Capt. John S. Pope Farm to receive ‘historic landmark’ designation
When Robert Pope walks the land of his family farm, he remembers when he was a child, running, playing, helping with the chores.
He carries the memories of several generations of Popes and McDades who farmed the land along Efland-Cedar Grove Road in northern Orange County.
“It’s a century farm,” Pope said. “That means it’s been in the family continuously operating for more than 100 years.”
In a pasture near the two-story house, a ewe had just given birth to two lambs, a pure white one and a black and white one who struggled to stand. When the effort was too much, he fell back on his haunches, plopped back to the ground, stretched out in the sun and took a nap as their mother kept watch.
In the back pasture beyond the old tobacco barns and the pond, three llamas named Samantha, Fawn and Patrina kept watch over a herd of sheep grazing in the shade of the huge trees along the creek.
It’s been a long history since John S. Pope married Mary Jane McDade in 1856, and they began to construct their home on land that her family acquired 50 years earlier.
The family grew tobacco for the first 150 years on the farm, as well as corn, which was cooked up in a still and turned into liquor.
But times have changed. The new trend toward eating local and agritourism has invigorated Pope’s farm, and he now raises lamb and sells 80 percent of it to local restaurants.
“I grew up here. My father grew up here. My great grandfather grew up here,” Pope said. “That’s why I have such an attachment. It’s hard to explain.”
The lambs use the old tobacco drying sheds and the old feed barn for shelter.
Instead of tearing down the old sheds, Pope has maintained them, and when folks come out to tour his farm, he shows them the wash house, where a large rusty kettle still hangs in the fireplace.
“This was our source for hot water,” he said. “We got electricity here in 1937 just before I was born.”
There’s the shed where they kept their horse and buggy, and down below is the shed where they parked their first Ford.
The pond on his property is one of the sources of the Eno River, and to make sure his animals don’t contaminate the water, he put a fence up around it to keep them out. Just the other day, his helper, Thomas “Junior” Crisp caught a big bass, took it home and ate it.
“It was good,” Crisp told Pope.
Crisp helps out on the farm, and gets attached to the lambs and hates to see the trucks arrive to take them to slaughter.
“It makes me sad because after I’m around animals for a while, I tend to fall in love with them,” Crisp said.
The Capt. John S. Pope Farm was scheduled to be named an Orange County Historic Landmark property at a meeting of the Orange County Board of Commissioners last Tuesday, but the commissioners decided to put off the ceremony until the board’s next meeting.
When it is officially designated as an Orange County Historic Landmark, it will join five other properties in Orange County that share a similar designation, including Moorefields, Bingham School, the Faucette House and Mill, the Murphy School, and Rigsbee’s Rock House.
Pope also has applied for the farm to be on the National Register of Historic Places and is awaiting word on that.
The farm will be part of the Farm Tour on April 27 and 28, and beginning at noon on both days the farm will serve lamb burgers and lamb dogs.
On the evening of April 27, Chef Shane Ingram of Four Square Restaurant will serve a five-course dinner featuring lamb and vegetables grown on the farm. The cost is $75 per person and includes wine pairings with each course.
Space is limited for the dinner. Call 919-621-1150 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to make a reservation for the dinner.