Growing up on a farm in eastern Lincoln County, Betty Gwynn spent four hours a day riding a bus to and from an all-black high school in Lincolnton.
It was a long trip, but it gave her time to do homework and look out the window at a rural landscape where her family had tilled the soil for generations. She remembers seeing wheat blowing in the breeze and thinking how beautiful it was.
Three years ago, when Gwynn moved back to her home county from Michigan, where she worked as a family planning nurse practitioner, she found a much-changed landscape. Explosive growth on the west side of Lake Norman had transformed former farmlands into sprawling neighborhoods with big, expensive houses, and shops, restaurants and businesses seemed to pop up everywhere.
“It’s astonishing,” said Gwynn, who lives near the Little Egypt community where she grew up. “Traffic is outrageous. And now I’m beginning to watch crime occurrences inch up.”
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Because of a lifelong interest in history and a concern that it might be lost as growth continues, she’s joined the Eastern Lincoln County Historical Society, a branch of the Lincoln County Historical Association. The new group is based in the Mundy House in Denver. The membership includes locals with family roots reaching back to the Revolutionary War to transplants moving in from around the country.
The house is one of the few remaining historic homes in eastern Lincoln County.
Built in the 1860s by farmer Rufus Mundy, the two-story, frame structure stayed in the Mundy family until 1994. Afterward, the house became an antique shop and then stood vacant. In 2014 it was acquired by the Lincoln County Historical Association, and an anonymous donor created an endowment to fund a professional restoration.
The house opened to the public in 2015. Visitors can open a panel in one wall and see marks from the lathe work on hand-hewn timbers. Photographs and objects like an original ice chest illustrate the life of the house over decades. The family’s early Victrola still works, playing records like “My Isle of Golden Dreams” and others.
“The Mundy House gives people an idea of what the region looked like before there was so much development,” said Jason Harpe, executive director of the Lincoln County Historical Association. “It provides a glimpse – a good glimpse – of what a farm homeplace looked like, on a small scale.”
For organizers, it’s also a research center and community resource. “The house will be the nucleus of all historical activity in east Lincoln,” Harpe said.
The community at large is getting involved. As an Eagle Scout project at Boger City United Methodist Church, Alexander and Aaron Faile built an enclosure and raised the beds in an herb and flower garden. The East Lincoln Community Garden Club got the Denver community to donate the herbs and plants and planted them. Local people give regular programs at the house on such topics as African-American history and the Rock Springs Methodist Camp Meeting.
The house, which has a gift shop, is rented out for reunions, meetings and weddings. It also serves as a visitor’s center.
Newcomers curious about the region’s past can start here. “If they ask, ‘Hey, what’s this place all about?’ we can send them to the Mundy House,” said Harpe.
A deep history
Eastern Lincoln County is steeped in history. British Gen. Lord Charles Cornwallis and his army of 5,000 camped there in 1781 on the way to the Catawba River, where he clashed with Patriot forces at the Battle of Cowans Ford. According to local lore, Cornwallis served tea on a big rock that sits in a field somewhere in eastern Lincoln County.
Rufus Mundy himself was a descendant of a Revolutionary War soldier and Methodist minister, Jeremiah Mundy.
Melisa Thompson, 64, president of the new historical society, is married to Richard Thompson, great-grandson of Rufus Mundy.
A Mount Holly native, Melisa Thompson is still active in her hometown’s historical association and was eager to get a similar organization in eastern Lincoln. Through her work with the Mount Holly group, she learned the importance of a united support for preserving local history.
“Unless you attract people willing to put in the time and effort, everything will be gone,” Thompson said. “If you ignore your history, it will disappear.”
Gurtha Strand has been interested in eastern Lincoln history since she and her husband, Andrew, moved from Long Island, N.Y., to the Westport community 20 years ago. A retired history teacher, researcher and author, she chaired a study of Westport – the first residential development on the lake – for that community’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2015.
By joining the Eastern Lincoln County Historical Society, she hopes to know the area even better.
“Every community, every place has its history,” said Strand, 75. “I enjoy working with the people I’ve met at the Mundy house.”
Betty Gwynn also enjoys spending time there. For her, it’s another outlet for her lifelong interest in the past. But she also sees other benefits.
“I think because of the new organization there’s a good chance of dialogue between families,” she said. “It’s a way to get communication going. And I think we’re doing that.”
Want to go?
What: Mundy House and History Center of Eastern Lincoln County
Where: 4335 N.C. 16 (corner of Mundy Road), Denver.
Hours:10 a.m.-4 p.m. Mondays and Fridays, and by appointment.
Info: 704-477-0987, or search Facebook for Mundy House and History Center of Eastern Lincoln County.