The leaves are falling, it’s getting dark early, and the temperature is hovering on the chilly side. Just in time for Halloween, our graduate student intern, Tim, has prepared a post about a spooky local legend. Read on to find out more on the legend of Payne Road.

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“Payne Road” house, courtesy of the book Triad Hauntings.

As Halloween draws near, many folks around Winston-Salem will be decorating their homes with ghoulish and ghostly decor while cutely costumed children will be making the rounds of their local neighborhoods. For sure, a safer and more family friendly Halloween experience. But for those looking for a little mischievous adventure…there is an area just north of Rural Hall that has been the attraction of many a teenager/ twenty-something for the past 50 years. This locale is known as “Payne Road.” I first learned of this area about 20 years ago while employed at a record store off Stratford Road in Winston-Salem. I can’t remember who came up with the idea of going and the only legend I remember described a haunted bridge where the ghosts of children leave hand-prints on your car as you pass over it. So on a lark, me and four other employees decided to see what it was all about. My recollection is sketchy but I remember how incredibly dark and remote the area was. The road was paved and changed to a single lane dirt road a mile or so out. I remember passing over the bridge in question (which was creepy) but nothing happened amiss (and no fingerprints on the car). Further up the road, there was a turn off by a cemetery with a gated entrance that was pretty unsettling too. But the scariest thing was seeing a noose tied up in a tree, which caused a couple of girls who came with us to scream. We high-tailed it out of there after that. Little did I know later that there was more to the legend than I knew. In this post, I’ll discuss a couple of the legends about the area and determine whether the legends turned out to be true, false, or plausible.

First, a correction about the legend’s location. The road where all the legends are based is actually called Edwards Road, not Payne Road. However, there IS a road in the same area called Payne Road. How this mistake came about in explaining the legend’s location is unclear, even to this day. One online author said Edwards Road was formerly called Payne Road many years ago. There are those who live in the area however who claim that Edwards Road has always been Edwards Road. Who is right and who is wrong? I have no earthly idea. If anyone out there reading this blog knows the truth, please feel free to write in the comments. Here’s a picture of the area taken from Google Maps:

map

Here are a couple of descriptions of two of the more popular stories associated with the legend:

Legend #1 Edward Payne kills his family

So the story goes something like this.  Sometime in the 1930’s, a man by the name of Edward Payne lived on Payne Road (Edwards Road).  Somehow and somewhere along the way he went crazy.  He tied his wife to a chair in the living room of their house and killed each of his four children one by one as they kissed their mother good night.  As he contemplated killing the last child, an infant, the mother came loose from the ropes and escaped with the child out the back of the house and ran off to the road behind the house and crossed a bridge (the infamous “haunted” bridge).  Unfortunately, her husband caught up to her, lopped her head off and threw the infant down a well on the property.   In his grief over the whole incident, he hanged himself from either the bridge or a tree by the bridge.  I checked the census records on Ancestry.com for Stokes County for the early 1900’s and there is no Edward Payne who lived around this area nor any Payne family who lived on the property in question.  It’s easy to see how this story got mixed up with the Lawson family murders that occurred not far from this area off Brooks Cove Road in Germanton on Christmas day in 1929.  It was there that Charlie Lawson murdered his wife and six of his children (his oldest son was away from home at the time).  Interestingly, a documentary was made in 2006 called A Christmas Family Tragedy that mentions the Payne Road legend in connection to the Lawson murders.  The narrator explained that after Charlie committed the murders, he washed the blood from his hands in the creek that ran between the properties and the blood ran through the bridge by the “Payne” property.  Hence all the strange activity about the bridge.  Indeed, many have mentioned strange occurrences happening at the bridge, besides ghostly fingerprints.  Some mention hearing a baby’s cries, a woman’s screams, or an apparition of someone hanging by or near the bridge.  Probably the most well-known, and reenacted, event is stopping your car on the bridge, turning off the engine, whistling “Dixie” (I can’t make this up) and trying to start your car again.  Many claim it won’t start.  You have to get out of your car and push the car off the bridge to get it to start again. Some swear up and down this has happened to them while others say they were unwitting victims of practical jokes of friends pretending the car wouldn’t re-start. Maybe try it for yourself sometime, say around 2 or 3 am in the morning and see what happens…  In any event, the Edward Payne story is just a confabulation of the Charlie Lawson murders.

Verdict:  False

Legend #2 The Payne Plantation story

So another popular story I’ve heard is of one Mr. Payne who was a plantation owner.  He had four daughters.  He found out that one of his slaves had impregnated one of his daughters. In a rage, he has the slave killed.  Some time passed and another one of his daughters got pregnant by one of the slaves, where he then completely lost it.  He killed his slaves, killed his family, and burned the plantation down.  According to the website where I got this story, this is the reason why many of the trees on Payne Road are so young and some of the cemetery stones at the old Oak Grove Methodist church graveyard are charred.  To investigate this legend, I conducted a property search on the Stokes County GIS website.  Adjacent to the land where the “Payne” house is located, a large portion of land is currently held in trust by descendants of one Robert Payne who came to this area sometime in the early 1800’s.  He lived near the Sandy Ridge area of Stokes County but was a large landholder and held land in different parts of the county, including Edwards Rd.  He was a large slaveholder as well with 35 slaves according to the book Heritage of Stokes County. On Ancestry.com, the number of slaves in the 1850 and 1860 slave schedules of the Federal Census show Robert owning between 25 and 30.   Looking again at the Heritage Book of Stokes County, there is an entry for Robert Payne, which discusses his immediate family.  According to this entry, he had at least 10 children.  Of these, six were girls: Delia (1811-aft. 1870), Mitilda (Milly) (1818-1883), Paulina (1820-abt. 1901), Lavinia Jane (1828-1880), Mary Anne (1833-1920), and Ruth (1837-1920).  The Ancestry website also shows a will for Robert Payne from 1873.  In it, he wills some of his slaves to different members of his family.  Obviously, this shows there were more than four daughters and that there was no wholesale murder of the family or slaves, poking many holes in this plantation myth.

Verdict:  False

The probable true source of the Payne Road legend is illustrated by the following obituary:

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Milus Frank Edwards (1882-1955) was the landowner of the area synonymous with the legends.  This area is two miles up Edwards Road in a sharp bend in one of the curves.  Here’s a closer image of the area from Google Maps with the areas of interest described:

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According to the newspaper obituary, “Frank” Edwards had made threats on his life before, apparently over financial hardships (as one internet poster explained).  On October 5, 1955, he parked his truck in a shed across the road from the house, laid a lit stick of dynamite under his head and blew himself up. To my surprise, while researching Frank Edwards family, I found out he was one of four other siblings who also committed suicide, truly a sad situation for all of his family.  In my eyes, the Frank Edwards suicide marks the beginning of the fanciful stories created by locals and teenagers, combining events real and make-believe in order to make sense of or cover over the hard and gruesome reality of the truth.  

It was not until I found the fan page on Facebook called “Legend of Payne Road” where a lot of the truth separated itself from the myths and legends.  Surprisingly, there are over 3,500(!) members of this group so this area obviously had an impact on many local residents.  One commenter explained what it was like living in the area in the 1960’s:

“about ’63 or ’64 I rode a school bus that picked up the few kids that actually lived on Payne Rd – as you can imagine, most of us were afraid of these kids, who generally kept to themselves, both on the bus and at school – and I mainly remember it being really, really quiet when we’d turn down that way…Even the first part of the road, near town…had a weird, scary feel to it.”  

Also on the fan page, I found a link to a blogpost written by Jordan Stutts where he interviewed some of the residents of the Rural Hall area about the Payne Road story.  One resident, Peggy Toller, grew up in the area in the 1930’s and 1940’s and remembered Payne Road (Edwards Road) as “just another road.”   Stutts also remarked that “while no one could provide a specific time when Payne Road began to draw interest, everyone agreed that is was around the 1960s or 70s.”  

Undated photograph of the Edwards family. Frank Edwards is on the left.

Undated photograph of the Edwards family. Frank Edwards is on the left.

What happened to the Edwards House?

Unfortunately, due to vandals in the summer of 1991, the old Edwards house burned to the ground.  Here is a photo from Stokes County’s Weekly Independent newspaper showing the aftermath:

Charred remains of the Edwards family home, burned down in 1991.

Charred remains of the Edwards family home, burned down in 1991.

As the years went by and nature reclaimed the Edwards house homestead, little evidence is left to show that a house ever existed in the area except the remnants of a chimney or two.  Here’s one photo illustrating the point:

chimney

Later, sometime in the 2000’s, Edwards Road was completely paved and the “haunted” bridge replaced by culverts.

Picture of Edwards Road bridge today (not so spooky now)

Picture of Edwards Road bridge today (not so spooky now).

Close up image from Google Maps showing overhead shot of bridge with culverts underneath

Close up image from Google Maps showing overhead shot of bridge with culverts underneath.

There were a few other houses and a church along Edwards Road connected in some way to the legend.  Vandalized by teenagers and so-called Satan worshippers, these burned down a few years ago as well.  Here are some photos:

double house

Oak Grove United Methodist Church old graveyard.

Oak Grove United Methodist Church old graveyard.

Oak Grove United Methodist Church built in 1900…burned down a number of years ago by vandals.

Oak Grove United Methodist Church built-in 1900…burned down a number of years ago by vandals.

So as Halloween approaches, maybe take a drive down Edwards Road, perhaps sometime around midnight.  Maybe even stop your car on the old haunted bridge, whistle “Dixie” and see if your car re-starts.  But beware.  Evil spirits and negative energy lurk within the shadows of the road’s rising and falling twists and turns…or worse, bored teenagers looking for a willing victim to scare.  You’ve been warned.

If you’d like to learn more about the Payne Road legend, I suggest checking out the four-part YouTube video made a few years ago by Josh Gerry where he explains the myths, legends, and takes viewers on a tour of the area.  Watch it here.

Sources Consulted

Books

Heritage of Stokes County by Stokes County Historical Society, Inc.

History of Rural Hall by Rural Hall Women’s Club

Tarheel Terrors by Michael Renegar.

Triad Haunting by Burt Calloway and Jennifer FitzSimons.

Videos

A Christmas Family Tragedy:  Legends of the 1929 Lawson Family Murders

Websites
Ancestry.com
American Ghost Stories
Legend of Payne Road Facebook page
Legend of Payne Road Four-Part YouTube Video by Josh Gerry
Stokes County GIS
Stokes County Register of Deeds
Why Da F Not? A blog by Jordan Stutts

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