RALEIGH — Just after New Bern Avenue crosses the Neuse River, a seemingly misplaced stone fireplace sits on the side of the westbound lanes. At 45 mph, most drivers likely don’t ever notice it.
The roadside ruins have a minor role in the history of U.S. 64’s old route, long before the Knightdale bypass took cars heading east on a faster route. Back when the highway was a two-lane road, a riverside barbecue restaurant offered a tasty pit stop on the road out of Raleigh.
According to an article from the Knightdale Historical Society, the eatery was called King’s Riverside Restaurant, and it was housed in a two-story building before being demolished in the early 1960s to accommodate widening of the road.
The barbecue is a distant memory, but the fire pit used to cook the pigs still stands directly across the street from the old restaurant. It seems the highway traffic back then was light enough for restaurant workers to ferry meat back and forth.
The historical society says the restaurant was a popular gathering space, with a field out back for “picnics, motorcycle racing and the yearly gathering of the gypsies.”
The road-widening project put an end to the restaurant, brought a second bridge over the Neuse and shifted the highway path slightly to the south. But for whatever reason, the road builders left the old route as a narrow dead end next to the current road. And they left the fireplace standing as a landmark that’s confused observant commuters for decades.
The fireplace isn’t the only mysterious stone ruin along the Neuse River’s banks. When the leaves are off the trees, the city’s riverside greenway trail exposes another hidden chimney just north of New Bern Avenue.
The home bearing the chimney is the best preserved among a cluster of three long-abandoned houses on a ridge facing the river. The stone facade construction has stood the test of time, while the roof and inside walls appear to have crumbled decades ago.
Jim Rogers owns the land, which has been in his family since the Great Depression. He doesn’t know when the houses were last occupied or who lived there. The land is an investment property that will eventually garner developers’ interest as Raleigh grows.
For now though, the ruins along the greenway and along the highway offer a glimpse into history for anyone observant enough to notice. But their full background is, in many respects, lost to time and the weeds and kudzu that surround the old stones.
Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter