Before the Revolutionary War, about 1744, five brothers, William (the first of the Statesville line), John, George, Thomas and Robert, left Pennsylvania and came down to North Carolina. A sixth brother, James, remained in Pennsylvania. They were of strong Scottish stock which went first to Ireland, then to Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, and then on to the southern states. All were staunch Presbyterians and settled in Iredell and Mecklenburg Counties. William Allison, the ancestor of Tom Allison, was the oldest son. The oldest son has always owned the land, but for several generations there was only one son. Thomas or William has always been the name of the oldest son, and there has never been a Jr.
The original land grant was from the King of England, a Granville Grant, and it is now in the 6th generation of the Allison family, which has owned the land for over 250 years. The deed was given to William Allison for service during the Revolution and the land totaled 30,000 acres. That amount of land would stretch approximately from the City of Statesville to the current Allison Woods. When the Allison's migrated here they found Indians cleaning hides on big soap stone slabs at the spring, now the site of the SpringHouse. One of the other soapstones is out on the island at the lower lake. Because of the good water flow, the family decided to go into the tannery business. Having made that decision, they sent one of the sons back to Philadelphia to learn the trade from a German named Hovada. After learning the trade the Allisons started a tannery, only the second commercial tannery in the United States. They made all types of leather goods from both hides bought from local people and hides obtained from wild animals such as deer and bear. The tannery business must have been a good venture. They produced 2,000 saddles made with gold tacks for the British Army. The saddles were taken by wagon train to Charleston to be shipped overseas. On the return trip brick from Glasgow, Scotland, used as ballast in the ships, would be brought back from Charleston. These bricks, now over 200 years old, were used to make the two chimneys still standing at the site of the old home place.
It is believed that the original cabin was across Highway 21 from present day Allison Woods because a pink dogwood was once found in the woods, and pink dogwoods don’t grow in the wild, so it is assumed that it must have been planted. The house at the “old home place”, which eventually became a large home of four stories, was built onto an existing old cabin. When Tom Allison was a child the cabin was still there. The last person to live at the old home was Tom's Great Grandmother, Elizabeth Beatty Johnston Allison, who was affectionately known as “Granny on the Branch”. She came to live in the Allison home, which was a 14 room house built by her husband, William Matthews Allison. From her marriage until a few years before her death at age 94-1/2, Mrs. Allison lived in the home, much of the time alone, keeping busy with household tasks such as reading, knitting, quilting, and sewing. Although family members tried to get her to move to town, she said all of her memories were here and she felt at home. She would go to town in the winter and come back in the spring and summer to stay. It is said that she rode a spirited horse at age 88 that the men could not ride.
Mrs. Allison was known as a woman of the “finest kind of common sense and she used it”. She was courageous, strong willed, and she scarcely knew what fear was. When Stoneman’s army was approaching the farm, her husband, a Lt. Colonel with the 78th Regiment, 19th Brigade of North Carolina Troops, but in poor health for a number of years, and her young son, took their horses several miles away and hid them deep in the woods, leaving behind a blind horse for Mrs. Allison to ride to let them know when it was safe to return home. She met the soldiers and answered their questions, if it suited her to do so, and then she warned them against any attempts to harm her. After the enemy was gone, she went for her husband and son and brought them back home.
T.J. Allison, grandfather of Tom Allison, had several businesses. He was a farmer that turned entrepreneur. He was a young man during the War of Northern Aggression (his mother would not let him serve until he was 16) and was a Courier during the war. He was captured by “Yankees”, but lucky enough to escape during the night. During Stoneman’s invasion of Statesville, TJ, along with two other young men home on furlough, fired on the Yankees at the square downtown, but escaped before they could be caught.
Today, Tom Allison refers to the war as “The War of Northern Aggression, not the Civil War, because there was nothing civil about that war. The war was not over slavery as it was, and still is, said; it was states rights.”
The upper lake was built in 1924 and the Upper Mill (Millhouse) was used solely as protection for the pumps and dynamo. The waterwheel turned and generated the power for all the lights on the property. The Allison Woods property was quite self-sufficient, using water power as well as wind power not only to provide all the necessary electrical power, but also to provide extras such as a water fountain in the lake and a “spit” (rotisserie) over the barbecue pit. There are traces of intensive horticulture and gardening which took place in the 1930’s during the Depression. Bill Alexander was the horticulturist and grounds manager for the Biltmore Estate and visited the property. He was most intrigued by vestiges of the old water garden, as it resembled what had been designed for the Biltmore House. Large areas of bamboo still grow on the property, the original stock of which was imported by Tom’s father from China and Cuba in the early 1900’s.
Presently, Allison’s Woods Foundation is a 501© (3) non-profit organization. It relies upon grants, private gifts, memberships, and program fees to underwrite activities. You are invited you to join in the efforts to protect Allison Woods and to teach the community about its unique natural and cultural legacy. Membership fees and other gifts to the foundation are tax deductible. Members receive a semi annual newsletter. It is open by appointment year round, and weekend public programs are held for families and adults. Spring and fall, school groups learn from interactive field trips led by outdoor educators.
We thank Tom Allison for his generosity in allowing everyone the opportunity to experience the beauty of his family’s heritage! Please be sure to go by and speak to him on your visit with us!