House in the Horseshoe State Park
288 Alston House Road
Sanford, North Carolina
By all accounts, Philip Alston was trouble. A member of the prominent Alston family, some might describe him as a spoiled brat. The house Alston constructed at this horseshoe bend in the Deep River was among the first large plantation homes constructed in this region when it was built in 1772. As revolutionary tensions heated up throughout the colonies, Alston sided with the Patriot cause. Though he was fighting for the same ideals, even the Patriots took umbrage with Philip Alston. Another Patriot, Robert Rowan, even spoke to the governor of his dislike for Alston’s “domineering” and “tyrannical” attitude.
With the outbreak of fighting, squabbles between neighbors took on more deadly overtones throughout the frontier. Planter David Fanning of South Carolina remained loyal to the British crown and steadfastly rooted out Patriots throughout the area. A small militia under Fanning’s command attacked Alston’s home on the morning of August 5, 1781 in retaliation for the death of one of his men at the hands of some of Alston’s comrades. That morning, Alston, his wife Temperance, two children, and a small band of his men were at the large white house. When Fanning’s men attempted to attack the house one of the Tories was quickly felled by a bullet to the heart. Soon gunfire poured from the home’s windows while Alston’s children cowered in a fireplace inside.
A cart of straw was set alight and pushed towards the house which began to burn. Fearful of being burned out of the house, Alston sent his wife with a flag of truce to arrange surrender. Fanning agreed to allow Alston and his men to surrender. The Tories plundered the bullet-riddled house but did not burn it.
Philip Alston remained on his plantation for some years after the war and served in the state senate, though his roguish attitude lead to his fall from grace and in 1790, he was forced to sell his beloved home. Some believe that the rascal spirit of Alston may remain here in the form of footsteps heard in the home, disembodied whispers in the fireplace where the children were hidden, and orbs of light seen in the yard.
- Barefoot, Daniel W. Spirits of ’76: Ghost Stories of the American Revolution. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair. 2009.
- Bishir, Catherine W. and Michael T. Southern. A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
- Hauck, Dennis William. Haunted Places: The National Directory. NYC: Penguin, 1996.
- “House in the Horseshoe: Overview.” NC Historic Sites. Accessed 3 January 2016.
- Thompson, Jessica Lee. “House in the Horseshoe.” North Carolina History Project. Accessed 3 January 2016.