Profile of Laurinburg, North Carolina

Profile of Laurinburg - Oban's sister city/twin town.

In May 1993, Oban and Laurinburg became sister cities. The initiative for the agreement came from Laurinburg, and in the first four years of the link there has been activity in both communities. Even so, not too many Obanites are knowledgeable about their sister city, or about the potential benefit which might stem from the connection.

Laurinburg lies in Scotland County, which is on the southern edge of North Carolina. The County has a population of some 35 000, of whom 14 000 live in Laurinburg. The landscape is remarkably flat, and the sandy soils support pine forests which sprawl across the entire area, except where cleared.

The town is in an area which was settled by emigrant highlanders in the early 18th century. They were there when the Carolinas were divided into North and South in 1729. At that time, the Cape Fear River was a popular route into the colony state, and the subsequent flow of emigrants was such that on the eve of the Wars of Independence, North Carolina was the fourth most populous state. The area that was to become Scotland County was settled by people from North Argyll, and the old graveyards have MacColls from Ballachulish, MacLucases from Appin, and MacLaurins from Loch Etive to name but a few.

Laurinburg itself dates back to 1785 and takes its name from a James MacLaurin who was one of the first merchants to establish a store there. It was first known as Laurinburgh (to rhyme with Edinburgh), but the 'h' was gradually dropped. By the mid 1800s, the town was growing rapidly, a process which was accelerated by the arrival of the railway in 1861. Progress halted during the Civil War, but picked up again afterwards, and the town became incorporated in 1877. Today it is the County Seat.

Modern Laurinburg is slightly puzzling to the Oban based visitor. There are signposted city limits, but no sharp division between town and country such as we expect here. The town rarely looks like a town. Much of it is more like a pine forest, with houses set in among the trees. Streets are broad, and apart from a couple of blocks along Main Street, there are no pavements. Car parks are extensive, and there are no bus services because everybody drives everywhere.

For a town not much bigger than Oban, Laurinburg has a wealth of shops. Main Street is not the dominant shopping centre it once was. In recent years, new shopping areas have opened on the edge of town, and these 'malls' have apparently provided more accessible shopping at the expense of the town centre. The range of shops is more reminiscent of an urban shopping area, but they are scattered, and people have to drive from one area to another to visit the full range of services. Laurinburg currently operates a Downtown Rejuvenation project, under the direction of Mrs Gail MacInnis, which runs a series of festivals and other events aimed at promoting the town centre area.

The County Courthouse is one of the most central buildings, and outside it is the War Memorial. The soldier on top reveals that it is not a memorial to the World Wars, or even to Vietnam, but to the American Civil War (known in the South as the 'War Between the States'). In local graveyards, the occasional grave is marked with a metal badge, signifying a Confederate Soldier. Sometimes a small confederate flag serves the same purpose.

Churches abound. The US emphasis on religious freedom encourages variety of religious expression, and a bewildering range of churches is found even in such a small community as Laurinburg. Nearly all are extended buildings with fellowship halls, church office, meeting rooms etc.

Many of the buildings are wooden. The pine forests of the area provide the timber, and the climate doesn't require the insulation and weather proofing qualities of stone and brick as it does here. Building plots are extensive, and even the poorest housing area of Laurinburg has a lower housing density than the typical modern development in or around Oban.

The railway line splits the town, and there is only one bridge across the line, but several level crossings. Trains crawl through the city area, the regular wail of their horns warning of their approach. From Wilmington to just West of Laurinburg, the line runs in a dead straight line for just over 100 miles, and locals claim it to be the longest such line in the US.

North Carolina is a cotton growing state, and although slavery was common at one time, it was never on the same scale as in the richer states further south. To some extent this was because there were smaller plantations, so that a large slave labour force was not needed. To some extent it was because so many of the people were highlanders, who had a high respect for human dignity, and many of whom had been little more than slaves themselves. Many slaves had to learn Gaelic, the language of their masters, and were allowed to attend church and take communion, privileges which were more usually denied further south. Old Laurel Hill Church, just to the west of Laurinburg, started in 1797, Upstairs, the slaves sat on narrow rough timber benches, with upright backs. Downstairs, the owners could relax on wider pews of better quality timber, with raked backs, and cushions

The population mix is reflected in the local High School, which has some 45% Euro Americans, 45% Afro Americans, and 10% local Lumbee Indians. The School takes the name of the County, and the visitor is immediately reminded of the Scottish connections. On the wall of the main building is a 3 metre high version of the School badge, - a piper in full highland dress. In the spacious entrance hall stand tartan backed noticeboards, flanked by the piper and by a St Andrews Cross. Various murals decorate the walls of some of the corridors, and most have a Scottish theme. The schools impressive athletics and football stadium carries the legend 'The Fighting Scots' on top of the grandstand, and on hurdles and other items. There is a 200 strong marching band, all in full highland dress, including a pipe band section and dancers.

Scottish placenames abound; McFarland Road and MacArthur's Crossing. MacKinnon Drive and Appin Road. In a new housing area, near St Andrew's College, is Oban Drive. One of the shopping malls is at Scotland Crossing, and the local country club at Scotch Meadows. Look at the local phone book and find a host of Scottish names - MacLaurin, MacInnes, Stewart, MacLucas, Campbell, and others. A surprisingly large proportion of these are also still to be found in the Oban area, and this match between the names in Laurinburg and Oban must be one of the highest to be found between comparably sized communities anywhere.

Clearly, interest in Scotland is high. Laurinburg is not a tourist town, and so visitors are relatively rare. Scots visiting the town are newsworthy, and attract the interest of both newspapers and radio. The 'Laurinburg Exchange' is published every weekday, and carries the usual range of local news and advertising. WLNC is the local radio station, broadcasting on medium wave in daylight hours only. People listen to the radio station to find out what's happening, and buy the newspaper to get the details and the photos. In 1995, both the 'Exchange' and WLNC were awarded quaichs by Laurinburg Sister City Association, to recognise the prominence they had given to Oban visitors and news.

Laurinburg enjoys a warmer climate than Oban - after all its as far south as Cyprus, but the summer heat is accompanied by great humidity. Air conditioning of cars and buildings is essential, and most people speak of the oppressive heat of July and August with the same despondency that we reserve for October's rains or January's gales. Rain is spread fairly evenly throughout the year, but tends to fall in heavy but infrequent thundershowers.

A two hour drive away is the Atlantic coast where many Laurinburg citizens spend weekends and holidays. The coastline is sandy, with a series of sandy offshore islands similar to those off Florida. Ocean Isle Beach and Cherry Grove are almost full of beach homes, few of which have full time residents. Just over the state line in South Carolina is Myrtle Beach, which dominates the area. Hotels and apartment blocks throng the shoreline, backed by the fairground attractions of the Pavilion, shopping malls, restaurants and a range of other entertainments and attractions. Everywhere is spotless - walk through the Pavilion and you'll not see a scrap of litter.

The stretch along Myrtle Beach to Ocean Isle Beach is a golfer's paradise. Courses and golf shops are everywhere, and more courses are being built every year. The local view was that the area was becoming increasingly popular with northerners from Canada, Chicago and New York, who found it a more convenient driving distance than Florida, but with comparable attractions and weather. Europeans were also increasingly present, mainly those who had 'done' Florida, and wanted to move on, or those who saw Florida as a bit too risky and preferred the greater security of the Carolinas.

A couple of hours to the west of Laurinburg is Charlotte, a growing city and one of the main metropolitan centres of the state. Beyond Charlotte, lie the foothills and then the Appalachian Mountains. Temperatures are cooler here, and this area also attracts escapees from Laurinburg's oven like summer heat.

In the runup to the Atlanta Olympics, several nations selected North Carolina as their pre Olympic acclimatisation and training base. For a good impression of North Carolina scenery in April, watch the Masters golf (early April), from Augusta, Georgia which is not far from Laurinburg.

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