Ghost roads mark former home sites lost under Falls Lake

ccampbell@newsobserver.comDecember 28, 2013 

— The northern Wake County street where Gertie Jenks lived for much of the 20th century has been under water for more than 30 years.

Jenks’ home sat on a stretch of Possum Track Road that was flooded when the Falls Lake dam was completed in 1981. Before the dam project got underway, Possum Track took a winding route along the Neuse River and connected to Falls of Neuse Road near where the dam stands today. By the early 1970s, Jenks and her neighbors were forced out, their longtime homes demolished.

Now Possum Track Road comes to an abrupt dead end just short of the lake, with a dirt path continuing to the water over broken chunks of asphalt from the long-gone road. There’s no sign of the homes that sat along the pre-dam Neuse. Jenks, who was interviewed by the Raleigh Times in 1974 after her old white home was demolished, recognized the need for Raleigh’s future water supply.

“If this is what it takes to give other people’s young’uns water, I’ll go along,” Jenks, then 74, told the paper after losing her home of 40 years.

The creation of Falls Lake flooded about 12,500 acres in northern Wake and neighboring counties, forcing the relocation of family farms and even graves. It also turned many of the county’s major roads into dead ends and shifted highways onto higher ground.

The barricaded sections of Possum Track, Choplin and Old Bayleaf roads are the lake’s ghost roads – slowly crumbling reminders of the rural farms and communities lost to the lake waters, the price of Raleigh’s growth.

While some residents like Jenks gave up their homes willingly, others fought the federal government’s plans for the lake. L.D. Keith made his anger clear when he spoke with the Times in 1974: “Them government men, they ought to all be stood up against the wall and shot,” he said.

Particularly controversial was the condemnation of 30,000 acres along the future lakefront for recreational use. Henry O. Harrison owned a 52-acre farm near the intersection of N.C. 98 and Six Forks Road. None of his property was flooded for the lake, but his family was forced off the land; graves in the family cemetery were uprooted and moved elsewhere.

Part of the Harrison property is now home to a boat ramp.

Some of the planned recreation sites have been slow to develop. The best preserved of the ghost roads is Old N.C. 98, which carried traffic from Wake Forest to Durham before the state highway was rerouted north in the late 1970s. The barricaded former highway is slated to become the city’s Forest Ridge Park, which will have hiking and biking trails, picnic shelters and a ropes course.

For now though, the former highway’s approach to the lake is largely unchanged since the last car came through decades ago. Faded yellow paint still marks the center line until the road suddenly disappears into the water.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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