A defining characteristic of Chatham County is a unique combination of reverence for the past and a welcoming of the future. Rural by- ways here gently wind toward a world removed from the present that similarly attracts forward-thinkers to its curious businesses, often located in historic storefronts.
Local artisans beckon passersby to share a piece of their passions in the form of hand-made pottery, weavings, glassware, sketches and paintings, jewelry, and metal sculpture. Much like the dazzling variety of flowers and fresh produce sold at modest markets in the area, art in Chatham County is homegrown.
Special events like the Fearrington Folk Art Show in February and year-round pastimes like stargazing and trailblazing at Jordan Lake intertwine to form a laid-back culture in tune with art and nature.
Residents and visitors journey back through time through dozens of festivals and events celebrating Chatham County's history such as the Goldston Old-Fashion Day, the Bynum Front Porch Music Series at Bynum General Store, Christmas in Chatham Parade of Homes and Old-Fashioned Farmer's Day. Family fun abounds at the Chatham County Fair, the Haw River Festival, the Annual Siler City Chicken Festival, Hart's Pumpkin Festival, the Deep River Park Turkey Regatta and many more.
The historic downtowns of nearly every Chatham County community are a welcome change from urban neighbors' box stores and traffic jams. Goldston's Commercial Historic District is a visual testament to the railroad age of rural North Carolina. Pittsboro's Antique Walk and Street Fair showcase its preserved 19th-century storefronts and historic landmarks such as the Chatham County Courthouse & Historical Museum. The still -functioning seat of county government, built in 1881, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and features such treasures as a 100-year-old confederate monument. The courthouse is the heart of the Pittsboro Historic District, the original four-block center of town that includes many structures erected between the 1780s and 1949.
Efforts to preserve and enhance this aura of old-time living are ongoing with such projects as the Siler City Revitalization. The North Carolina Arts Incubator, located in Chatham, is currently engaged in the restoration of Siler City's three historic districts.
Much more than a traditional beautification project, N.C. Arts is systematically reinventing forgotten buildings into centers for artistic education and sales. Old houses of Siler City commerce including a former hardware store, warehouse and livery stable are finding a new life in the hands of local artists. Unique studio spaces and art classes in conjunction with Central Carolina Community College combine with retail storefronts. What seemed like a rare concept to build a business incubator around artisans has proven to be more of a success in the tiny town of Siler City than anywhere else in the nation. The fact that N.C. Arts controls more space than any other arts incubator in the country is a factor facilitating the continued expansion of and support for the project. Current projections suggest that when completed, N.C. Arts will rank in the Top 5 in size among all business incubators at 250,000 square feet. Future plans include renovating old manufacturing centers into studios for blacksmithing and glass-blowing, loft apartments, student housing, and a civic center.
The Chatham County Historical Society is also actively preserving Chatham County's past with such ventures as the Log Cabin Reconstruction Project. In partnership with the Chatham County Agricultural and Industrial Fair Association, the society is reconstructing two log houses in Pittsboro: the Milliken House, built by a former slave, and the civil war-era Marshall House. Another historical treasure preserved by the society is the 1882 Charles Manly Law Office. This office of the man who would later become governor is noted for its historical significance as a gathering place for early North Carolina political figures and for its resplendent period furniture.
Many of Chatham County's cultural high points were birthed from the area's natural beauty. A perfect example of this is the Deep River Camelback Truss Bridge that spans the Deep River in Gulf. This remarkable thoroughfare - originally constructed in 1908 and located in Deep River Park - is a local favorite for picnicking and canoeing.
Nature also sets the stage for one of North Carolina's oldest legends. The scenic byway Devil's Stomping Ground Road leads those brave enough to follow to the mysterious circular path in the woods where no vegetation grows: the Devil's Tramping Ground. Local folklore says the area is where the devil himself paces the ground nightly to plot his evil on the world. This is one of the explanations offered by locals for hundreds of years to explain why nothing has ever grown in the eerie 40-foot spot. Some locals claim that things left in the ring at night are gone by morning.
The byway leads to many other magical sites such as Jordan Lake State Park, which has 14,000 acres of water and is only a few miles east of the byway. North Carolina Zoological Park, to the west of the byway, features 500 acres of North American as well as African habitat for animals from all over the world.
Living Chatham County culture is as easy as visiting the charming bed and breakfasts throughout the area, many themselves historical landmarks. The 18th century Fearrington House Country Inn, the 1912 Colonial Revival-style Rosemary Bed & Breakfast and The Inn at Celebrity Dairy, a running goat farm dating back to the 1820s, are but a few options for the sophisticated traveler ready to send modern life packing.