PETTIGREW STATE PARK
With more than 1,200 acres of land and 16,600 acres of water, Pettigrew State Park is an ideal blend of nature, history and recreation.
Explore Lake Phelps and examine dugout canoes as ancient as the pyramids. Or cast your line into crystal-clear waters where largemouth bass reign. Take a trip back in time at the grave of a great Confederate general. Or hug a tree as wide as an elephant.
Pettigrew exhibits its history among picturesque natural surroundings. Majestic cypress trees tower above as the branches of tulip poplar and swamp chestnut oak provide perches for songbirds. Wildflowers decorate the landscape with a splash of color.
November-February, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
March and October, 8 a.m.-7 p.m.
April, May, September, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
June-August, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
Closed Christmas Day
Park Office Hours:
8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays
Closed state holidays
efore colonists discovered Lake Phelps in 1755, area residents called the swampy area the Great Eastern Dismal and the Great Alligator Dismal. The wilderness was so fearsome that explorers refused to enter its borders. Tradition maintains that a group of hunters ventured into this "haunt of beasts" to hunt and to look for farmland. Most of the men turned back, but just as the remaining few were about to leave, Benjamin Tarkington climbed a tree and saw the lake a short distance away. His companion, Josiah Phelps, ran into the water while Tarkington was still up in the tree. The first in the water, he claimed the right to name it Lake Phelps.
Josiah Collins, who immigrated to the United States from England, developed the area surrounding Lake Phelps. He and his partners in the Lake Company drained the swamp, transforming the land into productive agricultural fields and prosperous plantations.
In 1787, Collins established Somerset Place, named for his home county of Somersetshire in England. He brought slaves from Africa to dig a six-mile canal connecting Lake Phelps with the Scuppernong River. The canal, a remarkable feat of engineering for its time, served as both a transportation route and a channel for draining the swampland between the river and Lake Phelps. Later, Collins developed an extensive system of canals with locks to irrigate the area's corn and rice crops.
The Civil War brought an end to the prosperity of Somerset Place. Unable to maintain it, the Collins family sold the plantation, which then passed through several owners until the Federal Farm Security Administration acquired it in 1937. Today, Somerset Place is a state historic site occupying eight acres of land within Pettigrew State Park. Tour historic Somerset Place and sample a taste of cultural life in the antebellum South. The Division of Archives and History of the NC Department of Cultural Resources administers the site.
Civil War buffs will find the grave of one of the Confederacy's great generals, James Johnston Pettigrew, a mile east of Somerset off the old carriage road. Gen. Pettigrew, for whom the park is named, and his family left an indelible mark upon the history of the state. Pettigrew led the North Carolina troop's famous charge at Gettysburg. He died just two weeks after his 35th birthday from wounds received during Gen. Robert E. Lee's retreat following the battle. Gen. Pettigrew, and his father and grandfather, are buried in the oak-shaded cemetery. Their gravestones relate both the triumphs and tragedies of a North Carolina family.
Next to Somerset Place is what was once the Pettigrew family farm, Bonarva. All that now remains of the plantation, built by Pettigrew's grandfather in 1790, is some rubble near the carriage road and several large trees planted by the family. But in the 1830s, Bonarva was nationally recognized as a model of scientific farming and management.
Upon their purchase by the Federal Farm Security Administration, the Collins mansion and surrounding land were incorporated into the Scuppernong Farms Resettlement Project. The state gained control of the land in a 99-year lease with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and in 1939 Pettigrew became the sixth state park in North Carolina.
Family camping: The family campground is located between the park office and Somerset Place. Thirteen campsites, each with a picnic table and grill, are well-suited for tents and trailers.
The edge of a cypress/sweetgum forest furnishes a shaded area for some of the campsites while others are located in an open, grassy meadow. Water and restrooms with showers are nearby. A fee is charged for the campsites, which are available on a first-come basis.
Group camping: Opportunities for outdoor learning abound in the group camping area. Located in the midst of a beautiful forest, primitive camping facilities include tent pads, grills and pit toilets. Water is located nearby. To ensure availability of the group camping area, reservations are advised.
Canoes, kayaks, rowboats and power vessels have ample room to enjoy Lake Phelps. The lake offers ideal conditions for sailing in shallow draft boats. Launch a canoe from Cypress Point or use the launching and docking facilities behind the park office.
A canoe trail winds through the park's nearby waterways, offering paddlers the chance to view the area's environment up close. Because of the map's large size, two pages of 8.5x11" paper may be needed for printing. Maps of the trail are available at the park office, as well.
Lake Phelps is known throughout the east for its bass fishing. The lake teems with largemouth bass, yellow perch and pumpkinseed. Enjoy the challenges of pickerel and catfish as the Algonquians did 10,000 years ago.
From land, try your luck on the fishing pier or boardwalk at Cypress Point. Wade fishermen can enter Lake Phelps at the Pocosin Overlook. Anglers must have a fishing license and obey regulations of the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.