The Wonders of Elizabethtown, NC

Small towns all across the United States have gained local and national acknowledgment for their quaint locations and backgrounds. These towns are scattered across the United States and despite being small, they boast a large number of tourists every year. Elizabethtown, NC is no exception. Elizabethtown is a small town in Southeastern North Carolina that prospers through the large tourism business that it acquires each year through visits to the memorials of the Battle of Elizabethtown, Jones Lake State Park and the White Lake.

Considering the fact that Elizabethtown claims fewer than 4,000 residents, it is easy to wonder what makes this town special. Examining closer, it is Elizabethtown’s rich history leading to its formation and proximity to numerous amenities that entices visitors.  A battle that took place on September 29, 1781 in the Revolutionary War gave birth to Elizabethtown as it is known today. At the time of the Revolutionary War, the Tories had possession of Elizabethtown and were raiding the homes of the citizens and causing mayhem within the small town (Campbell 1). This caused tension between the Whigs and the Tories and the Whigs wanted to fight back. The Whigs needed a way to regain control of the town so they decided to siege the base that the Tories were occupying (“The Battle of Elizabethtown”). Though the Whigs wanted control of the town, the Tories vastly outnumbered them. There were approximately 400 Tories as compared to approximately 180 Whigs at the start of Colonel Robeson’s campaign against the Tories (Campbell 1). The Whigs knew they needed a plan to defeat the Tories and regain control of their beloved town. They resolved to stalk the area near the Tories, hoping to attract detached Tories to their forces (Campbell 2). They had no such luck and decided to go on a trip to gain more recruits but this only hurt the Whigs, leaving them with only 71 men (Campbell 2). When Robeson and his soldiers returned to Elizabethtown, they found that the crimes being committed by the Tories were too much and they needed a plan of attack. A woman by the name of Sallie Salter volunteered to pretend to sell baked goods to the Tories and act as a spy to gain information that could be used in the attack (“Battle of Elizabethtown”). The Whigs, using her information, attacked at nightfall, surprising the Tories and claiming victory (Campbell 3). In this victory not a single Whig was killed while Colonel Slingsby, the Tory leader, and 17 other Tories were left dead (“Tory Hole”). This historic battle led to the formation of Elizabethtown, and a recreation center to commemorate it, which continues to draw tourists.

Battle of Elizabethtown Marker

This is the marker in Elizabethtown that tells citizens and tourists about the battle. Photo courtesy of Lesley Looper.

The Battle of Elizabethtown is a source of pride for the citizens of this historic city. As a result, places commemorating the battle have arisen to share the story with others. The Tory Hole Battleground in Elizabethtown is one of the most historical places in Bladen County as well as one of the most toured because of what it represents for Elizabethtown and the amenities it offers tourists. The Tory Hole was a pond the Tories used to escape during the battle in 1781 when their leaders were killed; today it is the site of the memorial commemorating the Battle of Elizabethtown (“Battle of Elizabethtown”). Elizabethtown residents and tourists can celebrate the victory of the Whigs and the end of the terror caused by the Tories at this location. Within Tory Hole are pathways, a park and playground for children to explore, an amphitheatre and historical signs for tourists to look at while walking (“Historical Summary”). The area has a lot of vegetation, so not only does it have historical significance but it also has a sense of natural beauty that many enjoy. While the battleground is the most notable of the memorials to the battle, there is also a monument of Sallie Salter on the front lawn of the courthouse. The monument tells tourists of the brave actions of Sallie Salter to put her life on the line to help the Whigs (“Sallie Salter Monument”). It serves as a way to thank the woman for her heroic actions that helped the Patriots win. Between the Battleground and the monument, Elizabethtown heralds its formation for all to see.

Sallie Salter Marker

This is a marker that commemorates Sallie Salter. It is in front of the Bladen County Courthouse. Photo courtesy of Lesley Looper.

While the Battleground provides a great place for the history buffs to visit, those more in tune with nature will enjoy Jones Lake State Park near Elizabethtown. Jones Lake started as a private land tract where the owners tried to farm near the river lowlands. The property was populated by many people and was used as a place for industry up until the Great Depression. The property was handed over to North Carolina in July of 1939 and was then opened as the first state park for African Americans. Jones Lake State Park now is fully integrated and offers many ways for tourists to get in touch with nature (“Jones Lake History”). When tourists come to Jones Lake State Park they can expect to find something that interests them. One can participate in activities such as boating and fishing, hiking, camping, picnicking, and swimming when visiting Jones Lake. Whether one wants to visit overnight or just for a day trip, there is plenty to do. While this state park is home to Jones Lake, it is also home to a less-known lake called Salters Lake. Salters Lake was named after Sallie Salters and does not provide the same commercial activities as Jones Lake but provides beauty to the state park (“Jones Lake Activities”). With the addition of the Jones Lake to the battle memorials, Elizabethtown appeals to many different types of people, drawing frequent tourists throughout the seasons.

Another major tourist hotspot is White Lake. White Lake is a beautiful lake with perfectly clear water and a white sandy bottom with numerous tourist attractions. White Lake is located in close proximity to Elizabethtown, making it a perfect place to visit for a day while in the area. Because the lake is so clear and so unique, there are numerous theories to explain how the lake was formed. Scientists from N.C. State and UNC Chapel Hill believed that a meteor had come towards Earth and fragments fell off during the fall forming the lake (Smith 1). Another theory, from Robinson’s North Carolina Guide, states that the “lake is a huge spring fed by artesian water rising from an unknown depth. Water slowly moves into the banks and keeps the lake clear of dark material that tends to be washed by wave action” (qtd. in Smith 1). White Lake’s natural beauty quickly led it to be noticed because the clear water made it safe for children (Smith 1). While White Lake is a commercial hot spot now, it was not always that way. Originally, the lake was used by Native Americans and was called Silver Lake (Smith 3). This name later was changed a couple of times before finally being called White Lake (Smith 3). White Lake became commercialized in the early 1900s (Smith 4). The commercialization of White Lake was a slow process and all the different amenities are owned by different individuals. For example, White Lake Inn was built by Willie Atkinson and Spurgeon Melvin, while C. M. Sandrock developed commercial areas in what is now Goldston’s Beach (Smith 4). The different people creating places for recreation on White Lake created a huge boost in tourism for the area (“White Lake”). White Lake has only approximately 500 permanent residents but boasts approximately around 20,000 tourists every year (“White Lake”). While the Lake has a sense of beauty and safety that attracts tourists, there are also many different amenities that families can enjoy on a visit. Visitors can fish, swim, boat, and water-ski on the lake, or can go to the amusement park, water park, or play miniature golf (“White Lake”). In this one area families can find plenty to do on a vacation. Even with so many activities, the most popular event at this popular tourist location is the annual festival. The festival is held at the end of May and includes events such as tractor pulls, the firemen Olympics, a classic car show, beach music bands, dancing, a parade, arts and crafts, a 10K run and more (“White Lake Water Festival”). All these activities at White Lake make it unique and certainly worth visiting.

White Lake

This picture shows the beautiful scenery at White Lake. Photo courtesy of Lesley Looper.

Elizabethtown, NC continues to gain recognition through the tourism business that it sees each year from visits to the battle monuments, Jones Lake State Park and White Lake. The small town charm brings numerous types of people from all over to visit and the locations in the surrounding area continue to bring people back. With such diversity in tourist areas, there is sure to be something for everyone. Whether someone enjoys history, nature, or recreation, Elizabethtown can provide immense happiness. This strong tourist presence in Elizabethtown helps the economy of the town as well as providing interesting places for many people to enjoy. Whatever the reason for a visit, Elizabethtown is bound to give travelers something to enjoy.

Map of North Carolina

This map gives a sense of where in North Carolina Elizabethtown is. The red dot symbolizes Elizabethtown's location within Bladen County. Picture courtesy of Seth Ilys.

Works Cited

Bladen County Historical Society. “Battle of Elizabethtown — Tory Hole.” Bladen County Historical Tour. Bladen County, NC: Bladen County Historical Society, 1957. Print.

Bladen County Historical Society. “The Historical Battle of Elizabethtown.Elizabethtown White Lake Chamber of Commerce. Web. 01 Mar.2011.

Bladen County Historical Society. “Sallie Salter Monument (Courthouse lawn).” Bladen County Historical Tour. Bladen County, NC: Bladen County Historical Society, 1957. Print.

Bladen County Historical Society. “Bladen County Historical Summary.” Elizabethtown White Lake Chamber of Commerce. Web. 31 Mar. 2011.

Campbell, Mrs. Carl, comp. “Cain’s Account.” Battle of Elizabethtown: Whigs broke Tory power in Bladen County, August 1781, Driving them into Tory Hole. Bladen County, NC: Bladen County Historical Society, 1957. Print.

N.C. Division of Parks & Recreation. “N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation: Jones Lake State Park – Activities.” North Carolina State Parks. Web. 12 Mar. 2011.
N.C. Division of Parks & Recreation. “N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation: Jones Lake State Park – History.” North Carolina State Parks. Web. 12 Mar. 2011.

Smith, Annie A., and Judy A. Gooden. White Lake, Then and Now. 1975. Print.

White Lake.” Elizabethtown White Lake Chamber of Commerce. Web. 01 Mar. 2011.

The White Lake Water Festival.” White Lake Water Festival. Web. 31 Mar. 2011.

About the Author

Jamie Packer is a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is majoring in Elementary Education and is a Teaching Fellow at UNC. She loves to travel and hopes to learn more about the history of all sorts of interesting places around the world!

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