Story by Alison Minard
Life literally moves at a slower pace in Carthage, to the clip-clop of hooves and the buggies Leon Keith still makes, sells and repairs at Keith Hardware on Monroe Street.
It's a nod to the town's legacy, when the Tyson and Jones Buggy Co. produced 3,000 horse-drawn buggies each year. Those buggies would now outnumber the 2,300 residents who live in this town eight miles north of Pinehurst and 40miles from Fayetteville, an easy day trip along U.S. 24/27. The factory delivered its last buggy to Neil S. Blue of Raeford in 1925, who declared he would never operate a car.
Today, the factory still stands, but it's the courthouse in the traffic circle that wraps around the town square like a giant buggy wheel that drives most of the weekday traffic. Locals know that it's also home to authentic North Carolina barbecue and good old-fashioned peace and quiet.
That said, the Carthage Buggy Festival is a Mother's Day weekend tradition, when the courthouse doubles as a stage for musical events and is surrounded by food and craft vendors. It goes without saying that a buggy festival weekend is not complete without a leisurely carriage ride.
Like spokes in a wheel, the streets fanning the traffic circle are lined by stately Victorian homes, including the former home of William T. Jones, owner of the Tyson & Jones Buggy Co. Jones, a former slave and soldier turned industrialist, worked his way up from carriage painter and shop supervisor. Thomas B. Tyson made him a partner, and the two men and their carriages put Carthage on the map. In 1907, employees of the Tyson Buggy Factory in Carthage incorporated the Sanford Buggy Co. and planned the construction of a two-story factory in Sanford. But the popularity of the automobile led to its eventual demise, in 1925. New owners tried to re-establish it as a furniture manufacturer but were cut short by the Great Depression.
This fascinating history lives on in Tyson's old home, now a bed-and-breakfast. The 5,200-square-foot dogwood pink and lavender mansion on McReynolds Street has been converted into The Old Buggy Inn. Guests can relax with a glassed of iced tea on the large wraparound front porch and sleep in one of the home's four stylish guest rooms. Owner Pat Motz-Frazier gladly shares the fascinating history of the home while she serves up scrumptious breakfast parfaits, vegetable frittatas or buttermilk Belgian waffles in the bright, mustard-yellow breakfast room. She offers a 25 percent discount to service members scheduled to deploy overseas.
Lunch is an easy decision in a town where almost everyone points visitors to the Gilliam McConnell Airfield, a private airport where it's not unusual for pilots to radio in their orders for the Pik N Pig's barbecue, ribs or "Co-Cola" cake. Watch airplanes gracefully glide as you dine indoors or out on the airy patio. Pit master Phillip Marion welcomes questions as he cooks over a wood-fired pit in an outdoor barbecue house. The only thing that could make this trip better - and owner Ashley Sheppard will insist on it - is to finish up with a large helping of delicious, creamy Nanner Pudding for dessert.
A soaring history
Military families might be surprised by Carthage's connections to two groups of elite fighter pilots.
The town recently unveiled a statue honoring 2nd Lt. Robert Hoyle Upchurch, who flew with the American Volunteer Group, better known as the Flying Tigers. Upchurch died when his plane was shot down on Oct. 6, 1944, over China.
The daring mission was not forgotten by the Chinese, who sent a delegation of dignitaries to a recent ceremony when a full-scale replica of Upchurch's poised P-40B fighter plane was unveiled at Gilliam McConnell Airfield.
The airfield is named for another daring aviator and Carthage man who flew with the Lafayette Escadrille, an American squadron of 48 pilots within the French Air Force, just 11 years after the Wright brothers made the first manned and powered machine flight. Risky aerial dogfights with the Germans and tricky acrobatics, in wooden Nieuport biplanes, made the Lafayette Escadrille famous in World War I.
McConnell was shot down by two German airplanes on March 19, 1917, a week after his 30th birthday. He was given a hero's burial in France.