and settle westward into the lands of the Cherokee Nation. An Irish settler, George Russell, Sr., married local widow Mary Whiteside and settled on the edge of the Rocky Broad River. The original site of their settlement was South of Hickory Nut Gorge almost exactly where the Lake Lure Marina is located now.
In 1767, North Carolina’s Royal Governor William Tryon signed a treaty with the Cherokee in hopes of diffusing a boiling situation by swearing to end westward settlement into their nation. Russel and his family set up the Rocky Broad Station as a waypoint and outpost for local militia to protect settlers along the western board and have a center for trading. In 1775, more buildings were added and “Russell’s Fort” was built on the high ground.
During the American Revolution British troops raided the area and turned many colonial attitudes against the crown. After the revolution, Russell himself returned to the area but was killed in 1782 when he wandered too close to Cherokee hunting grounds. His stepson, John Whiteside Jr., became the family patriarch. Over the next 200 years, the cabin served as the Whitesides home. The location took on the name “Pumpkin Center of the South” in the 1950s and displayed hundreds of pumpkins while children often came to play in the large pumpkin fields in the area.
Now with the completion of the restoration project, Russell’s Fort continues to loom large over the history of the Lake Lure area.