On the afternoon of Wednesday, May 8, the Mebane Historical Museum held its first-ever “Lunch and Learn” event, where program presenter Phil Mace tackled the mystery of Mason Hall, a property to the immediate north of downtown Mebane, not far from the present-day Mill Creek community.
Utilizing the oldest-known maps of Orange County, Mace makes a compelling argument that there was likely more than one "Mason Hall".
James Mason built his home in the early years of the 19th century on what is now Lebanon Road in Mebane. "Mason Hall" became the name of the area and the proud structure that provided the first residents a variety of services. From post office to tax office and much in between, the building was vital to the development of the region in the years before the founding of modern-day Mebane.
Mace provided some initial historical context to the story of Mason Hall, indicating that George Pollock acquired a 5,000 acre grant in what was known as the “Haw Fields” in 1728. At his death, it became the property of Cullen and Thomas Pollock, nephews of George Pollock. Eventually the tract descended to the Devereaux family.
The Mason family appeared in the Mill Creek area in 1780, when Henry Mason purchased 250 acres from Robert Paisley on a branch of Back Creek. Mill Creek flows into Back Creek. In the George W. Tate map of 1891, Mason Hall is shown on the west side of Mill Creek. Old maps also show a rectangle indicating what could have been the original George Pollock grant.
The Pollocks and the Devereauxs kept up with this huge property through a series of maps. The property was broken up into 10 equal segments, with the names of the owners or occupants on the maps. Lot 7 in the north part of the original grant was sold to Robert Paisley, who eventually sold it to Henry Mason.
In 1796, Henry Mason sold his son James 25 acres on the west end of his Paisley tract. In October of 1808, James bought some land from William Strudwick, and then bought another tract from his father in 1810, as well as a tract from Archibald Hamilton in 1811.
Put together, the tracts of land that James Mason put together resembles a tract that he sold to Alexander Mason in October of 1818, which was called “Mason Hall.”
A year later, in 1819, Alexander Mason sold the property to David Mebane using the same metes, bounds, and descriptions as when he bought it. David Mebane probably never lived on the property, allowing his son, George A. Mebane, to live there instead. When David Mebane wrote his last will and testament in 1842, he indicated that George A. was to receive the land.
The original Mason Hall house featured Flemish bond pattern brickwork for its various chimneys. It included seven fireplaces in seven rooms, including four corner fireplaces. It also featured molded exterior siding, which was typical of many 18th century structures built in nearby Hillsborough, which was a center of political and business activity in the years before and immediately after the American Revolution.
Some people who surveyed the house believe the house was built in two time periods - the late 18th century and the early 19th century. It is known that Alexander Mason was building or remodeling the house in 1820. It was believed that the house had a central hallway that was open front and back. It was later closed in and doors installed. The Wright Tavern in Rockingham County’s Wentworth community, also known as Reid’s House or the Reid Hotel, has a similar central hallway layout. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places back in 1970.
Throughout the early to mid-1800s, in the decades leading up to the Civil War, Mason Hall continued to be a community center in what would eventually become the City of Mebane, as it hosted elections, tax collections, and the local post office.
Then the railroad came through Orange and Alamance Counties, changing the history of Mason Hall forever.
With the railroad moving much of the area’s commerce south, near present-day downtown Mebane, the post office at Mason Hall was discontinued in 1855, replaced by a new post office at “Mebanesville” in Alamance County - approximately a mile from Mason Hall.
George A. Mebane lived at Mason Hall until his death in 1877. He bequeathed the property to his wife, Attelia, for the term of her natural life. She more than likely lived there until her death in 1882. The property remained in the hands of George A. Mebane’s heirs into the early 20th century, at which time the land was eventually divided up and sold into smaller parcels.
A tornado struck Mebane around the Mason Hall area on April 2, 1936. Several houses in the Mason Hall area were damaged, including one that was totally destroyed - a home owned by George “Buck” Lynch.
There are no deed records for this George Lynch, so it cannot be verified if this home was the original Mason Hall or not. Some of the other local landowners in that area in 1936 included S.M. Patton, John L. McLeod, R.F. Albright, W.B. York, and A.A. Lynch.
It is unclear what became of the old Mason Hall house after its years of ownership by George A. Mebane and his heirs, although some evidence suggests it could have been owned and possibly utilized as a business by a William Proctor.
“It might have been a hotel,” Mace explained. “The Tate Map indicates that a Proctor resided at or near there in 1891. We know that the Tate map is correct in that William Proctor owned the property where the grand old house stood.”
The house changed hands several times after Proctor’s ownership. It was eventually abandoned and partially burned. It was torn down around 2005 or 2006. All that is left today are two chimneys and some floor joists, a staircase stringer and a few steps.
The east end chimney, which will stands on the original property, as a rock foundation lying directly below it, holding up the massive fireplace. The chimneys lie just a few feet from Lebanon Road, visible to drivers who pass by.
Regarding the possibility that there were two Mason Halls, Alexander Mason bought a small 3.6 acre tract of land from Andrew Patton in 1809. Nine years later, in 1818, Mason bought the property from James Mason that was known as “Mason Hall,” but sold it a year later to David Mebane.
In 1812, Alexander purchased a tract from Henry Mason on Mill Creek, which also included Henry Mason’s dwelling. In 1818, Alexander purchased another local tract from Andrew Patton, which included Andrew Patton’s home.
Alexander heavily mortgaged these properties in 1822 with three deeds of trust. In these deeds of trust, he referred to the property as Mason Hall. One deed of trust refers to Mason’s property as dwelling, house tavern, and store.
So even though Alexander Mason had sold a property called “Mason Hall” in 1819 to David Mebane, he also apparently owned additional nearby properties in the early 1820s that he referred to as “Mason Hall,” which is clear evidence that there was likely two properties in the area that went by that name.
Mason tried to sell the second Mason Hall property in 1822, describing it in an advertisement as “At Mason Hall.” It was described as “a large two-story house, lately finished, featuring several commodious rooms with fireplaces, four other houses, stone kitchens, and two barns.”
Later that year, Mason lost the property to foreclosure. The Orange County sheriff sold Alexander Mason’s foreclosed property to Pinkard Summers, who then told the property to William Mebane. Mebane called the tract “Mason Hall Plantation,” as it was described in his last will and testament of 1846, and in probate in 1856. At his death, Mebane’s daughter, Mary Francis, acquired the property. In 1860, she sold the property to William B. Lynch.
George A. Mebane expanded his original Mason Hall tract in these years, though he sold a parcel to William B. Lynch around this time as well. Eventually, William B. Lynch sold to Robert William Bingham in 1867.
Fast forward 150 years, and much of the land that comprised what is believed to be Mason Hall - or the two Mason Halls - is now set to become a new subdivision - Village at Havenstone. The remaining segments of the chimneys from the original Mason Hall property - the last remaining vestiges of its former glory - will soon be gone forever.
“Just past Saddle Club Road, there’s a small housing development coming, right across from the drive (Village at Havenstone),” Mace said.
Although Mason Hall’s role in Mebane-area history is a long-distant memory, thanks to the historical work of Mace, and the presentation at the Mebane Historical Museum, this important piece of local folklore continues to be a topic of conversation and debate.