Anilorac. It is one of the most distinctive properties in Orange County, certainly one of the most viewed, photographed and painted. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people pass by it every week by bicycle, auto, walking, jogging.
So it was with understandable distress that, on a cold day last January, admirers of the 170-year old homestead on Dairyland Road saw the handsome farmhouse being torn down, within a week leaving a flat clearing where history used to stand. Who would remove such a signature feature of the Orange County landscape? Why?
I found myself wondering the same of the landmark that I have bicycled past hundreds of times over the past 20 years. So I looked up the Snipes family, the clan in whose hands the farm has remained for seven generations, and learned the story behind the disappearance of Anilorac (more on that name later, if you haven’t already guessed it).
There is good news in that story, because the Snipes history will continue there. Rather than being sold for cul-de-sacs or cocktail ranches, the old farmstead will become home for the next generation of the family. The iconic view of three silos gracing the Dairylandscape will be preserved.
The three granddaughters of Anilorac patriarch Charles Snipes have begun erecting new homes on the land where their ancestors lived. Allison Nichols-Clapper and her husband, Hank, will build a farmhouse on the site of the original homestead. Her cousins, Ashley Austin and Jessika Sexton, will build within hollerin’ distance on both sides of Dairyland Road.
“Daddy’s legacy was land,” said Susan Snipes Nichols, daughter of Charles Snipes, mother of Allison, aunt of Ashley and Jessika. “So we’re just going to try to keep it, because that’s what Daddy would want.
And he would be thrilled that the girls are all going to build there.”
The family would like you to know that they tried to save the old homeplace. Three contractors examined the structure, and the consensus was that deterioration of joists and support structure was so advanced that it was beyond repair. “The last person told (Allison) that she just needed to take pieces out of the house and build a new house because there was so much damage on the first floor.” Nichols said.
Daddy’s legacy was land. So we’re just going to try to keep it, because that’s what Daddy would want.
Susan Snipes Nichols, daughter of Charles Snipes
So they did, removing seven original mantelpieces, interior doors, the front entranceway, heartpine flooring, ceiling rafters, scraps of fabric wallpaper and a 10-foot china cabinet handcrafted when the home was built. The salvaged artifacts will be incorporated into the three houses; the hewn timbers that supported the roof will become exposed beams in Allison’s living room.
The Snipes House has a distinctive history. Estimates of its construction date vary – as early as 1842, no later than 1857. It was built by Thomas Brewer and soon passed into the hands of Alfred Snipes, Brewer’s brother-in-law. Alfred Snipes is the great-great-grandfather of Susan Nichols and great-great-great-grandfather of Allison, Ashley and Jessika.
In a written account of the home, Orange County historian Peter Sandbeck describes the Snipes House as “one of the largest and most ambitious of Orange County’s antebellum plantation houses.” Combining federal and Greek Revival styles, it stood two stories high, with four chimneys serving eight fireplaces inside and, Susan Nichols said, an attic as big as a basketball court. The family have met old-timers who used to come to the house for square dances.
The homeplace was the centerpiece of the 750-acre farm assembled by Alfred Snipes that today retains 600 acres. It stretches from west of Dodson’s Crossroads along Dairyland Road to Orange Grove Road.
For 60 years, Charles Snipes and his brother James worked the land as a dairy farm. Charles continued to raise hay on the property into his 80s and lived in the home until shortly before his death at age 89 in 2015. The land today is leased out to two area farmers.
Charles Snipes was a respected agricultural leader in Orange County who served as president of the state Soil and Water Conservation Commission. “He was all about conservation and saving the earth,” said his daughter Karen Sexton.
His dairying genes were passed on to his granddaughter, Allison. She is director of the nearby Maple View Agricultural Educational Center and a partner at Maple View Ice Cream.
Charles’ two daughters, Susan Nichols and Karen Sexton, live with their husbands in houses on the Snipes property. The daughters didn’t go into farming – Charles Snipes didn’t think it fit work for women - but together the two left their mark on some 2,000 Orange County schoolkids as teachers at Grady Brown Elementary near Hillsborough – Susan for 32 years, Karen for 30 years.
Susan and Allison were educated at UNC and, like Charles Snipes, all the family are huge Carolina fans. If you look closely at one of the silos, there is a Tar Heel footprint painted on the side. And that name – Anilorac – is of course “Carolina” spelled backwards. The youngest of the Snipes clan -- Charley, age 2, daughter of Ashley – is a girl named for her great-grandfather.
Though the homeplace was torn down, the signature silos will remain as sentinels of a bygone era on the Snipes Farm. “So many people come up there just to paint or to take pictures or to watch storms,” said Allison.
The Snipes House had many admirers, and some let the family know their unhappiness at its demolition. “There were a lot of people who came out and took pictures and said it was the start of Orange County MacMansions,” Allison said. “Nobody took the time to ask us, and I can assure you it was a lot harder for Momma and Karen and Ashley and Jessi and myself than it was for any stranger that rode by.“
Susan Nichols lives on a hilltop overlooking the property. She remembers her last look at the homeplace the day it was torn down. “I got up that morning and I could see down the hill and I thought, ‘Tomorrow when I get up, that house won’t be there,’” she said. “I think we cried for weeks and months.”
“I still cry about it,” Allison said, as a tear slid down her cheek.
“But Daddy will be pleased that y’all want to go there,” said her mother.
Ted Vaden is a former editor at The News & Observer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.