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George Washington Ate Here

Written & copyrighted by Janet Morrison, 2006

        President George Washington didn't sleep here, but did you know that he ate in Harrisburg?  That might be a wee bit of a stretch, but on Sunday, May 29, 1791, he ate a meal where Lowe's Motor Speedway now sits.  Most locals still consider the speedway to be in Harrisburg.

        Colonel Moses Alexander and his wife, Sarah, purchased the land from Henry McCulloch and built a house.  Col. Alexander died around 1772.  Sarah married Robert Smith and he moved into her home. 

        Smith was a Colonel in the British Army prior to the American Revolution.  He took up arms to fight for American independence and rose to the rank of Major General.
        The Smiths named their plantation "Smithfield."  The house survived into the 1960s and stood just a few feet from US-29.  It served as the ticket office for the Charlotte Motor Speedway for several years.

        The beloved Revolutionary general and sitting United States President, George Washington, took a tour of The South in 1791.  He spent the night of May 28 in Charlotte.  After noting in his diary that the village was "a trifling place," he traveled out the road that was a forerunner of US-29. 

        Open the Gate and Roam Cabarrus With Us,"
by Adelaide and Eugenia Lore, states that President Washington traveled "in a coach of pale ivory and gilt." 

        C.E. Claghorn III's book, Washington's Travels in the Carolinas and Georgia, says the President "was accompanied by Major William Jackson, five servants, two footmen, coachmen & postilion [guide], chariot & four horses, light baggage wagon drawn by two horses, four saddle horses plus one for himself." 

        The green meadows and hardwood forests of our area probably reminded the President of his Virginia homeland.  Our red clay rolling hills were in stark contrast to the sandy South Carolina Lowcountry he visited on his way to North Carolina.

        Can't you imagine how nervous Sarah Smith was on the days leading up to the President's arrival?  It would be interesting to know the menu she planned.  Being late May, the summer staples of squash and beans were not in season. 

        Mrs. Smith's spring garden possibly provided turnips, radishes, and an assortment of greens and herbs.  No doubt a servant retrieved a well-cured country ham from the log smokehouse for the occasion.  In my mind's eye, I see a bowl of fresh wild strawberries on the dining table or perhaps strawberry shortcake with fresh cream drizzled on top.

        I would have liked to have been privy to President Washington and Gen. Smith's conversation.  Perhaps the President "broke the ice" by asking Smith which battles he participated in during the Revolution.  Perhaps they discussed political matters of the day such as the moving of the nation's capital from New York City to Philadelphia the previous year.

        After dining at "Smithfield," President Washington returned to his coach and traveled to Colonel Martin Phifer's "Red Hill" tavern near Poplar Tent.  He lodged at "Red Hill" that night before continuing on toward Salisbury at four o'clock the next morning.


Piedmont Neighbors:  Historical Sketches of Cabarrus, Stanly and Southern Rowan Counties, edited by Clarence D. Horton, Jr. and Kathryn L. Bridges

Open the Gate and Roam Cabarrus With Us, by  Adelaide and Eugenia Lore, 1971

The Historic Architecture of Cabarrus County, North Carolina, by Peter R. Kaplan, 1981.

A Light and Lively Look Back at Cabarrus County, North Carolina, by Helen Arthur-Cornett, 2004.

Washington's Travels in the Carolinas and Georgia, by C.E. Claghorn III.