Exploring Sister’s House, a Historic Cabin in the Woods at Eno River State Park

Sister's House at Eno River State Park

On Tuesday, Feb. 4th 2020, I went hiking at Eno River State Park in Durham, North Carolina. The day was partly cloudy and mild, the temperature hovering right around 60° F. Leaving my house in the afternoon, I arrived at the Fews Ford Access (6101 Cole Mill Road, Durham, NC 27705) in good time, ready for a day of hiking.

Map leading to Sister's House at Eno River State Park

Since it was a week day, there wasn’t much competition for parking, which allowed me to quickly find a spot, pull in, and park. Getting out of my car, I was soon on Buckquarter Creek Trail, headed north to find the ruins of Sister’s House on Ridge Trail, not far from the Anthony Cole House, which I covered back in September.

Anthony Cole and Susannah Browning Cole

In the course of my research for this story, I was only able to find very limited and fragmentary information about Sister’s House. But from what I could find, it was apparently the residence of one of the sisters of Anthony Cole (pictured above left), most likely Mary Ann Cole, and was probably built during her lifetime to give her a place of her own in her old age. (Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find a picture of Mary Ann herself, or I would’ve included it.)

The reason for this was that she was a spinster — a single woman beyond marriageable age who, in a primarily agrarian economy, was limited to very few occupations, spinning being the primary one. Hence the term “spinster,” meaning literally “one who spins.”

As a single person who’s now thirty-seven years of age, living in an economy that’s rapidly downsizing and leaving few full-time employment options for anyone, I found myself readily able to sympathize with Mary Ann. And as I approached her house on the Ridge Trail, I wondered what kind of woman she was, what she looked like, and what brought her to the point in life where she was living alone on the edge of her brother’s property, most likely engaged in piecemeal manual labor at one of the local mills.

After hiking three-quarters of a mile up Buckquarter Creek Trail and then Ridge Trail, I noticed the gentle downward slope of terrain that indicates the approach to Sister’s House. Off to my right, the house itself finally appeared.

Tucked into a patch of forest at the base of a small valley, Sister’s House can be rather creepy at times. This is especially the case toward evening, when it becomes engulfed in shadow earlier than other locations because of the surrounding hills, thus making photography tricky.

Sister's House, an old cabin with daffodils

Even so, I still had a couple hours of sunlight left, so there was plenty of time for me to get photos.

Walking through a carpeting of daffodils, I saw the south side ahead of me, with its open doorway and rusty roof.

Sister's House, an old cabin with open door in the woods

Approaching slowly, I thought about going in to get photos. After all, there might be vantage points from the interior that I wouldn’t be able to get from the exterior. But after noticing a wooden plank propped up against the door frame, apparently to keep it from collapsing, I decided it was a little too structurally unstable for my taste.

Dilapidated doorway to old wooden cabin

Even so, I wasn’t about to miss the opportunity to get a peak inside, which I promptly did.

Interior of old wooden cabin, falling down

Looking inside, I didn’t see much apart from floor boards, rafters, and buckling walls, which would have been in much better shape when Mary Ann Cole lived here 150 years ago. Still it was a small space and one that would have barely provided enough room for one person to live comfortably.

Getting back up on my feet, I pulled away from the south side of the house and continued around it in a counter-clockwise direction, soon reaching the east side.

Old wooden cabin with tilting window fram

From here, I could see the remains of a wood stove in the form of a tin grating (mostly obstructed by the oak tree in the above photo) hanging loosely from the exterior wall. At the very least, this meant Mary Ann Cole had heat and a stove, where she could prepare her meals and keep warm at night, especially in winter.

Walking further, I headed for the north side of the house. But before I reached it, I had to cross a small creek. All around the creek, there were daffodils in abundance, spreading out in every direction like a flock of birds dispersing at the sound of a gunshot.

Daffodils near creek with sunlight

Despite the fact that it’s only early February here in North Carolina, they were in full bloom, giving further confirmation to the reality of climate collapse.

Reaching the north side, I immediately noticed the tin roof, which is in surprisingly good shape, despite the age of Sister’s House. Of course portions of it have fallen off in the intervening 150 years since it was constructed, but for the most part it remains intact.

Sister's House, an old cabin with a creek

And that would seem to indicate that Mary Ann did at least have enough income from her family and work to keep herself reasonably comfortable through rain, sleet, or hail.

Completing my circuit of the house, I returned to the west side.

Sister's House, an old cabin next to a tree stump

Surveying Sister’s House and the surrounding land one last time, I found myself thinking of it not so much as creepy but charming. After all, I could easily imagine Mary Ann Cole, wearing her Sunday best after a long week in the mill, gathering daffodils with which to adorn her home or headed up the road to visit her brother Anthony.

And if that’s the life of a spinster, perhaps it’s not so bad after all.


5 thoughts on “Exploring Sister’s House, a Historic Cabin in the Woods at Eno River State Park

  1. That is actually quite a large home for one person in those times. It looks lovely (if falling down) It would have been beautiful and it was obviously well constructed as you say. thanks for all the information, and as someone before said telling us about a womans’ life. keeping her memory alive. Also I did not know the origin of the word spinster. Makes sense.

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  2. I like your photos and the history you’ve included. Abandoned buildings are so beautiful and mysterious. As I read the part about you thinking about going inside I was saying “Don’t do it, it’s going to collapse!” I was relieved when you didn’t 🙂 I wonder if Mary Ann planted those daffodils when she moved in.

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