The History of Dunn, NC
The city of Dunn, known to its residents as an area of pride and progress, had humble yet memorable beginnings. A picture of Dunn and its birth is vividly painted by Dunn's own able biographer, Mr. Herman P. Green in the following excerpts:
"In the middle or late 1870's, what is now the Town of Dunn was chiefly woodland broken here and there by small cotton fields and very occasionally a farm dwelling. on every side, deep swamps formed almost an impenetrable barrier. Even today it is most difficult to travel as much as three to four miles from the center of town in any direction without crossing a river or swamp of some kind. Besides a small amount of farming, the chief occupation was turpentine and logging. Logs and turpentine were transported to a river landing near Averasboro and rafted down the Cape Fear River to Wilmington. The rafts men then walked from Wilmington back home.
Logging camps sprang up. Rugged men occupied them. Barrooms also naturally appeared. Life was cheap, especially on weekends. Guns, knives, bootheels, bungstarters and other favorite weapons of the era were the order of the day. The town, according to records of the United States Postal Service, has only three official names. They are "Wade", "Lucknow", and "Dunn". It could very well have been called "Hell's Half Acre". "Tear Shirt" has also been mentioned in this manner. One night, a fight broke out at one of the famous barrooms involving some twenty-five or more men. One got his shirt ripped into shreds. When the disturbance quieted down, someone picked up the torn shirt and gave it to the barroom keeper. From then on, this place was known as "Tear Shirt Barroom"...
...The name Dunn was in honor of Mr. Bennett R. Dunn, the civil engineer who laid out the roadbed and personally supervised the construction of the railroad between Wilson and Fayetteville...
...Contact with the outside world centered through Averasboro. It was here the old stage coach or post road from Raleigh to Fayetteville converged with the road from Smithfield. Here also contacts were made by ferry with settlements "over the river". Also, somewhat limited contacts were made by pole boat navigation down the Cape Fear River by way of Fayetteville to Wilmington.
In 1885, a "short cut" railroad from Wilson to Fayetteville was begun and was completed on October 1, 1886. It was extended from Fayetteville to Rowland (43 miles) and was completed on March 28, 1892. Mr. Henry Pope deeded to the Wilmington and Weldon Railroad, Inc. a strip of land all the way across Harnett County 130 feet wide, 65 feet each side of the center of the track or roadbed. Since no limitations by metes and bounds were placed on the railroad by the deed, Mr. Pope, in effect told the railroad to select the right of way wherever they desired and after the rails were laid the metes and bounds would be already established.
The Dunn Depot was placed at the 50 mile post from Wilson. Question arises as to why the spot was selected. The railroad had a policy, at that time, of establishing depots approximately seven miles apart along new track. As evidence that this policy was carried out between Smithfield and Fayetteville, check the railroad mileage (not highway mileage) between Smithfield, Four Oaks, Benson, Dunn, Godwin, Wade, Beard's Station and Fayetteville...
...Soon after the town was chartered, the commissioners ordered that the town be fenced in. There were not any stock laws at the time. The stock was branded for identification purposes and allowed to run freely. The purpose of the fence was to keep the wandering stock out of town. However, it was said by some that the fence served a double purpose. Practically every farmer has at least one cow and a pen of hogs. The second purpose of the fence was to keep the livestock of the town inhabitants inside the town. There were constant complaints of the unsanitary condition of a neighbor's hog pen...
...The first and only street in Dunn at that time was Broad Street. It was little more than a winding hog path among shrubs and pine stumps. Of course there was only one railroad crossing. Urgent requests were made in September 1887 to the Town Commissioners and others to open Cumberland Street for at least two blocks each side of the railroad to provide additional crossing. in due time this was done. The town was expanding..."
And expand it did. By 1980, Dunn had amassed a population of almost 9,000 residents, and six years later the city unveiled perhaps its most revered treasure. On June 6, 1986, the home of Dunn's favorite son, Major General William C. Lee was dedicated and opened to the public. Certainly, no summary of Dunn's history would be complete without the story of this remarkable man.
William Carey Lee was born in Dunn on March 12, 1895. He attended Wake Forest and North Carolina State Universities but left the latter to enroll as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. After serving 18 months in Europe and earning the rank of captain, Lee returned stateside, graduated from N.C. State and from the U.S. Army Officer's School two years later.
Upon returning from World War I, his enthusiasm for the parachute and glider troops he had seen in Germany led to the development of the Parachute Test Platoon. In March, 1942, The Provisional Parachute Group, only a year ole and led by Lieutenant Colonel Lee was reconstituted as the Airborne Command. Within the year, three parachute regiments were added to the army's airborne forces and the Airborne Command Headquarters relocated to Camp Fort Bragg, NC, the now Brigadier General Lee in command.
In August of 1942, the Army's first airborne divisions were formed, the 82nd and the 101st. Major General Lee was put in command of the new 101st Airborne Division. After a year of training General Lee and his paratroopers departed to England where they were, in General Lee's words, to have a "rendezvous with destiny."
In 1944, General Lee was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. In February of that same year, he suffered a heart attack and retired from the Army shortly afterward. Sadly, he never realized the chance to jump into battle with his men.
Aside from the restoration of General Lee's home, the City of Dunn has proudly recognized the contributions of General Lee by sponsoring the General Lee Celebration, a week of activities and entertainment for all ages.
On May 18, 1989, General Lee and his famous museum shared the limelight with a celebration of a different kind. Several hundred of Dunn's citizens gathered outside the museum to officially honor Dunn's new title: "The All-American City." Only ten cities in the nation were awarded the prestigious All-American City Award. Evaluations were based on a ten-minute presentation followed by a ten-minute round of questions by a panel of judges. Hundreds of hours of preparations and practices, coupled with determination of the 39 participants and their supporters, convinced the judges of what the Dunn delegation already knew; Dunn is a city of great merit and hometown pride.
The climate the citizens of Dunn perpetuate is one which reflects this attitude. Thus, others have viewed the area as an agreeable place to live. Businesses have followed suit, for Dunn has shown its strong commitment to industrial development. The combination of excellent manmade materials and plentiful natural resources have also enabled it to become a leading candidate for new industrial locations in North Carolina. This, in turn, has provided the residents of the city with an advantage regarding the quality and availability of job opportunities.
The citizens of Dunn have also benefited from the services available to them within a close proximity. Betsy Johnson Regional Hospital has provided the highest quality of health care since 1968. Furthermore, the Emergency-911 System has assured Dunn's citizens of the most expedient assistance should an emergency occur. Various other services, aside from those aforementioned, have worked together and independently to improve the quality of life for Dunn residents and will continue to do so.
Although this account of Dunn's history has been brief and various topics of the city's history examined, one theme is certainly prevalent. Hometown pride has made its history and its history has made its pride.