Where is Purley? What does Purley mean? For those who love the old place those questions are easily answered. For others, here is a description of Purley from When the Past Refused to Die--A History of Caswell County, North Carolina 1777-1977, William S. Powell (1977) at 336-337(footnotes deleted; links added):
Purley in the north central part of the county is noted as the source of the earliest bright leaf tobacco. The Slade family lived here and it was on their plantation in 1852 that the first bright leaf was cured. A post office at Purley served the community from 1855 until 1920. The community developed along the Yanceyville-Danville plank road when it became a stagecoach stop. Tradition relates that the name evolved because the Samuel Satterwhite Harrison house built before 1846 atop a hill here was painted a gleaming white. From a distance it appeared to be a "pearly white" house. Purley at one time had a doctor; Cobb & Davis operated both a sawmill and a gristmill here in the late nineteenth century; there are several churches in the community; and there has long been a general store to supply most needs. Pleasant's Store has been in operation since 1914 and owner William Pleasant recently commented that he once sold large quantities of flour in 25 and 50-pound bags, but now most customers buy only two or five-pound bags. The growing sale of milk and eggs, he noted, reflects the demise of the family barnyard and milk cow. Dog food and other items for dogs far outsell flour now.
Before new Highway 86 was constructed between Yanceyville and Danville, those travelling between the two towns went through Purley. First the road was dirt, then a plank road was constructed, and finally a concrete road in 1926, now called "Old 86". The old road follows the contour of the land, curves and twists up and down until arriving at the North Carolina-Virginia state line. While new Highway 86 is more efficient, it is much less picturesque (and many say it is boring).
Purley, along with Blanche and Providence, make up what is called the Dan River Community.
In 1890 the Purley Mixed Academy was in operation as a school for boys and girls and had an enrollment of eleven.
The following churches are found in the Purley community:
The community of Purley with its well-kept houses and gardens lies a little over midway between Yanceyville, N.C., and Danville, Va., on both sides of Highway 86. Its present appearance is quite a contrast to its beginning--large stretches of woods and fields split by a plank road supposed to extend all the way from Yanceyville to Danville in the early 1800's. A stage coach was operated along the road, carrying passengers and the daily mail. When the plank road gave out, there was mostly mud in rough weather; in some places, the buggy or cart would mire down to the hub. In spite of all of this the mail must go through, a daily mail route from Yanceyville to Danville being maintained at times by cart or horseback. The mail carrier had an all day job and could be observed leaving home very early in the morning and returning late at night. According to information available, a post office was established at Purley in the early 1890's and extended its mail routes into the surrounding countryside until some time before World War I. Samuel Cobb was the first postmaster, John H. Davis was the second, Mrs. Annie Lou Wilkerson the third, and Mrs. T. H. Pleasant the fourth and last; the Post Office was then discontinued and mail sorted at the Danville Post Office and delivered by Star Route Carrier. Present day service has progressed to a twice-daily basis.
One plantation through which the early road went was owned by the Harrison family, with Samuel Satterwhite Harrison and wife Louisa McDaniel settling in the Samuel Harrison house in Purley, which is still standing. After passing through a number of hands, the house now belongs to Atty. C. L. Pemberton of Yanceyville and is occupied by the Purnell family. The Harrison family cemetery is located about 500 yards from the house, near the highway. From this house, Purley is thought to have received its name. The house is known to be more than a hundred years old and was painted white, apparently a rare phenomenon at the time, as it caused much comment. It sits on a little hill and can be seen from quite a distance; as passers-by sighted it, they would remark that it was "pearly white," and in time came the name "Purley" which was applied to the whole community. It is certain that name has been applied for at least 80 years, as a number of people can remember this of their own knowledge.
Another early settler in Purley was Henry Burton. The Harrisons and the Burtons made up the human population of Purley at one time, with the trees and the woods-varmints being in the vast majority! Then Sam Cobb came from Rockingham County and courted and married Miss Bettie Burton and built a house on part of the Burton land. This identical residence is now the home of Mrs. T. H. Pleasant, who is, incidentally, Purley's oldest resident. "Miss Mary", as she is often called, can boast of 81 years.
Later, Dr. George Gunn of Yanceyville married Virginia Burton and they made their home with the bride's father. This house is a landmark in Purley today, being the residence of Mrs. R. M. Pleasant. Mrs. Pleasant is a Great-granddaughter of the late Mr. Burton. Sidney Ware came from Rockingham County and married Fannie Burton and they also established a residence on the Burton land. Their home still stands about a half mile from that of Mrs. R. M. Pleasant and is used for a tenant house on the Benton R. Covington farm.
The first Harrison child to be born in the "Pearly white" house was Cora, the year being 1846. She grew up and married Ezekiel Slade and they "built" about a mile from the residence of her father. This place is now owned by Mrs. John Farmer, the Farmer family having lived there for years before moving to their present home on the Yanceyville-Reidsville road.
Emma Harrison reached maturity and married Will Cobb, a nephew of Sam Cobb who married the Burton daughter. Like the rest of the "youngfolks", they wanted to live in "Purley", so they erected their home which still stands. It has been remodeled, modern conveniences added, and now stands a credit to the community, occupied by Mr. and Mrs. John A. Woods. Mrs. Woods is the former Lois Burton--quite a coincidence, considering the fact that Purley started out with Burtons and Woods.
Fannie Alice Harrison married Wesley Wilkerson and they lived at [the] Samuel Harrison place.
Virginia Harrison married a Mr. Lee and moved away from the county.
Lou Harrison married a man with the fascinating name of [omitted from the original] and they build a home near the Virginia State line, which house is still standing.
Jim Harrison died unmarried but the other son, Thomas first married Addie Slade and then, upon her death, her sister Belle. Upon the death of his second wife, he married Mary Joe Burkholder. The Tom Harrison home is located on the Blanche road and is in a splendid state of repair. It dates back to the early 1800's and is now owned by one of the daughters, Mrs. Eliza Harrison Duckett.
Others who bought land and became residents of Purley around the turn of the century included Sam Cobb and John and Alice Hodges Slade. Sam Cobb, a nephew of the first mentioned Sam, and Will Cobb operated the first general merchandise store in Purley; it was located near the present Pleasant's store. Sam, the second, married Nannie Gunn, daughter of Dr. George Gunn. Their home was burned many years ago and W. D. Pleasant's residence is on the property now. Upon the death of Nannie, Sam married Minnie Slade, daughter of Mrs. Priscilla Slade White. John and Alice Slade presided over a large and prosperous farm and reared the customary large family; one of the children, Harry Slade, resides still in the old Thomas Slade home just off the Blanche road.
John H. Davis came to North Carolina from Virginia in 1874 and operated a sawmill in the Walter's Mill section of Caswell County. It was here that he met his wife, the former Betty Haley. In 1881, he brought his wife and children to Purley and purchased a tract of land and timber from Samuel Harrison in 1881. Right away he set about building a home for his family. One of the daughters, Miss Ada Davis, now lives in it. Mr. Davis was a Confederate veteran; having enlisted at 16, [he] served the last two years of the War. Being a lumberman and contractor, he built a number of wooden bridges and school houses in Caswell County, as well as a store in Purley which he operated for several years. Jim Vernon and Bob Cobb were clerks in the store and he later rented it to Tom Slade. As years went by, the late J. M. Pleasant married Miss Erma Davis and become the operator. The building was then a large frame structure and was located only a few hundred freet from the present brick general store in Purley which is run by his sons, John Miller and William Davis Pleasant; it was erected in 1926.
Sam Green Woods and his wife, Mollie Paylor Woods, moved to Caswell from Person County in 1884 and settled at Purley. They bought the Calvin Vernon place, which formerly had belonged to the Womack family. Mr. Womack deserves honorable mention in any historical account on account of his name, if for no other reason. His name was (honestly) Green Peay (Pronounced Pea) Womack and his holdings were large and numerous. The farm is now owned by Mr. Will Henderson of Yanceyville. [Brother of Tom Henderson]
The Woods lived on the place for years until the house was burned about 1900 and shortly afterward they bought the Will Cobb home where Sam Woods lived until his death. This is now the home of his son, John A. Woods. Soon after coming into the community Mr. Woods built a store and it was operated by his daughter, Pearl Woods Ruffin, who now lives in Martinsville, Va.
Dr. George Gunn was the first local physician to practice in Purley--a real horse and buggy doctor! In fact, sometimes he could be seen going about in a cart when the roads were too muddy for his buggy to travel. He served the people, both white and colored, for many miles around, and went whenever and wherever he was needed and could be of service. Dr. Gunn wasn't always paid in money for his services; he would take eggs, chickens, butter, hams, or anything people could afford to give him. This "Good Physician" had four children, Mrs. Bettie G. Williams, Mr. George Gunn, Jr., Mrs. Nannie G. Cobb and Mrs. Hattie Gunn Jeter--all of whom are now deceased except Mrs. Jeter, a spry nonogenarian who lives in New York City.
The next doctor to practice in Purley was Dr. Walter Walker of Burlington, who set up an office in the home of the late Sam Woods. He only stayed a short time, and he was succeeded by Dr. Harry Montgomery, located at Woods' store. He didn't stay in Purley very long either. He remarked that the people of Purley were just too healthy to need a doctor and he just couldn't make a living there. He might have turned to farming in his spare time with better success.
It is well-known that the first bright leaf tobacco was flue-cured in the vicinity of Purley on land owned by Elisha [Abisha] Slade, the actual curing being done by Stephen Slade, a colored slave. The barn in which the first curing was carried out still stands on the Tom Harrison farm. Well might they call the leaf "golden", for it brought many a coin into the pockets of those who raised, cured, and marketed it.
The first school house was a log building and stood at the back of what is now Purley Church. Log school houses were the fashion at the time, and there are several people living today who taught school in this old building--not to mention the scores who attended the school there. Some of the teachers include John P. Harrison, Mrs. Anna Whit Crumpton, and Mrs. Bertha Woods Slade. It was years before a new building was erected. Mrs. Bertha Woods Slade was the first teacher to teach in the new building. Teachers to follow were Miss Dixie Graham, Miss Helen Graves of Leasburg, Miss Lilly Giles and others. Beginning with one room, the one-teacher school soon outgrew its quarters and became a two-room, two-teacher school. At this stage, we remember Mrs. Virginia Moss Nash, Mrs. Enita [Anita] Williams Smith, Mrs. Elizabeth Gilbert Bradner, Mrs. Sherley Whitlow McFarling, Mrs. Ruby Davis James, Mrs. Lois Burton Woods and Mrs. Louise Bumpass Cassidy, the last named being the teachers at Purley when the school was consolidated with Shady Grove at Providence. The old school building was bought by Purley Methodist Church and converted into four Sunday School rooms. In this capacity it served for many years and was finally sold and moved from the old location and converted into a dwelling house which is now the home of Jack and Betty P. Pleasant. Like so many "old timey" products, there just doesn't seem to be any "wear-out" to it!
Needless to say, community life has long centered around the Purley Methodist Church. Its forefather, Harrison's Chapel, or Harrison's Meeting house, was located on the Blanche road; when a need for a more central location became apparent, Mrs. Samuel Harrison, now a widow, said she would give the land for a church to be built in Purley if they would call it Harrison Church, so she gave the deed in 1884, which paper does not mention "Purley" anywhere. However, the popular name "Purley Methodist Church" finally prevailed over the official "Harrison Church", and in 1894 church records used "Purley Methodist Church" throughout. Mr. John Slade gave the lumber to build the church and Mr. John Davis contributed the sawmill equipment and labor necessary to convert the timber into lumber. The first wedding in Purley Methodist Church was that of Sam Cobb to Minnie Slade, and the second that of Sam Gatewood to Laura Davis. Present pastor of the church is the Rev. W. F. Meacham of Milton circuit, with Frank Powell serving as superintendent of the large and active Sunday School. Mrs. Claud Hodges was president of the first Missionary Society organized in 1922, and was followed by Mrs. James Slade, the former Frances Allison, who served for fourteen years. Mrs. Vernon Rowland is current president of the organization which has 28 members. Another ladies' organization is the Purley-Blanche Home Demonstration Club, of which Mrs. Carey Watkins is president.
Purley church's oldest member is Mrs. Lottie Moss, who is 85. What changes she has witnessed since coming to Purley! The old mud road was replaced with concrete in 1926; the first Ford, owned by Sam G. Woods and Arthur Woods, chugged up and down soon to be followed by all the other little Fords; gasoline tanks appeared to feed the new pets and mechanics came to keep them in good condition; many faces appeared on the scene, some old ones faded away--it was the same story of twentieth century progress which has been repeated time and again all over; along with other villages near and far, [Purley] has really come out of the woods lately!