We have seen it happen many times in the North Carolina Room. Somebody, a staff member or a patron, is struggling to find the answer to a seemingly unanswerable question. Finally, in frustration, they blurt out something like “I just can’t find great-great-great-great grandmother Sally. I know she existed, because I wouldn’t be here otherwise, but…”

And someone in the room, a staff member, or more likely, a patron, overhears and says “Have you tried X?” So they try “X” and there Sally is. Dadgum!

Some years back, a caller had asked for help finding an ancestor’s grave. The ancestor had been originally buried at Maple Springs United Methodist Church…the Hallowe’en pumpkin church near the entrance to Wake Forest University. But during the development of the Wake Forest campus and the subsequent widening of Reynolda Road, the graves had been moved.

The patron was told that the graves could be found at Forsyth Memorial Park near Pfafftown. But when she contacted the park, they had no information to give her. I called them, and other possible sources. Even went out there and walked around. Nothing.

I was about to call the patron back and tell her the bad news, when Molly Rawls, our picture librarian, walked into the room. I started explaining the problem to her. I did not expect an answer. I was just venting.

Molly said “Oh, yes, those graves are all grouped out there.” She went on to give me a precise description of where the graves were, next to a little pond. I relayed the information to our patron. The next day she called back. Most of the conversation was her saying “Thank you, thank you, thank you…” over and over again.

That is called “serendipity”, a matter that has recently become of great import among the leading institutions of our nation. In February, Yahoo! banned their employees from working from home. They were not worried that the employees were goofing off. They were worried that their workers were missing out on “serendipity”…chance solutions to complex problems brought about by interaction among employees at the water cooler, in the hallway, in the lunch room.

Google’s new campus in Mountain View, California has been purposefully designed to increase casual contact among Google employees. You can read all about that and the underlying science in a recent New York Times article here:  Engineering Serendipity

A couple of days ago, it happened to us again. I had been handed a note from a patron who had called in asking about the origin of the name of one of our best known roads, Shattalon Drive. My mind is a database of local road and street name origins, but this one was not in there. Not to worry.

Nowadays, Google is the answer to most questions. You type in the word and “define” or “etymology” and one or more of the vast online dictionaries will give you more answers than you actually need 97 times out of 100. But not this time. Even Wikipedia, which sometimes contains esoterica not otherwise available, came up blank. “Shattalon” is not a legitimate word, rather, “Shattalon” is a unique word, which means that somebody made it up and it is applicable in only one case, to the road in Forsyth County which bears its name. It appears nowhere else in the world.

I tried breaking the word down into some sort of component parts. People often name roads after family members or nearby property owners or local historical events. But you can look at “Shattalon” and see that that is not going to break down in any logical way. I did a bit more digging around and realized that I had reached a total dead end, so I said aloud “Dadgummit, I’m going to have to call this patron and tell them that I have no idea where the name ‘Shattalon’ comes from. I really, really hate that!”

I was actually just talking to myself, something that I often do. But I happened to be sitting at the Information Desk in the North Carolina Room at that moment. One of our stellar genealogy volunteers, Reba Jones, was sitting a few feet away. She perked right up.

“Did you say ‘Shattalon’?” she asked.

“Yep,” I said.

“Not long ago, I heard someone explaining that,” she said. “I’ll look in my computer when I get home and give you a call.”

The next morning when I walked into my office the phone was ringing. It was Reba and she had the answer.


In 1753, twelve Moravian men made their way down the Great Wagon Road from Pennsylvania to North Carolina and beyond. I’m sure that most people envision that road as a four lane or eight lane highway, with every exit numbered and marked, and frequent rest areas. But it was really nothing more than a cowpath, blazed, but rugged and incomprehensible. They got lost more than once.

As soon as they got here, they began building more roads that led to places they needed to get to. In those days, if you needed a road, you were probably going to have to build it yourself. And most of there roads were not much better than cowpaths.

By the early 20th century, Forsyth County was crisscrossed with a network of byways, ranging from serious paved roads, to trails and many more cowpaths.


The road in question is indicated by red arrows. This 1927 map, drawn by C.E. Miller, a Winston-Salem civil engineer, shows many of the roads and identifies landowners in Forsyth County. Click on the map to see it full size, or see the complete map at UNC Libraries. There you can zoom in to your heart’s content.

One road began in Oak Summit, in the northern part of the county, near Mt. Pleasant church, just north of Motorville and what is now the Smith Reynolds Airport. It ran westward, passing south of the County Home and Farm and dead ended at Bethania Station, which was not what we now know as Bethania proper, but the nearest railroad station to Bethania. There you could jog north for a bit, then westward again, a jog south, then westward to New Hope (as opposed to the older Moravian settlement of Hope near Clemmons), another jog, then southwestward to the Old Town School on what is now Reynolda Road, another jog, thence due southward to downtown Pfafftown, crossing the Yadkinville Highway, continuing in a south southwestward direction, then veering eastward, then southward to dead end into what is now Robinhood Road.

Of course, this was a series of at least eight or nine different roads. Each of them had at least one local name, having to do with where the road originated or went. People who lived at one end of the road had no idea what people at the other end called it. That is called “chaos”.

Prior to World War l, counties had been responsible for the routes and any naming of roads. But around that time, the state took over and began making changes in the way things were done. One change was that the jogs in roads were smoothed out. The other was applying official names to roads.

Around 1940, the state relocated a portion of our road, which caused it to pass behind a house that had formerly fronted on the road. Many people have since passed that house and wondered why it was built with its back to the road. It wasn’t.

HinesHouse copy

The Hines house shows its backside to Shattalon Drive near the intersection with Walnut Hills Drive because the road was rerouted around 1940. The original path of the road followed the treeline northwest of the Hines house.

About the same time, one resident of that road became concerned about what the new name might become. At that time, the section of road between Robinhood Road and the Yadkinville highway was usually referred to as Flynt Road, because it led to the Flynt land along the Yadkinville road. But he noted the trend that most roads were being named for the activities that occurred along them. Since there were several dairy farms on his stretch of the road, he envisioned it becoming Jersey Road, or Guernsey Road or something like that. But he was a progressive thinker and wanted his neighborhood to project a more modern aura, with a unique road name that everyone would find pleasing to speak.

There were only  eight households on that three mile stretch of road…Sapp, Hines, Adams, Shields, Barnes, Petree, Cartner and Brown, the last three dairy farmers. So he wrote their names and began thinking. He experimented with combining the letters of their last names to find an appropriate name for the road and came up with a unique word, which was adopted…Shattalon…a unique word

His name was Carl Sapp, born in 1905 to Thomas Jackson and Minnie Norman Sapp in the Mount Tabor community of Forsyth County.


Carl worked for 40 years at the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, and after retirement launched a second career with Grubbs Realtors, which ended in retirement 16 years later. Along the way he also operated a grocery business in his area.

He was a founder of the Mt. Tabor Volunteer Fire Department, which was located at the juncture of Robinhood Road and Shattalon Drive, where my wife and I voted for many years. He was still active in the department at his death in 2002 at age 97.

He was also a charter member of the Pfafftown, Old Town and Mount Tabor Civic clubs. At his death, he was the oldest member of the Mount Tabor United Methodist Church.

But most of all, Carl Sapp was a thinker, a type that is becoming rarer and rarer in modern society. Every time you drive on or hear the name of Shattalon Drive, please thank Carl Sapp for giving us something unique in the world. It is that kind of thinking that has fueled the American dream since day one.

Originally, the name Shattalon applied only to the section of the road between Pfafftown and Robinhood Road, with other sections retaining localized names. But by 1958 the entire road, all the way to Oak Summit and University Parkway, had become officially Shattalon Drive.


Shattalon Drive today. Click on the map to see it full size. This Bing Map calls a short northern section Shattalon Road, but the official name from end to end is Shattalon Drive.