Payne and Edwards Roads
Rural Hall, North Carolina
The ritual is thus: drive out at night to the bridge where Edwards Road crosses over Payne Branch, stop your car in the middle of the bridge, and put it into neutral. Open the windows and begin to whistle “Dixie.” Supposedly your engine will die and you will be unable to restart the car until it is pushed from the bridge.
Author Michael Renegar tells of a friend of his who performed this ritual with frightening results. This young man and two female companions ventured out to haunted Payne Road one night looking for a thrill. After performing the ritual their car sputtered and died. After the young man pushed the car off the bridge, he was able to crank the car, though while he was outside of the car he was spooked by a feeling of being watched.
Reportedly, the vehicle never acted the same after that. Besides the scary moments on the bridge, the three also noted that when they drove past one of the old cemeteries an angel on the edge of the cemetery faced away from the road, but was facing them the second time they passed it.
Authors Burt Calloway and Jennifer FitzSimons record an earlier encounter on the bridge where a young man was trying to impress his date. The couple performed the ritual, and the young man left his date sitting in the car as he strutted around the lonely bridge provoking the spirits. As lightning lit up the night’s sky, it revealed something to the young man.
Stumbling back to the car, he attempted to crank it. It refused to start and the young man just sat stunned in the driver’s seat. His date, not too pleased with his sudden fear, cranked the car and drove them away from the bridge. Only after leaving the haunted spot, did the man reveal that he saw a ghost during the lightning’s flash.
The stories of Payne and Edwards Roads have circulated in this rural area of Forsyth and Stokes counties for decades. The legendary history has entered the digital realm where it is discussed and argued among the more than 4000 members of the Legend of Payne Road group on Facebook. To add more fuel to the fiery legends, the viral website Only In Your State recently published an article repeating many of the lurid, and oft disputed legends of these haunted roads.
First off, there is a great deal of confusion regarding the exact location of the hauntings. Edwards Road branches off from Broad Street within the Rural Hall city limits. Google Maps notes that the road is NC 1903 until after it intersects Forsto Road at which point it combines with NC 1961. Apparently, the haunted portion of the road is located south of Payne Branch where the road curves before crossing over Payne Branch. Edwards Road terminates at Payne Road just north of the bridge. Payne Road continues east as NC 1961, while the western section is NC 1962. At some point, part of Payne Road may have been renamed Edwards Road, but that is only speculation, however the roads do appear to have been named for the families that once owned the land: the Paynes and the Edwards.
The Only In Your State article notes three legends associated with this road, though, like all legends, these legends change from storyteller to storyteller and article to article. The first legend involves the story of Payne Edwards, a cruel plantation owner whose daughter was impregnated by a slave. After killing the slave, Edwards began to practice devil worship and eventually killed his entire family. He also burned the plantation killing all the remaining slaves.
A different version of the story casts Payne Edwards as the head of a large household here in the 1930s. After losing his mind he decided to murder his family and tied his wife to a chair in the living room. One by one he took his children to kiss their mother before he took them upstairs and slit their throats. The mother was able to escape, but was beheaded by her husband who dumped their infant child into a well.
While these stories are both grotesquely fascinating, they are utter balderdash. One of the best sites for a well-researched view of this story is the blog of the North Carolina Room of the Forsyth County Public Library. Last Halloween, one of the research librarians presented these two stories from Payne Road and checked their validity against the historic records. She found no record of Payne Edwards, though an early settler in the area, Robert Payne, owned land in the area. According to the Federal Census, Robert Payne was also a slave owner and had several children, though most apparently survived him.
The detail of a man murdering his entire family is also quite interesting. This detail is borrowed from an actual murder that occurred nearby in 1929. On Christmas Day, Charlie Lawson systematically killed his wife and six of his seven children (his oldest son was away from the family farm) and then shot himself a short time later. Lawson’s reasons for the murders went to the grave with him, though family and acquaintances have speculated that domestic issues, including possible incest, may have led to the tragedy. This gruesome mass murder elicited awe and curiosity from locals for many years and the family’s farmhouse was open as a tourist attraction for many years. Interestingly, these murders occurred roughly 5 miles from Payne and Edwards Roads on Brook Cove Road outside of Germanton. Though the family’s ramshackle farmhouse was demolished decades ago, there are still reports of paranormal activity in the area linked to the family’s murder.
While this tragedy did not occur in the Payne/Edwards Road area, there are a number of documented tragedies that have occurred here. In 1955, Milus Frank Edwards—who lived at the curve in Edwards Road just south of the bridge—committed suicide with a stick of dynamite. From the Gastonia Gazette, 7 October 1955:
Man Takes Life with Dynamite
Danbury—(AP)—A 73-year-old Stokes county man committed suicide yesterday with a dynamite explosion.
Sheriff Harvey Johnson said Milus Frank Edwards of Rt. 1, Rural Hall, apparently parked his pickup truck in a shed at his home, climbed into the truck bed and set off a stick of dynamite near his head.
A coroner’s jury ruled that death was self-inflicted.
Aubrey Edwards, son of the dead man, said his father had made several threats to end his life.
Sadly, this was among a handful of suicides to plague this family. According to the North Carolina Room blog, Mr. Edwards had four siblings also take their own lives. The blog poster further speculates that this is the beginning of the urban legends that surround these roads.
A more recent misdeed in the area can only be used to back up the tragic nature of this place. In December 1992 several men picked up a young woman in Winston-Salem. The young woman was driven to an old logging road off Payne Road. She was tied to a tree, raped, possibly tortured, and stabbed to death. More than a decade later one of the men involved was found guilty, though that conviction was later overturned based on DNA evidence.
While many of the legends that have accumulated around this area appear to be mostly fantasy embellished with fact, the experiences of locals and investigators cannot be denied. Writer Edrick Thay includes an interesting post-script to this research in his 2005 book, Ghost Stories of North Carolina. In a chapter entitled “The Haunted Farmhouse,” Thay recounts an investigation of an abandoned farmhouse by Haunted North Carolina Paranormal Investigators and Research that the group first looked into in 2002. Thay attempts to disguise the location saying that the lead investigator “refuses to disclose the farm’s location, except to say that it may or may not be around Winston-Salem.” Later details of the history make it certain that this is the old Edwards farmhouse outside of which Frank Edwards died by his own hands. “With this abandoned farm, the sheer number of the deaths from suicide and foul play over the last 50 years is staggering.” The investigator continues noting “gruesome accounts of people exploding themselves with sticks of dynamite, of the Mafia-style executions of two individuals beneath the awnings of an outbuilding and of the torture and grisly murder of a prostitute.”
During the several investigations the group has conducted here they have encountered high levels of activity in and around the old farmstead. On the first investigation several investigators were touched by unseen hands. One had their backpack grabbed and a nearby video camera proved her experience while another was touched on the hand leaving a red welt. Voice recorders used throughout the investigation recorded a number of EVPs including one with “many plaintive voices calling ‘help us!’” Perhaps the most interesting moment occurred when four investigators simultaneously witnessed a shadowy apparition moving along the banks of the nearby creek.
This investigation was conducted some years ago before the farmhouse and outbuildings were destroyed by vandals and an arsonist. Payne and Edwards Roads have both been paved and the mysterious haunted bridge has been replaced by a culvert. Despite these intrusions of modernity, teens and the curious still drive this road at night legend tripping. Hopefully they’re not just whistling Dixie.
- Breedlove, Michael. “Local Haunts: Investigating the haunted side of the Twin Cities.” Winston-Salem Monthly. 29 September 2014.
- Calloway, Burt & Jennifer FitzSimons. Triad Hauntings.Winston-Salem, NC: Bandit Books, 1990.
- “The Legend of Payne Road.” North Carolina Room— Forsyth County Public Library. 29 October 2015.
- “Man takes life with dynamite.” Gastonia Gazette. 7 October 1955.
- “Prosecutors confident they can convict Penland anew.”Asheville Citizen-Times. 1 August 2005.
- Rakestraw, Emory. “Driving down this haunted North Carolina road may give you nightmares.” Only In Your State. 26 August 2016.
- Renegar, Michael. Roadside Revenants and Other North Carolina Ghosts and Legends. Fairview, NC: Bright Mountain Books, 2005.
- Renegar, Michael. Tar Hell Terrors: More North Carolina Ghosts and Legends. Fairview, NC: Bright Mountain Books, 2011.
- Thay, Edrick. Ghost Stories of North Carolina. Auburn, WA: Lone Pine Publishing, 2005.
- Whitmire, Tim. “Lawyers: DNA tests show Penland wrongly Convicted in ’92 killing.” Asheville Citizen-Times. 9 July 2005.