Wenona Community
Wenona Tall Corn
Nestled at a remote crossroads in rural south-central Washington County, the early architectural evidence of the community known as Wenona has largely vanished from sight, but lives on in old photos and the memories of the most senior citizens of the modern-day community. The hamlet was established by A. E. Rice, a land agent for the Norfolk & Southern Railroad in 1912, and grew rapidly as a result of his advertising campaign in the North and Midwest; where it was touted as “cheap blackland for sale”.

Many families moved to the area between 1912 and 1914, lured by the rare attributes of the black sand loam soil including: very high natural nitrogen content, deep tillable top layer three feet deep, devoid of rocks, level with a good clay marl underneath for moisture retention. However, it needed to be cleared and drained. Therefore, a drainage district was organized, the land surveyed and canals marked off one mile apart running parallel with the railroad. Within two years, over 25 miles of canals had been completed. By 1914, the area had grown to the point that it was necessary to build a school for the children of Wenona, which was constructed as a two-story multi-purpose building; the top floor accommodated classes during the week and served as a church and Sunday School on the weekends. The ground floor was the post office. Wenona maintained its own school until 1929, when students began attending school in Plymouth.

The railroad was largely responsible for the birth and development of the Wenona community, as it was the most reliable means of transporting large commodity items such as logs and agricultural goods to ports and terminals for processing and distribution. In its heyday, Wenona even had a small inn to accommodate railroad employees. In 1912, the NC Dept of Agriculture established the Blackland Test Farm at Wenona on land donated by the N&S Railroad. It served the community until 1943, when it was moved to its current location near Roper and was renamed the Tidewater Research Station.

The Turnpike Road, which leads from Hwy. 32 to Wenona, has undergone many improvements throughout the years. The road was first cut in 1846 with slave and prison labor, but proved largely unusable due to the nature of the soil and high water in the swamps. In 1886, the state utilized prison labor in an effort to reclaim the road and make it more usable, but once again could not conquer the natural rise and flow of the swamp water. In 1901, the road caught fire and the peat under the road burned for a year or more, destroying a large part of the road. In 1914, it was rebuilt with the aid of a bond program. Problems continued, including the inability of school buses to navigate the road for much of the year. Finally, in 1948 the road was paved and has become one of the busiest byways in Washington County.

The early families of Wenona were truly pioneers, working and living in what would seem impossible conditions by today’s standards. Giant cypress trees greater than six feet in diameter were felled and sawn into lumber to build houses, barns and a school. Stumps had to be removed before the land could be drained and planted. Through the generosity of the Furbee family, we have a collection of family photos that capture this arduous land development process and the fruit of their harvest. William Lloyd Furbee moved from West Virginia to Wenona in 1913 where he descendants still live.

Some things haven’t changed. Wenona is still a favorite neighborhood of the native black bears! As a matter of fact, they much prefer corn, wheat, and soy beans to their diet of roots and berries. Wenona borders the Pungo Unit of the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. Among those also appreciating and frequently Wenona in the fall and winter are thousands of tundra swan and snow geese feeding in harvested grain fields and fields planted in winter wheat. It is an amazing spectacle to see these magnificent birds forming white funnel clouds descending to feed or scattered on the fields of green wheat sprouting.

Today, the community is well developed, thriving and most of the residents are still living on land cleared and farmed by their ancestors. There is a great sense of pride in the land, and the stewardship heritage that comes with it. An early member of the community said with pride, “So all good luck to Wenona and the people who live here”. (Hortung)