Overhills Revisited

Overhills will forever remain a beloved memory of mine and a peaceful bubble of a world in the rural sandhills of North Carolina. I may not have lived or visited Overhills during its life as an active hunting retreat or family retreat, but I had the honor and pleasure of working for the buildings and the people who inhabited and loved Overhills. There was  a point in time when I thought that there would never be a day when I did not think of Overhills; but, years have passed since my oral history work finished and it now seems like a dream, like another world. My thoughts on Overhills are spaced further apart, but no less meaningful. The place, the people, the project have helped to define who I am. (The oral history project report can be accessed and downloaded through Fort Bragg.)

Aside from the Overhills Oral History Project, the property was documented under the Historic American Landscape Survey for the Library of Congress as the Overhills Historic District. (Read the HALS report.)Many of the records have been digitized: photographs of Overhills, floor plans, landscape plans, historical research. Not everything is digitized yet, but it is enough to trigger memories as I browse through the collection. Take a look with me.

Nursery Road, one of the roads through Overhills. Photograph credit: HALS NC-3-26. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Overhills approach road to the Hill. Photograph credit: HALS NC-3-15. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Overhills polo barn. Photograph credit: HALS NC-3-16. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Croatan, a house at Overhills. Photograph credit: HALS NC-3-8. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

These pictures remind me of the drive to and through Overhills, walking the grounds through the long leaf pines, exploring and attempting to learn as much as I could about the layout and landscape, piecing together historical research & oral history, visiting the houses and barns and imagining Overhills in its heyday.

Sadly, today, Overhills continues to deteriorate and/or suffers from vandalism. It pains me to hear of another building that has caught fire or to come across current Overhills pictures scattered across the internet that show the state of the place. It is incredibly sad, amplified by the fact that I know the stories and the history and the people of Overhills. Eventually, I’ll stop randomly searching for Overhills photos on search engines.

However, the HALS photographs and documents, in addition to the oral history project products, allow the good memories to stay with me. So I continue to look through the documentation. I don’t want to forget anything I know about Overhills. I’m sure my reaction time to specific questions – probably those found in the Overhills archives – is delayed from a few years ago, but that’s okay. I remember the bigger pictures. While my preference is preservation and rehabilitation instead of mitigation, I understand the importance and strength of proper and creative documentation because of this project. No matter which memory strikes me, I am reminded of the significant and unique story of Overhills, and how much I love(d) it.


Other posts about Overhills: 3 Hours in the Life of an Oral Historian. Carolina Day. Another Day in the Field. My Ode to Oral History. Overhills by Jeffrey D. Irwin & Kaitlin O’Shea. Oral History & Me? It’s Complicated. Overhills Book Release. Johnny. Those Unknown Photograph Subjects. Why They Don’t Let Me Outside. Time Travel Wish. Voice as a Powerful Primary Source.

15 thoughts on “Overhills Revisited

  1. bellegroveatportconway says:

    Beautiful Pictures! Reminds me of a time I was in Fort Bragg while I was in the Marine Corps. That was a week to remember!

  2. Mark says:

    You sound like a modern-day Helen Creighton. If you don’t know who she is, you should check her out. She’s had several grants from the Rockefeller Foundation. Where I’m from oral history and folklore is huge.

    • Kaitlin says:

      Mark, I hadn’t heard of Helen Creighton until you mentioned. I did look her up – thanks for the compliment. It is such a fascinating field and I commend anyone who makes a career out of it, for it sure takes a lot of stamina. I’m obviously doing something different now, but I do miss the oral history days now and again.

    • Jared Hayes says:

      I’m born and raised from just outside of Fayetteville and I’ve recently become a bit obsessed with Overhills and can’t get enough of it. I just finished the book. Unfortunately the link to the Oral History through Bragg’s website doesn’t seem to be working for me. If you have another way to listen I would greatly appreciate if you could send it to me!

        • Jared Hayes says:

          Thank you! Yea I actually got that site to work not long after I made that comment. It was definitely acting up on me before that. I made my second trip out to Overhills last weekend to do some exploring with the pup. Just an incredible place that most people that have lived about 30 minutes from it their whole lives don’t even know it exists. If you’re ever in the area doing research or something, I’d love a heads up so I could meet you out there. I’d love to check out the place with someone that knows more of the history and can point out what all of the buildings are. Thanks for the reply and stay safe with all of this coronavirus stuff. Keep up the good work!

          Jared Hayes

          On Mon, Apr 20, 2020 at 3:56 PM Preservation in Pink wrote:

          > Kaitlin commented: “Hi Jared – try this link! > https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/read/11570436/overhills-oral-history-fort-bragg-us-army > ” >

          • Kaitlin says:

            Hi Jared – glad the link worked! Overhills is fascinating. I live in Vermont now and haven’t been back since 2009, but it will always hold a special place in my heart. It is such a one-of-a-kind place, and it was a one-of-a-kind job. I do know that a lot of buildings have burned. So sad. The Cultural Resources Team at Fort Bragg might have more information on its current status.

            Also, if you haven’t seen the Overhills book (Images of America series), check it out!

            Thanks for your interest!

  3. Paula Sagerman says:

    Thanks for sharing that, Kaitlin. Looks like a truly wonderful place. It is frustrating, though, to learn of yet another historic property acquired by the federal government that may become a victim of demolition by neglect. Section 110 can only do so much.

  4. Kim Elliman says:


    Would you be interested in preparing a history of Overhills, with more archival and family photographs ( more always showing up)? Less an oral history, but still a social history of the place and how it came to be and how it became what you so properly identify as a bubble in time.
    Please email me if you are interested or are able to discuss such a project.
    Thank you
    With best wishes

    Kim Elliman

  5. Max Hardwick says:

    Ms. Kaitlin, my name is Max Hardwick. I am a life-long resident of western Harnett County. I grew up on the edge of the Weyerhaeuser property, now Fort Bragg’s northern training area. I work on Fort Bragg with DPW and have the privilege of knowing the folks in cultural resources. The “Oral History” report gave me such an incredible insight about the goings on “over there”. Last summer I got to tour the Overhills property and was shocked at what I saw. Decline everywhere! We always knew Overhills existed, but it was known to everyone around here as the Rockefeller Plantation. A secret place, not to EVEN think of going near. Occasionally when we were kids, we would slip across the back side line while riding our horses on the timber land. One time we found the “raised walkway” winding through the cypress trees at the head of the lake. We realized then how a beautiful and special place this was.
    I’m afraid to say that I believe the reason for the rapid decline came in part, from the privacy that the Rockefeller family insisted upon. Few people knew it was there so why should anyone care if it’s gone? In high school in the 70’s we were required to take a course in “Harnett County History”. Even though Overhills brought bountiful revenue, jobs, and culture, into our area, not to mention the many prominent figures and celebrities, the course taught very little if any, regarding the contributions it made. Even today, very few people are aware of the rich history in their back yards. Sadly, I know it will remain that way. In December 2012 the old train station and the upper horse stables were destroyed by fire. More history gone. Sad, so very sad.

    • Kaitlin says:

      Hi Max,

      thanks for sharing this. I’m so glad you enjoyed and learned from the oral history report. It is amazing how secret the place was and still is. And it’s so sad that so much has been destroyed by fire. It breaks my heart. I haven’t been to Overhills in over three years. Hopefully others will learn from the oral history project documentation.

Have a thought to share?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s