Tango in Saxapahaw

Find your pace in the Sissipahaw Lofts

CorrespondentJune 27, 2014 

Reclaimed maple flooring throughout the kitchen and great room of C-203 provides warmth to the soaring spaces in this two-bedroom, 1.5-bath Saxapahaw Loft that has courtyard views and a Juliette iron balcony where the windows open. 

The swirl of life many have discovered along North Carolina’s Haw River is as intricate and alluring as the tango, whose origins trace back to the banks of another river, the Río de la Plata along Argentina’s border with Uruguay.

In 2007, running enthusiasts Doug Williams and Claire Haslam found each other and began enjoying the dance of life along the Haw in Saxapahaw, which is 20 minutes west of Chapel Hill and equal time south of Burlington.

Whether running along the Haw River Trails or renting a vessel from Joe Jacobs’ Haw River Canoe and Kayak Company, the couple found much to like in Saxapahaw and the surrounding area, including the General Store, which saw new direction in 2008, as a restaurant and convenience store where visitors could (and still can) buy a gourmet meal or a jar of Duke’s Mayonnaise.

“The General Store epitomizes the diversity that is Saxapahaw,” Claire said.

And then there are the many sustainable farms in the surrounding countryside: Braeburn Farm, Cane Creek Farms, Bushy Tail Farm, and Rocky Run Farm, to name just a few. These farmers participate in the Saxapahaw Farmers Market and Music Series which is held Saturday evenings (5 – 8 p.m.) at Rivermill Village with live music starting at 6 p.m. Free wine tastings at the Market often include wines by Benjamin Vineyards, a local winery just a mile or so down Whitney Road from Rivermill Village.

“We love to hang out at the Inn at Bingham School,” Haslam said. “It is such a relaxing place. Owners Christina and François Deprez are so friendly, and the food is so good. They get their eggs from a local farmer, and Christina sells her pies at the Farmers Market and to the Eddy Pub.”

Haslam and Williams began their stay in Saxapahaw in 2007 by renting a Rivermill Apartment from developer Mac Jordan, grandson of B. Everett Jordan the North Carolina Senator who in 1927 bought the then abandoned textile mill in Saxapahaw and renamed it Sellars Manufacturing Company.

By 2005, Mac Jordan had turned one of the two large buildings of the original textile mill into 75 apartments he named Rivermill Apartments. Since 2010, these apartments have had a waiting list for availability.

“What’s so nice about the rental component is that it brings young families here,” Haslam said. “The apartment rents are reasonable: $785 to $1,495 per month. Saxapahaw Village Cottages rent from $735 to $1,575 per month.”

In addition to buying the undeveloped mill buildings and adjoining riverside land from Jordan in 2008, Williams and Haslam later purchased Saxapahaw Village Farm. Both have easements for trail use. The 50-acre farm across Saxapahaw Bethlehem Church Road from Rivermill Village will have both conserved greenspace and an area dedicated to sustainable farming and the teaching of sustainable farming methods, Williams said.

With Williams’s business management and construction experience and Haslam’s contributing vision in working with Will Alphin of Raleigh-based Alphin Design Build, the couple hired Clearscapes, an architectural firm based in Raleigh. Over the past few years Clearscapes has transformed Buildings C and D into condominiums —The Sissipahaw Lofts — named after the Sissipahaw Indian Tribe that once lived along the Haw in what is now Saxapahaw.

The Lofts were designed so every unit features private access and lots of natural light. The design for The Lofts was driven by a respect for the history of the region and the buildings, use of sustainable products and renewable energy systems. Clearscapes architects Fred Belledin and Chris Johnson worked closely with Williams and Haslam.  

“One of the expensive design elements was to separate the buildings and create a solar arc down the courtyard with three catchment basins to capture water from the buildings and use it for irrigation of gardens in the courtyard,” Haslam explained.

Other items that increased up-front costs, but should decrease on-going utility costs, are the geothermal heating and air-conditioning systems, solar hot water, and grey water plumbing. The wells for the geothermal system are under the Rivermill Village parking lots.

Each unit’s windows have an awning that protects the unit from heat in summer and allows light to come in during the winter months to make use of the buildings’ passive solar abilities. Northern Trom Walls (of glass) absorb heat in Building D whose southern balconies were measured for sun passage. There are 29 condos in all. Conditional Certificates of Occupancy are ready on all 21 units that are still available. Go to SaxapahawLofts.com to see floor plans and more photos of the Sissipahaw Lofts and to learn more about living in Saxapahaw.

Haslam and Williams live in Building C where they are finishing one of the lofts for their permanent residence. There are now three people living in the Lofts and five more are in the process of finishing their interior spaces.

Tonya Sink, one of the new Loft residents, talked about how much beauty she sees in her living space that is amplified by the river and the community. “Living in the condos gives me such a sense of pride knowing the old mill has been so lovingly repurposed,” Sink said. “Looking at the stars and giant night sky from my patio makes me happy to be calling Saxapahaw, my home. It’s soothing to the soul.”

Soon-to-be new residents Joan and John Shannon said that they have been “really impressed” with the vision for the project from the time they first connected with Mac Jordan.

“Once we chose a unit and decided to commit to it, we began the process of the upfit, which has turned out to be really interesting,” John said.

The couple has been working with Chris Lackey and Cat Manolis as primary contractors, along with an extended team of subcontractors.

“You have to love Saxapahaw to want to live here,” Haslam said. “We hope that people want to be here because every person contributes to the village.” “There is a strong feeling of collaboration — that we are in this together to make this a good community,” Williams said.

Gary Phillips was a Saxapahaw resident in the 1980s and now lives in Silk Hope and visits Saxapahaw often since it is just a short drive down NC 87 from his home. “You’ll find everything and everyone in Saxapahaw now — from mill workers to university professors,” Phillips said. “There are three churches and two schools within walking distance. It is a great place to raise kids.”

Condominiums at The Lofts range from $295,000 to $525,000 for each shell. Some shells have been finished and include stainless-steel appliances by Bosch and Subzero and four-burner gas ranges. Some have the industrial look of concrete floors and steel beams while others have maple flooring reclaimed from the mill.

Unit C-203 is a two-bedroom, 1.5-bath condo with loft of 1,334 square feet that has been finished and is being offered at $395,000. C-103 is a one-bedroom, 1.5-bath condo with loft of 1,334 square feet that has been finished and is being offered at $385,000.

For more information about buying a condominium at The Lofts, contact Weaver Street Realty listing agent Gary Phillips at weaverstreetrealty.com or 919-929-5658. To suggest your home or neighborhood for this section, contact Sally Keeney at shkeeney@yahoo.com or 919-932-0879.

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