Just across the railroad tracks on Highway 54, where Morrisville-Carpenter Road and Aviation Parkway meet, there’s a quiet hub of a town that holds a history as rich as any in the Triangle. For a history buff, Morrisville offers the lure of a colorful past. But even if history isn’t your cup of tea, there’s still plenty to do in Morrisville.
A Budding Community
Morrisville wasn’t incorporated as a town until 1875, but it dates back to 1852, when it was an official stop on The North Carolina Railroad.
Today, Morrisville’s proximity to the Research Triangle Park makes it an appealing home for many professionals. In 2010, the town’s population had grown to more than 15,000 people and new businesses began popping up at an astonishing rate.
Resident Peggy Lewter has lived in Morrisville her entire life. After she married her husband, Grover, the two decided to make their home the then-quaint town. The view from their front porch is a little different today than it was 46 years ago. What was once rural farmland is now a bustling shopping center, and their quiet two-lane road has become a major four-lane thoroughfare.
Grover Lewter jokes that today it’s hard to resist the wafting smells of the restaurants across the street as they fire up the kitchens in the early morning hours. But even though progress has brought an element of city life to the Lewters’ farm, they still maintain aspects of their country life. On Saturday mornings, the Lewters can often be seen driving their horse-drawn wagon through the neighborhoods and back roads of Morrisville.
“I was raised in the country, and I’ve come to understand you can’t stop progress,” said Grover.
A Colorful Past
In more distant history, the town earned its spot on the Civil War tour in 1865, when the last cavalry battle of the Civil War was fought. The Battle of Morrisville was waged as Confederate troops attempted to delay the onrush of Union soldiers and allow a train carrying wounded Confederate soldiers and supplies to leave Morrisville Station. The train was ultimately able to escape with the wounded soldiers, but the town was left to the Union forces as the Confederate troops were forced to retreat.
For those interested in uncovering more of the town’s history, a display is housed in Town Hall, at 100 Town Hall Drive. It includes historical trivia, artifacts and a short film about the history of Morrisville. The history center is open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Town To-Do List
If you’re into natural beauty, The Orchid Trail offers endless varieties of orchids for flower aficionados. The small nursery was originally started in 1990 by Nat Carson, whose contagious enthusiasm for orchids helped him grow a successful business. Today, owner John Stanton does his best to match Carson’s passion.
The Orchid Trail generates half its business through orchid sales and half from orchid boarding. For a monthly fee, Stanton keeps and maintains privately owned flowers, which have an average life span of 60 years, in his greenhouses and notifies the owners when the flowers bloom. Customers can pick up their orchids and enjoy their blooms for weeks before returning them to Stanton for the remainder of the year.
“Not too many people babysit plants anymore,” Stanton said. “But we keep them for a lot of professional people who are busy and don’t have the time, or people who aren’t able to keep them because they don’t have the facilities to grow them.”
In addition to sales and boarding, The Orchid Trail also houses a world-class collection of more than 2,500 orchid varieties, one of the largest private collections in the state. Flowers for sale average $25 to $30 per plant, though certain plants cost as much as $2,000. Stanton and his business partner offer a gamut of services, from teaching proper care techniques to diagnosing sick plants that are brought in.
For a taste of North Carolina, Chatham Hill Winery offers a unique atmosphere for sampling wines. An office park may seem like an odd place to find a winery, but Jill Winkler, co-owner with her husband, Marek Wojciechowski, say the location is a good fit.
“Wineries sort of take on the personalities of their owners,” said Winkler. “Marek was a PhD chemist, so being in RTP was a natural fit. And it goes along with the whole concept of an urban winery and bringing the experience of wine making to where the population of the state is.”
Chatham Hill Winery makes all of its European-style wines on-site with grapes grown in North Carolina. In addition to wine tasting events, patrons can enjoy tours of the winery and educational classes on wine tasting and making. The winery is a popular spot for private events, including the wining and dining of RTP professionals. It even offers specialty programs and team-building exercises, like wine-blending and blind taste test competitions for its corporate crowd.
The winery also offers a monthly wine club, wine and cheese pairings with locally produced cheeses, and a tasting room featuring the works of local artists.
If hunting for deals and buried treasures are among your favorite pastimes, make a stop at Ben’s Bargain Barn. Ben Towson and Fran Minnich have owned and operated the tightly packed antique shop on Morrisville-Carpenter Road for 21 years.
Towson is so well-known in the area that people call on him to buy furniture from their estate sales. “I’ll go even for one piece of furniture, because you never know what you’ll find,” he said. In his years of scouting estates, he’s come across some real treasures, including a Salvador Dali lithograph, valuable pottery and antique bow-front china cabinets.
Towson’s honesty keeps his patrons coming back for more. “I just try to be honest with people. If you’re dishonest, it’ll come back on you,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of the people that come in here know we’ll negotiate, and the ones that don’t, we’ll tell them.”