From Railroads to Highways: The Bunn Story

Photo Source: Town of Bunn.
Photo Source: Town of Bunn.

By Kathy Cockrell, Contributing Author

Bunn NC, located at the intersection of NC Highways 98 and 39 in southeastern Franklin County, is a small town with a fascinating history stretching over two centuries. Historical records indicate that Poplar Springs Baptist Church was founded in the area now sometimes referred to as “Old Bunn” in 1788.

The name “Bunn” comes from one of the area’s earliest settlers, Green Walker Bunn. Bunn was born in 1788 in Wake County, but moved to what is now Franklin County at the age of 50. Upon his death in 1851, his 1000-acre estate was divided among his wife Polly and their 10 children. “Old Bunn” was given to son Elias. In the fall of 1901, store owner James Weathers was appointed Postmaster and the new postal community needed a name. Weathers’ store was the local hangout, and legend says that the store’s regulars settled on the name of “Bunn” to recognize Green Walker Bunn’s historic role.

The turn of the 20th century brought changes to the small but growing community. The Montgomery Lumber Company (MLC) of Buffalo NY came to the area in search of a steady supply of pine timber for the wooden boxes and crates they manufactured. In 1906, MLC began to construct the Montgomery Lumber Company Railroad, which soon stretched from Spring Hope to Bunn. A private telephone line used for dispatching shipments ran beside the railroad.

Soon the MLC Railroad offered passenger and freight service to Bunn six days a week. It was the railroad which caused the town to shift from “Old Bunn” to its present site, sometimes labeled “New Bunn”. Railroads were generally built on the highest available terrain to avoid track washouts during heavy rains. The need for higher ground prompted MLC to build the railroad in the newer part of town, and most businesses soon followed.

In 1909 the North State Development Company of Rocky Mount came to Bunn and had the present site surveyed into lots and streets. The same year on October 29th, people flocked to Bunn as the lots were auctioned by American Realty and Auction Co. of Greensboro and Suburban Realty and Auction Co. of Raleigh. The Franklin Times reported that this event drew “the largest crowd that had assembled in the little village in many years.” Just two weeks later, the Times reported that “things have been getting a move on in Bunn. A number of prospective enterprises are beginning to take shape.”

The Bunn Bank opened in 1915; two years later it merged with the Farmers & Merchants bank of Louisburg. The bank failed in the Depression years of 1929-1930, as did a number of other local businesses. The construction of state highways 39 and 98 helped to turn things around, but eventually led to the demise of the railroad. The MLC line was discontinued in 1979 and the tracks removed one year later. The 70-plus years of railroad life in Bunn had come to an end.

Twenty-first century Bunn, managed by a Mayor and four Commissioners, boasts a population of nearly 400 with several small businesses. Town staff includes a police department, and a volunteer fire force was organized in 1959. From a one-room log-built schoolhouse with a roof of sticks and dirt built in Antebellum days, the town’s educational opportunities now include an elementary, middle, and high school, as well as a branch of the Franklin County Library, all within 1 mile of the town limits. The town’s Web site ( boasts that Bunn is where “descendants of Green Walker Bunn still walk down Main Street,” making the town one of eastern North Carolina’s rural gems.


Ed. Note: This history article was originally published in The Grey Area printed newspaper March 15, 2012.

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About Kay Whatley 2309 Articles
Kay Whatley serves as Editor and Reporter with The Grey Area News. Kay is a published author with over 20 years of experience in the publishing industry. Kay Whatley is wife to Frank Whatley, founder of The Grey Area™ newspaper and The Grey Area News online news website.