Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Harricanes ("hair-uh-cuns") Ain't On No Map

"The Harricanes", pronounced "her-uh-cuns" or "hair-uh-cuns"or some say "hairkins" depending on who you ask, is a real place with a real history.

Even though national prohibition didn't become law until 1920, good ole NC took the lead  in the fight of good vs. evil and was the first southern state to prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages 11 years earlier, all the way back in 1909.  Of course, "ain't nobody got time for that" and moonshine and liquor stills throughout North Carolina answered the call. Moonshine and North Carolina have a long and sordid history together including the area known as "The Harricanes" which encompassed parts of Wake, Franklin and Granville Counties in North Carolina.

The Harricanes was a place nobody claimed and nobody went to. To this day no one can tell you exactly where it begins and ends. I don't know precisely where it begins and ends but I do know when I'm IN it. If you take Highway 96 west of Youngsville and take a left at Pokomoke and travel west across the Granville County line where the road becomes Bruce Garner Road while you are in Granville County, and stay on that road until it crosses into Wake County where the road name changes to New Light Road then you are IN the Harricanes.  Exactly where it begins and ends north, south, east and west of that is anyone's guess. Some say it runs all the way to Highway 50 to the west and Highway 98  to the south,  and Pokomoke to the east, with the Grissom area of Granville County being just about dead center of the Harricanes. The Harricanes isn't on any map you will find, that's for sure. While you might find folks now that will admit to living there, back in the day  if you asked the folks around there, you would get a different answer each time. That is, IF you got an answer at all.  Most times the answer was "just up the road a ways" and up the road they would tell you it was "back that way" or "just over yonder". Because nobody lived in the Harricanes, or to rephrase that ,nobody SAID they lived there. The Harricanes was always someplace else.  

 The Harricanes had a reputation of being a place full of renegades and secrets. The area then was a well known dangerous place. In Raleigh's backyard, the Harricanes was the slums of  it's time, the "wrong side of the tracks" so to speak even though there were no tracks or boundaries that anyone would claim.  Even without a sign to mark  the Harricane's location anywhere, the invisible "Keep Out" sign was clearly hung.  A place known for moonshine, violence, cock fighting, gambling and late night dirty deals with a few dead bodies here or there, that was "The Harricanes".  Just the stuff that legends are made of except it was all true. Ok, mostly true.  It's been called many things over the years but I  kinda like "The Bermuda Triangle of the Triangle" description the best. 

Only the brave or just plain foolish intentionally went to or even through the Harricanes. You didn't just go for a Sunday drive through the Harricanes. The people of the Harricanes looked out for one another and had each others back. If you crossed one, you crossed them all and revenge was sweet. These folks stuck together. They were resourceful, independent and hard working. Despite what went on in the Harricanes that nobody talked about, they would all be in church come Sunday!

Folks from the Harricanes liked the bad reputation the area had and that bad reputation served a purpose. It kept people out and they liked it that way. The fewer strangers snooping around, the better. The only good reputation the Harricanes had was that some smooth, strong moonshine came from there if you were lucky enough to get your hands on a jar. Even if you heard about moonshine from the Harricanes through the grapevine, it was still only available if you knew somebody, who knew somebody, who knew somebody and even then it was doubtful.  Even the Revenue Officers didn't like to venture into the Hurricanes looking for stills. There are a few stories of when they did, rarely successfully.
My Mother, Betty Matherly, age 16
My mother was raised in the Harricanes, on Bruce Garner Road and depending on who you talk to about where the Hurricanes was or wasn't located, my father Valton Mitchell, raised on a farm near Pokomoke was too. I remember when none of the red dirt roads were paved and were lined instead with chicken houses, tobacco fields, rock houses and an old country store or two. While no one back then would have dared say it, I'm proud to say "My family comes from The Harricanes". I pronounce it "hair-uh-cuns". 
Back of my Grandparents home on Bruce Garner Road, Granville County, NC, about 1960

These days the Harricanes roads are mostly all paved and the area is full of subdivisions with homeowners who have never heard of "The Harricanes". All these years later nobody still can tell you where the Harricanes is. I'd say they did a pretty good job of preserving their secrets. The legend lives on.

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  1. Very Interesting. I would like to hear more about this area and some stories of it. also how did it become named hurricanes

    1. One legend is that the area got it's name from a bad storm that passed thru the area as far back as the late early 1900's which there were several. Others say it was because of deadly Hurricane Hazel, which struck the area as a category 4 storm in 1954, causing a lot of damage. No one really seems to know.

    2. Nicely written blog about the area. As a Garner, I'm all too familiar with the area and the contribution my family made to it's legend. I think the hurricane for which the area is known was from the 1890's, long before Hurricane Hazel. Life was hard in the Harricanes in the last century and many people did what it took to survive and feed their families; of course, some exploited the opportunities and prospered. Everyone watched the other's back since one grew the corn for the mash, a carpenter made the boxes for fermentation, another sold the jars and sugar, a few worked by moonlight to create an income for themselves and families, they were all related to some degree, and everyone enjoyed a pint or quart of the by products of many efforts. There are very few of the original families left who pioneered the area, battled rocky land, and farmed red clay to eke out a living. The very house your grandparents built was from the many flint rocks farmers of the area piled in rows at the edges of their fields... I really hated to see it torn down. The Harricanes was all but lawless early last century and the law that was present were again, cousins and profited on the side from turning a blind eye. The area has certainly changed from my childhood. I have yet to decide if it is for better or worse.

    3. Here is a newspaper article from 1899 referring to the area as the "Harricane" section.

  2. I love this. My Great Aunt Lucille (Susie) Keith used to live in the house where the fire station is built. From my understanding, I come from the Harricanes. I don't know all the details and would love to hear more from anyone who knows any of the secrets surrounding my ancestors. I think most people knew of my great uncle, no one recalls his real name but I think he went by the name "Slick." He used to transport moonshine I think. I have been through many difficult times in my life and over the last few years, I remind myself that I came from a long line of tough, strong, and brave people who believed in family, pride, and loyalty. And, I try to imagine that they would be proud of me. Again, if anyone has details please share with me. My freat Aunt lived on New Light Road. There was a fire next door that my mother can remember seeing as a child. The entire house next door burned to the ground and only left the chimney. My mama said she always knew something good would come from that land. Now a firestation sits there. Also, if anyone has any pictures from the mid -late 50s, I would love love love to see them. Thank you for sharing this!

  3. I lived on horseshoe road all my life. I asked my neighbor about it and he knew all about the area when they were running moonshine. My mother Mary Mann used to feed the mules before they took the sugar to the still over by Kelsey's store. Most of the stills were alone Smith creek over by Rock Spring Church all the way down to horseshoe road. I have asked three different older people about it and got the same store that's on here. This is an interesting place and full of history.

  4. I live in this area and love hearing its history. Thank you!

  5. My grandmother who's maiden name was White was born on Honeycutt Rd near Falls of Neuse. My family reunion has long been held at what is now the Bayleaf Recreation Center. She used to refer to the Moonshine days of both the black community on Ray Rd in Wake County and that of the Harricanes Moonshine in the New Light community.

    Jokingly, she would tell me how her family thought the New Light Community got it's name. She would say "when you had some of that Harricanes Moonshine, you saw everything in a New Light".

    My family recently moved out of Wake County where I was born and lived all my life to the Chesleigh Subdivision in Grissom. We love how beautiful the drive is on New Light Road around Falls Lake. When people in Raleigh ask me where I moved to. I tell them back to North Carolina.

  6. My Great Grandparents raised their family in that area back in the 1800s. They are buried in a family cemetery that sits between some houses in a subdivision just of Pernell rd. Grandpa was in the Civil War , he has a CSA headstone on his grave. He also has several brothers that lived and died in that area they are buried in that same general area. When I was a teen and starting to get out and about with friends, Mama would say don't you go up there in those Hurricanes there are some mean folks up there.

  7. Hi Brooks,
    Thank you for your comment and sharing the information. The Harricanes area sur has it's mysteries doesn't it? Are you related to Pearce's in Franklin County? My great great grandmother was Nancy Pearce,the daughter of Nathan Pearce. She married Sidney Addision Mitchell. Mitchell is my maiden name. If you are we might have some shared ancestors.
    Darnell Baker