By MIRANDA BAINES
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
A toy boat race Sunday afternoon will benefit the preservation of a historic church in Old Sparta.
“We have an air horn that we will blow at 2 o’clock and we drop the boats, and it’s off to the races then,” said Eugenia Wade, member of the Old Sparta Historical Preservation Society. “The first three that cross the finish line, those are the winners.”
The toy boats will be dumped into the Tar River about one-half mile upstream from the boat landing on North Carolina Highway 42, about one-half mile east of the Old Sparta community.
As Wade says, the toy boat race is “something different” to do on a Sunday afternoon, and it gets children outdoors.
Cash prizes will be awarded to the toy boat race winners -- $300 for first place, $150 for second place and $75 for third place. The cost to enter the race is $15 for one boat and $25 for two. Tickets are available for purchase in advance or the day of the race beginning at 1 p.m.
Sunday’s event will also offer an opportunity to learn about conservation and preservation. Loretta Lautzenheiser, a Tar River Land Conservancy board member, will be on hand to answer questions, and George Powell, a volunteer with the Aurora Fossil Museum, will have his fossil collection on display.
Wade said the preservation society would use the funds raised during Sunday’s event to continue to pay off the Old Sparta Primitive Baptist Church building, and eventually to replace the roof. She said the society’s ultimate goal is to get the church building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While the exact date of its construction is unknown, Wade said the society knows for certain that it dates back to the 1800’s.
“This is definitely the most unique building we have left in our community,” Wade said. “Old Sparta was the first community in Edgecombe County. Being the beginning community of Edgecombe County in itself gives it importance in my book.”
Old Sparta was Edgecombe’s oldest settlement land patent in 1726, according to the sign on the side of Highway 42. All that remains of Old Sparta now is a small collection of houses and the weathered white church building.
“We want to preserve the integrity of the building itself and the purpose it was used for,” Wade said. She said she would like to open up the church for those who would like to view it during community events on the grounds.
The idea for the toy boat race originated with a bateau or “pole boat” dating back to the early to mid-1800’s that sits underneath the Tar River Bridge on Hwy. 42, just east of Old Sparta, Wade said. She said the bateau is “at least 80 feet long” and represents a time when Old Sparta was the center of commercial activity in the region.
“This was the mecca of Edgecombe County at one point. It was a bustling little town,” Wade said. “We had a stagecoach route at one point.”
While the toy boats floating down the Tar River Sunday afternoon won’t be transporting goods as the bateaus did in the 19th century, they’ll be a reminder of times gone by, and the role that Old Sparta played in the county’s history.
To purchase advance tickets for the toy boat race or to sell concessions at the event, call Wade at 903-8530. The rain date for the event is Oct. 27.