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Naomi Falls

Page history last edited by Mark Chilton 15 years, 6 months ago

Upstream: US 220 Business Bridge

 

Naomi Falls

 

Downstream: Mill Street Bridge

 

Blair (1890) says Levi Pennington was the original settler here and that John Hinshaw built a gristmill here about 1800. Blair said that the millrace was still discernable in his day. Swain (1899) reports that Naomi Falls Manufacturing Co. built this mill in 1880 directly at the site of their 13 foot high, 300 foot long dam with no race. Saville (1924) identifies this as Deep River Mills Dam #2. The dam was used for hydropower at that time.

 

The legend of the tragic events that occurred here date back two hundred years ago. Naomi Wise lived at the home of the William Adams family in New Salem, a community in northern Randolph County near Randleman. Wise was an orphan who had grown up in the Adams' household. Though Adams took his responsibility of guardian seriously and looked out for the girl's needs, she was very poor and had few material possessions.

 

At some point prior to 1808, Wise made the acquaintance of Jonathon Lewis, who lived near the Centre Friends Meeting House in Guilford County. Lewis often worked in Asheboro, and since the road connecting Asheboro and Greensboro passed through New Salem, he more than likely met Wise on one of his trips through the village.

 

A romantic relationship ensued, the two meeting clandestinely as Mr. Adams did not approve of Lewis, whom he felt came from a family of rough reputation. At length, Wise discovered that she was with child, and reported the situation to Lewis, who at first seems to have not been opposed to the idea of marriage.

 

But that changed when his mother found out about his plans to marry the young orphan girl. Seems that she did not approve of his marrying Ms.Wise, and wanted her son to marry someone a little higher on the social ladder. Lewis' mother soon convinced her son that the marriage idea was a bad one, and he, therefore, decided to terminate the relationship. That was not such an easy matter, considering Naomi's claims to being pregnant. So Lewis decided upon a drastic course of action.

 

One April night in 1808, the couple met as they usually did, at the spring in New Salem which is now known as the Naomi Spring. Wise mounted Lewis' horse, riding behind him, on what she must have thought was a trip to the magistrate or Justice of the Peace over in Asheboro. Instead, it was a trip to her doom.

 

When the two made their way to the ford across Deep River, Lewis stopped the horse midstream. He then pulled her dress above her head, immobilizing her arms, and drowned her in the middle of Deep River.

 

Folks nearby heard the girl's screams for help and rushed to the scene, but in the darkness whey could see no one. Not until next day was the body discovered below the old mill dam in the rapids which became known as Naomi's Falls.

 

People quickly realized that Lewis had done the deed, and efforts were made to apprehend him. But Jonathon Lewis fled to what was then a veritable wilderness along the Ohio River, where he remained for several years. Some claim that he even started a new life there, married and had several children.

 

In 1815, two men from Randolph County went to the Ohio River country and apprehended Lewis. They brought him back for trial, which was held in Guilford County. But he was acquitted for lack of evidence, since most of those connected with the case were either dead or had moved away. Legend says that Lewis later admitted to the crime in a dramatic deathbed confession when he died just a few years afterwards. He supposedly gave many graphic details of the final moments of the life of Naomi Wise.

 

There is little wonder that such a tragic event should find a place in local folklore, nor that a good ghost story should come out of such a violent episode. In 1925, J.W. Cannon wrote in the Greensboro Daily News, "More that once Negroes have reported that they have seen the lonely figure of what they thought was Naomi Wise, hovering over the old mill dam and near the place she was drowned."

 

The most amazing feature of this episode is the fact that the story of Naomi Wise was made into a local folk ballad, which, thanks to the great outmigration from North Carolina in the early 1800's, spread across the South. In the early part of the 20th century, folklorists had identified versions from Florida to Missouri. Such widespread fame led the editors of the Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore series to claim, "Judged by the breadth of its diffusion, 'Poor Naomi" ('Omie Wise) is North Carolina's principal single contribution to American folk song."

 

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